Friday, September 5, 2008

Ren Faire Redux

Sick of talk of Bristol Palin, pregnant 17 year old daughter of Republican VP nominee, Sarah Palin? We experienced a Bristol, that's less of a political hot potato, on Labor Day. Monday was the final day for the Bristol Renaissance Faire and once just wasn't enough. So we went back for one last time this season. This time Sagezilla learned to do back flips on the Pirate Catapult and is officially ready to join the gypsies, Mooney the Magnif' Cent or at least Chicago's Midnight Circus. We went back for more mile high chocolate crepes, ship rides and spinning pirate's crow's nest rides. And of course we saw the kids' show by our friends "The Swordsmen". It was an especially amusing finale to the season with two mishaps. First, Dirk Perfect (Douglas Mumaw) was nearly undone in a sword fight with the floorboards. Then, the brave and stupid men were upstaged as a rock made it's comedy debut. The Swordsmen offered a cookie to the first child under 10 who could correctly answer Tudor as the last name of then queen of England. The little boy who got it right wiped out on a big chunk of gravel on his way to the cookie and hurt his knee.

The Swordsmen jokingly offered him the rock that hurt him, then threw it away, high in the air behind them, where it boomaranged off the backdrop and hit the same kid on his way back to his seat!

This time we caught the jousting and falconer.

We also spent more time in the children's area where Du-Jay and Sagezilla mixed many potions with a witch. She declared their requests to be unique and the most creative of the run of the fest. The crowning glory was a mixed transforming potion that would alter the shape of the drinker to anything, by request.
Both kids made sock puppets. Then we enjoyed the show "The Devil and the Baker's Wife" on the kids stage.

The kids even got knighted by the Queen of England, herself. Sir Du-Jay makes a fine knight, but Lady Sagezilla's still more pirate than lady despite the pedigree.

Both kids had a chance to shoot 12 arrows each at the archery range. They needed to hone their defensive skills in case some of the trolls, monsters and hairy beasties turned out to be real. People watching was at a premium.

We even spotted Green Man and Madame Butterfly who gave the kids a little turtle and an irridescent metal butterfly pin.

We were sad to see the faire end. As the day drew to a close, everyone joined in a drum circle dance where we heard strains of "........ na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye. Huzzah! Till next year.

From LagOOn to schOOl

All the outdoor city pools closed after Labor Day. And it's time for the annual draining of the beach at Humboldt Park. We got a good hand full of swims in at the 3rd coast "beach in the middle of the city" behind the Humboldt park district building, just south of North Ave. on Humboldt Blvd. (Sacramento).
Although I've heard disturbing urban legends of syringes and other nastiness being found at the bottom of the swimming hole in past years, it was a welcome and relatively clean refuge during frequent high E. coli levels at the big lakefront beaches. Ah, yes. The seedy underbelly of Chicago includes ancient sewage pipes prone to overflowing into our lovely Lake Michigan whenever we get good hard rains.

We'll miss Holstein Park with it's inner city, country club ambiance. Maybe next year the shallow end won't be over Sagezilla's head. We'll miss Pulaski Park on Blackhawk. Their shallow end really is far less than the marked 3 feet. And they have a fun, small water slide, tire swing and sprinkler park into about a foot depth that's perfect for the younger crowd. Best of all, it's never crowded and there are no lines. We'll miss Avondale Park pool with a depth of less than 3 feet throughout the entire pool. As a "mini-pool" it is for the 6-12 crowd and smaller kids with parents. It doesn't attract the rowdy teens. We swam for hours last Sunday and only one other kid was in the pool. It's like having our own large, private, in ground pool with life guards and maintenance staff, for free!

We will not miss Portage Park with it's overcrowded kid's pool, petty bureaucrats and snobby claims as a past Olympic training ground. We tried to swim there for years, but we always faced long lines. I was refused admittance for wearing an all white, cotton nursing t-shirt over a swim suit, because the lifeguard insisted it wasn't a t shirt. If a child has to go to the bathroom, you have to go to the back of the lengthy line to return to the sprinkler park.

Independence Park will be our new aquatic realm for fall and winter since their indoor pool stays open year round and their swim instructors are phenomenal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

30th Annual Chicago Jazz Fest

I haven't missed a Jazz Fest in the 18 years I have called Chicago home. And for the last 7, I've attended as a Mom with a kid or two in tow. This is the first year we were able to ditch the stroller, which was freeing, but made for some rethinking. It was a handy place to stuff stuff.

Thursday night I took the kids to Pritzker Pavilion for an amazing saxophone performance by Sonny Rollins. We swam with friends after school, grabbed a quick bite to eat in Bucktown, and took the train from there. So, we traveled without our usual baggage of camera, play tent, ribbon dancers, poi balls, Frisbees, footballs, bubbles, folding chairs, outer ware, snacks, drinks, folding porta potty seat, wipes etc.......

I was giddy with the freedom from packmuledom for one evening out--until the snarking began. I managed to carry just a Neat Sheet in my small AstroTurf backpack, my keys, wallet and el passes. Despite dinner and temps in the 70's, the kids were instantly starving, thirsty, hot, cold, bored and snarky.

