Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Flips HD Headphones go from Solo2Social

Flips Audio headphones go from solo to social with a quick flip!Please note this item was sent to me for review and this post contains affiliate links. With two teens in the house it seems we can never have too many sets of headphones or earbuds. Therefore, when I was offered the chance to try a new kind of headphone, Flips HD, I readily accepted. 

The Flips concept is that the headphones have ear cups that flip outward. As their "solo2social" tagline implies, these headphones allow a user to easily transition from individual listening to providing a soundtrack for a group.

Having tried a few different (free, cheap conference swaggy-type) speakers for smartphones, you know like a little plastic cup you rest your phone in so the sound can fill a room?, I wasn't expecting much from Flips. But it's not that kind of thing at all.

I was prepared for something muffled or tinny, but the sound quality in speaker mode is good. And while Flips aren't going to replace anyone's high end sound system, they're great for a dorm room, study room or small gathering of friends for which you just want some background music. They plug into phones, tablets and computers. They also have pretty good sound-dampening qualities, which comes in handy when your roommate (or brother) won't turn his music down.

The Flips came in a sleek package that contained another sleek package and another. I eventually found the headphones in their hardshell carrying case. I don't know if my boys would take the time to put the headphones into the case before stuffing the headphones in their backpack, but as a mom, I try to teach them to take care of things and store things away properly, so I appreciate when brands make that easy to do. The storage pod comes with a carabiner, so it's also easy to just attach to a backpack strap or hang.

Flips headphones hard shell carrying case with carabiner

The headphones are adjustable and comfy with padding in all the right places--meaning every contact surface. I was worried that my boys would flip the ear cups from social mode to personal mode and blow their eardrums, but there's a brief interruption of service when you switch modes and the headphones adjust the volume accordingly.

The unit must be charged in order to operate in speaker mode. I've only had to charge them once (via USB) and it was just for a matter of minutes. A single charge allows for hours of playtime. A blinking blue light in speaker mode indicates the battery is running low.

So what do I think? The photo below says it all. I shot this while my younger son and I were working to make our DIY virtual reality headset, Google Cardboard (it's awesome!). I didn't pose him or tell him to wear the headphones. He just sort of made them his own (as my boys are wont to do with my stuff).

making the Google Cardboard VR headset

It's fine though. The Flips are ideal for kids his age as well as tweens. I think these are especially suited for college students.

Flips retail for about $120, at the time I write this, they're selling for about $10 less on Amazon.

You can read about the other headphones we recently reviewed here.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Rabbi Brant Rosen Resigned From Evanston's JRC Synagogue

It's an odd thing when your rabbi resigns and the news makes international headlines. Welcome to my synagogue. I have many thoughts about Rabbi Brant Rosen's sad and surprising recent announcement, but one of the things that irks me most is seeing how my synagogue community is characterized in the news and especially (insert eye roll here) the comment sections of the online press. I don't know if I will comment further here personally, but I did want to share (with permission) a note written by Joshua Karsh, a past president of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. He eloquently states many of my thoughts from an informed perspective.

Regarding Rabbi Brant Rosen's Resignation

When Brant announced his resignation earlier this week, he said in his email that the decision to resign was "mine alone" and added that: "The Board has not asked me for my resignation, nor have I experienced any pressure from our congregational leadership to curtail my activism as a result of this controversy. On the contrary …"

Brant made his own choice. But of course choices are influenced by circumstances. And having served on the JRC board for several years, including as President from 2009 to 2011, and been involved, twice, in making sure that the congregation came to terms with Brant in contract negotiations so that he would continue as our rabbi, I know something about the context of his resignation. So I find myself more than a tad defensive for the congregation when I read press coverage and Facebook posts stating or insinuating that Brant was  "silenced" or "forced" to quit or "pushed" out because of his positions.

