January 11, 2007
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Blackberry Harvest Dollhouse Museum Shoppe
This little museum/store filled with miniatures was a bit of heaven to my 8-year-old daughter who loves everything to do with dollhouses. Owner Collette McCree Renfro opened the museum in downtown Homewood 15 years ago so she would have a place to house her own extensive dollhouse collection. Along the way, she began selling dollhouses and accessories to other miniature lovers who came to visit.
Renfro loves sharing her dollhouse passion with children and spent an hour opening cabinets and dollhouses so that my daughter, Grace, could touch the furniture and see the dollhouse figures up-close.
She teaches children's classes and believes kids should use their imagination, and not a lot of money, to create their own dollhouses. Renfro showed us wallpaper made from fabric swatches and furniture made from leftover Christmas ornaments. She doesn't mind kids touching items in the museum (there are just a few antique items that are off-limits) and had great ideas for how kids can create their own dollhouse items with just a little paper and some imagination.
Renfro also thinks miniatures appeal to boys as well as girls, so she stocks lots of fun items for boys' dollhouse bedrooms, including air hockey and foosball tables that really work. She also stocks houses that would appeal to boys, such as castles and firehouses.
The museum is free and is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday. The museum is small, so don't expect to spend longer than 45 minutes or so there. When you're through, you can grab some lunch downtown at Aurelio's Pizza, 18162 Harwood Ave., or Nielsen's Bakery, 2053 Ridge Road, which offers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as more grownup fare for parents. Liz DeCarlo
The Blackberry Harvest Dollhouse and Museum Shoppe is located at 18120 Dixie Highway. Call the museum at (708) 957-4432 for more information on upcoming children's classes, which cost $20 and include all materials.
"The Three Musketeers"
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's "The Three Musketeers" is a rollicking musical romp, filled with sword fighting, intrigue, singing and more sword fighting. Although the play is fairly long with only one intermission, my 7-year-old remained spellbound for the entire performance, as did the other dozen kids we saw in the audience. Clever staging (the characters rode hobby-horses instead of the real thing), lots of action, terrifically detailed costumes, music and excellent timing kept things moving. From the time that D'Artangian rides into Paris on his ancient yellow horse, to the dramatic conclusion where he is finally inducted into the Musketeers, he and the other players bring an incredible energy and enthusiasm to everything in this production. The music, although not the most memorable aspect of the show, was entertaining and both the female leads and the chorus were excellent.
But the real stars were the four male leads, often singing in harmony, sometimes pausing in the middle of large choreographed battles to whip out a little tune. D'Artangian and his companions - as well as his faithful servant - were exciting and entertaining every moment they took the stage, developing their characters so completely that my son had no trouble at all distinguishing among their different personalities. This adaptation of Dumas' famous novel is very complete and includes all the twists and turns of the original plot. The only "adult" themes that I thought might be of concern to parents are touched upon very lightly, and honestly, they went right over my son's head. The fact that Milady DeWinter was once a prostitute and betrayed Athos, her estranged husband, to become a spy for the Cardinal was revealed in a moving song, but was easily explained to my son without bringing prostitution into it. When D'Artangian falls in love with Constance, the Queen's seamstress and confidante, while she is married to an elderly and unpleasant innkeeper, the issue is also glossed over somewhat easily for younger children. In fact, I'm not even sure my son realized the two were supposed to be married. All in all, this was much tamer than your average teen movie. In fact, the story brings up several issues of loyalty, personal happiness and wrong and right that make excellent openings for bringing up these topics with your kids later on. For an afternoon theater trip, you can't beat Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for a beautiful location. Built into Navy Pier, the views of the lake from the lobby windows are panoramic and you can point out landmarks such as the Planetarium or the Sears Tower and people watch while you wait for the doors to open. The theater itself is an intimate horseshoe shape with clear sight lines and seating all the way to the foot of the stage. You can discuss similarities with Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, and how different it might be from larger auditoriums you have visited. I definitely recommend the 3 p.m. matinee for younger theatergoers. Even with a nap, I think the 8 p.m. performance would have taxed my son's ability to pay attention. With a mostly adult audience, I think that this is a show for first graders with a good attention span and older kids. Anyone younger is going to have trouble following things and possibly staying awake. The grade school and up crowd will probably get the most out of the story and its deeper themes.
I advise clarifying that you are going to simply watch a play before you arrive. Navy Pier is filled with distractions, and if your kids have been there before, they may be thinking "Children's Museum, rides, cotton candy, oh my!" Tickets to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre are worth every penny in my opinion, but they are on the expensive side, so you want to make sure that your child is not expecting one thing but getting something else. Even though we had discussed it beforehand, my son got excited by the action of Navy Pier and wanted to go check out the rides (which were closed for winter anyway, making it a non-issue). But once we got into our seats and the play started, he forgot all about it. The trick is to get them inside and on to the main event. You can exit from the parking garage and go up the stairs to the theater almost immediately, avoiding the arcade of souvenirs and other attractions.
At intermission, snacks, drinks and the bathroom are all available within the theater complex and you can easily pass the time enjoying the marvelous view of the lake and discussing the first act. After the play is the perfect opportunity for dinner at one of Navy Pier's many restaurants that offer everything from sit-down dining to hot dogs, or a brisk walk up to the end of the pier-just the thing after sitting for an hour-and-a-half. We opted for ice cream, right across from the theater stairs, and headed for home-happy, full, culturally enriched and entertained. Bronwyn Wright
"The Three Musketeers" plays at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre through Feb. 18. Tickets are $50. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is located at 800 East Grand Ave. on Navy Pier. For more information and show times, visit www.chicagoshakes.com or call the box office at (312) 595-5600.
"Go, Diego, Go! The Great Jaguar Rescue"
Since television is a seemingly inescapable part of my family's life, I try to make the best choices possible for my sons, ages 6, 4 and 2. "Go, Diego, Go!" on Nick Jr. has been a regular part of the line-up for the past year. But we've never owned any episodes on DVD until now.
There are so many reasons to like Diego, cousin to the popular Dora series. First of all, he is an action-adventure hero geared toward preschool kids, complete with scientific gadgets, vehicles and animal helpers. He makes rescuing animals his life mission and always accomplishes his goal with the cooperation of his young viewers. I appreciate the current television trend to have characters encourage kids to get up and get active. In "The Great Jaguar Rescue" we had to get up to jump and ended up on all fours growling like jaguars.
Diego also integrates the Spanish language into each episode seamlessly and without translation necessary. I've heard my 4-year-old playing with his rescue center, saying "los animales" and "vamos" as part of his dialogue. Diego introduces many rainforest animals not familiar to city kids. In addition to jaguars, the new DVD features episodes that teach kids about a kinkajou, a macaw and a baby chinchilla. The end of each show even gives a little quiz with correct answers earning puzzle pieces to complete a picture.
Each story invests kids in completing the mission, always in service of someone other than themselves. Even my 2-year-old bounced excitedly on the floor as Diego came closer to rescuing baby jaguar's growl from the silly Bobo brothers (a hilarious duo of monkeys). Friendship and cooperation are the keys to fulfilling the mission, a message I'm comfortable sharing with my sons.
As corny as it seems, I even love the way each episode ends, "We learned so much today. And there's so much more to discover... together." No doubt this new DVD will be a regular request in our house. Alena Murguia
"Go, Diego, Go! The Great Jaguar Rescue" will be available beginning Jan. 16 for $16.99. Total running time of all four episodes is 98 minutes.