January 18, 2007

“The BFG”

The Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences does a wonderful job of bringing Roald Dahl’s The BFG to life on stage. The BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant) is a sweet story about a kindly vegetarian giant who uses a trumpet to blow pleasant dreams into children’s ears and thinks whizzpops (farts in non-giant-speak) are the height of charming.

When a precocious orphan named Sophie sees him one night, he kidnaps her and takes her back to his home in the land of the giants. There, they form a most unlikely friendship and band together to fight the other giants, who spend their evenings eating children.

Emily Kimble is fabulous as Sophie and Chris Brown is equally terrific as The BFG. Both play their own parts, then play their parts as puppets designed to reflect the differences in size. For example, when 8-year-old Sophie is with The BFG, she works a puppet about a foot high and when The BFG, who is rather small for a giant, is with the meaner, uglier, regular-sized giants, he works a puppet that is about two feet high and Sophie is reduced to a fraction of her former self.

This is a delightful, whimsical play-even before The BFG teaches Sophie about the joys of whizzpopping to the accompaniment of loud fart sounds echoing through the theater.

A word of caution: While The BFG is kindly and completely non-threatening, the same cannot be said of the other giants. They jump up from the orchestra pit and look and sound scary. The younger children in the audience leaped into their parents’ laps and covered their eyes. Overall, however, the play is great for slightly older kids and adults alike. Cindy Richards

The BFG plays at DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theater, 60 E. Balbo Drive in Chicago, with the Chicago Playworks for Families Young Audiences through March 6. Tickets are $8. For more information and special events, call the box office, (312) 922-1999, or check the Web site, theatreschool.depaul.edu/theatre_school_playworks_0607_bfg.php. The next special event is the ice cream social that follows the Feb. 10 performance.

Medieval Times Dinner& Tournament

When you enter the Medieval Times restaurant in Schaumburg you are stepping back into the 11th century, where knights fight to the death and food is eaten with your fingers. My three kids and I were guests of the restaurant and spent two hours watching jousting and tournaments that featured fancy footwork on the part of both the horses and the knights.

The seats for the show surround a large arena, and no matter where you sit you have a great view of the action. My 10-year-old daughter is a horse lover and she enjoyed the close-up view as we watched the many maneuvers the horses performed during the first half of the show. In the second half of the show, knights compete in medieval jousting games and battles. Even when the knight was"killed” the action was pretty tame and it didn’t seem to frighten the younger kids in the audience, although everyone seemed to love the non-stop action.

While the show is going on, waiters and waitresses in medieval garb are serving the feast-chicken, ribs, baked potatoes and more-which you eat with your hands (it wasn’t nearly as messy as I envisioned). The restaurant also serves vegetarian meals, although they did provide silverware since the rice and lasagna would be a little difficult to eat with your hands. The hardest part of the meal was that the restaurant was frequently very dark because the lights were on the arena only, so we often had to stop eating and wait for some light to see what we were doing.

Medieval Times has a museum you can visit for an extra charge before or after the show, but since the sign at the museum entrance warns that it is not for children we took a pass on visiting. We were able to view one of the horses in his stable just outside the arena, but there wasn’t much to see since he was in a small glass enclosure.

Medieval Times is a great place for parents with early elementary school-aged kids to visit. We saw little boys entering the restaurant with their own knight gear and many were mesmerized by the antics of the knights and horses. My 8-year-old daughter easily got into the whole 11th century mood, but I have to admit my 13-year-old mostly enjoyed the meal and is long past the knights stage. Liz DeCarlo

Tickets for the meal and show cost $52.95 for adults and $37.95 for kids 12 and under (plus tax and gratuity). Medieval Times is located at 2001 N. Roselle Road in Schaumburg. For reservations or more information, call (888) WE-JOUST or visit the Web site at www.medievaltimes.com.

Crane Cool Mist Humidifier

The Crane Cool Mist Humidifier comes in a variety of adorable models. We happened to receive the penguin model. My two kids (Conor, 3 and Maddie, 1) loved the novelty of seeing a big penguin and wanted to play with it right away. After all, it looks like a toy. I had to explain to the kids that this was not a toy but a machine that would help them breathe a little better if they had a cold. I know my daughter didn’t quite understand, but my son got the gist of it, for the most part.

While going through the box, I discovered the instruction manual was not included so before I set up the humidifier, I contacted customer service at wk-usa.com and within the hour I received a PDF from an extremely helpful and friendly customer service representative.

We set it up and they loved seeing the cool mist come from the penguin’s beak. We adjusted the amount of steam coming out of the unit by using the control knob on the front of the machine. The kids thought it was more fun to see lots of steam coming out of the penguin’s beak so every once in a while, we would turn it up.

One time, when my son turned the knob, he did it a little fast and the wires attached to the knob controlling the level of steam output were disconnected. My husband took the machine apart and discovered the wires would need to be soldered back on in order to make the humidifier work properly again.

The next morning, the manufacturer of the Crane Cool Mist Humidifier was contacted by Chicago Parent and they said they would send me another unit right away for testing. The new humidifier actually came the next day (they’re close, in Naperville) and this time, it was a frog model.

Our new Crane Cool Mist Humidifier seems to be working well and the kids think it’s fun to have a big frog that has steam come from the top of his eyes. We have a new"look but don’t touch” rule and while it’s hard, Conor and Madeleine are cooperating nicely.

Overall, the humidifier seems to work fine, although it isn’t the sturdiest of machines. Customer service at wk-usa.com is excellent and I was very pleased with each of my experiences with them. I would recommend the Crane Cool Mist Humidifier to parents of older children because the temptation of wanting to play with the machine, coupled with the fact that I think it seems to be so fragile, wouldn’t work in a household with children under 10. Fiona Clyde

Cool Mist Humidifier by Crane, $29.99-44.99; www.wk-usa.com.

Vicks Health Check Monitor

The Vicks HealthCheck Monitor was a very useful humidifier accessory because it informs you of the humidity levels in the area you have the monitor. The HealthCheck Monitor also tells you when the humidity levels in your home are too dry (dry eyes, nose, and throat), healthy breathing (comfort zone), and best for coughs and colds (too humid for everyday). We had the monitor set up in my son’s room and switched it to my daughter’s room to check the humidity levels in there on a regular basis, too. The unit itself is compact yet easy to read. My son said it was"good, but not as cool as the penguin or frog.” My daughter agreed with her big brother, as she usually does. Fiona Clyde

HealthCheck Monitor by Vicks, $17.99; www.kaz.com.

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