CMP Tactical Lazer Tag

This weekend, we went to Frankfort, IL to play laser tag at CMP Tactical Lazer Tag. It was awesome. They were running a Groupon that made it a very good deal. It’s a bit of a drive out of the city and we got a little lost. At one point, we were wandering a dark industrial road, hoping to find the place. But once we did, it was well worth the drive.

It’s a different from your typical laser tag place. The focus is strategy and teamwork. There are no dark lights, smoke machines, and other nonsense. The course was a little like a small city block with two story fake brick buildings. You weren’t weighted down with bulky vests. Instead, you had sensors only on your head. In order to kill someone, you had to hit the sensors. Laser guns had different power strengthens. Some took four shots to take someone out; some were more powerful and could kills someone in two shots. It was simply a lot more realistic than other laser tag games I’ve played. I dug it.

We played several games or missions in the hour and a half of play. There was game where you had to diffuse a briefcase bomb. One team had to place it at one of six locations. The opposing team had to find it. Then they had to push a button to get the code that they had to input before the bomb counted down. It was a really fancy piece of equipment. I didn’t get to hear it explode since both teams successfully diffused the bomb. Boo. There was a cops and robbers game where one team had to get to a wall of safes, input the codes, put the money into a bag, and get the bag to a center location in the arena. The other team had to defend. It was really neat. My friend and I were the safecrackers, quickly opening all the safes, so we could get all the money for our team.

I really loved how strategy played a central role in the game. In other laser tag games, you run around and try to hit the enemy to score points for your team. Here, the way to victory was planning. We were fortunate to play with some folks who had been there before so they had good ideas. (It was an open game; anyone who showed up got to play). But execution is the essential. We’d split up tasks. For instance, a few people opened the safes, others grabbed the money, and other people ran the bag to the drop site. Everyone else covered the relay team. This strategy part of the game made it a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved playing laser tag and will probably play at the more traditional places again. But this game made me feel that I was an effective player. Kills wasn’t the goal, save to get the enemy out of the way of your task. The company didn’t even keep stats. It was all about the team.

And yeah, we won all the games. Victory is ours!

So yeah, it’s a long drive to Frankfurt, IL but I hope we go back soon.

That’s all!


This weekend, we made another foray into the Great Hot Chocolate Quest of Chicago. We went to Xocolatl in West Logan Square; it’s another suggestion from the following list:

It has several locations including Pilsen and Navy Pier. There were several flavors to choose from: Abuelita, Spicy, Mint, and some mocha flavors (I didn’t recall since I don’t drink coffee.)

I got the Spicy Hot Chocolate and some churros. Goodness, those churros were amazing. For years, I didn’t get the appeal of churros. It was chewy fried dough covered in sugar.  (And yes, this didn’t appeal to me. Most fried foods don’t appeal to me). But then I had a fresh churro filled with vanilla from a street vendor in Rio de Janeiro last year. I realized that the churros that I had in the past were all cold and stale. Freshly cooked churros are amazing; they are light, fluffy, and warm. (Most foods are improved by being warm in my opinion). At Xocolatl, I had a churro filled with dulce de leche that  was incredible, although it was a little messy. I’d go back to try all the different fillings like cream cheese or vanilla. My fiance tried strawberry and dulce de leche; he said the latter was better. Whatever the filling, you have to eat fresh there in the store before it cools off.

As for the hot chocolate, I was initially disappointed when I read the menu to see Abuelita chocolate. For me, Abuelita is a brand. I was hoping for something more homemade. Don’t get me wrong; I love Abuelita. I grew up with it. As a kid, we’d get the round bricks of chocolate that had to be melted with milk. I sometimes ate it straight…so good. In recent years, Abuelita got bought by Nestle, which did come out with a powdered version that I rather like. It’s sweet and filled with cinnamon. But I like being able to try hot chocolate at stores/cafes that I can’t make easily at home.

So I decided to go with Spicy Chocolate. I don’t usually go for spicy but I wanted something new and different. It was really spicy. I’m not sure what they put in it but it was too strong for me. I coughed occasionally from the spice. There were small orange/red flakes of something. It got a little better when I got half way through, the flakes were more diluted. Sadly, it just wasn’t up there in my top places for Chicago.

But I’d go back for the churros. Go for the churros. All the churros.

That’s all for now!

