Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Power of a Popsicle

Back in the 80s in Ivy, back before Murray Elementary got its shiny rebirth as Virginia L. Murray, we used to sweat out the school year well into June’s heat and humidity. The teachers would wheel in a massive television on a cart, pull down the blinds, and in the absence of air conditioning we’d fold paper fans out of construction paper while we shifted our weight to unstick our thighs from the plastic seats.

For my siblings and me, however, a sweet, cool relief awaited us as soon as that final bell rang. That’s when we were released to the custody of our bus driver, Harold Barbour, who stood waiting for us beside bus number 123.

No, the bus didn’t have air conditioning, either. Those June days meant Harold would drive down Morgantown Road to the Ivy Store where he would park the bus and go in while we poked our heads out the slide-down windows, panting. Harold would return from the store with his trademark ear-to-ear grin and an armload of popsicles.

These were no-frills popsicles: a plain white wrapper, one solid flavor, no jokes on the stick or cartoon characters to do their marketing. Sometimes they were stuck to the inside wrapper and you’d have to pull the stick out of the half-melted slush and spoon out your treat. Root beer was my favorite, blue—you know, the flavor “blue”—a close second.  Harold paid for the popsicles out of his own public-school bus driver salary. He got only “thank yous” in return. At least, I hope he did. The taste of those popsicles, the mere receipt of such a perfect refreshment on a sweltering day is never far from my memory, even 30 years later.

That was far from the end of Harold’s generosity. At Christmas time there were footlong candy canes for each rider on his bus. On the last day of school you would get a soda—a whole can just for you!—and you would even get to place your order the previous day. I always chose Dr. Pepper; my brother favored Mt. Dew. Harold treated all of us like his own kids. We were safe with him and happy during the thirty to forty minutes he took care of us down the winding roads of Ivy’s neighborhoods.

When I was in fifth grade, my last year with Harold at the helm, I had an emergency appendectomy that landed me in the hospital, and off the bus. Who was my only visitor outside of my family? Of course it was Harold. He sat with us, made me laugh, and told me to hurry up and get better so I could get back on the bus.

My life has taken me far from the twisting roads of Ivy to the bustling streets of Chicago. Even here, the news reached me of the devastating and fatal floods that swept through my hometown a few weeks ago. And then I learned that Harold’s house was among those damaged by the storm.

Luckily, my memories aren’t the only ones of Harold’s kindness. His family’s gofundme is bringing more than 40 years of lucky children out to thank their bus driver and friend again for the unending acts of kindness that he extended to us when we were small. We want to see him rebuild. We don’t want that smile erased.

Because we didn’t know back then the harsh realities we would someday face. We didn’t know about the unfairness and the struggles of hospital stays and natural disasters. We just knew someone, a very special someone, took us to and from our school every day, and sometimes he gave us a popsicle. And we never, ever forgot about him.

You can read more about the flood and the damage to Harold's home by clicking here: http://www.nbc29.com/story/38391565/flood-waters-destroy-family-home-in-ivy-area
If you feel inspired to donate money, even the price of a popsicle, click here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-barbours-rebuild

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kids and the theater

One of the advantages of living in a city like Chicago is the plethora of options for live entertainment, much of it free or low cost, that fill our stages, parks, and amphitheaters on a regular basis. In the past year we've been to concerts, gallery openings, live podcasts, plays, pro sports competitions, comic book conventions, and book launches—just to name a few.

It does beg the question, though: When should you start taking your kids to these? In other words, how young is too young? How do you make sure they behave in a way that isn't disruptive to other theater-goers and still have a good time?

This past weekend we had the opportunity to take both Little Dragans (now aged 8 and 5) to see the Broadway in Chicago production of Les Miserables. It was at the gorgeous Cadillac theater with exceptionally talented leads and a truly moving portrayal of Jean Valjean. I've seen the show many times now, but the actor really brought something special to the role. Look out for Nick Cartell if you're lucky enough to have the touring production come through your town!

Enough about me, though.

How did the kids do?
And should you really spend that much money taking a 5-year-old to a play like that?

Here are five tips to make your theater experience more enjoyable!

1. Matinee, matinee, matinee.

Most Chicago theaters don't even begin their evening performances until 7:30 pm, which will mean your kiddo is already in a race against the clock to "Fall Apart Thirty" before the curtain is even up on the second act. Matinee shows are just as good, and you're more likely to have other kids in the audience. I think audience members expect more kids at the matinee performance too, so they tend to be more tolerant of a few wiggles than their prime time counterparts.

2. Bottles of water and Red Vines for the win.

After making the terrible mistake of not buying a bottle of water before one play, Little Guy spent the whole first act whisper-screaming, "Aaaaaaack *indiscernable throat noise* it's so thirsty in here!!" Trapped in our seats until intermission, I was left with no choice but to shush him uselessly until we could buy the stupid $3 bottle that I had been too cheap to buy before the show started. I shan't make that mistake again!
Don't be like me.
Buy the bottle.
Small sips so as not to need the bathroom break. Which brings me to tip #3...