When Brant began speaking out about the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008, that would have been a career-ending move in most congregations. Not at JRC. At JRC, Brant had a home in a congregation committed to the proposition that rabbis should have freedom to speak their minds—when they're right and when they're wrong and also, as is often the case, when only time will tell. As recently as June, the JRC Board stood by Brant and reaffirmed those principles.

JRC did not limit Brant’s activism or silence him: Brant’s blog (http://rabbibrant.com/), his book (http://tinyurl.com/maewbgy), his writings for Al Jazeera (http://tinyurl.com/m7ljps2), his attendance and remarks at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in support of divestment (http://tinyurl.com/l4fg3gv), his leadership role in Jewish Voice for Peace (http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/), and his cooperation with a group of protesters who disrupted a JUF dinner in Chicago last month (http://tinyurl.com/lptdyrm), all prove that.

Brant was not forced out. Brant resigned. And he resigned in the third year of a ten-year contract, which the congregation gave him while knowing all about his political views and activism and the controversy they occasioned. The congregation gave him a 10-year contract despite the fact that some long-time members had left the congregation because of his politics, others no longer wanted Brant to officiate at their life-cycle events, and some, including some of the largest donors, had stopped giving to the capital campaign, which pays our mortgage—because of Brant's politics. Supporting Brant was not always easy. But the Board stood by him. The congregation, as a whole, stood by him.

Brant has decided that he doesn't want to be our rabbi any more. I sympathize with him. As a pulpit rabbi, Brant served two masters, his conscience and his congregation, and sometimes, by speaking his mind, he inflamed significant numbers of members of the congregation, who spoke out against him. There is strife within the congregation. It had to be exhausting and painful for Brant. No sane person would not be anguished. After a while, in this case six years, enough is enough. Maybe that's the point that Brant reached. Maybe he realized that there are other jobs he can do where he can advance the causes he cares about without becoming a lightning rod. But being a pulpit rabbi isn't one of those jobs—unless your congregation has a litmus test for membership that requires all members to agree with the rabbi or agree not to voice their opposition when they don't. At JRC, we have no such litmus test.

The JRC Board gave Brant a ten-year contract. We worked really hard to make it possible for Brant to be our rabbi, and we will miss him dearly.

JRC lost a popular, inspirational, and charismatic rabbi once before (Arnie Rachlis, in 1992). Then, as now, the rabbi resigned, his resignation was not planned, and many members did not see it coming. They were shocked, hurt and angry. They despaired, believing that the rabbi was JRC. But JRC survived and, as it turned out, prospered, growing and improving, including, ultimately, by finding and hiring Brant. We’ll survive again now and prosper too. Every great congregation is bigger than its rabbi, and conflating the two is a mistake –and also a distinctly un-Reconstructionist mistake. (Reconstructionism is a "bottom up" approach to Judaism).

We have just celebrated JRC’s 50th year. We have been through change before and will change again, and we've had and will have other rabbis. Although it’s a painful lesson to learn, rabbis, even the very best rabbis, are not forever. For many of us, and for my family in particular, Brant has been the best or one of the best rabbis we've ever known. But ultimately, the most important and stable part of any great congregation—and JRC is a great congregation—is its members. Our members come to JRC and stay at JRC for many reasons—including the congregation’s commitment to social justice, the environment, and tikkun olam; the warmth of the community and the friends who become family; the inspiring music (much of it composed by our own members) and the dancing; the joyous spirituality; the beach services; the Kallah; Families Enjoying Shabbat Together (FEST); the adult education programming; the early childhood program; youth group; the religious school. I could go on. All of that, and more, is still here. We have a lot of work to do, but we also have a lot to celebrate.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: The Dark Side of Summer 2014

Lest you get the impression that our summer was all garden-fresh veggies and walks in the woods, I should tell you we had our share of illness. I'm not just gonna tell you, I'm gonna show you even though it breaks some of Kim's Commandments of Netiquette-- namely those rules against showing sick kids or gross things related to sick children (or pets). Stop reading if you get grossed out. My younger son came down with hand, foot and mouth disease over the summer. At first, he thought he was getting strep. We went to a pharmacy-based clinic because he's usually pretty good at predicting strep. Instead, he was diagnosed with an ear infection, but a couple of days later developed a rash. After poking around on the interwebs, I was pretty sure he had hand, foot and mouth.