Review: Iphigenia in Aulis

This week, we went to check out Iphigenia in Aulis at the Court Theater. I was particularly keen to see this production after seeing 3/4 of the Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic. Also, Court Theater is really a gem in Hyde Park. I’ve seen three of my all time favorite shows there: James Joyce’s The Dead, Joan Didion’s A Year in Magical Thinking, and An Iliad (twice).

Iphigenia in Aulis is the first in a series of three Greek tragedies that Court Theater is putting on in the next three years. The story takes place just before the Trojan war. All the Greek ships are stationed at Aulis waiting for winds to take them to Troy. Spoilers ahead. Agamemnon faces a terrible choice for the sake of his family and Greece. A prophet has told him that the fleet will not go unless Agamemnon sacrifices his eldest daughter Iphigenia. So he lures her to Aulis under the pretext of a wedding to Achilles.

It’s a fascinating play about honor and free will/fate. Agamemnon wrestles with his conscience over this horrible fate for his daughter. Either way he is screwed. He can save his daughter, dishonor his oath or kill his daughter and disobey his oath to his family. He berates Menelaus for his obsession with his honor and his faithless wife. Then we have Achilles who rants about the misuse of his name for horrible deeds.  With Greek tragedies, it’s always about honor. But then there is fate/free will. Should characters do what the gods have ordained? Should they deny the gods? Can they? If they choose to give themselves up to fate, isn’t that free will?
I thought the production was good. The staging had the same feel as An Iliad. The action took place in a dirty, cluttered place, like a basement or ship dock. I think it worked with the story. The army has been stuck in this holding place for months (possibly a year if I remember correctly). There was a chorus of women. They were my absolute favorite part of the production. They were really fantastic. They wove together sentences to paint these scenes off stage, like Achilles riding with his men. It was slam lyrical poetry. They sang, whispered judgment, conversed with the characters. Every time Helen’s name was mentioned, they spat. I don’t think I’ve seen such an effective chorus before.
The costuming was great. The chorus wore combinations of purple, turquoise and blue outfits, which contrasted with the drabness of the set. The costuming of all the women seemed suggestive of a wedding, which hit home even more the cruelty of the story.
One thing that bothered me throughout the play was the issue of Helen. I’m sure this is more to do with the script rather than the staging. Characters constantly curse her for causing this misery. One constant refrain is: “Why should Iphigenia suffer for Helen’s crime?” I found this problematic to blame everything on Helen. First, the characters admit that Paris kidnaps her and rapes her. So one has to question how unfaithful she really is. Second, there is an army of Greece that is choosing to go to war with Troy over her. Yes, there was an oath and honor has to be maintained…blah blah blah. These are all choices that characters make. Helen may have been the catalyst for this all but she is unfairly condemned for Iphigenia’s cruel fate. Later in the play, there is discussion about how the barbarians prey on Greek women…and then we just get into some xenophobia. Problem play in my eyes.
This play was a nice complement to Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, a story of Achilles’ life through Patroclus’ eyes, that I read earlier this year. It’s one of the top books for me in 2014. This story is told so differently in the work, after all, it’s from Patroclus’ point of view. I love being able to contrast the same moment in two different works.
Speaking of two different angles, one must wonder how this production compared to All Our Tragic. That’s a good question. WIth respect to this specific play, I cannot say since Iphigenia was in the part that I missed from the grand opus. (I’ll see it next summer to right that wrong). I think I liked both in their own ways. I liked the ambition of All Our Tragic and how the stories are interwoven with each other. This Court Theater play was more about the language (albeit translated from Ancient Greece). There was more time to consider the individual actions while All Our Tragic was one tragedy after another. I also appreciated that the Court Theater production had the violence off stage while All Our Tragic used a lot of stage blood. The former is a little bit more in the spirit of Greek theater. Then again, it’s way more effective to feel the grief of characters when their loved ones (or enemies) are covered in blood. I’m not sure. They feel so different even though they handle the same material. Go see both and judge for yourselves!
That’s all for now.

Review: A Winter’s Tale

Earlier this week, we went to see A Winter’s Tale by Promethean Theatre Ensemble at the Athenaeum. It’s one of Shakespeare’s last plays. It’s a strange comedy. As the director explained in the program, it’s been called a “problem play” among other things. They explain that the first half resembles a Greek tragedy while the second is a “pastoral comedy.”  Some spoilers ahead. I’m going to be vague not to give a way plot points.

