Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Thought I'd Died and Gone to...

Last weekend we went to Wisconsin for a family retreat with members of our synagogue. Sunday morning the camp grounds were blanketed in a thick, white fog. I woke up early to go for a walk and as I headed out of my room in the lodge, I found myself walking alone down the long hallway. It was silent, save for the gentle squeaking of my rubber shoes on the linoleum.

As I looked ahead to the doorway, all I could see through the large window pane in the door was a bright white light.

I stopped in my tracks.

Was I dying?

Was I going to see the the field and the meeting house when I opened that door or...what?

But I'm here, so I guess you all know how it turned out. It was a very surreal moment, though.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sea Snax: Sleeper hit of the 2011 Sweets and Snacks Expo

Yeah, I'm calling it. Sea Snax is at the front line of a new trend, toasted seaweed snacks. And when I say new, I'm talking about it finally having a chance to be featured on Stuff White People Like. Let's face it, snackable toasted seaweed has long been popular in places like Japan and Korea.

In fact, last year when I saw cute little sushi wrappers at Super H Mart, the Korean Supermarket (also home to the endearingly named Fancy Pencil Land store within a store), I bought a pack and realized they made tasty snacks. Little did I know they were never intended for sushi.

Which is why I think Sea Snax will succeed where their competitors have not, their product is accessible to clueless white folks, like me. At Super H, the many varieties of lightly roasted and seasoned seaweed snacks are labeled in languages I can't fully decipher (not mention right next to sheets of the sushi nori, no wonder I was confused).

Sea Snax spells it all out for me in plain English:
  • gluten free, 
  • no transfat, 
  • no cholesterol, 
  • no MSG, 
  • no sugar, 
  • no artificial colors or preservatives
  • no canola oil (wait, canola oil is bad?! What did I miss?).

To be fair, Ocean Snacks was also at the expo with their dried toasted seaweed and English language labeling. The two brands are comparable on taste, but I think Sea Snax better understands the American audience.
 
Nom nom.

One could say that the real sleeper hit of the show was New! Chocolatey! Sleep Squares (TM), "the bedtime delight that helps you sleep through the night.(R)"


{insert your own joke here}


Any chocolately substance that comes with a warning labels is not my friend, and this item has several. Even my mom said it sounded creepy. The Teen can't wait to try it.

Discuss.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Sweets and Snacks Expo: More thoughts on bloggers and trade shows

I just got back from the Sweets and Snacks Expo and boy is my tummy full! There's nothing like a gal's first Candy Expo experience, but as a veteran of the event (I even spoke as a mom trends expert at the 2010 expo), I no longer feel the need to taste everything that's offered to me, nor do I feel compelled to finish the entire sample that's offered to me, nor even stock up on snacks for home--in the name of taste-testing with the boys, of course.

My thighs thank me for this.

My boys are cranky.

Seriously, though, as is recommended for almost any trade show, I arrived with an objective. This year, I was on the lookout for candies made with real sugar and natural dyes. I spoke out about these things last year and wrote about the food dye rebellion back in 2008. (Yes, at Momformation. I always feel compelled to point out that I was writing there back in the day as if to prove I'm truly a digital dinosaur.) I'll be posting about my and my not-so-little taste tester's faves over in Gina Rau's Feed our Families blog.

That said, I didn't always take my own advice about bloggers and trade shows. I sometimes asked for a sample to take home. But I see a difference between asking for pricey housewares versus packs of candy that retail for $1 or less. Plus, after a few hours walking the show floor, I'd sampled everything from alpaca jerky to intense dark chocolates and seaweed snackers. My taste buds were doing somersaults. And when it comes to family-friendly snacks, I definitely want opinions from my family.

I was typically well-received when I explained myself and the story I planned to write, but there were definitely some vendors who didn't seem to grasp the blogger angle.