I looked at lots of images on Google to compare them to his body and, of course, called the pediatrician to share my thoughts on the Sunday he developed the rash. 

But then a day or two later the rash on his feet turned to blisters. Lots of blisters. As I Googled around to find images that would reassure me that this was the natural course of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease I became concerned because I did not find images that looked like his feet.

Early in the week we headed to the doctor after all. I wanted to make sure he was properly diagnosed because Dr. Google left me wanting. The doctor listened to my story of how his symptoms evolved and examined his feet. She confirmed Coxsakie, or Hand, Foot and Mouth, but repeatedly mentioned that his feet were "very involved." Very involved.

Of course, that's because my children excel in all things. Even illness.

In fact, she said, a dermatologist would love to have a picture of his feet for a textbook. 

My son! A picture-perfect model!

At any rate, parents who are desperately scouring the web in trying to diagnose their kids because they cannot access a doctor at the moment, I offer you this:

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease with foot blisters, Coxsakie virus

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease with foot blisters, Coxsakie virus

Needless to say, a few days after these photos were taken, the blisters burst and his feet were even worse--and more painful. Bleh.

Tesla kept us on our toes, too. 

When the vet isn't planning his next luxury vacation thanks to our frequent visits, he secretly wonders if I have Munchhausen's by Puppy. In our 15 months of pet ownership, we've made at least that many visits to the vet. We finally wised up and bought pet insurance last fall. It paid for itself and then some, but I think we've maxed out on this year's benefits. 

And the dog doesn't even have anything seriously wrong, but there's always something curious going on with him- an eye infection, an ear infection, bumps by his mouth, bumps in his mouth, bumps on his skin. 

As with most pets, Tesla is not a fan of going to the vet. But oh, how the staff members fawn over him! He might just be the cutest patient they have. Or they're really good at fawning, which is smart, because when they're all telling me how cute and sweet he is, I forget to take a close look at the bill.

But he really might be their cutest patient.

Hiding from the doctor.

At any rate, we think he's got allergies. Possibly seasonal allergies. My money is on grass. Or human skin flakes. Apparently dogs can be allergic to humans just like humans can be allergic to dogs. He might be allergic some food. First we'll see if the change of seasons helps. If not, we'll do a food challenge, which will be miserable for us all. My poor Tesla!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

So Long Summer 2014

Summer went out with a fizzle, but DH and I took a lovely walk with the dog after dinner. The weather was pleasant- not too hot, not too cool, not too humid and the cicadas provided the quintessential summer soundtrack as we made our way through the neighborhood.

This was a summer of morning carpools as I doted on my older teen, perhaps more than I should have, but he was working hard, impressively so! Plus there was some part of me that appreciated being needed because he might only have another summer or two at home. So between driving him to school for cross country practice and summer school, going on a 2 mile (+/-) walk with the dog and showering or running to the grocery store, picking him up hanging out either at home or maybe at my parent's house for 20-30 minutes and then driving him to the train so he could go to his job in the city, my morning was spent without much to show for it (other than being an awesome mom, FWIW).

My younger guy typically rode his bike to and from school, but on the days I had to pick him up, I fell even deeper into the rabbit hole of unproductiveness even as I raised myself up a bit on the awesome mom pedestal.

My younger guy made the most of his pool pass. I didn't even bother getting one this year. I'm not needed. I did go (as an observer) to the recently renovated community pool once.

Somehow they still managed to have fun.
At any rate, lest summer feel like it flew by with nothing but a series of carpools, I bring you highlights of Summer 2014 (at least the ones I have photos of).

Oh, and maybe the biggest personal accomplishment was moving The Maker Mom over to Wordpress, even if I did hire someone to do it. Go take a look!

