Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to Tie Dye with Sharpies: Family Fun on a Budget

Continuing our series of low-cost summer activities, I present the Moldy Boys and Sharpie Tie-Dye.



As my son points out, all you need to do this craft is a shirt or "article of clothing," Sharpie permanent markets, and rubbing alcohol.

Chances are you have a few Sharpies around the house. Or maybe you don't label your child's items as obsessively as I do. If you don't have any, you should be able to pick up an entire rainbow of them for under $20 and they will last for years. They are great for all sorts of craft projects and you'll be glad you have them. Just don't let you little ones use them without supervision as their marks are permanent.

You need a t-shirt or two for the project. Who doesn't have a few extra of those around the house? In the video, my boys decorated shirts they received for joining the local summer reading club. Michael's craft stores often have plain shirts on sale for two for $5.

If you don't have rubbing alcohol amongst your first-aid supplies, you can pick up a bottle for about a dollar. You only need a few tablespoons per shirt.

We find it helpful to use medicine droppers to dispense the rubbing alcohol, but you can improvise.

Finally, we use pie tins to separate the front and back of the shirts, but you can substitute plastic sheeting or even cardboard (though that could get messy).

We've been having a lot of fun with this low budget art project. I hope you family will, too. If you do this with your family come back and leave a link to your t-shirt photos. I'd love to see how they turn out.

More Family Fun on a Budget.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My First Cluttercast: A Canadian Puzzle

I'm taking a cue from Darryle over at Cluttercast and hosting my own giveaway. A Cluttercast is something midway on the continuum between Freecycle and Craig's List. Each week, Darryle offers up a few no longer needed or loved items from her home and people write in to express their interest in those pieces. Though there is no charge for the item itself, there is often a small shipping fee so she doesn't go broke as she shares her former household items.

On June 29, two moms from the Canada Moms Blog, sister site of the Chicago Moms Blog are taking a two week road trip across Canada. They'll be driving from Moncton to Halifax up to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and into Quebec. From there they will head to and then fly to Edmonton and go who knows where.

Did I mention they are taking this trip with their kids? Why the kids? That is a Canadian puzzle.

Who is brave (or crazy) enough for such an adventure? None other than uber-bloggers Catherine of Her Bad Mother and Katie of Motherbumper.

On to the Cluttercast. I've got this small puzzle of Canada. I don't have it near me at the moment, but it's one of those deals that's about 8 x 12 with about 15 thick cardboard pieces that fit into a little frame that maps out all the provinces in details.

What a great way to follow the Mom Road Trip, right? Wouldn't you love to have this? Tell me why.

The trip starts tomorrow, so comment now if you're interested and I will choose a winner (US or Canadian) by 11 pm CST on June 30.

I'm hoping I can just stick the thing in an envelope and it won't cost much to ship, so there's no charge for the winner. However, if she wants to buy me a cookie at BlogHer (which for me is way more appealing than a drink), I'm up for it. Alternately, if she chooses to tattoo my blog url on some body part as thanks, that's cool too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Because I Said So

Because I said so. BECAUSE I SAID SO! We are only two weeks into summer break and how many times have I uttered (or yelled) that phrase? Urgh.

Our moms said it and we swore we'd never repeat that inane line to our kids, right? We failed. Big time.

Because I Said So is also the name of a fun new book by Dawn Meehan, an admittedly imperfect Chicago area mom (and blogger). A mom of rambunctious children. Six children.

I can't name all six of her kids, but the odd thing is, my boys can. They have taken to Dawn's book of essays like I took to my mom's Erma Bombeck books back in the day. They can name all of Dawn's progeny, and I think they fancy our families meeting up for a picnic one day soon.

This is really a book for moms, but my boys love it. Whether I'm reading it aloud or they read it to themselves, they think Dawn's family adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. I think some of them are, too.

My nine-year-old brought it to school and asked his teacher to read a chapter to his class. His third grade class. Admittedly, it went over like a lead balloon with the kids, but the teacher told me she planned to buy a copy for herself. My boy's not just a fan...he's part of Dawn's marketing team.

This fun book is perfect poolside read. Not that you shouldn't keep your eyes on your kids,
but maybe you can fit in a chapter or two during snacks breaks.

*I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.*

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My new look

Well, what do you think? I ditched the pink. I once considered the bright pink background delightfully garish, but as time wore on it was simply becoming garish. I needed a change.

Let me know if I need to think pink again or if you like the fresh uncluttered look.

Even if you like the look, do you think the logo is too deep. I'm trying to play with the image without stretching it out to much, but methinks it may need a bit more editing.

I'm eventually going to add a third column...anything you'd like to see?

Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Healthy Choice and Healthy Choices on Twitter

My days have been running together since school got out. You, too? Anyway, tomorrow night (pause to check calendar) Thursday, June 25, from 8-10 EST, Healthy Choice is hosting a Twitter party along with Healthy Choice brand ambassadors Audrey McClelland of Mom Generations and Colleen Padilla of Classy Mommy.