In fact, there are a couple of items I sampled at previous expos and wrote about on my food blog that still bring in traffic via search. At one point, my blog was the in the top five results for these product searches, and yet when I mentioned that to people at those booths, "Did you know people come to my blog when they're searching for information on your product?" {jazz hands}

"Oh, that's nice."

It's not that I expected them to bow down to me, but there seemed to be a disconnect.

People search for your product online. And then they click through to to my blog to read my thoughts on your product. My opinions can impact purchase behavior.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, there were folks who wanted me to promise to mention them.

It's 2011. Are you finding that businesses you interact with understand the power of blogs and social media?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Food, Glorious Food Bank

Originally published in March 2009 at Chicago Moms Blog. Food pantries are hurting this time of year. Please consider donating time, food or money to your local food bank.

Last week, in a grown-up version of Alternative Spring Break, I spent an afternoon at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. I was due there at the southwest side facility at 1:00 and left my north suburban house around noon, without eating lunch first. My volunteer commitment was to last until 4:00 and I knew I wouldn't make it on an empty stomach. How obnoxious would that be-- showing up at the food pantry only to complain about being hungry? Oh yeah, as embarrassing as this incident.

So I grabbed a bit of road food, which then left me feeling a bit rushed. I headed to the highway to find a jackknifed semi blocking the entrance. It only took me one illegal U-turn to remedy the situation, though. (This from a recent graduate of Traffic Safety School.) I was driving in mid-day traffic, but it felt like rush hour. I think I averaged about 40 mph on the expressway.

The Food Depository is huge. They distribute over 46 million pounds of food each year, helping an estimated 500,000 people annually. For over a decade my dad's business has made a holiday donation to the organization in lieu of buying client gifts, so it was nice to see firsthand how the money helps the Chicagoland community.

Though I arrived a few minutes late, it didn't take long to catch up and get in the groove. We packed boxes for seniors. This involved three main tasks- prepping boxes, filling boxes with the designated foods and cleaning up. Guess which job was assigned to late arrivals?

I unpacked bulk cases in order to keep the fillers supplied with the necessary products and then broke down the corrugated boxes. I also walked the line cleaning up other empty boxes or wrapping material.

For an unpaid group we worked quickly and efficiently. In just under three hours our group of 20 or so volunteers packed 800 boxes, or about 10 thousand pounds of food. My job didn't leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but I was aware that even in breaking down boxes, I was playing a necessary role in a larger, more important task.

In the coming year, I plan to get more involved in hunger initiatives. If that means sweeping the floors after a group of volunteers pack up food, so be it. I'm hoping for something a little more exciting this time around, though I may not get as personally involved as this blog sistah.

My thanks to MJ, Chicagonista and the folks at Edelman and Quaker for giving me a chance to do something I've intended to do for, oh, years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today

The cake is a lie.

#ThatIsAll

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We Got Approval on Our Mortgage!

They say the waiting is the hardest part, but let me tell you that paperwork is a pain in the butt, too. After submitting a small sapling worth of papers to the potential lender, we got a request back for what I will call Form 800563A in relation to a former, but recent, bank account.

However, we never received such a form. We did, however, have Form 800563B. This was included in our mortgage application. We were told it would suffice.

But the person who checks off all the boxes of required forms for the underwriter told us we needed to produce Form A. After much back and forth, I finally called the bank that held the former account and they agreed to get me what I needed, which was nice because just a few months ago I had pulled so much money out of there that I think I saw a tear roll down the banker's cheek. (It's karma, baby. I equally upset when, days early, I realized how low the interest rate on that account had dropped.)

At any rate, we've got our down payment stuffed under our mattress (I'm kidding; don't burglarize my parents' house in search of it), full loan approval with a good interest rates, though alas, not the lowest rate of the year that was announced early this week (our lender suggested we not follow rate changes once we locked in), and in the coming week we're going to visit the house with a contractor in tow to talk through some of our planned renovations.