Ah, yes. Now I remember why we Moms schlep so much stuff as part of the job description. It was a good lesson in simplifying, though, for everyone. Earlier this year, I was out at Reggie's Rock Club with my husband, and a drunk guy came stumbling up to us and said, "I just had to say hi to you guys. I see you at every show. And.....I mean. I'm a boyscout, too, and like to be prepared, and I don't have kids, but...... Man you guys always bring a lotta s**t." Not how I want to be remembered in this life!

We bought a bottle of overpriced Dasani water at Millineum Park Cafe and three ice cream cones which went far in the quelling the hungries, hots, and thirsties. But, I made them promise to leave their grumpies at the door in exchange for the ice cream bribe. Then we threw ourselves on the mercy of the great universe and I told the kids they'd just have to be content to listen to some world class jazz and play with whatever we found there.

Once in the pavilion, we had the great luck to plunk down behind a small troupe of jugglers. They had looked like normal 20 somethings, having beers together, when we sat down. But once they broke out numerous balls and started juggling and contact juggling, the kids were entranced. Oh, the joys of Chicago outdoor festivals.

I love that the kids are now old enough to go make friends within my sight lines. They happily and confidently trotted off to join Alex, with the dread locks and fascinating circus tricks, and his juggling friends. I enjoyed the kid-free solitude for a solid couple of hours, while the kids camped out and learned about physics and gravity a few blanket in front of me. The "big kids" as my offspring dubbed them, even broke out a deck of cards and taught my two how to play Go Fish, which Du-Jay and Sagezilla were thrilled to win.

We went back for more Jazz Fest both Saturday and Sunday evenings in Grant Park. This time we brought our own toys and chairs, but still kept it simple and took the train. The kids both fell asleep by 9:30pm, long before the final notes were played. Any other time they don't have to be up for school, they'll be happily dancing at midnight. We weighed the option of carrying two kids--65lbs and 41lbs, many blocks to and from the el on each end and made the executive decision to leave early and cab it home.

Sunday, we anticipated a similar end and drove, parking under Millennium Park, so we could stay through the end of the night. We brought enough glow sticks to share, and the kids made a wonderful eco-village out of stones, grass, mud, and sand.
It took hours and many children to make it, and expanded into quite a site art installation, made purely for the joy of it, all from found objects. All in all, it was a great year for The Chicago Jazz Fest.

More Fair Weather Fun

Sunday, August 24th we went to two fairs that offered more healthy fare. First, we stocked up on goodies from Whole Foods vendors at the annual Flavor Fest in Trebes Park. We came home with bags full of free, healthy snacks and sampled many more at the fest.

This year, Flavor Fest joined the booking big league with national acts headlining each night. We missed The Smithereens, who played Saturday night, but were thrilled to catch an excellent show by The English Beat.

We also made it to The Bucktown Arts Festival. It was a hot day, and more crowded than ever, so we only stayed an hour or so. We packed a lot into a short time, though. First, we made a donation to the greyhound rescue in exchange for body painting, where Du-Jay asked for a creature made from parts of several animals mixed together. Thankfully, the artist liked creative kids and rose to the challenge instead of freaking out at the unusual request.
Then we caught some Indonesian dancing where Sagezilla was picked as a volunteer dancer. We rounded out the afternoon with a swim at adjoining Holstein Park.
The kids made it through their first 5 and 7 years, respectively, without discovering the joys of funnel cakes. However, an adult friend of a friend broke off a piece for each of them at West Fest and that's all it took.
I forgot all about it, but one look at the funnel cakes sign and one whiff of the deep fried, powdered sugar treat and they were salivating like Pavlov's dogs.
After a great swim, we ended the arts fest with a not so healthy, but super tasty treat. Mmmmmm--what says fest food like funnel cakes. Ah, well. Every once in a while........................

Health Fair Weather in Chi Town

August 23 & 24 were FAIR game for fun times. Saturday, we began with two back to school health fairs, which were practical and enjoyable.

First we hit Hamlin Park, for a 32nd ward event sponsored by Alderman Waguespack. The kids came home with a reusable Jewel bags full of free school supplies, new toothbrushes, seeds to plant, and tasty samples from Costco. We also learned about the upcoming read for the record event set for October 2, where thousands will read "Corduroy" simultaneously. Mom was happy with free Starbucks coffee while the highlight for the kids was running a safe driver obstacle course in little pedal cars and earning Sheriff badges and star stickers.

Then we headed north to Brands Park where they offered free vaccines and dental check ups for back to school time. To soften the blow, they had a magic show, DJ and moon bouncer. And they offered candy, hot dogs, sodas, popcorn, Baskin Robbins ice cream and Eli's cheesecake--all also free.

Ever practical, my free range, organic fed son said "How come it's a health fair and they're serving so many unhealthy things?!" Why indeed. We came home with more school supplies and free goodies including vet t-shirts, CAPS water bottles and info on Galaxie Arts classes.