Detroit, MI

 

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Where once was a good size home is now a giant artist easel

 

Detroit is like any other post-apocalyptic city except that instead of zombies they got themselves some hipsters. Across the abandoned landscapes (whole city blocks with nothing more than a bunch of crumbling buildings and maybe one decent brewery) they nest, biding their time before the next art gallery moves in.

 

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Greek Pride parade in downtown Detroit

 

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Along the waterfront on Detroit’s People Mover

 

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Our digs in Detroit. We were a bit nervous moving in and then quickly fell in love with the artist loft.

 

 

 

 

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Our view off the back deck

 

 

Corktown mural done

Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood which at one time was home to thousands of Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. Today it is home to a distillery, a great Udon noodle place, a used record store, and other similar fun places.

 

Detroit’s pretty cool. Never thought I would say that. For two nights we crashed in the upstairs of a former bar that has since been converted into an artist’s loft. Our landlord was next door in a former bank with windows only on one side of the building. From the street it all looked just another couple of abandoned buildings sitting in the ruins of a once great city.

 

conservatory

The Conservatory located on Belle Isle Park. Belle Isle Park’s main attractions (which include the country’s oldest aquarium, the conservatory and a nature museum) are only open a few days a week. So mostly tourists wander the island to gawk at building they are not allowed to enter.

 

In 1950 Detroit had approximately 1.8 million citizens. Today there are a little more than 650,000 people remaining in the city. That type of wholescale flight is going to leave a few empty buildings (by most counts at least 70,000). And into this void come the artists, urban planners, chefs, urban farmers and other dreamers all looking to lay claim on a new vision.  

Rise up!

They got tourists too. Some wander off to the obvious sites like the former Motown Studio and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Others roam the hinter land in search of art, food, used records and the other necessities of life. We did a little bit of both and cannot wait to return to take in some more. Long live Detroit.

 

DIA

One of the most impressive museums in the world, the Detroit Institute of Arts houses Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” frescoes as well as collections from both European masters and more contemporary artists. 

 

portrait

 

 

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Birding With Tom

People outside of Chicago often stare at me in disbelief when I tell them how open and green the city is. I talk about forest preserves and bike paths and they answer with gunshots and beeping horns. But really, Chicago has coyotes aplenty to go with deer, skunks, possums, and way too many raccoons. Oh, and there was that time a cougar was shot by the Chicago Police Department a few blocks west of Wrigley Field. Less dramatic was the time Corey and I spied a fox one late night burying a mouse across the street from our house. The birding is even more impressive with dozens of species nesting and flying over my city block including a large hawk that often perches across the street from my house. On occasion we spy a bit of fur sticking to its claws.

House Wren

House Wren at Bunker Hill/ photo by Tom Lally

If the Edison Park neighborhood is teeming with wildlife, you better believe the nearby Forest Preserve is as well. It just so happens that last Sunday our good friend Tom was leading a guided birding walk through the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve as part of the “Bird the Preserves Big Year.” The contests pits the forest preserves of Cook County against one another to see which team can identify the most birds. My money is on the team that has Tom. Why? Because if Audubon was still alive he would probably be asking Tom’s help in identifying birds. Thus far, Tom has witness all but two of the 138 species of spotted at Bunker Hill since March of this year.

Tom at work

Tom helping us identify some birds

Now I have known this stretch of Forest Preserve for quite a long time with my first introduction as a toddler riding on the back of my father’s bike. But I tend to rush through most sceneries with my eyes fixed to the road. I may cover a lot of miles but often see too few of them. Tom, however, has mastered the art of watchful lingering and knows well how to look and listen. Luckily for us he also enjoys sharing this perspective.

yellow warbler

Yellow Warbler at Bunker Hill Forest Preserve/ photo by Tom Lally

So at 7 A.M. the three of us, along with a crowd of fellow first timers and repeat offenders, were treated to a world of nests, birds, and avian intentions. A highlight for me was watching a Barn Swallow repeatedly scooping up little bits of mud in its beak to take back to its nest. Henna loved the many colorful Orioles she spied as well as an impressive Cooper Hawk sitting in its nest. Corey just liked being up earlier than maybe she has ever been on a Sunday.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole at Bunker Hill Forest Preserve/ photo by Tom Lally

This was a completely free event with Tom even bringing donut holes and binoculars for everyone. Tom leads one more guided bird expedition this spring but plans on leading more in the fall. For more information about guided birding walks throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve system, click here. And know this, there are not many things Corey and Henna will wake up early for. This is one of them.

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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.

 

Our Day of Action (April 1, 2016)

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Henna and I watched as the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, jumped up and down while defending public education. The thousand plus crowd, a mix of college student, CPS educators, and service union members, cheered her every word and it felt good to be a part of something bigger than us. Earlier Henna and I had mingled with my friends outside the school that on most Fridays I would have been inside. That also felt good as well as the cars honking in support of our Day of Action.

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One of the good guys in the fight for public education, State Rep Rob Martwick

Later Corey joined us (she was protesting outside of Henna’s school) and the three of us hopped a train to join a larger rally downtown. Along the way more red shirts joined us and by the time we reached our station it felt like the CTU Express. Among the people we met were a couple of CPS high school sweethearts who now teach together at a different CPS high school. He showed off his marching drum while she explained how a teacher at Schurz inspired her to become a teacher herself. She later got teary eyed when talking about how classroom cuts have hurt her students. Downtown it was a mass of teachers, parents, children, and protestors from every walk of life. The rain was intermittent but the crowd kept expanding until finally we marched with umbrellas and posters held over our head to keep us dry. Eventually the three of us made it home cold, wet, and exhausted.