It's not a done deal until the ink on the signed contract is dry, but I'm feeling hopeful. Having the house appraise above our purchase value and securing a loan were two big items on the home buying checklist. We're getting close!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Serta iComfort Crew: It's Cool that my Husband is Hot in Bed

Last week, I had the pleasure visiting the sleek, "green" Serta headquarters with a small group of bloggers.
We learned a lot about Serta, the 80-year-old mattress company. We heard about their history and just-in-time production process, we explored their unique building and research facility, and now I'm practically a walking encyclopedia of mattress facts.

The big news of our visit, was Serta's new iComfort line. I'll talk more about that in a minute because the thing that stands out in my mind explains why I don't work with a lot of brands is this: memory foam is a space-age (really) material with viscoelastic qualities. That means it acts like a solid, but with pressure and heat, develops the properties of a liquid.

Viscoelastic is not a term you hear often, so my ears perked up at the mention of it. I thought this was the same as a non-Newtonian fluid, but it's not, though there are similarities. My point is, have you ever made oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid, with your kids? It's a fun, simple science experiment with cornstarch and water. Mind-blowing in it's own way and may occupy your kids for hours; lovely.

Speaking of lovely and mind-blowing, or more accurately, paradigm-shifting, I've never had nor been very interested in a foam mattress. My objections to foam were that it's too soft and traps heat, leading to hot nights in the worst sense of the term. Serta's research showed that many others shared my concerns and set out to change the way we think about foam mattresses by changing the mattresses to eliminate those problems.

This spurred the development of "advanced foam technology" that incorporated a supportive, cooling gel. And more recently the "cool action gel memory foam," which should keep even hot husbands like mine pretty cool in bed. Seriously, the guy is a furnace at night.

Granted, I didn't spend a full night on the mattress, but I did get to check out the full line of iComfort sleep systems and, oh my, they feel fabulous.


As part of the blogger event, I'll get to choose a system for my new home. I'm thinking I will request the firm Genius model, but I'll head to a mattress store with DH before I commit. Even if it turns out we don't love our chosen model, no worries. Serta offers consumers (and bloggers) a 120 day risk-free trial, so if we, or you, are not comfortable with your mattress after 30 days, we/you can return it. (The dealer dictates the fine print.)

We will also likely be getting the Motion Perfect Adjustable Base, which left us bloggers swooning with delight. When I mentioned it to DH and he took a quick peek at the hospital bed-type base that raises and lowers the head and feet, he commented that we'll need a new nightstand to accommodate our canes, but I swear, as my blog buddies will, this adjustable base was oh so comfy and soothing. I just need to figure out if the motor and moving parts can withstand our vigorous nightly lovemaking....


Enough about me. What about you? Well, you can get one of these, too, but you need to be patient. I expect to run the giveaway in June, so stay tuned. Serta is going all out with this and you will be allowed to choose the iComfort Sleep System of your dreams. Follow @Serta on Twitter for a chance to win one over Memorial Day weekend.

Fun Serta Facts: Mattresses are assembled in the US and more than 90% of the parts in Serta mattresses are made in the US.

I was invited to take part in this event with a few old blog friends and I made several new ones:
Rockin Mama
MommyWords
I Should be Folsing Laundry
Tiny Oranges
Adventures in Babywearing
Sisterly Savings
MomTrends

Thanks to Serta and Ketchum PR for putting together a fun and informative event.

Disclosure: As an event attendee I also enjoyed dinner and other perks including several Serta Sheep like ones pictured above, only fluffier, courtesy of the Serta team. I was neither required to post nor host a giveaway, but I am glad to do both. All opinions are my own. Yours may vary. Especially when it comes to Oobleck which, though fun to play with and contains only natural ingredients, can be kind of a pain to dispose of- do not dump it down your kitchen sink!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Prayers for @Brandie185

As online friends go, Brandie and I are old chums. I don't recall when we met online, but I know we met IRL in Dec. of 2009 at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods at a blogger event. We've since enjoyed a girlfriends' weekend in Galena, I invited her to an event where she won a shiny new washing machine and we've even had a non-sponsored (gasp) dinner out with Tracey, who's got the related pictures on her blog.