3. Use the bathroom before the show.

The doors open thirty minutes ahead of time and there is no prize for getting to your assigned seats first. It's actually just more will power/sitting still time being wasted on non-show moments, so don't bother. Take that time to hit up the bathroom before there are any lines. The line for the ladies room at Les Mis during intermission was a literal Disney World-style snaking business that filled the entire lower lobby.
Every single woman that walked down the stairs said the same thing, "That can't be the line, can it?"

It can be.
Oh, and it definitely was.

4. Seat boosters.

At the coat check of many theaters in Chicago, seat boosters are offered free of charge. These serve two equally valuable purposes. The first is that they prevent your child's view from being blocked and eliciting whisper-screams of, "I can't seeeee." The second is that they make it significantly more difficult for your child to make a game of bouncing up and down on the pop up seats throughout the play.

Note how high up the children are sitting. Thank you, seat boosters. Not pictured: bag of snacks and water bottle. 

5. Relax.

If you're like me as a parent, you sometimes get so worried that your child's behavior is ruining someone else's ticketed experience that you do ruin an important experience: your own.
Nine times out of ten, your own child is not being as loud or as wiggly as you feel like they are, you're just hyper aware of it because it's your kid.
Relax. Set a reasonable standard for correction, and try to enjoy the show.

B and Little Guy are happy to report that they LOVED the show. They've spent the last three days singing "Do you hear the people sing?" around the house and noting thoughtfully that you should never turn your back on an angry French militia (poor Gavroche). Mission: accomplished.

There will be patrons of the arts who disagree with me, but I believe children should be present at as many different kinds of shows as possible, and from a young age. Broadway in Chicago sets age 5 as the lower age limit to be granted entry, and I feel like that's appropriate. A good conversation with kids ahead of time is nice to set some ground rules, but I wouldn't avoid shows just because you're worried a child *might* get bored or restless. (*Spoiler: they probably will. It's ok.*).
After all, if you never take kids to plays, or the symphony, or the opera, how will they ever learn how to behave at them?
Or how to appreciate them at all?

Thanks for reading! For for more tips on exploring Chicago with your kids, check out www.rickshawreggie.com or follow me on Instagram @RickshawReggie. Keep exploring!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Real Life Rickshaws!!

                  Rickshaw Reggie is able to fly around the whole city of Chicago in one night, showcasing some of its most iconic neighborhoods while giving Charlie and his grandma the ride of a lifetime. Lucky them.

                  But did you know that there are close to 100 real life rickshaw (or pedicab) drivers who pedal around Chicago every day? On a sunny morning, little Miss B and I had a chance to meet two of them: Dale and Dan. They gave us some insight into the cheers and gears of rickshaw driving and treated us to a rollicking ride we’ll never forget!
                    Rickshaw Dale, a graphic design teacher by trade, was inspired to drive a rickshaw while touring the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan peninsula. His wife thought maybe the hot Mexican sun had gotten to him, and never gave it another thought. But that didn’t deter Dale who came home and met Dan, a seasoned veteran of the bike lanes, who introduced him to the ins and outs of the job.

                  “I always loved riding my bike,” says Rickshaw Dale, “Even as a young boy. Riding my bike is the closest I’ll ever feel to flying.”
                  Flying around the city, offering tours and scenic routes to tourists and locals alike took some practice. On his first night out, Dale actually lost money. As the years have gone on, however, and with Dan’s help, Dale now owns his “trike”—equipped with LED lights, phone charging station, customized music, sun shade, and decorative giraffe—and enjoys the extra income while keeping fit.

                  “Buckingham Fountain is my office,” he explains, “I get to enjoy the beauty of Chicago in the summer, keep fit, meet nice people, and spread joy. No one ever has a bad time on a ride.”

                  Dan couldn’t agree more about the perks of the job.

                  “I ride my tricycle around the city and talk to people,” Dan says with his trademark 400-watt grin. Everybody knows Dan, and they all like him too. He’s even connected to rickshaw drivers around the country who use Facebook to swap tales. Like his friend down in Florida who pulled Shaquille O’Neal the other night—and didn’t even realize who it was!
                  On our ride with Rickshaw Dale we passed the brunch crowds of West Fulton Market while enjoying gorgeous views of the skyline and the fresh air. Dale has a friendly wave and a howdy-doo for everyone we see. A typical day for him starts at the Willis Tower and winds around the Loop, the lakeshore, and Buckingham Fountain. At $10/rider plus mileage and tips, it might be more of an investment than bus fare, but his customers appreciate the chance to learn about the city from a new perspective. It’s about the experience, never just the destination.
                  Rickshaw Dale grew up in the Portage Park neighborhood (featured in Rickshaw Reggie!) and has loved this city his whole life. Next time you’re looking for a unique way to explore the city, or for a friendly local to spin a yarn or two, he hopes you’ll flag him, Dan, or one of their other driver friends down for a ride!

                  But what did little Miss B have to say about our ride?
                  “I really enjoy driving around in rickshaws. Even if they don’t fly!”

                Are you interested in taking a rickshaw ride? Come to the book launch! See the facebook evite or e-mail the author: kathleen.dragan@gmail.com for more details!

