The Art of Staying Still

Simone Lazar by Cole Simon

Simone Lazar by Cole Simon

While driving home from Evanston last night (where Henna and I helped Noel review a circus titled The Magical Exploding Boy) we talked a bit about staying still. This might sound funny coming from a family which mostly likes to move on, but let me explain.

We were in Evanston, a place we almost called home. Evanston is a community that thrives on art and this local reach among the residents is tangible; visceral. We had come from an old school building turned cultural center (the Noyes Cultural Arts Center) which now houses various artistic residents within its old walls on a night in which they were holding an open house. Most of the artist’s doors were open to allow spying eyes a glimpse a bit of their life’s passion. We heard a youth choir singing pop songs in a show tune way; we oohed and awed at lovely acrylic paintings that I could only ever hope to paint; and visited a few theatre companies. All of these endeavors are housed in a former school on Noyes Street. This home grown need for art was palpable, and filled me with great hope as I am certain that art in any form educates, equalizes and humanizes us. It’s something I so deeply believe in, and try to expose Henna to every chance I get. And here we were, among a community that does as much within its boundaries as a city to promote, support and develop art.

So back to the whole the art of staying still thing. Staying still, putting down roots, is essential to the type of art that flourishes. The show we saw was the best, most kick ass recital you’ll ever see your kid in. The Actor’s Gymnasium provides classes for gymnastics, circus performing, clowning, circus arts and more with this show part circus recital/ part professional art. It was amazing, and Henna loved it. But this theatre class company has been in Evanston for almost twenty years. It has set up base providing the area with something that is exciting, artistic and real. It is not only teaching the circus arts, but is also putting together a show that not only showcases their children’s talents, but also inspires the audience with a message. Art touches us. It also changes our perspective. Most of all it makes your heart beat fast and halts the rush of life to take notice of something amazing happening live right in front of you. I am thankful for creative folks who put so much work into these moments they share. It is this beauty of art within a community, laying roots that help to keep art alive and real. It is the antidote to the fast information, fast entertainment, quick, quick, and quicker.

Art is a powerful force than can transform neighborhoods and breathe life back into them sometimes, so much so that a push begins to happen, and these artists get displaced. Chicago also has many neighborhoods and artists that are putting everything into their passion and it makes me proud to be within that community, putting down our roots, and supporting it as much as we can. Corey

Yet Another Post About Starved Rock

Starved Rock PhotoJust an hour and a half west of Chicago is a lodge almost as old (and grand) as Many Glacier. However, unlike the Many Glacier lodge in Montana, Starved Rock Loge is open year round and costs about the same as a Holiday Inn Express. You are also a lot less likely to be eaten by a bear while hiking the trails (and are more likely to spy a bald eagle along with several waterfalls and canyons). You can go for the day, but if you have time spend at least one night at the Lodge for the full effect (like jostling with other visitors for prime fireplace access). Noel

Frozen waterfall at Wildcat Canyon

Frozen waterfall at Wildcat Canyon

Corey and Henna showcasing the patented HCN but descent

Corey and Henna showcasing the patented HCN but descent

By the Illinois River

Bald Eagle at Starved Rock

Our Backstage Pass

It seems just yesterday that we started our little blog. Ah, the summer of 2011; President Obama was in the White House, gas was kind of expensive, and we were about to embark on another epic road trip. We decided to name the blog after our favorite family holiday (Hennacornoelidays, which was known as Cornoelidays prior to 2003) and were inspired in no little part by This aMACEing Life which chronicled another traveling family. Their blog, authored by makeup artist Christina Tracy, detailed the hours spent traveling with husband Mitch, baby, and the powerhouse musical Wicked. They were “fresh pressed” and we, along with hundreds of other people, liked and commented on their site. Stina (as she is known by her fellow artists who make Wicked possible) liked us back and a cyberspace friendship was born. Mace now is a super smart and adorable two and a half year old and we hung out with him and his parents a few days ago for pizza. Mitch talked about how it is time for social media to go the next step and actually connect people in the flesh. We think that would be nice. Stina and Mitch were also gracious to invite us to watch them at work and we took them up on the offer.

