Friday, April 28, 2006

Mother's Day Gifts, Part I

We just got a not-so-helpful flyer from Circuit City reminding the family that Mother's Day is fast approaching. The mailer features a two-page spread on the Top 21 Tech Toys for Mom. The mind reels with possibilities, but frankly, I suspect that many moms would love decidedly low-tech (and low-cost) gifts like extra help around the house or assistance with the kids. Let's take a closer look at this just for fun. I'll follow up in a few days with a list of my own.

They offer a couple of items under $50 for the budget-minded gift giver. However, these items- a heart rate monitor ($33.99) and a pedometer/calorie counter ($19.99)- also send the message that maybe Mommy has let herself go and there's a just little too much of her to love. The giver is sure to be treading dangerous waters with these presents. If indeed Mommy needs a bit more exercise get her a membership to a gym that provides childcare or volunteer to watch the kids for a couple of hours each weekend so she can go out for a walk or bike ride.

There's a Portable Global Positioning Satellite ($149). Who are we kidding? This gadget has dad written all over it. I've yet to hear a woman pine for GPS technology. Men, on the other hand, have actual conversations about gadgets like this.

They also have 1 Gig of Portable Memory ($69.99). Extra memory-what mom couldn't use that! Oh, never mind, it's one of those portable "jump drives" for the computer. And it's the kind of tiny technology that is easily lost or misplaced. That brings me to the Handheld Organizer ($99). Like the assignment notebook of our youth, it helps the user keep track of a myriad of details- schedules, phone numbers, and other important items. Last year I bought a 10 x 12 notebook (not a notebook computer. No, I got the kind you write in with an actual pen). Why? Because a large notebook won't get lost at the bottom of my bag, get left in the pocket of the jacket I wore two weeks ago or secretly slip between the car seats or couch cushions.

The Camcorder would be nice, but at $999, it's a bit pricey. "Sorry kids, it's back to public school for you. Daddy blew your tuition deposit on Mommy's gift. He sold out your future for my present." Honestly, if your devoted life partner is going to spend that much on your present I'm guessing that you already own a decent video camera.

I'm not going to go through every item. Let me just say that if this flyer comes to your house shred it and get it to the recycling bin before the men or boys in your house buy into the message that mom really wants expensive high tech toys on her special day. C'mon guys what we really want is love, respect, and appreciation for all we do to keep our families and homes from becoming dysfunctional wrecks.

A sonnet might be nice, too. Check out this recent piece by Garrison Keillor (you will have to watch a brief ad to enter the site without a membership).

Stay tuned for Mother's Day Part II.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cool Link of the Week: Songtapper

Grab your lead blankets and gather round the laptop for some family fun! We has a blast with this site.

Cool link or addictive waste of time? You decide. I dare you to try it just once.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brilliant Theft Deterrent also Deters Sales

We just returned from a skank-o-riffic time at the mall. I'm not much of a shopper and I typically avoid the mall--especially on weekends. Now that my memory has been refreshed, I doubt I will return any time soon.

After picking up the object of my desire, a springlike skirt, I popped into a chain discount shoe store. I have no problem serving myself, especially for a decent pair of shoes at under $20. I encountered something I hadn't seen before- those clunky security tags in shoes. Wait a minute, you're thinking, how can a person try on a pair of shoes with that big plastic bump inside? I guess you just have to assume that if the left shoe fits, so would the right one if that darn tag weren't there. At least, that's what I did.

But when I went up to pay for them and cashier removed the tag, it left a hole in the leather of the sandal. Granted the shoes were under $20, but if I'm buying new shoes, I prefer them to come without any excess holes. When I mentioned this, the cashier made it apparent she's never had such a picky customer. The stocker went off to look for another pair in my size, which is pretty good service for a store of this caliber, but he came back empty-handed. I opted not to buy the sandals and expressed disbelief that they would tag items in a way that damaged the merchandise.

"That's how they told us to put them on," said the cashier. "All our shoes are like that." Brilliant- a theft deterrent system that also deters sales.

