Monday, June 28, 2010

Our Backyard Campout

After a long, hot morning at the Farmer's Market and a sultry afternoon "Diving for Dollars" at the local pool (which was more like diving for pennies) on Saturday, we rested, had a quick dinner at home, set up our tent (almost effortlessly) and returned to the pool for an evening swim.

We never did get around to the flashlight poker game....

By the time Thing Two and I got into to the tent for our big night out he was, by his own admission, exhausted. But that didn't stop him from asking me to bring my iTouch into the tent. "The battery is low," I told him.

"We can bring the iGo charger, so it doesn't run out," he retorted. Damn smart kid. Actually, we had a record two tornado drills at home last week. Along with shuffling my two boys down to the basement to safely wait out the potential twisters, I've grabbed my third child, AKA my laptop, the iTouch and my cell phone. It's nice to know I can keep things going with my mobile charger (I received it at the SVMoms event a while back; I will eventually write a post about it and hold a giveaway; it's a pretty handy to have around!)My sleeping bag is older than I am, but I've always taken its message to heart.

So the iTouch came into the tent, but we only listened to music; no games. Our evening was pleasant, if a bit stuffy by morning. There's a street lamp right next to our yard, so it didn't even get really dark in out tent, which I found disappointing.

Eventually, the humidity woke us around 6:30 in the morning, prompting us (read: me) to pack up the tent by 7:00, in plenty of the time for the wicked storm that passed through hours later.

One unexpected surprise from our campout was my son finding a sizable wasp nest in our yard. The nest is right next to our raspberry patch; I can't believe we missed it. Clearly, whenever we've been picking them in the last week or so, we were so focused on our task that we didn't look around.

Sadly, this means our adventure didn't end of a very "green" note, because last night, I grabbed a can of completely poisonous, highly toxic wasp spray and hopefully did them little guys (gals?) in. We simply cannot co-exist in our backyard.We he was adventurous preschooler, I chided my son for stomping on bugs on the sidewalk. "The outside is their home," I'd explain. When he saw me kill and ant (or five) during their annual spring invasion into our kitchen, he questioned my actions. "Ah, but this is our home," I'd say.

Sorry wasps! I know your keen sense of smell makes you an asset in many cases. In fact, I'd happily keep you and train you to replace drug sniffing dogs if I had the facilities, but I don't. You'll have to find a new home, preferably several blocks away.

Note: edited to add photos.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dinner at Moto with Mom

Homaru Cantu, chef de postmodern cuisine at Chicago's Moto restaurant and star of Planet Green's exciting new hit, Future Food, was so pleased with the MomImpact Future Food/Flavor Tripping Twitter Party, that he invited me a guest to his restaurant as a thank-you.

A wrestling match ensued after I announced this to my family. Our 12 year-old son pinned DH, but ultimately grandma (my mom) won the coveted spot as my dinner guest. Once nearly afraid to leave her house, she is now a world traveler who has enjoyed many fine meals, but none so fascinating as our ten course meal at Moto.

Yes, ten courses!

From the menu...the edible menu

"Don't worry, the courses are small," I assured her. But nearly 2.5 hours, 10 tiny magical courses and many glasses of wine (plus a smoked beer) later, we rolled ourselves away from the table.

OMG.

Moto offers 10s and 20s (a 20 course meal, which I'm thinking comes with a pillow and cot, so you can sleep the meal and drinks off and then hit the pavement the next morning in your rumpled clothes in a foodie version of a walk of shame).

The 10s runs $135 per person plus pairings, which may sound outrageous at first, but Moto is no corner diner. They provide fine and fantastical dining. Think about what you might spend on a special night out for dinner and along with theater tickets, because a dinner at Moto is a type of dinner theater and it's more uplifting and inspiring than, say, a Beckett play.

Read more about our meal (meal? that hardly describes it, it was an event!) over at Scrambled CAKE.

Here's a teaser. No, that ain't my mama's smoke, it's a might tasty Cuban Sandwich, artfully prepared and served.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great American Backyard Campout

This is what happens when life gets busy. It takes weeks to catch up. How else to explain the draft of this post, which I put in the queue on June 6?