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All aboard the CTU Express

Governor Rauner called the one day strike the “height of arrogance.” The Mayor, who cancelled school the previous Friday, also expressed his disappointment. What they fail to understand is that we do not work for them but for the families devastated by their ill-conceived educational policies. While Bruce insists that unions practically disband before raising the state income tax back to what it was under his predecessor (a rate that would keep Illinois paying one of the lowest income taxes in the country), our safety net is being disassembled. Shelters are being closed by the dozen and many families have no idea where their next meal will come from. Meanwhile Rahm sits on hundreds of millions of TIF Surplus funds while Henna sits in a classroom with thirty students. Arrogance is too nice a word to describe those jokers.

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A few of the amazing teachers that I am lucky to work with

For us, along with the thousands of like minded people who converged downtown, yesterday was far from a day off from work. After yesterday I believe more than ever that real change, the type that scares the establishment, is possible. But it might take a few more calls to action to make that happen.

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Like all Newfies he supports teachers

 

 

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It will take more than rain to stop the fight for public education

 

 

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 strawdog.org.  For my full review in Newcity, click here.

City Museum (St. Louis)

City Museum Photo 2

There I was, gravity pushing me head down into a five foot drop that ended with a concrete slab, and I could not for the life of me swing my legs around to cushion the fall. Maybe a dozen kids were stopped up behind me in the tunnel as I tried and tried and to fit my feet under my chin. And just when I was about to yell for help I was able to just barely free my feet and then jump harmlessly to the ground. Henna followed me down (she of course had no problem whatsoever navigating her way within what is essentially a giant Slinky toy) then we climbed a few steps into a stripped down airplane. While a bunch of little children pretended to fly the Junker, I looked out the window at the greater St. Louis skyline. We did not allow ourselves to become too complacent, as there was still a giant slide between us and firm ground.

City Museum St. Louis

The place is not for everyone. I do not, for example, recommend that my mom venture anywhere near the museum (because she just might faint if she saw her eldest son and granddaughter stuck several stories high). And to be honest, it is not exactly the safest place around as we witnessed several people hitting their head on concrete overhangs (a wallet also fell a few feet from Corey who was minding her own business on the ground floor). But if you are not squeamish around heights (or sliding your way in and out of incredibly intricate man-made caves that extend upwards for close to a dozen stories), then you really need to check this place out.

The City Museum is the brainchild of artist Bob Cassilly and his ex-wife Gail Cassilly who purchased a vacant former shoe factory in order to sink an artistic anchor into a dying industrial part of town. Bob was relentless in this pursuit and over time he created a living, breathing art piece that doubled as a playground (the area benefitted nicely too as there now exist several condos and boutiques where once there were only abandoned buildings). Using as much discarded materials as possible as well as the remaining guts of the factory, Bob cluttered floor after floor after floor with giant turning devices, slides that only hint at where you might end up, and climbing apparatuses that allow children to coast along the ceiling and then into different floors. He also designed an amazing labyrinth of caves which both rise vertically as well as outward so that one can either ascend ten stories up or go a few yards to the side. A master of concrete, he filled these caverns with perfectly realized sculptures of animals, and mermaids, and whatever the heck else he thought would complete a subterranean dream. Outside the museum are several slides and rising tunnels that lead to things such as the aforementioned airplane. The City Museum also offers circus classes, an aquarium, an arts and crafts center, and a pretty nifty collection of recovered gargoyles and other things people threw away when knocking down classic buildings. And on the roof are a Ferris wheel and other goodies (which unfortunately for us did not open until mid May).

Speaking of closing, the place is closed on Sundays, but is open most weekends until midnight. Midnight! They even have a couple of bars, serve decent and not too expensive food, and offer gated parking across the street ($5 the day we were there). Sadly Bob died a few years ago while working on another project in an abandoned concrete factory north of town. But as long as his museum lives so does a part of him. Noel

City Museum

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.

Wicked

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

Cirque Shanghai’s Dragon’s Thunder at Navy Pier (Summer, 2013)

First off I was wrong. I thought Cirque Shanghai would be kind of like a less popular Cirque du Soleil. I mean du Soleil plays Vegas and tickets can set you back almost $200. Cirque Shanghai can be seen at Ho Chunk Casino. Well, I have never actually seen Cirque du Soleil but I cannot imagine them rocking any harder than Shanghai. Cirque Shanghai is all about danger. Lots and lots of danger. It also is about stupid human tricks performed without a net (OK, sometimes there was this weak looking sponge like mat, but you get the idea). My favorite involved this suspended hamster wheel with guys spinning on top of the contraption while doing things like jumping rope. Who thinks of that? Anyways, tickets start at $20 (and really, given how small the venue is you should go with the cheap seats) and this is definitely hennacornoeli recommended. A longer more articulate review by me can be found below: http://www.chicago-splash.com/publish/Entertainment/cat_index_chicago_entertainment/cirque-shanghai-dragon-s-thunder-review.php

CirqueShanghai Mulan's Dragon Drums

Cirque Shanghai Wheel of Destiny

Cirque Shanghai Group Contortion 2

We also want to give a big shout out to our newest fan, Logan Schecter who came into the world 40 years and a day after me. Happy Birthday!

All photos courtesy of Circus Shanghai

To purchase tickets or for more information click here http://www.navypier.com/cirqueshanghai/