P.S. I sent a complaint to the store's HQ via their website. They sent me a $10 certificate, but what I really just wanted to know if they indeed advise their clerks to damage the merchandise in the name of theft deterrent.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Super Taster Posted on the Web

North Shore magazine has posted my Super Taster essay on the web. You can read it here, and you can see read about the live reading of the essay and Hormone Colored Day's first-ever Happening here.

When Super Taster it appeared in print, Jason, one of Ralph Covert's eagle-eyed managers, felt so sorry for me about missing the Old Town School of Folk Music. We had a rip-roaring good time. Ralph broke three guitar strings- we believe this to be a world's record- during the one hour performance. That's how much he rocked.

Recently I heard a commercial for an upcoming Van Morrison concert. I really like Van the Man's music (in fact I listened to his Moondance CD 3-4 times through as I was pushing out baby #1. Poor DH was desperate to change the music: Would you like me to put in something else now, dear? Really, it's not a problem. Yeah, right; poor DH), but I'm still in my Super Taster mindset. All I could think was: expensive tickets; horrible traffic into the city; expensive parking, etc…. No wonder I'm sounding old and cranky- it's past my bedtime.

Have a good weekend everyone. Enjoy the spring flowers if your allergies haven't sapped the life-force from you.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

May Happening Promises Exciting Geek-on-Geek Action

This past weekend I read a movie review in Oprah's magazine. Rather than detailing the upcoming movie Akeelah and the Bee, the writer bemoaned the bounty of "nerd-on-nerd" movies on the bee topic. He criticized spelling bees as nothing more than rote memorization, but in fact, children learn a great deal preparing for such an event. I'm not even talking about the words. I'm talking about learning the value of working toward a goal, the excitement (or fear) of speaking in front of a group, and the challenge of winning or losing a competition. Not every kid is cut out to be a soccer star. And on that note, I don’t recall critics bashing the numerous feel-good sports-themed movies, do you?

Starbucks is one of the movie's key backers. So I called up our local Starbucks and arranged to hold a spelling bee of our own there. I think all participants will get a free kids hot cocoa and I'm hoping they'll pony up some prizes as well.

Saturday, May 6 at the
Skokie Swift Starbucks

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Heartland Spahhhh

I'm back from an incredibly relaxing weekend at the Heartland Spa. I won't bore you with details of my massage or exercise classes, walks in the country, or time soaking in the hot tub, but I will say that their staff members put the ahhh in spa.

My workshop was a hit. I am more of facilitator than a speaker. As they say in the trade, I'm the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. Rather than a lecture on goal-setting, I created a safe and open space for helping participants reflect and develop personal goals. How often in the midst of carpools and the daily grind do you think about things like that?

"Goals? I can't even have a conversation!" I told a friend when my boys were three and five. I told a friend when my boys were three and five. Finding time to think about goals is no small task. Well, maybe you're not like me. Maybe, even with kids in your care, you are very directed and goal-oriented. Maybe you're a list maker to the extent that your write down items on your list even if you've already accomplished them, just so you have the satisfaction of crossing them off. Hmmm?

But there are no carpools and the Heartland Spa, there are no diapers to change, stories to read (except maybe the novel you've been trying to get to). There are no meals to prepare or dishes to clean, so why not think about where you're headed in life?

I didn't bring paper and pens so the participants could write goal lists and objectives. Instead, I brought loads of old magazines, posterboard, stickers, markers, scissors and glue sticks and invited them to create Treasure Maps-visualizations of their goals and ambitions. Treasure Maps are fun and powerful goal-setting/motivation tools.

By all means, try this at home. Create that time and space for yourself. Sometime in the next few months I'm going to offer a Treasure Map workshop closer to home (maybe even in my home). But for now, I'm working on throwing together a little Spelling Bee at the local Starbucks for the boys, their school pals and assorted friends in early May. This was not something I'd included on my Treasure Map, but the idea was sparked by something I read over the weekend. I'll write more about it later this.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tammy does Trashmore

My friend Tammy is training hard for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's upcoming fund and attention-raising hike in June. She signed on to honor the memory of her father who died of lymphoma-related causes over a year ago. Like Hercules and his twelve labors, each weekend she tackles a big physical task and sends her friends and updates.

Here's last week's:

This week I planned an alternate to the group walk, and it
turned out great. Instead of going back to Tekakwitha in Elgin
(wooden bridge, 1st time wearing my boots) with the rest of the group,
I stayed close to home and some friends joined me for part of the walk.