The discussion will focus on healthy choices we make (or try to make) when it comes to food, family and life. And of course, there will be coupons and a chance to win some of the new Healthy Choice meals.

Remember that new client I mentioned who brought me on as their Social Media Mom? It's ConAgra, maker of Healthy Choice meals and dozens of other foods. My role as Social Media Mom is mostly behind the scenes. They hired me to provide strategic advice, not to put my face in front of their brands. But I'll stick my neck out here and there when it feels right.

Like now.

Late in 2008 as I was talking with the ConAgran who brought me on board, we reviewed there various brands. Though I was eager to work with her and the company, I'm not one for the #fakegush, so I was honest with her. "I haven't eaten a Healthy Choice meal since I tried them when they came out nearly 20 years ago," I admitted.

Thankfully, rather than show me the door, she promised me changes were afoot. 2009 brought those changes. Healthy Choice has fresh new meal choices, a new look and a new customer--me.

Yes, I was sent free samples, but since then I've been spending my own hard-earned money (or DH's unemployment check, take your pick) on Healthy Choice meals.

Even better, my local blogging pal Carrie Kirby of Shoplifting with Permission taught me about "Catalina deals" and on two occasions so far, I've spent $25 on Healthy Choice (and other ConAgra products) and received $10 coupons good for my next visit to the supermarket as part of the special. That's a lot of food for $15 net. Low fat, low salt Healthy Choice meals are as good for the bottom line in my checkbook as they are for the bottom line I squeeze into my jeans.

I hope to see you at the Twitter party!

(P.S. Just to be clear, this was not a sponsored post; I'm writing of my own volition on my own time because I think the brand really improved. The new Healthy Choice is worth a taste.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on Decluttering

Make that moron decluttering. I wrote this post, oh dear, over a month ago. I've be doing a lot of IRL cleaning house, and now I'm trying to clear through blog entries that never made it out of their "draft" status. Ironically, I've already published the follow up to this piece, How I Lost 130 Pounds in Three Weeks: Five Unusual Tips for Decluttering.

(May 2009) I'm buried under a virtual pile of email and burdened by a personal to-do list that is growing longer and more pressing by the second. Professionally, things are going well. I'm keeping busy with client projects that are taking up a lot of my creative energy, which is great, fabulous and fun, really.

Oh, and I'm cleaning out lots of clutter. We will likely be either putting our house on the market soon or renting it out or who knows what (no, we aren't going into a homeless shelter or anything that dire), but there's likely a bit of upheaval ahead.

I've been decluttering for a couple of weeks, but now I'm sharpening my vision. As I look at stuff, I have to think, would I want to pay to keep that in storage? And that adds a whole new perspective to the "keep or toss" game.

Our couches, the piano, boxes of old letters and photo albums? Keep.

The small wardrobe stuffed to the gills with craft supplies? The random bits of yarn and spool of orange tulle are not as compelling as they once seemed. Toss.

The bag full of several alphabets worth of keys from old computer keyboards: Keep. There's an awesome art project in there somewhere.

Expired credit and used gift cards? Keep. Remember that fabulous mosaic Martha Stewart created in a old American Express commercial? I'm going to do that. Someday.

The whole world knows when I'm cleaning out the deep recesses of my house because I try to avoid throwing anything out. I call upon friends and the teachers at my boys' school. Any chance at giving our stuff a second life.

How about you? Can you dump without guilt?

Read up on my decluttering strategies.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Make Butter: Family Fun on a Budget

File this under things I learned from my children. I learned how to make butter from my boys and their preschool teacher about six years ago. It's so simple, even a child can do it (as seen in the video). And it's an inexpensive activity that doubles as a science project (see the clip I reference at the end of our video).

And the taste....ZOMG, so fresh and creamy!



I've turned butter-making into a communal task when we have company (and I serve a home-cooked meal, ahem). I pour the cream and ask all my guests to give a few shakes so it's as if everyone has helped create the meal.

Okay, I've done this twice in the last five years, but it's a neat idea, no?

Pair your fresh butter with a loaf of homemade bread and you'll be eating like royalty on a pauper's budget.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sweet!

I've got a few sweet posts about candies and snacks I saw and sampled at the All Candy Expo over at Scrambled CAKE.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shout out from Syracuse

Perhaps I should retitle this "Other reasons I suck." My time and attention have been sapped in recent weeks. I should have given props earlier this month to Gina Chen's Family Life Blog over at Syracuse.com. She posted a brief profile of certain Chicago-area blogger with a propensity to write about gifted children.

