Monday, October 13, 2014

Cipora Katz: May Her Memory Be for a Blessing

Cipora Katz, Holocaust survivor
Cipora Katz, Holocaust Surivor
In a progressive religious environment, it can be a challenge to get kids to continue their education after they become bar or bat mitzvah. One way our synagogue meets that challenge is to offer the post b'nai mitzvah kids an exciting and unusual curriculum, The Jewish Lens.

I don't know if we use that exact curriculum or one inspired by it, but I do know the program is a hit. And thanks to the leadership of Liz and Rich, it's a dynamic program that changes from year to year. Each new class of students picks a theme for the end-of-year gallery display. My older son's class did "10 Modern Plagues" my younger son's class did something entirely different.

Genocide.

Heavy, huh? They had, of course, learned about the Holocaust and knew something of the Rwandan genocide, they also learned about the Cambodian genocide that started in 1975 and was immortalized in the movie, The Killing Fields.

They decided their final exhibit would be a portrait gallery featuring survivors of genocide. They would pay tribute to those people by listening to and sharing their stories, along with photos.

The class took a field trip to the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. It's a very small museum on Chicago's north side that is worth a visit. They don't seem to have a website, but you can learn more in this piece from Chicago Public Radio. Some of the students did their interview and photo sessions on site after meeting a handful of survivors.

My son was hoping to meet with a Holocaust survivor, but the one woman who came to mind was too ill to talk with him and then fortuitously, I found myself seated across from a man at a random community event who promised to introduce me to Cipora Katz.

Cipora Katz Holocaust survivor


A few phone calls later and my son and I were off to meet her for an interview. Cipora was a tiny woman, even I felt tall next to her, but her presence was grand.

In my son's words, "She was a really nice person who had gone through a lot in life and was still strong. I think she wanted to spread her story to help stop anything like the Holocaust from happening again,"

She shared her story of survival. Her family had avoided the camps, but spent years, I think from when she was 4 until she was 7, living in a potato cellar with a handful of relatives. She was the only one who could stand up in the space.

When they first fled her village, her mother stayed behind waiting for Cipora's older sister to return home from a playdate. The pair was never heard from again.

Can you imagine?

Cipora talked about not understanding the war and wondering what horrible thing she could have done as a child that people hated her and her family so much that they had to live underground for years.

She showed us a mint tin loaded with sugar cubes like the one her uncle had packed for each member of their party when they ran from home. She told us how they eventually found shelter and what she could recall from those cold dark years (including the death of her father) in that same small, dark, dank space.

Cipora made it to Israel after the war and eventually came to the United States in her late teens. She received a nursing degree, married, and had a family of her own as well as a successful career.

It was not until she had reached midlife, that she began speaking up about her past. Her daughter encouraged her and, like my son, I think Cipora ultimately felt a responsibility to educate others.

She traveled around the Midwest sharing her story at schools, libraries and houses of worship. She was so full of energy at the gallery opening in May, I was shocked to learn of her passing.

May her memory be for a blessing.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Pet Costumes: It's sad because it's true

dog costumes


I used to be the kind of person who scoffed at pet owners who dressed their animals up for Halloween. And then I became that person twice over. Yes, I not only bought my dog a costume, I bought him two costumes.

How many Pet Halloween Costumes (affiliate link) will you buy this year? Or how many will I? He might have outgrown them.

Some days I can barely look myself in the mirror. Who have I become? And then I see how much we've spent at the vet over the last 1.5 years and I know exactly who I am. Tesla's mommy.

Some friends apparently think I'm a paranoid pet owner because we've been to the vet so often. While I'm not immune to being labelled with Munchausen's by Puppy, he has had
  • eye infections
  • ear infections
  • injured limbs
  • hot spots
  • skin conditions 
  • allergies
  • papilloma virus (doggy kind)
I'd post pictures of his various diagnosis defying bumps and spots, but they're gross. Which is not to say I don't have pics of them; I do. But I'd rather leave you with this.



Now that he's trained to look at me, I should get better shots this year! Stay tuned




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.

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