Thanks for reading! Don't forget to check us out at www.rickshawreggie.com and follow along on Twitter: @RickshawReggie

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pilsen reads!

Children who grow up with more books at home end up with an average of three more years of "schooling" than children with fewer books, independent of other factors including education and occupation of their parents. (Source)

And yet, 61% of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their home.
There is only one book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.
How can we change this in Chicago? What obligation do authors have to bridge this gap?

As we began to envision what a proper "launch" event for Rickshaw Reggie would look like, one theme became clear: it had to give back to the communities featured in the book.

One way we are trying to achieve that goal is by combining the event with a book drive for Pilsen Community Books and the Pilsen Reads project.
(All photos in this post courtesy of Pilsen Community Books, used with permission)

Pilsen Community Books is everything you would want in an independent bookstore. It's in a charming space, has well-read and engaged owners, a great location, and creative events.

That's not all. They've set up a whole new business model with a mission to promote literacy in their neighborhood.

Pilsen Community Books accepts donations of books to be redistributed to local schools or to be sold as used books with the proceeds directly benefitting the same program. And they're donating A LOT.

So far they've donated 1,664 books valued at $6,106.00 and benefitting more than a 1000 local students!

We're so excited to be partnering with Pilsen Community Books and supporting them through a book drive at the Rickshaw Reggie Chicago Neighborhoods book launch block party!

How does it work?:

Simple. While you're making room on your bookshelf for your brand new copy of Rickshaw Reggie, go through your adult or children's books and find some that you would like to donate.
All books are accepted with four exceptions: NO encyclopedias, magazines, pre-collegiate textbooks, or cigarette-soaked books, please.

Bring the books to the launch and be entered into a raffle for a free signed copy of Rickshaw Reggie, just for donating!

Can't make it to the launch?
Check out Pilsen Community Books at their 18th St location! (Hint: You can use your Pilsen/Chinatown Map from Rickshaw Reggie Chicago Neighborhoods!)

Read more about their story online: http://www.pilsencommunitybooks.org/

Thanks for reading! Don't forget to check us out at www.rickshawreggie.com and follow along on Twitter: @RickshawReggie

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The people have spoken...

... and the winer is: Pilsen/Chinatown!

What a fun pair of neighborhoods to work on! These two neighborhoods are actually the closest to my own, so researching them was the easiest in terms of logistics. The Little Dragans and I just walked across the river and got to work!

I learned so much in Pilsen about the history of the neighborhood. Originally a neighborhood for Czech immigrants from Bohemia, the neighborhood then became home to many of the city's Mexican-American population. There's so much for kids to see, taste, and experience in Pilsen! Even a walk along 16th street is a feast for the eyes: one colorful mural after the next.

Chinatown sits just southeast of Pilsen and while it isn't huge, it packs a punch of color, flavor, and culture into just a few blocks. This past weekend the 17th Annual Dragon Boat Races for Literacy were held by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. It's a fun event for all ages along the banks of the river in the picturesque Ping Tom park.

It was great to hear from everyone about the neighborhoods they were most excited to see! I know you'll love them all as much as I do when you see the book, and I hope it inspires you to go see the real deal in person someday soon!

You can check out more about the book and the art by visiting the website!: www.rickshawreggie.com
or by following along with Rickshaw Reggie on twitter: @RickshawReggie

Monday, June 26, 2017

Map Reveal Contest!

One of the best parts of writing Rickshaw Reggie: Chicago Neighborhoods was working with the incredibly talented, insightful, and tireless illustrator, Ed Koehler.

From all of my gobbledy-gook and chicken scratch sketches, Ed has put together one of the most beautiful and interesting children's books I've seen in a long time. I catch myself staring at the map pages way more often than I should!

I want to share a map with you all before the book is even available, but let's make it fun!

Vote in the comments, or on Facebook, or on Twitter @RickshawReggie, for the neighborhood you'd MOST like to see first:
Lincoln Park
Rogers Park
Portage Park
Pilsen/Chinatown (2 neighborhoods, 1 map! What a deal!)
Hyde Park

I'll tally up the votes and reveal the map next weekend.
BONUS: Each vote earns you a chance in a drawing for a free copy of the book available in 3 weeks!!

Monday, June 19, 2017

When tales become a book!

If you've been reading here for awhile you know we Dragans love to get out and explore our city, our world, and basically everything we can get our hands on!

I was so delighted to get to work with Reedy Press for the last year on the first ever children's book starring Chicago's iconic neighborhoods. It's being published this July: Rickshaw Reggie: Chicago Neighborhoods.

Now, the hay is in the barn so to speak, and I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can get my hands on that first copy. I love the smell of old books--but I'm pretty sure the smell of the first new book to have my name on it will be pretty sweet too!

I'll still be checking in from time to time with random, funny news from our family, but I'll also be using the space to tell you about events related to the release of the book. It's been a wild and crazy ride, much like you might get with Rickshaw Reggie--my main character!

Hope you'll keep reading and checking back for events, giveaways, behind-the-scenes blog posts, and fun surprises.

Happy Summer from all of the Dragans!