Thanks, Gina!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Positive Feedback from Gifted Education Saturday Enrichment Programs

Though we had put it off for years, Smartypants finally signed on for one of those pricey weekend "enrichment" classes for gifted children last March. I had avoided these classes because when he first dipped his toes into the public school waters and disliked school, I couldn't imagine sending him to one more day of classes anywhere else.

He also attended (and continues to attend) Sunday school. It seemed stressful for him to have a class every morning of the week.

When he attended the pricey private school for gifted children there just wasn't money in the family budget for extras. Plus, I like to think he was "enriched" on a daily basis at the Gifted Academy.

Finally, as I've discussed with IRL Julia, there is a bit of a shady side to these extracurricular gifted enrichment programs. You pay for your child to take a test and then the testing center follows up with results and, by the way, a list of classes they offer to help your child build his precocious abilities.

But when Smartypants found a class that interested him (and grandma offered to pay for it) we went for it. Except for getting him to do the homework in a timely manner, the class was a positive experience. He learned something new that is not part of a typical school curriculum- the JAVA-based Greenfoot programming application (language?). In addition, he made a friend and he had fun.

We recently received a feedback report from the teacher. It was filled with positive insights about my son. I was kvelling as I read it. I passed the note off to my mom, the course sponsor. She too, was glowing when she read it.

And then when she put the paper down she added, "I guess it helps when they flatter the child, so the parent will want to sign them up for the next session."

Touche. :-/

That makes sense, but I remember commenting in my New Moms Group how I gushed each time the nurse commented about what an adorable baby I had. I said I was certain the nurses told this to all the new moms, and then a woman from my group noted the nurses never said that about her baby.

It's possible, likely even, that in the right intellectually stimulating and supportive environment, my guy's curiosity, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and abilities really did shine through.

At any rate, he wants to continue with the Saturday enrichment classes this fall. Mother, can you spare a dime? A few thousand of them?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spezify Cool New Tool for Visual Search

The boys and I are spending too much time on this new visual search site, Spezify. Go ahead, search yourself; you'll be amazed by the results. And maybe a bit creeped out, too.


Is it a tool or it a toy? Try it and tell me what you think.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How I Lost 130 Pounds in Three Weeks! Five Unusual Tips for Decluttering

I've long suspected my family has much more than we need to enjoy life. My theory was tested when we put our house on the market and I began decluttering in earnest. To make our house look organized and spacious, I had to dig deep and assess my family's possessions with a brutal honesty.

Oprah and her ilk extol the joys of clutter-free living, but perhaps my friend Abby puts it best. She says getting rid of household clutter is akin to an enema. It's cleansing; leaves you fresh and renewed. Though I have referred to my efforts as de-crapifying my house and I feel good about my work, I can't speak to the post-enema feeling.

In some ways maybe I am like a constipated child, stubbornly refusing to let go (of my possessions). I hate to throw things out; I hate to see things wasted. This makes it hard to de-crapify. That said, I have a few tips to get rid of clutter and give it a second life.

1) The easiest (and perhaps uniquely Chicago method) is putting unwanted items out alongside my garbage cans for alley scavengers. This works great for old furniture, household items, and anything with a modicum of scrap metal. I don't care whether the alley scavengers take said items home and use them, pass them along to friends or sell them. I just want them gone and, hopefully, appreciated by someone else.

2) My blogfriend Marketing Mommy hosted a clothing swap, another practical and fun idea for passing items along. However, as a WAHM my wardrobe is minimal and I fear I'd be the odd girl out at such an event, left to flounder in a corner with my 1990s mom jeans, worn out sneakers and my deceased aunt's day-glow orange rabbit fur lined raincoat.

3) Another blog buddy, Darryle Pollack, runs ClutterCast.com an unusual way to declutter. Cluttercasting exists on the continuum between Freecycle and eBay. Soon I'll be giving away something very special over there.

4) My secret weapon in the war against clutter is school. Got piles of scratch paper and old file folders? The school office will gladly take them. Random craft supplies? The art teacher will love them. Gently used books? Just drop them off in the teacher's lounge and they'll have new homes before you arrive back at yours.

5) And my super secret weapon is a good party. At my son's recent birthday party, I repurposed clutter as prizes and goody bag fun. The guests did an activity that used up dozens of random stickers and other items. I hosted an end of school year party last week for the sole purpose of using up bottles of bubbles, cartons of sidewalk chalk and a pile of white t-shirts I'd been saving for a Sharpie-faux tie dye extravaganza.

I don't mourn the 130+ pounds of clutter I've lost in recent weeks. I feel lean and strong...until I remember that day-glow fur coat hanging in my hall closet.


This "doing more with less" post was written for a guest host contest for BlogHer's The Juice by Tropicana Trop50.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Advocating for Gifted Kids

My gifted mojo is down and my stress level is way up. We're talking past 11. I continue to ponder gifted education, parenting gifted children and what I can offer to help you learn from my mistakes. I have big ideas about posts of what gifted kids learn at school beyond (or instead) of academics and a few other thoughts. I just can't gather them in a coherent manner just yet.