At any rate, it's not too late to get involved in the National Wildlife Federation event and you needn't travel far to do it--it's a backyard campout! It's also free (though donations are welcome and did you see NWF kicking ass last night on the CNN telethon to raise funds for victims of the Gulf oil spill?

So pitch a tent and grab those sleeping bags, so what if you roast marshmallows over a gas grill? It's still great fun! I'll let you know how our campout goes.
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Sunday, June 20, 2010

My first 5K! I finished, not last.

I was looking for a new challenge after completing my bat mitzvah when I saw a sign for the Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate. I signed up at the urging of an IRL friend, but I doubt I would've done if not for hearing my blog friends go on about their new found running habits.

I didn't formally train using Couch to 5K guidelines, just added a bit of jogging (which I do not like) to my normal fitness walks. I knew I'd approach the 5K with a walk/jog combo. I knew I'd end up with a base time, a time to beat should I decide to tackle a future 5K with greater intention. This time, I just wanted to finish. Not last.

I don't know much about pacing, but I do try to adjust myself based on the crowd. For example, at one nearby indoor track where the typical walker is about 62 years old, my goal is simply to pass whoever is ahead of me. I walk with a fast, but steady, pace.

On the outdoor track and my children's school, I walk counterclockwise, while most of the crowd walks clockwise (yes, there's likely a large metaphor at play here). I try and keep track of where I do or should cross paths with certain people based on whether they are out for a pleasant morning walk or there for exercise.

For this race, there were three main folks that helped me pace myself. I'm not proud to admit this, but one of my pacers was a flat footed young girl with an awkward gate. Like me, she alternated between jogging and walking, only she was sandwiched between her parents, holding their hands. Her father weaved a charming yarn to entertain her that lasted the entire route. It was tempting to stay within listening distance, and yet, I was not going to let her finish before me.

So with the developmentally challenged child in my dust (I am pitiful), I had my eye on two old men. Old being later 50s or early 60s. We took turns outpacing each other, but over time, their jog:walk ratio was higher than mine and I fell behind.

There were a couple of others that I gleefully passed only to have them pass me up in the end.

But as I came into the final stretch, it was "Back Fat" who gave me a run for my money. Now, as an chubby woman over the age of 40, I've got a little somethin-somethin bulging out of my bra (on the backside), but I keep it covered up. This gal had her shirt tucked up into her bra exposing, well, you get the nickname.

Back Fat was also a run/walker. We alternated a lead on each other for over a mile. She was ahead of me in the homestretch until I zoomed (ha) past her, but then in the last two blocks, she blasted ahead of me.

I did not finish last! Indeed, I was 1151 out of 1265 runners, and 84 out of 96 for women my age.
A new habit or a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again? Who knows? What exciting new challenges are you taking on these days?

Don't forget the Farm to Fork Cookbook giveaway!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tribute to DH and Emeril's Farm to Fork Cookbook Giveaway

When DH lost his job back in 2008, his new career goal was to become an organic farmer. This vision was impractical on so very many levels, I don't even know where to start. Even so, to portray myself here as the ultra supportive spouse, I could say I was all, "Go for it, honey!" But I'd be LMAO (lying, not laughing). In reality I was like, "WTF? Quit dreaming. Find a desk job (or, as time went on, any job) and let's get on with our lives, already!"

But during that year or so (I can't even bring myself to type the length of his actual unemployment, plus there was a brief contract gig in there), he learned about a woman in our community who wanted to start a farmer's market.

My husband, the man whose preferred method of philanthropic involvement was limited to signing his name on a check, became an indispensable member of a hard working group who did in fact, bring a farmer's market to our community.
DH built the website and filled it with content, including interesting videos, in addition to attending many meetings and completing more mundane tasks.

I am so proud of the work he did to bring this market to town.

As I helped out at the weekly market's welcome table this morning, I ran into a classmate from junior high, my former Girl Scouts leaders and several present-day friends. It's truly a gathering place-- a time and spot to meet and mingle with friends while supporting local farmers and food producers.