DH and I went to a live taping of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

Kayaking with my niece and my younger son.

We hosted a couple of backyard parties.

I entered a pie contest-mixed berry with a cricket crust.

Kayaking with my Science Olympiad team.

Prairie restoration near Chicago
Volunteered at a prairie restoration day. I was literally up to my eyeballs in weeds.

Kale chips, kale salads, lots of kale from the garden.

Bountiful garden! (Thanks to DH and lots of rain.)

Learn to play mah jong and bought a vintage set.
Participated in a Chicago Stands with Israel Rally.
Blogger Bkfst at Eli's Cheesecake. Son is wearing a Maker Mom shirt!

Late summer kayaking; the water was a bit mucky by then.
More garden veggies!
Little Pup on the Prairie.

Deer watching in the woods.

Ice cream at The Chocolate Shoppe on Devon. Freakiest theme ever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Even More College Admissions Tips

I started blogging nearly 10 years ago when my kids were in early elementary school, so it makes sense that now college admissions is my biggest educational obsession. I like using the blog to bookmark helpful resources for myself, while at the same time sharing them with friends and readers. (Wait, isn't that what Pinterest is for?)

When I say my old friend Marsha wrote this, I mean she's really old. Okay, not really, but she's from the original network of mombloggers I connected with way back in 2007, which is like the stone ages in blogging terms. (Pinterest? Caveman blogger don't know Pinterest.)

Marsha is one of a handful of moms from that group, the first generation of Mommy Bloggers, whose kids are headed off to college this fall. The kids are almost all grown up. {sniff} In Marsha's case, they are crazy talented, too.

At any rate, Marsha recently posted an informative piece sharing 5 Secret Tips for College and I already feel my blood pressure rising wondering about the date of our district's financial aid seminar and if they will let me in to the night that is billed as being for senior parents only.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Tips for College Planning

typography from www.wordle.com
This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

I am officially the mom of two high school students, a freshman and a junior. As excited as I am for my boys to return to school and its routines, I'm keenly aware that the clock is ticking. Next year is it for my older boy. Next year is the last time I'll shoo him out the door to make the morning bus or have a chance to take a first day of school picture*.

Our high school provides a meet and greet with 8th grade students and their assigned high school counselors. Admittedly, it's a short meeting and a bit overwhelming for first timers. In addition to helping students select classes for freshman year, they routinely ask the kids about their 8-year plans. That is, the counselors don't just want to know about freshman year plans, they want to know what college (or post-high school) plans the 13-year-olds have.

Like I said, it's a bit overwhelming the first time around. My baby is heading to the big scary high school and you want to know where he hopes to attend college?

I was tempted to bury my head in the sand and leave it there for up to 8 years, but as time passes, I see the wisdom of the school's ways. If you don't start thinking about college plans early, the admissions process can easily overwhelm you.

Here are three tips for college planning.

Start Early

It might feel scary, but the earlier you start, the more relaxed you can be about the process. Or, as in my case, the more time you have to freak out, calm down and do research. Repeat this cycle every few weeks or months. You don't have to dive in if your kid is a freshman or in middle school, but gently dip your toes in. Talk to friends who are going through the search or admissions process. This is what prompted me and my friend Jen to start a G+ discussion series on College Admissions. (New episodes coming this fall.) Talk to school counselors to learn about free resources available to you and your student.

Sometimes You Lead, Sometimes You Follow

If your child is grounded, determined, and organized, follow her lead. Which is not to say that boys lack focus and organization, I'm sure some boys have it together, but most of the parents of boys I know report that even if they are college-bound, they are rather hazy or noncommittal about their preferences and options. My husband argues to let our son take the lead, but I fear I'm certain that if we wait until he's ready to take charge of the process his application deadlines will have passed. It's a give and take process. As we get further into it I'm sure into I'll have more insights to share. For now, I'm a fan of the Fiske Guide because my boy can't complain when I ask him to read a mere 3-page description about a school for us to discuss.