Hanging out at the Stage Door

Hanging out at the Stage Door

Here is something you might not know about Wicked. Pretty much everything you see on stage is transported from city to city (even the floor belongs to the company). It takes 19 diesel trucks to make the move. About 70 people travel with the show. This includes three families with kids. Stina and Mitch both work long hours (besides putting on approximately eight shows a week they also attend rehearsals) which means that they are always looking for a new nanny. The beginning and the end in a new town are the worst for Mace as all his toys have to be packed away (along with pots, pans, and other home essentials) before leaving and then do not arrive to Mitch and Stina until a few days after they have settled into new digs. Wicked is not rock and roll. The tour (and them) settle down for a month or two before pulling up stakes. Sometimes they win (like when they played Honolulu for a spell) and sometimes I think maybe they would rather be somewhere else (Appleton, Wisconsin in winter does not sound fun).

Stina and Henna in front of Dr. Dillamond's lesson plan

Stina and Henna in front of Dr. Dillamond’s lesson plan

So on Hennacornoeliday (and yes, Pochachane did play his yearly trick on Henna the night before) we found ourselves undeterred by a freezing drizzle and a flat tire suffered a few blocks from our house. Going old school (we drove the blue truck) we made it downtown just in time to get our tickets and meet Stina at the Stage Door. The belly of the Oriental Theater is a cold subterranean maze which snakes around a series of small dressing rooms and common areas. People everywhere were calmly preparing for their roles (both on and back stage) in between general holiday inquiries and light conversations. The amazingly talented Alison Luff (Elphaba) talked camping and answered our questions while Stina made her green. Stina not only has to make her green, she has to make sure that everyone Alison touches on stage does not also turn green. Plus there is the sweat factor. Stina said that new ensemble members sweat a lot the first week on tour, then not so much afterwards. Sounds like a life lesson to me. Almost as impressive as her deft transformation of normal skin toned Alison into a green creature was her later quick work (under two minutes) changing Boq into the Tin Man.

Henna backstage with the Wizard

Henna backstage with the Wizard

Corey and Henna watched the show way up close. I sat in a small carved out space a few feet from Mitch who worked an impressive looking sound board (he estimates that it is worth about $500,000). The area where I was consisted of about six chairs and a folding table. Sitting next to me was actress Dina Bennett (Midwife, ensemble member, and u/s to Madame Morrible) who was taking the day off. Every once in awhile she leaned over and whispered something clever to me. In a production full of nice, down to earth people, Dina still stood out for being both.

Stina and Mitch (with Glinda's dress in background)

Stina and Mitch (with Glinda’s dress in background)

After the show Mitch explained a little about what he did and this is how I understand it; everything on stage that makes noise (every instrument in the pit, every actor on stage) has a microphone. Mitch turns those microphones on and (just as importantly) turns them off when not in use. So when Glinda and Elhaba speak to each other Mitch is rapidly turning on and off microphones just in the nick of time. He messes up and you won’t hear what they have to say.

Meeting Stina, Mitch, and Mace along with Alisson Luff and Dinna Bennett was aMACEing. It takes a lot of artists to make vision come together and catching a glimpse of them at work was inspirational. I am lucky to work with a lot of incredibly talented teachers, social workers, physical, and occupational therapists. Like Stina and Mitch they make it look easy. I know the truth. It takes a lot of work to be an artist. Noel

Alison Luff backstage (photo by Christina Tracey)

Alison Luff backstage (photo by Christina Tracey)

Special thanks to Christina, Mitch and Mace along with Alison Luff for welcoming us into her dressing room. We are truly grateful.


Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol

We saw this after publishing our first ever Hennacornoelidays Holiday Extravaganza and felt kind of bad for not including it. The Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol is a hip hop infused Christmas Carol that is not as corny as it sounds. All three of us loved in and think it is the best seasonal play going on. Tickets are $20 for kids, $35 for adults and it is playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier. With validation parking is $10 and here is a link to the review I wrote for New City. Merry Christmas, a late Happy Hanukah, and a Happy Hennacornoelidays to all! Noel

Photo by Michael Brosilow

Photo by Michael Brosilow

Hennacornoelidays Holiday Extravaganza!

We at Hennacornoelidays are nothing if not about holiday cheer. And in that spirit I present to you our first annual holiday extravaganza highlighting a few of the great family focused shows available for your holiday consumption. Rest assure, everything listed below is Hennacornoeliday approved.

Photo by Amy Boyle

Photo by Amy Boyle

Elf, The Musical at Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph)

OK, it’s nowhere near as good as the Will Ferrell comedy. But it’s still pretty good and if you are looking to expose the kiddies to a downtown theater experience (and there are few theaters as pretty as the Oriental Theater) this is the one to go with. The review I did for Splash is here. Only real negative to this show is the cost (at least $80 a ticket).