The nearest hill to my house is Mount Trashmore in James Park in Evanston.
A former trash dump converted to a sledding hill, Mt. Trashmore is
about five stories high and maybe 80-100 feet to the top. If you
recall your geometry from a thousand years ago you can get a picture
of how steep it is, A squared + B squared = C squared.

I walked in boots and half full back pack to the hill (2 1/2 miles),
climbed the hill four times with Laura and Rachel
(about a mile plus incline), then walked about 3 miles along the
Northside Channel through the Skokie Sculpture Park, passed a house I
just sold, then on to Evanston Hospital. We estimated 6.7 miles in
all. R and J were there waiting for me with hot soup, a hunk
of bread, and a ride home! I must admit to missing out on the
endorphin rush this time as I napped deeply for three hours after arriving at home. Perhaps I experienced it in my dreams.

I've also been lifting weights more regularly coached by Jesse. I'm
using the five pound iron hand weights that I believe were my Dad's.
They used to rest in the TV room in Woodmere, next to the reclining
chair. Now they rest under my coffee table in my living room until
Sergeant J reminds me to use them.

I'm toying with the idea of having a major yard sale to raise the rest
of the money, about $500. I'll keep those close by posted on this as
donations of saleable items would be welcome. We'll see.

I'll be walking along the Atlantic Ocean next Saturday. I hear the
tradition after walking in Long Beach is to bagel (yes, a verb).
It'll be Passover, but maybe I'll get to see several walkers/bagellers
at the usual time at the usual place on the boardwalk (if my flight time allows).

Thanks again for all of your support,

If you still want to donate, please donate on-line here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Passover Story

Due to a last-minute illness, we wound up hosting an assortment of my husband's relatives for the seder. The short notice (two days) was helpful in that it did not give us time to obsess over the details. Just cook the brisket and clean the house. I actually have a small collection of haggadot that I gathered before I had children- back when I had time for odd little hobbies.

I would have liked to done something along the lines of what Marjorie Ingall recounts in her piece EAST VILLAGE MAMELE: Passing Over, Crossing Under, but at least we completed a service that was a little more meaningful than Michael Rubiner's Two-Minute Haggadah (below). After all, we hosted a group with 9 children ages 5 months to 13 years. Even with that crowd we did not feel two-minutes would have been enough (Dayenu!).

We have a small collection of "plagues" ping-pong balls (hail), rubber mice (vermin), plastic frogs (frogs). Splinter asked, "What can we do for the Angel of Death?" Uh, we usually pass-over that one with so many small kids in the crowd.

The Two-Minute Haggadah: A Passover service for the impatient.By Michael Rubiner

Opening prayers:
Thanks, God, for creating wine. (Drink wine.)
Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)

Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we're free. That's why we're doing this. Four questions:1. What's up with the matzoh?2. What's the deal with horseradish?3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?

Answers:1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.3. It's called symbolism.4. Free people get to slouch.

A funny story: Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning. (Heat soup now.)

The four kinds of children and how to deal with them:
Wise child: explain Passover.
Simple child: explain Passover slowly.
Silent child: explain Passover loudly.
Wicked child: browbeat in front of the relatives.

Speaking of children: We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.

The story of Passover: It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.)

The 10 Plagues: Blood, Frogs, Lice you name it.

The singing of "Dayenu":If God had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red Sea, it would've been enough.
If he'd parted the Red Sea (Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.)

Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch.

Thanks again, God, for everything.


Michael Rubiner writes for movies and television. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Captain Underpants

Following up on the previous post....

If you live in the US and you've got a boy between the ages of five and ten you are probably familiar with Captain Underpants--more familiar than you ever wanted to be. Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series is based on comics he created while sitting in the hall in elementary school because he had been kicked out of his classroom. The books are full of poorly drawn comics, misspellings, and potty talk...and boys love 'em! When my guys are allowed to play mindless computer games (something that happens all too rarely if you ask them) they like to go here. also has Captain Underpants-themed games and activities. Most of the CU stuff grosses me out, but even I cannot deny the humor of Professor Poopypants' Name Change-0-chart 2000.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Laundry Room Follies

"Honey?" I call to DH from the laundry room. "Are you having an affair…with a man?"