At it’s core, the play is about forgiveness. My fiance and I were talking about how the play is one of the few Shakespearean plays without a true villain. Sure, there is a very mistaken character who does cruel things but he’s not evil, just mad. (Now, you can argue that the repercussions of his madness make him evil but that’s a different thing. He’s not Iago, Macbeth, Malvolio…). With the one possible exception, everyone is pretty open about their feelings; they defend the wronged characters openly. No one sides with the wrongdoer. And eventually, even he sees the error  of his ways.
I love that this play is again about human folly; people make terrible mistakes and act accordingly. And the play shows how this person tries to live with the knowledge of their mistake. Would that more people consider the consequences of their actions, wrong or right!
I think that this was an excellent production by the Promethean Theater group. I don’t think I’ve seen their work before but I’d be willing to see more. The acting was superb. I was particularly impressed by Megan DeLay who played Paulina. She was incredible. She’s such an articulate person and conveys the very sharp tongued of Paulina well. I love how Paulina is an extremely opinionated character who berates the king and lives despite his wrath. And while she too feels the reprecussions of the folly, she’s not punished for her outspokenness. She’s sort of the moral compass in the play. I think that it feels like Shakespeare is making up for the horrible things he’s did to Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
And yes, this is the play with the famous stage direction “Exit stage left pursued by a bear.” It is as weird as it sounds. I’m not sure why it’s there. Maybe it’s to show how bleak the terrain is for a helpless character. Or if someone suggested a bear product placement for the play (after all bear baiting was a popular past-time at the time).
The production did blur time periods a bit. The play is set in Ancient Greece (I think); the characters consult the oracle of Delphi. The costuming was 16th-17th century Europe (maybe Italy or Spain). I think it worked. It seemed like the play was centered around Italian sounding city states of “Bohemia” and “Sicilia,”
So go forth and see this play! It is running until December 13th.
That’s all!

A (Belated) Summary of Maker Faire Milwaukee

Belated Part 2 of Our Milwaukee Trip. Guest blogging for Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

Road trip! Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire made their way to Milwaukee Maker Faire this past weekend. And we had tons of fun. The event was located at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in Milwaukee. At the same time, there was Harvest Festival, which made for a very festive environment!


Outside of the Exhibition Hall, there was a wonderful collaboration between Maker Faire and Harvest Festival. It was none other than a pumpkin throwing trebuchet. It had all the glory of a trebuchet with added joy of pumpkins smashing against a target. It was delightful to watch. There were Life Size Mousetrap, and an ironworks demonstrating how to make shields and other metal armor. So cool!

20140927_142225Inside was the joyful buzz of people learning and making. Over at the Build-A-Blinkie table, soldering tables were filled with happy busy people. We made our own Blinkies! We soldered together an atomic pin…

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Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich

Last week, I went to see “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich” at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in River North. For those of you who haven’t heard, photographer Sandro Miller has an entire show playing homage to 38 or so famous photos where John Malkovich plays the central character in every one. For instance, Malkovich plays the Migrant Mother in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother from the Great Depression. Or he’s Einstein sticking his tongue out. Or he’s Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe.

So naturally, I had to go see it. I thought it was a lot of fun actually. First, there were several photos where I was shocked that it was in fact John Malkovich. He really blended in so well that if you put the Miller photo and the original photo next to each other, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The Einstein one was a great example of that. There are these four photos of Malkovich as the Joker where he really looked like Jack Nicholson.

Second, it was neat to see how the painting change when you change the central person in the work. For instance, I was drawn to the homage of Art Shay’s photo of Simone de Beauvoir standing naked in high heels in the bathroom. In Miller’s photo, Malkovich stands naked in the same stance as her with heels. I thought it was the most striking of the entire exhibition. It’s such a beautiful photo celebrating the male body in day to day rituals.

Third, there were many photos that I didn’t recognize. So it was a little bit of a quick photography history lesson. There was this amazing photograph of a man in suit holding a defeathered chicken with a bowtie. The original was of Alfred Hitchcock! The photo suits him so well. I’m glad to know that I live in a world where such a photo exists. And now there is a version of Malkovich replicating it. Fantastic.