Brandie, a freshly minted 32 year-old and long-time mom of three homeschooled kids, was recently diagnosed with cancer. Breast cancer. (She's one of three women I know currently fighting this, and about the 6th women I know with the diagnosis in the last two years. WTF?!)

When my family attended shabbat services before my son's bar mitzvah, I wanted to add Brandie's name to the list for refuah shlema- healing of body, mind and spirit. Typically the rabbi reads a list of names of synagogue members and their loved ones in need of healing and then asks the assembled if they'd like to add other people's names to the list before the prayer is said.

DH called out our friends' names and I wanted to add Brandie to the list, but all I could think of was @Brandie185, her Twitter handle. A momentary panic set in; I could. not. remember her last name. I thought of the odds looks I'd get, how the lovely, caring spirit in the room was would shatter like a dropped mirror if I called out " at brandie 185."

I quickly filed through my mental databases and recalled her last name. The Universe aligned and the group set its healing energy across the ether to Brandie. Or something like that.

Tomorrow, Brandie goes in for surgery. I have no doubt she will beat this, but thoughts, prayers and good wishes to remind her of that are always nice, right?

Please stop by her blog and share some love.

Monday, May 16, 2011

50 Dangerous Things (You should let your children do): Book Review

This just in: 50 Dangerous Things. It's not so much of a Dangerous Book for Boys, which was bit more how-to oriented, as it is a guide for all children who spend too much time indoors protected by their very careful parents. Or perhaps it's a guide for such parents.

That said, I can't say I'm a fan of letting my children do all 50 things.

I mean, whittle? Absolutely! I belive every child should have a knife by age ten. At Chez Moldy we created a "knife contract" when my boys first got theirs, spelling out how, when and where to use it...and still someone got cut, but what can you do?

Walk to school? Yes, once we're in the new house, though certain lazy children deem it too far to walk.

Throw rocks? They are boys, how can they not throw rocks?

Play with dry ice? We do this several times a year. It's awesome. (Hint: add dish soap to water put the dry ice in it. Very cool.)

Play in a hailstorm (with head protection)? I'll let them try it.

Cook something in the dishwasher? I'm game.

Supergluing fingers together? Ummmm.

Squash pennies on a railroad track? Kids did this often when I was growing up (not far from tracks); this scares me.

But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's the point of this book. When we were kids we roamed around and did things we weren't supposed to, but we lived to tell about it. Gever Tulley, the author, believes that kids learn about safety when we expose them to risk. He's right. But I'm still nervous about pennies on the train tracks.

To be fair, the book is more than just a list. It provides guidelines on activity duration, difficulty and dangers, as well as tips for getting started and related skill builders. It's sure to provide the impetus for some different kinds of summer fun. I'm eager, if a bit nervous, to show this book to my boys (one of whom once stuck his finger down his throat in the name of curiosity -age 3- and stuck tweezers into a live electric socket -age 9!-, though neither of those activities is listed in the book).

BTW, the book was born of out this TED talk, which piqued my interest back in 2008. Give a listen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Statecation: Put Your Tax Dollars to Work While You Play

Originally published at The Chicago Moms Blog.

A trip out to Galena (disclosure: I helped arrange it) got me pondering the benefits of a statecation. That is, a trip within your home state. Think about it, a statecation is more exciting than a home-based staycation. You can likely drive there on less than a tank of gas. You won't have to worry about things like cramped airplanes or flight delays and you may even pick up a few facts about what makes your state so great.

For example, until I visited Galena a few years ago, I wasn't aware of what a thriving and important city (14,000 residents in the mid 1800s!) it was back in the day.

Beyond history and education, a statecation provides the crucial benefit of putting your vacation dollars to work while you play. We often hear about how spending money is patriotic in that it keeps our economy going. I don't know about your family, but in my family, the money flows a little more loosely on vacation than it does at home.

Why not use that money to help Illinois? We may have a reputations as a blue state, but when it comes to our budget, we are in deeply in the red.