Oh, and I should mention that by the time you read this my children will have finished school for the year. But I can't think about that. I can't think more than a day or two ahead right now. Which, as you might imagine is not a really effective way to manage my work/family/life.

Which is why I'm sending you over to Jeanne's blog to read her excellent post on Advocating for Gifted Children. Her post, a summary of an Ohio Gifted Roundtable, is a great primer and can be adapted for a range of special needs populations.

Click to read my more coherent thoughts (and great reader comments) on gifted education and raising gifted children.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm Center'd!

No, I'm not feeling centered as in calm and peaceful, but I am writing on Center'd, a new event planning, where to go, what to do site.

I was invited to help jump start their Chicago-area blog and wrote about Chicago area factory food tours and provided an overview of some of our favorite ethnic eats here in Chicago's northern suburbs.

If you sign on at Center'd, be sure to friend me! (Or leave a comment on the blog posts there to make me look cool. you know I need all the help I can get!

Monday, June 08, 2009

My husband beats me

It's true. My husband is smart, funny, a deep thinker and usually quite kind, but he beats me. Yes, beats the pants off of me in every word or strategy game we play. Even when the boys and I receive generous "handicaps" to inflate our scores in say, Boggle, he leaves us in his dust. It's frustrating and leaves me feeling a few cards short of a full deck, if you know what I mean.

If you wound up on this blog via Google and are in a potentially abusive relationship, click over to learn more about domestic violence and abuse or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chicago Moms Blog Brunch

Cindy Fey and I hosted a wonderful brunch for the Chicago Moms Blog contributors last weekend. And when I say she and I, mean mostly "she." Roughly 90% of the credit goes to her. She so carefully planned and organized the gathering and even hosted it in an amazing downtown location. I cheered her on.

Our event featured Chicago foods thanks to donations from Pastoral Artisan purveyors of high quality cheeses, wine, and bread. I met some folks from Pastoral earlier this year and their passion for fine food shines through in all they do. (Look, they even have classes for foodie kids and adults.) They provided us with a Midwest Treasures cheese tray whose delicious local cheeses were a huge hit.

The sweet jams courtesy of Jane Addams Hull House were not only appreciated, but Cindy's girls got a great lesson on one one Chicago's greatest sheroes when they went to pick it up at the Hull House Museum.

Eli's Cheesecake provided us with three sweet creamy cheesecakes for dessert including the Cherry Noir featuring Michigan Balaton cherries. Yum! See you at Eli's Farmer's Market this summer?

But, of course, the best part was mingling with old and new friends from the Chicago Moms Blog.

Another highlight was hearing fellow mamas read their work to the group. Amy Nathan, Susan Bearman, Miss Lori, Angela Allyn. They read heartfelt and sometimes funny pieces or poems. Me? I read an old blog post, which I hope you can see when you click on the link. (Hat tip to Amy for the video clip!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

To kvell is (to) swell

This is my first post inspired by wonderful author Neil Gaiman. Last night MythBuster's host Adam Savage referenced Gaiman in a tweet, and I clicked over to see Gaiman's tweetstream. I was intrigued by this:Apparently I'm not the only one intrigued by @NeilHimself kvelling on Twitter as it spurned this post as well as a ReTweet from me, and an exchange with my Tweep, Dani. (Mmmm. check out those recipes.)

Kvell is a Yiddish term, derived from German that means to gush, well up or swell. I think it's a word that is not fully understood until one becomes a parent. It's more than a feeling of pride or satisfaction, but it's also more of an internal feeling than an outward boast.

For me, kvelling is an uncontrollable reflex. There are times when I've just been so damn proud of my kids that I gushed, my chest and pride swelled.

And yet, it's not always appropriate.

For example, when Pikachu was about 16 months old he had an allergic reaction to penicillin. A few days after finishing up his meds he broke out in hives. This was no ordinary rash, he looked like the child abuse poster kid, with raised red welts all over his chubby little body. It was horrible.

After talking with our pediatrician, I rushed Pikachu off to the allergist for a closer look. The allergist took one look at my stripped down boy whose body was covered in hives and turned tail out of the room, announcing he'd be right back.

Moments later, the doctor returned with his entire nursing staff on his heels. "This," he pronounced pointing to my boy's bumps, "is a perfect example of target lesions."

Upon hearing those words, my chest swelled and I gushed. I kvelled over my wonderful boy and his perfect lesions. I was aware that my reaction was completely inappropriate, that my job was to be a concerned mama and find a solution to my son's hives, but when it registered in my brain that my young son was a fine example, a role model of sorts, my parental pride spiked. I couldn't help it.

Was there a time you couldn't help but kvell even in an inappropriate situation like mine? Do tell.