Nutcracker at Mariott Theatre in Lincolnshire

You will get the most for your buck here as tickets are just $15 (or slightly more than a movie). Henna, Avery (6) and Reagan (3) loved it. You, the parent, will think it pretty swell but probably not swell enough to go without the kids. This was my review of the play.

Photo by Danny Nicholas

Photo by Danny Nicholas

Once Upon A People at Black Ensemble Theater (4450 N. Clark)

I think this musical is pretty awesome. Of the three, this is the most original. The music and dancing is amazing and it even has children from Studio One (a South Side organization that exposes children to the arts) dancing on stage. Click here for the review. Tickets are $30 for kids and $45 for adults.

It’s A Wonderful Life The Radio Play at Oil Lamp Theater (1723 Glenview Road, Glenview) and The Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Lincoln)

We also greatly enjoyed seeing the radio play version of It’s A Wonderful Life. It really is fun watching actors recreate a radio broadcast of the classic movie. Chicago has not one, but two productions of this going on. Either one should be a lot of fun. This is what I wrote at the time.

Remember, Hennacornoeliday is right around the corner! So smile. Noel

Printers Row Lit Fest 2013

walking in the city

We had a busy week in Chicago while all the time thoughts kept returning to the road leading out of here. While on the train downtown I overheard an older lady talk of all the places she wants to go (“Oregon is suppose to be pretty” and “Boston would be nice but the people are suppose to be mean” were two of my favorite comments). Two tourists were walking around downtown, snapping pictures with the woman wearing a Berkley shirt. And on and on. But Chicago is prety cool too and we were lucky enough to be able to check out the Printers Row Lit Fest.

Justin Roberts and The Not Ready for Naptime Players rock it out

Justin Roberts and The Not Ready for Naptime Players rock it out

A bit overshadowed by Blues Fest, Printers Row is the more sober of the two. I mean who ever heard of throwing down a blanket and getting drunk while perusing a good book. What I do like about the fest are all the authors set up at tables hawking their own books. I met one such author, Jaymie Simmon and left with her book The God Gene. I think I remember hearing it reviewed on NPR. What got me was her repeated insistence that the book is a comedy.

Our little book worm

Our little book worm

Also present are many children authors and a whole stage dedicated to pleasing kids with children focused bands and story telling. There are also face painters and a smattering of arts and crafts as well. Sometimes just hanging out in your backyard is trip enough.

Photos from Starved Rock State Park (Fall Edition)

One of our favorite getaway places is Starved Rock State Park and we are definite repeat offenders at their lodge.  Usually though we visit in winter and last weekend was our first time ever staying over night when the trees still had some leaves.  Based on photos hanging in the lodge of past fall displays, the colors were a bit muted this year due to the drought.  Far worse was the effect the drought and climate change has had on the apple crop.  On the way to the lodge we stopped at an orchard only to find out that the apples were decimated by the warm 2011 March which caused everything to bud early.  A severe frost then came in and wiped out a lot of apples.  The drought did not help any.  But the people we talked to were optimistic about next year.  They also had a lot of kittens running around which made for a happy Henna.  Hope everyone enjoys the photos.

By the way, does anybody out there in Cyberland have any good information for us on the Gulf Shores area in Alabama?  What about the gulf side of Florida?  We are planning our winter trip and could use some ideas.

The Art of Staying Still (fun at the NC in fall)

Do you know that scene in Top Gun when Tom Cruise is flying an F-16 and a MIG is gaining on him fast?  Tom pulls on the brakes and the Soviet menace flies by (and then gets a missile up his tail pipe).  That strategy works well with travel too.  Don’t like the weather or the neighbors or the noise?  Just stay put and it will pass.  Take today for example.  We went to the Fall Fest at the Nature Center (near the corner of Pulaski and Peterson).  Last year we went with Henna’s Girl Scout troop and we were two dozen in a sea of thousands.  That is how it is every fall and somewhere we have photos of infant Henna being carried through a mass of scarecrow building families.  The scarecrow building contest by the way, is just one of many fun activities.  You can also listen to the incredibly talented story-teller Mark Kater spin his magic, cut tree rings under the supervision of our friend Ted, and talk football with neighbor Bob (landscape architect at the Nature Center).  Actually you cannot do the last item.  He is much, much too busy on that special day to say more than hello.  That is, of course, until today.  Today was different from any other fall festival ever attended by us at the Nature Center.  Today was the day it rained for all but one hour of the festival.  We actually have never built a scarecrow either (too crowded!).  Today we did under our umbrellas and a tent that was a bit too small.  Today was the day we parked at the main lot that is just a few yards from the main building (usually we park about half a mile away).  The lines were short at the hot dog stand (the one manned each year by a nearby parochial school’s men’s club) and there were no trinkets or produce to buy at the outdoor market because there was no outdoor market.  If last year the number attending was in the thousands this year it was in the dozens.