Ride the hills and winding country roads of Galena, hike the forests of southern Illinois and then reward yourself with a trip on the Shawnee Hills wine trail, pose with Superman in Metropolis, head to Springfield for the Lincoln Museum, or check out the Skydeck Ledge at Willis Tower.

Summer is almost here; start planning your statecation now!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Party On! Bar Mitzvah Part 2

So the nice, relatively simple luncheon for 170 peeps, was a logistical breeze compared to what followed the next day. Yesterday, the day after the bar mitzvah, we held a kids' party. Having a separate party, on a separate day involving group transport to an offsite location (i.e. not our/my parents house- though my boys did manage to break a tree on their easement. Yes, broke. A tree.) and back is a logistical nightmare not ideal.

That said, all reports indicate the party was "awesome." And that's a direct quote from several of the teens involved.

When the Teen was a mere first grader, he asked me what boys did for their bar mitzvah celebrations. You see, he'd been to a couple of bat mitzvahs for cousins, girl cousins, who had DJ-driven dance parties. But he didn't think that's how boys did it.

"Well, what do you think boys do for their parties?" I asked.

"Stand around and play video games?" He guessed.

And that's just what we did.

As I was trying to find the perfect party venue, my friend Rachel suggested the Norris Center at Northwestern University. The student union has a game room in the basement which was perfect for our needs. Available for weekend daytime party rental, the room has several pool tables, a ping pong table, air hockey, a pinball machine and stations for PS3, Wii, and Xbox, not to mention a gree standing dance party game and a popcorn machine.

We brought in cake, snacks and pop and ordered in more pizza than we expected to from the food court upstairs. All of the young people who left our house on the bus, returned on that same bus. (A major concern was kids wandering off to checking out the campus, but that did not happen).

Now I'm ready to breathe easy and start looking ahead---once all the thank you notes have been written and sent.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

That was Kaufmans?!

rugelach!
Yesterday was the big bar mitzvah day! I'll write more about that later, but I want to thank our caterer while our fridge is still packed with leftovers it's still fresh in my mind. I have no doubt that any Jew who's spent time in or around Skokie, Illinois in last 40 or so years has eaten deli food from Kaufman's.

Everyone knows their bagels, we stand in long lines to get ginormous round challah from Kaufman's at the high holy days, and their corned beef, salami, pastrami and chopped liver are legendary. Their trays grace the tables at everything from open houses to shiva houses, but did you know they also offer full-service catering?

I didn't until my mom suggested we check them out when it came time for my son's bar mitzvah.

Bette Dworkin, patiently walked us through everything from food to linens, taking into account our budget, the size of our party and the overall tone of our event. Our final menu included the obligatory bagels and lox, but also an upscale asparagus salad as well as a beet and goat cheese salad that I was worried no one but my husband would eat, but was actually quite a hit. A colorful couscous salad rounded up the trio for our light brunch.

The spread was a huge hit, with many guests asking where we got the food (as well as the catering staff, which apparently stood out from the regular kitchen help). When I told them, the typical response was, "That was Kaufman's?! Who knew?"

Disclosure: I was neither compensated for nor asked to write this post. Although we did get a free 5-pound challah that was bigger than the bar mitzvah boy when he was born, because although I didn't think we needed it, Bette was sure it we should have it. As they say at Disney, it was good show.

Kaufman's is going to be hosting a series of super fun events in June to kick off their Salami Drive for our troops via the USO. Check it out. See you in Skokie in June?

P.S. If you are reading this on the May 8th and live nearby, call me so we can set a time for you to come over and pick up some leftovers!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Bar Mitzvah Centerpieces that are a Mitzvah

The theme for the upcoming bar mitzvah is "Keep it Simple, Sort Of" which is a unique spin on our typical celebration theme, "What's on Sale in the Party Aisle at Target."