So hooray to DH! He's a mover and shaker and a planner and a do-er and a great dad, to boot!

To celebrate his work with the Farmer's Market (and an offer from a publicist), I'm giving away a copy of Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork : Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh.
The book is filled with delicious recipes and drool-worthy photos, many with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. If you're looking for new ideas to cook up your farmer's market or CSA bounty, Emeril delivers.

For example, I enviously eyed people with overflowing bags of Swiss chard this morning, curious to know what one does with it. Emeril suggest using it in a roasted beet salad with walnut dressing or with walnut pesto and a balsamic vinegar. Guess what's on next week's shopping list?

When the corn comes to the market, I plan to pick some up for "corn oysters," or fritters that resemble fried oysters. (Admittedly, though, corn will be the only farm fresh ingredient in the dish.)

This book contains loads of ideas form a man who knows food. Would you like a copy?

Leave a comment below to enter to win a copy of this book; be sure to include your email address or a link to it Entries will accepted through noon, June 26, and the winner will be notified shortly after that. US residents only, please.

Winner will be chosen at random by DH likely when he's in the shower and I shout over the running water, "Dude pick a number between 1 and [total number of entries]." Who needs random.org?

The publicist also sent a extra copy for me to keep and another to give away at the Farmer's Market as part of their weekly raffle program. Each week, every adult that attends the market can enter a raffle to win a basket full of fresh-baked goods and local produce, plus an additional goody or two! See you there next week? See what I'm taking about?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dvar Torah: Bat Mitzvah Follow-up 3 of 3

After reading from the Torah, it is customary to discuss life lessons that can be gleaned from that week's portion. I read a small portion of this at my service; with 11 b'nai mitzvah honorees, we had to keep things brief. I'm not sure if it's appropriate, but I had the congregants ROFL (or at least LOL) with my dvar as I left out the recap of the Torah passage (as we were asked to do to keep it short) and went straight to talking about my kids. Clearly, I was speaking a universal truth.This is what I read from the Torah; three lines from the larger portion.

And be sure to check out bat mitzvah parts 1 (lots of pictures) and part 2 (adorable card from my niece)

May 22, 2010
Shabbat Shalom!
My parsha, Numbers Chapters 8 – 12, details a time of growing discontent as the Israelites wandered the desert wilderness. Notable items in this parsha include:
• establishing the Levites as a priestly class
• the Divine as an earthly presence in the form of a cloud or pillar of fire that leading the group through the wilderness
• an alternate Passover observance for those who are traveling or impure
• Israelites pining for a past they never had
• sibling rivalry and perhaps a bit of gossip between Miriam, Aaron and Moses

It is the crowd of malcontents, those clinging to a past they never had that intrigues me most. Despite abundant manna from heaven, a band of asfuf, or disreputable people, whine about their lack of meat. They long for meat, fish and cucumbers—foods they recall eating freely back in Egypt. Interestingly, they do not seem to recall their lack of freedom during their life in bondage.

Dayenu, indeed. (Though to be fair, the song had yet to be written.)

This band of asfuf whine and complain to Moses, who in turn whines and complains to God.

Moses was distraught; God was angry.

Moses cried to God, “Did I conceive all this people? Did I bear them?... I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If You would rather deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!”1

The drama continues as God advises Moses to gather 70 elders and appears to tell them he will indeed deliver meat to the Israelites.

“Purify yourselves for tomorrow, you shall eat meat, for you have kept whining before the Lord saying, ‘if only we had meat to eat! Indeed, we were better off in Egypt!’ The Lord will give you meat and you shall eat not one day, not two, not even five days or ten or twenty, but a whole month until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. For you have rejected the Lord who is among you whining before Him saying, ‘Oh why did we ever leave Egypt?’”

God provided as promised. A wind swept up and brought quail from the sea. Quail all around the camp, quail piled two or three feet high. It is said that “even he who gathered the least had ten homers” or bushels.

Yet, “when the meat was still between their teeth nor yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.” The meat-eaters died.

The wandering Israelites were a people in transition. They were no longer the slaves they once were with no control over their lives, but not yet ready to live as a free, independent people.