Now there has been some discussion about whether this entire project was just a joke or something serious. Sandro Miller, photographer, said, “My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t take this project seriously. I didn’t want these to be a parody,” Miller said in the statement: “I was serious about paying homage to these photographers and photographs that changed my perspective on photography. These images inspired me throughout my career and developed me into the photographer I am today … This is my way of saying thank you to the masters that created these amazing images.”

Personally, I think he’s succeeded. I think they are homages, not just mere jokes. They are funny but it’s not a skin deep humor. I think he has chosen some fascinating works and executed them in a thoughtful manner. These weren’t slapped together (or at least to my eye) for a quick laugh. I think that he’s made some interesting riffs on these photos and helped to add to the discussion about them (i.e. the Simone de Beauvoir one). I also couldn’t help thinking about Cindy Sherman, a photographer, who develops personas and disguises and photograph herself in these wild, sometimes unsettling, situations. I need to read more about her but I feel that there is some of that same exploration of roles, personality, and gender going on with Sandro Miller’s work. (Mind you, I don’t think Cindy Sherman was included in the exhibition, which seems strange to me).

Anyway, it was quite a fascinating exhibition. It runs until January so you have some time to check it out!

That’s all!

Vodou at the Field Museum

Last night, we went to the Field Museum’s Vodou exhibition as part of Donor’s night. We went as guests and we had a lovely time. It was a chance for the museum to showcase its new exhibition while steward loyal patrons. I think they did a nice job.

It started with a buffet of Haitian food, which was rather exciting. I don’t think I’ve had Haitian food before; I’ve had Cuban and Dominican Republic food but not specifically Haitian. There was a wonderful bean patty that was delicious with a touch of sour cream. There were spicy plantain chips, a chickpea salad, and a tasty Cuban sandwich.

After dinner, we ventured into the Voodoo exhibition itself. I’ve been rather excited about seeing this exhibition. I’d read a little bit about Vodou and Haiti so I was keen to learn more. The exhibition focused on Haitian Vodou, as opposed to Vodou in New Orleans. The exhibition strived to educate people about the theology and practice of Vodou while showcasing incredible objects. The exhibition wanted to counter stereotypes people have about Vodou, such as vodou dolls and zombies. I don’t think either of those terms came up in the exhibition at all.

One thing that I liked about the exhibition was that the curators attempted to showcase these objects as religious objects, not works of art. These are not art pieces to be placed behind glass and admired from afar. These are working objects, imbued with specific meaning. My fiancé pointed out that the objects didn’t have artists’ names attached because the artists saw themselves as part of a long tradition, a collective, creating these religious pieces. Also, most objects were displayed without a glass case. Mind you, there were signs exhorting people not to touch the works.

When there was glass, it enhanced the experience. There was a room set off with particular objects, which allegedly were so full of power that they had to separated off. (This is what a docent said; I didn’t see it on the explanatory cards). There were incredible statues in red and black with small mirrors inserted throughout the body that represented various fighting Iwas, or Vodou spirits. They are truly impressive beings. Many have been maimed or injured and have missing body parties. Some are so powerful that they have to be strapped down with rope and chains to chairs. One of the most ferocious ones was a grandmother. That was really neat.


I think this is Gede. He's the Iwa of Life and Death.

I think this is Gede. He’s the Iwa of Life and Death.

I found it fascinating to the inclusion of Catholic imagery in the sculpture and other objects. For many years, Vodou was forbidden so practitioners of Vodou could only practice by using Catholic saints and other rituals as covers. It created this wonderful blend of sacred ideas. Certain saints had their Vodou counterparts. I know that in Santeria, a different syncretic religion, St. Barbara is a stand in for Changó, Orisha of fire, war, lightning and thunder. There was also a Black Madonna sculpture that was adopted from Europe’s Cult of the Black Madonna. Apparently, this tradition came to Haiti from Poland when Napoleon forcibly conscripted Polish soldiers to fight there. They decided to side with the Haitians. That’s really nifty.

I also really liked how they had these TV screens throughout the exhibit. Each TV had a different person, a Vodou priestess, a ethno-psychiatrist, that talked about different subjects. One talked about how Vodou helped bring together African slaves that had come from different parts of Africa. Another person talked about the conception of death in Vodou. I like seeing these conversations more and more. I think the exhibition really tried to work with communities where Vodou is their lives. I think that these video screens help to bring them more immediately into the conversation. I think it’s worth a trip. I certainly learned a lot about Vodou.

That’s all for now!