But there were plenty of friends to see such as Ted, whom I have known since being first introduced to him by Corey in that short period of time when we were just good friends.  After we got married (and just before a road trip) he taught us how to change a tire.  He is also an outdoor enthusiast who loves to teach what he knows and has the kindest heart possible.  It was good talking to him by the fire.  Later we also talked to Bob’s wife Jessica and their daughter Annabelle about school and other neighborhood gossip.  As for Bob it was fun asking him how the Packers are doing.  There was an Irish folk band there too (One of The Girls) who played soulful music perfect for a rainy day.  Mark also told his stories and although we have heard him tell most of them before, we listened as intently as ever.  And I got to the hot dog stand tent just before they closed up shop.  For the first time I made conversation with the men manning the dogs and we joked about the crummy weather.   A panel of judges (actually maybe just Bob) determined our scarecrow to be the zaniest which earned us a wooden cookie medal.  Henna was incredibly excited by this and did not seem to get that there were only about ten entries and seven awards given.  The rain by that time had cleared and we had the trails all to ourselves.  We had stood still and the world had reshuffled the deck to our advantage.

Bumming around the North Shore

That’s how I have felt recently, rooted.  Rooted is not all that bad, but it is kind of the opposite of a road trip.  So when Corey woke up a few morning ago (some time after 10) and announced she felt the need for adventure, well I was not going to argue.  We bounced around several ideas, but in the end decided just to drive east. 

In road trip terms we do not live so far from the lake.  I mean we camped some 20 miles from the rim of the Grand Canyon and still felt the pull of that big ol’ hole.  Our five or so miles from the lake should be nothing more than a short drive (or long hike) away.  But those five miles are city miles and involve a journey through no less than a dozen or so worlds and at least twenty minutes.  I think I know Jackson Lake (Grand Tetons) as well as Lake Michigan.  So today we tried to become more familiar with the familiar. 

The things we discovered:  a Cub Scout group learning how to kayak on the North Branch (of the Chicago River), the awesome and towering art found in the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, two quality used book stores, one very good antique store (where Corey bought oldish cookie cutters), a Stone Cold Creamery (definitely a mistake for Corey and I but a favorite for Henna), a wine tasting, a park, several cats, a giant turtle, and other animals at the cool pet store, and an overcrowded Whole Foods.  Such are the adventures that make life just so much more enjoyable.

Logan Square Farmers Market

Before I tell you about the cool farmers market in Logan Square, I want to point out to everyone that for the second week in a row the Chicago Tribune has plagiarized my work.  I know your thinking why, why would the largest newspaper in Chicago bother stealing from our little travel oriented blog.  I will tell you why; the Chicago Tribune is out to get me.  First they bash all Chicago Public Schools teachers and clinicians in an unrelenting campaign to rid the world of public education, and then they carelessly follow my lead in all things Hennacornoelidays.  It started with their three-part article about Charlie Trotter’s (published a couple of days after my blog entry about the same man) and then continued with today’s article concerning Saskatchewan.  Here is what the anti-union/ corporate thugs wrote:   And here is our modest article published one year prior

OK, the Tribune article is little more focused.  But it also misses some of the beauty and grandeur that lies in between Saskatchewan’s middling towns.  To travel on Transcontinental Highway 1 through the Canadian prairie is a lesson in isolation as for long stretches (hours and hours of time) one can drive and not see any chain hotels, few diners, and just the occasional train running parallel to the road.  And we are talking the equivalent to Interstate 80 here. 

But we are not today traveling through the Canadian landscape (although for the last few days I have been looking at ferry and train routes to and through Newfoundland).  Today we are home and spent some the day looking for farm fresh eggs.  While in Yosemite we made the mistake of accepting fresh eggs from our neighbor.  There is no going back.  A month ago our neighbors here brought us to the Iowa City farmers market.  It was enough to make us wish we lived there.  I am happy to say that the Logan Square Farmer’s Market is almost just as cool.  It has snow cones, organic fruit and veggies galore, smoked fish at just $10/pound, cheeses, hard liquors distilled in Ravenswood, food trucks, and a lot of meat.  People were as hip and friendly as they were in Iowa and Logan Boulevard was transformed into something not quite rural, but altogether sustainable.   It felt good to be home.