Kind of like the my children, though to be clear, last time I checked putting their dirty dishes in the sink after a meal or snack, unloading the dishwasher a few times a week, putting away clean laundry, and changing bed linens did not constitute child slavery. And yet, they kvetch.

Unlike Moses, who, when faced with whining Israelites, distanced himself from the angry lot, I did conceive and bear these children. They are mine and though they often make my heart sing and my soul nearly burst with pride, I could do without the whining. Oh, the incessant whining.

Like the Israelites, my children on the brink of adolescence are longing for control of their lives, yet not ready to take on the responsibilities of adult life. And like God, I sometimes get frustrated and make angry threats. It should be noted, that I sometimes fail to follow through, which in the context of this parsha is maybe a Good Thing.

Still, perhaps we mortals can take comfort in the fact that even God’s patience runs dry when the level of pleading and whining goes beyond.

In the early part of the parsha, God appears and guides the Israelites in the form of a cloud or pillar of fire, but as the chapters continue, a system is put in place so that the Israelites can communicate when it is time to move ahead and when it is time to retreat.

This is another lesson for parents as our children navigate the wilds of adolescence. We go from leading them directly, to instructing them on how to care for themselves, their possessions, and the world. The transition from dependence to independence can be a trying time for all involved. This portion sheds light on growing pains and reassures us that these pains, whether physical or psychological, are to be expected during a time of change and uncertainty.

Those us who read ahead know what a great reward is in store as the Israelites mature and become a great people. Parents of teens can only pray for a similar outcome.

Speaking of great outcomes, becoming a bat mitzvah- leading a service and reading from the Torah has been on my to-do list since college. As a newlywed in my mind-twenties, I added it to my list of thing to do before I had children. Those tweens I mentioned above, the ones I conceived and bore? The oldest is now 12, so clearly I procrastinated a bit, but at least I made it to the bimah before my children.

As a child, I was given free rein to opt out of Hebrew School, which I gleefully did in favor of activities like Girl Scouts and horseback riding lessons. As a junior high student, my parents gave me the option of hard and fast Hebrew tutoring, so I could have a bat mitzvah like my girlfriends, but even as a child, that felt like cheating.

As a college student and later, a “real” adult, I participated in both formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities, and knew that I had an option to become a bat mitzvah through tutoring, but that never felt like the right choice.

I was delighted that our synagogue offered this opportunity- the chance to study, learn and grow, from a group, as a group. This small new community has helped connect me to the large congregational community. My classmates and I differ in ages, life experiences and life stages- a fact that has made the b'nai mitzvah class more enriching and more meaningful.
I am delighted to be able to celebrate this day with my extended family and friends. Thanks to my parents for their support and a special thank you to my husband for encouraging me to join the b'nai mitzvah class and supporting me through it. Thanks to my wonderful boys for helping me practice for my big day. Next year at this time my oldest will be the one chanting Torah. Thank you also to [my teachers] for preparing me for this special day. I also want to thank the congregation for hosting the class and providing us support throughout our course of study.

footnote: 1 (1988) Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. The Jewish Publication Society. New York.

Bat Mitzvah Cards--way to go Hallmark! Follow-up Part 2 of 3

When it comes to bat mitzvah cards, Hallmark's Tree of Life collection dominates. At least that's what my informal research based on the dozen or so bat mitzvah cards I received on my Big Day.

That said, this handmade card from one of my nieces is my most treasured:

Bat Mitzvah Pics, Follow-up Part 1 of 3

Ima on the bima prior to the ceremony
My grandfather's talis, or prayer shawl. Traditionally only worn by men, I wonder if he would be proud to see his granddaughter wear it? Perhaps he is spinning in his grave right now. (Wherever did that phrase come from?)
This is his talis bag. It's likely the large bold yellow Star of David predates WWII and the atrocities of the Holocaust. At least, that's what I think.
My grandfather's talis is quite old and yellowing in spots. I plan to use some portions of it to make a new, custom talis. There are many beautiful talitot that can be purchased off the shelf or from artisans, but I was inspired by my classmate, Sandy, who had this beautiful talis made by a talented local artist, Rebecca Hamlin.
Sandy asked various relatives to send her pieces of cloth (or perhaps old garments) and Rebecca used there to create a work of art. Sandy will literally be covered in family memories each time she dons her talis (usually the high holidays and shabbat).