Tests Scores Count

Although the number of schoosl that offer test-optional admissions, that is they don't require SAT or ACT scores, is growing, those scores still matter in a lot of ways. My brother pointed out that at some schools solid scores not only help with admission, but can also be the ticket to a merit scholarship. The higher the score, the heftier the potential award. The cost of taking a test prep class or taking tests a second or third time (which many schools now allow and supposedly only "count" the best scores) might pale in comparison to the money your child might save in tuition thanks to a merit award.

Those are a few of my current thoughts on the #JourneyToCollege. Follow the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to see what other parents have to say.

This post was sponsored by Kaplan Test Prep and their KapMap College Planner. Download your free KapMap here and note that you can receive a $100 discount on an SAT or SAT course through August 28, 2014 with the code SHESPEAKS100.

*Who am I kidding. My boys haven't be willing to pose for one since 2008.

This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fiske's Guide to Colleges 2015

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015
My oldest is about to enter junior year of high school, so we're increasingly focused on his future. Most likely he's headed to college, though some of his co-workers and students this summer encouraged him to follow the money and put his tech skills to use right out of high school. For now, however, college is the thing.

Susan Goodkin, the college consultant I've been featuring on my G+ Hangouts, mentioned that she's a fan of the Fiske Guides, so when I was offered a chance to review the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015, I jumped.

I love this book. It's going to be my go-to resource for quite some time. When I mentioned this to a friend she replied, "Uh, doesn't every college have a website with much of the information that's in the book?" Well, yes. And also no because the book provides additional insights.

I like this 820-page paperback book. I like that I can make notes and dog-ear pages and stick in post-its if I want to flag something for my son or husband. I like the quotes from students. I like that it feels more objective than a given school's website. (In other news, I'm pretty sure Georgia Tech is off our list.)

But mostly I like that so much information is right there on the pages before me. When I go to college websites, I wind up having about 6 tabs per school open so I can look at an overview, requirements, majors, AP score acceptance, financial information, net price calculator, etc. It's a frenzy of information overload!We're just dipping our toes in and getting a feel for things, this book is a valuable first stop.

The Fiske Guide provides overviews of "more than 300 of the country's best and most interesting colleges and universities." As well as a handful Canadian, British, and Ireland. It contains an index of colleges by state and country, index by price, a list of "Best Buys" and several pages on how to use the guide I t also includes a list of ACT/SAT optional schools, a list of colleges that are known for working with students with learning disabilities and it closes with one of my favorite pieces, a pledge for parents, which is more like a serenity prayer for parents of high school seniors  and worth the $24 cost of the book.

The Guide also contains a brief survey to help students pin down what they might want in a school. Yes, we've asked these same questions and yes, he can find a similar checklist via resources at the high school, but I might actually get my son to complete this one.

He's got mail.
The Guide was born as a way to "cut through all the hype that was coming from the colleges" in the late 1980s. There's as much hype as ever, but today's students are pickier about their distractions. My son has a pile dozens (possibly hundreds) of postcards and brochures that were cluttering up our mailbox and are now cluttering up his room. If he's bothered to read more than five of them, I'd be surprised. His email inbox is similar.And I'm getting more and more curious about a certain school simply because they are relentless in their emails to me.

In its attempt to focus on what's important, Fiske profiles colleges with summary paragraph followed by a flowing narrative for each school. It will also list compare schools or "overlaps," which can help point families toward other schools to explore. And, of course, each school has a sidebar noting:

  • location (ubrban, suburban, etc.)
  • whether it's public or private
  • total enrollment
  • breakdown of male/female
  • ACT/SAT score ranges
  • percent of returning freshman and percent of students that graduate in six(!!) years
  • social life
  • a debt rating indicating average undergraduate principle borrowed to graduate
  • and more! 

The Guide does not have a line item for campus safety, but I expect they will add one in the next year or two. Sign of the times, right?

As I mentioned, we're at the start of of our search. If you have a favorite resource for learning about colleges, please share!

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