Even though he's in another room, I can tell he is rolling his eyes as he gives the standard response, "Why do you ask dear?"

"There's an unusual pair of men's underwear in here. Unusual in that I've never seen them before. And they are brand-new."

"I picked them up when I was out shopping with Splinter," he tells me. "I do that sometimes," he adds defensively.

Yeah, like once a decade. Sometimes nothing more than a waistband and a few loose threads come between him and his Calvins. He generally believes his underwear is good to the last molecule. Do you think Fruit of the Loom might want to adopt that as its new slogan?

Local Happening: Talkin' Trash:

I'm talkin' lots of trash--enough to make you rethink some of your wasteful habits.

There's an interesting family field trip opportunity on Saturday, June 3, from 10:00 - 1:00. SWANCC, the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County is holding their annual open house at the Glenview Transfer Station. From an enclosed viewing gallery you can watch tons of garbage get processed into bales and loaded onto trucks and shipped far away so it is somebody else's problem. I'm kidding, sort of. It's pretty fascinating and really makes you think about the amount of waste we they have free snacks and games for the kiddos! For details see

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fun Link: Mr. Picassohead

There's no rush to get right to work- you've got the whole week ahead of you! Take a few minutes to nurture your artistic soul before it's crushed by the walls of your sparse, tiny cubicle. Enjoy your time with Mr. Picassohead. Print out your creation. It's sure to inspire you throughout the week and impress your colleagues.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


So much to blog, so little time. This is especially true now that the spring sport season has begun and we add a couple of soccer (for the older) and t-ball (for the younger) practices and birthday parties into the mix.

Yesterday, I played the role of Supermom, waking at 5:00 to fulfill my promise of fresh-baked cinnamon bread for Mr. Smartypant's class (what was I thinking?), showing up at school at 11:00 as the dutiful and smiling lunchroom volunteer, doing a few loads of laundry, preparing goodie bags, and finally, last night, writing the names of 20 children on individual marshmallows (don't ask) in preparation for today's birthday extravaganza.

It is a sign of the times that the bag of marshmallows comes with a safety warning. That's right, cut them into pieces for children under six and for older kids just eat one at a time. It's no laughing matter, really. Someone asked me if we'd be playing the game where you stuff your mouth full of as many marshmallows as possible and I looked at her like they were nuts. Did she not hear about the nearby 5th grader who died playing this very game a few years back? This is no urban myth. It really happened. Very sad.

I mentioned in my previous post that when my child threw up all over me I realized I could not go away on my planned business/pleasure trip. I saw it as a sign. I'm not totally superstitious, but I so sometime lean that way- trying to find a bigger message from the universe in everyday occurrences. So what did it mean when I spotted the first robin of spring outside my house the other day and it was dead?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Heading to the Heartland

I'm headed to the heartland- Heartland Spa, that is . I'm scheduled to be one of their featured speakers later this month. My presentation topic is Putting Yourself on the List. Think about your to-do list. How many items on it have to do with your kids/spouse/job/school/volunteer commitments and how items are related to you? Do you take time out to recharge and replenish? Consider joining me for the weekend at the spa.

Ideally this would be an annual gig, but life sometimes gets in the way. In fact, a few years back I was scheduled and had my bags all packed, when both DH and Splinter, who was not quite one year-old, started coming down with colds. DH was a sport. He knew how much I as looking forward to a chance to use my professional skills, and enjoy a child-free overnight sojourn (complete with massage) so he insisted I go. I appreciated his support, but of course there was that neon flashing "guilt" sign hanging above my head.

I called a good friend for guidance. She's like my Oracle- I value her opinion and trust her wisdom and insight. "Go," she told me. "By all means go if your husband says it's okay. Just go. It's not like he takes off work to stay home when YOU feel a bit under the weather." After her pep talk I felt better. I felt empowered. The neon guilt sign has fizzled out. I was going to the Heartland and I was going to enjoy my work, the meals and the spa services.

I hung up the phone and just as I started to do a little victory dance Splinter, who'd been in my arms throughout the phone conversation, promptly threw up all over me. It was a sign. I did not go.