A friend had tipped me off on some simple, and tasteful centerpieces that can be rented from The Ark, a Jewish organization and Kosher food pantry that helps families in need. For about $35 per table, The Ark provides a gift basket full of the kinds of foods they might provide for a family- rice, beans, Kosher mac and cheese. For a small fee, they will even drop off and pick up these baskets. And the cost of the centerpieces becomes a tax-deductible donation.

Simple, right?

But I went the Sort Of route, in part because it seemed more in line with something my son has loved all of his life-books.

Based on a creative friend's input at the school book sale, I purchased about $250 worth of books (win: good for the school), that she convinced me would look good placed in simple baskets filled with shredded paper (win: good for the environment).

I mostly raided my mom's supply of baskets, but wound up picking up a couple more on the cheap at the Hadassah resale shop and a couple more at the Salvation Army Store (where I also scored an awesome Italian-made vintage fedora for $4. #winning).

The books will be donated to Bookworm Angels, a Chicago-based organization that provides books to help teachers at low-performing schools create classroom lending libraries. They will get dozens high-quality, brand new books and we'll get our tax deduction for the cost of the books.

Which makes me happy because the baskets themselves? Meh.



Though perhaps the variety of different baskets placed on fine tablecloths around the room accented by some candy (on sale at Target, true to form) will look a little better?

A girl can dream....
 

Or have nightmares.

And, by the way, thanks to everyone who supported, or even expressed interest in supporting, my son's mitzvah project. A few weeks ago, he surpassed his $500 fundraising goal. So far, he's earned enough to purchase close to 30 solar cookers through his global giving project.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I'm not in the habit of doing this, but....

I'm not in the habit of giving a shout-out to shows I haven't watched (or the Fox network, FWIW), but as our school team is getting ready to head to the state Science Olympiad Competition (complete with a cheerful send off to the entire student body), this seemed worth a mention.

The TV show Fringe is partnering with Science Olympiad and offering Division C (high school) lesson plans based on specific episodes.

{pause for a quick check}

Erm, okay the lesson plans seem, uh, let's call them "lite," with about 75 seconds of relevant content from the episode for the lesson according to the lesson plan.

{pausing for a bit more research}

I'm sorry, this is lame. If you want to know more you can search to learn more about the partnership; I can't bear to link. I hope the Science Olympiad folks are making some good money off of this partnership.

{Off to watch an episode of Property Sluts. I'm going to create a calculus tutorial based on one of my faves.}

Here's my lesson plan; you can follow along at home!

In the Price Fixing episode of Property Sluts, I discuss my son's plan to drive down prices in our community. I also reference some allegedly sketchy statistics put out by the National Association of Realtors, a group that seems to have maintained an unrealistically optimistic outlook throughout this whole housing market collapse.

Episode scene of relevance: 1:36 - 2:32.

Now use available resources like this and this, explain a logarithmic function.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Big News from Property Sluts

In Episode 18(!), we share some exciting news about our never-ending house hunt and you'll see why things have been quiet here on Property Sluts in recent weeks.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Dot and Ziggy at the Chicago Children's Theatre: Discount Tickets and Blogger Events

Here's the latest excitement from MomImpact. We're working with Chicago Children's Theatre on the premiere of Dot & Ziggy, a co-production with Seattle Children's Theatre that is designed for very young audiences--ages four and under.

It's going to be the first live theatre experience of this kind in Chicago.

Local parent and culture bloggers are invited to a performance
at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, conveniently located in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood
on
Friday, May 13 at 10:00 or Noon
Sunday, May 15 at 10:00 or Noon

If you're a Chicago [parent or culture blogger and would like to attend, complete the form and reserve free spots for you and your little ones.

Tickets to Dot and Ziggy are normally $16 weekdays; $18 weekends.

If you're not a blogger or can't make it to the blogger events, be sure to use these discount codes for your Dot and Ziggy tickets (and feel free to share these with your friends and readers).

  • MOMOPEN: 50% off of tickets through May 15th
  • MOMDZ: $2 off tickets throughout the run