I love this detail- it's one of the corners, featuring a mongrammed handkerchief of someone dear.
Though plans fell through on the larger diaper drive/blogger event I had planned for May, I asked my bat mitzvah guests (just family and longtime family friends, please don't take offense if you weren't invited, with 11 honorees, the sanctuary was packed) to please bring diapers that I would donate to a local food pantry, as we have no diaper bank in our immediate area.

Though several folks were like, WTF?! diapers?, they came through.
Back at home:
In the end, none of the diapers made it to the food bank because I knew enough people who knew moms struggling to keep their babies in diapers, something government assistance programs do not provide for. Speaking of which, check out this great news from the mama who inspired me to collect over 1300 diapers for local babies.

My true mitzvah ("good deed") project was this:
Mom from Another Country, a blog I started with a group of moms at a local English Language Learners (ELL) Parent Center. Each week from January through May, we met, we talked and we blogged. It was a great success, especially considering that many of the women had never ever heard of a blog last January.

It was so exciting to be a part of the women's growth and see their writing, not to mention their tech skills, improve and their confidence blossom. Some of us continue to meet over the summer and my hope is that by September the the original contributors will help mentor new members onto the blog.

As if that wasn't enough, the Mom From Another Country bloggers took on an additional challenge: holding a food drive! Here is just one of many bins of food collected in the community.
So the saying is true, a mitzvah begets a mitzvah, or in this case, a bat mitzvah begets diapers, food and improved English Language skills in my community.

Seeing this all in one place is kind of a shocker. I'm really proud of myself.

{Smiles and relaxes for a moment before insecurities plague her once again.}

I once read that Jewish guilt and Catholic guilt are both based on the sense that we are never good enough, but that for Catholics, that feeling is related to the human race being tainted by original sin. For Jews, the feeling stems from the fact that we have so much potential to do good, to be good, that we feel guilty for never quite living up to that.

Regardless, having achieved my goal of reading from the Torah, and apparently accomplishing a few other things along the way, I've decided it's time to get serious about other goals. Or at least choosing other goals, like completing a 5K for the first time in my life (notice, I did not say run). My goal is to finish, not last. It's this weekend!

I'm sure there are bigger and better goals ahead...I'm just not sure what they are.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Updates, housekeeping and looking ahead

Without intending to, I took a bloggy break. Between the end of school and a trip to Canada, MomImpact biz, and a spotty camp schedule I've barely been writing or even reading blogs these last couple of weeks. But I have read books. I recently completed Laura Vanderkam's 168 Hours: You have more time than you think and the popular novel, The Help.

My desk is piled high with report cards and end-of-year test results for the boys, invoices, billing statements, magazines, a few swaggy items worth a mention and who knows what else. I'm working toward using my weekly allotment of 168 hours efficiently, but I need to get my desk in order and put away the detritus of our trip.


Our trip? We left Chicago for Winnipeg last Thursday morning about 6:30 AM. Thanks to Connie Burke and her team at Chevrolet, we cruised in style in a shiny new Traverse, which was a pleasure to drive (more about that later).

Thursday night, I held a lovely MomImpact party along with the #MNBlogPantry ladies and two local sponsors. (More about that later, too.)

Friday morning we hightailed it up to Winnipeg arriving just in time to shower off before dinner with extended family.

We snuck in a couple of tourist activities (more about that later, as well) and spent time with family and celebrated a bar mitzvah until we left Sunday afternoon hoping to make it back to Chicago in time for the boys' science camp Monday afternoon.

We made it home on time, delayed a few hours by DH's longing to see the headwaters of the Mississippi River. This "slight detour" kept us off the speedy interstate for about four hours, maybe more, as we coasted through small town after small town.

Pictures and stories to come; I hope your summer is off to a good start!