Thursday, September 30, 2010

House Hunting: Mafia Wars and OMG

Oh, the fun a searching for a new house. Here's a bit of what we've seen:

There was the Mafia House, a completely renovated tri-level with a new, gourmet open kitchen. The high-end European appliances included a built-in cappuccino maker. Built-in! We gave the house its nickname based on the security cameras planted near the front and rear entry doors. Also, the hand-written sign taped to the bathroom wall pointing out the hidden safe in the bathroom cabinet gave the impression that this was no ordinary house in our sleepy suburb.

And we can't forget the OMG You Must Be Kidding Me house featuring a claw foot bathtub. {swoons...until she sees the laminate flooring of her 1970s youth}.

The OMGYMBKM house also featured this little gem:

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. A toilet in a laundry room? A laundry room in bathroom? That's too much multi-tasking for me.

I'll post more updates as we continue to scour the market for just the right home for our family.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Momblogger's Lament: Asking for Money and Hearing Crickets

The other day, I tweeted that I asked for compensation for a project and suddenly the quick responses I'd been getting from the potential client slowed to a halt. I received several "Been there!" tweets in response, so I know it's not an uncommon situation for bloggers.

In this particular case, I'm not convinced the client has completely blown me off, they might just be looking into budgets and such.

However, I feel the need to clarify what I couldn't in 140 characters: I didn't just jump in and ask for the big bucks.

What I did was send the potential client a list of questions regarding the assignment. I asked about expectations. I inquired about objectives and outcomes. I tried to clarify my role in the bigger picture. And then I asked about the related compensation.

I noticed that Jennifer James, a leader in the social media mom space, has started to refer to professional mombloggers (yes, there is such a thing!) as blogging businesswomen.

Blogging businesswomen. Love it.

That said, I'm not sure the term will catch on. Blogging businesswomen sound more intimidating than mommybloggers, don't you think?

It's okay to ask for money, if that's what makes for a balanced value exchange. But don't get all greedy and grabby. Take time to understand what's involved in an assignment, ask questions until you are clear on the outcomes and then talk money.

You'd never go into a job interview demanding a certain salary before you knew what the job entailed. If you want to be a blogging businesswoman, approach potential gigs as a professional. Take your self seriously. Be assertive, but tactful.

And if you still hear crickets when you ask for money, or the allotted budget doesn't fit with your hopes/needs/wildest dreams. Move ahead without burning bridges and set your sights on the next opportunity.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Little Soccer Field on the Prairie, Redux

I posted a few photos of a local slice of prairie back in April when I was working on my National Wildlife Federation "Be Out There" Challenge. Back then, the prairie was a mixture of greens and browns with the grasses barely knee high. I caught a speck of color as the land was waking up from its winter nap, but on the gray day I was out there, it was a pretty drab scene.

A few weeks ago, I revisited that same plot of land. It was like a trip to another world: bright yellow flowers towering about my five foot frame, branches, stems and vines climbing outside of, and threatening to overtake, the small fence that keeps the prairie from overtaking the nearby delicately trimmed soccer fields.

The small patch of land was teeming with life. Butterflies and bumblebees and beetles all doing their jobs. Family groups and entire societies living alongside us, but easily go unnoticed lest we stop to observe.

Pretty good shots for a 7 MP point and shoot camera, huh?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blogging for Dollars: Big News (Part I)

Fresh off the heels of moderating a Type-A Mom Conference panel on affiliate marketing and other ways to make money off of a blog, I'm jumping into the fray. As with MomImpact, I'm picky about the companies with whom I choose to link myself, but this one is pure awesome:

(drum roll, please)

ThinkGeek is am amazing resource of Geek Chic and tongue-in-cheek geekery.

Also, they sell a few items I plan to give as holiday gifts, so I figured why not save a few shekels in the process? I will probably provide the major revenue stream from this deal, but it's an experiment. I'm just about the only blogger I know who's not monetized in some way, so I figured this was a good way to dip my toes into that golden pond.

Also, ThinkGeek is a great resource for the POG (Parents of Gifted kids) or should that be SOPOHGK (Stressed Out Parents of Highly Gifted Kids), because in my experience, our gifted kids love what ThinkGeek sells.

You want to save a few shekels this holiday, too? See what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Using Your Blog to Get Paid Work

Another speedy type-a mom blogger from the Type-A Mom Conference got a blog post up seemingly before I even left the session room.

Thanks to Mary from Everyday Baby Steps for live blogging my panel, "Using Your Blog to Get Gigs."

And when I say MY panel, I mean credit also goes to my partners in fabulousness, Jessica Rosenberg and Carol Cain.

Type-A Mom Conference: Monetizing Beyond the Widget

Dang, Kimberly Coleman is quick! She already posted a wonderful summary of the Monetizing Beyond the Widget session that I moderated this morning at the Type-A Mom Conference.

On a related note, my pre-conference call with panelists Debbie Bookstaber and Angela England motivated me to sign up for my first affiliate program--big announcement coming soon. ;-)

Hike and Seek with the National Wildlife Federation

Hike & Seek, an NWF fundraising event, is a cross between a nature hike and scavenger hunt aimed at bringing family and friends together in the great outdoors for fresh air and fun!

Hike & Seek is coming to a local park near these three cities:

Chicago, IL, Lincoln Park on October 2, 2010

Washington, DC, Seneca Creek State Park on October 2, 2010

Seattle, WA, Seward Park on October 16, 2010

How It Works
Adventurers of all ages are welcome!* Arrive at the park between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. to check-in and pick up your map and guidebook.

Visit the Stop & Study Stations along the trail to learn more about wildlife, plants and the great outdoors from a naturalist or volunteer.

Collect naturalist badges from each Stop & Study Station.

Regroup at base camp after your hike for snacks, crafts, photos with Ranger Rick®, and more!

Click for registration information.

I volunteer with National Wildlife Federation as one of their Founding Mothers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mamafestos and Manifestos

Like 99% of my visitors, you've probably never bother to read the Mamafesto over on the right sidebar, so let me make it easy for you. Click here. And then send your sympathies to my husband.

I am swooning over this Family Manifesto over at AlphaMom. What a fabulous project for mom, dad and even the kids if they are mature enough. Love it!

As Isabel (AlphaMom) described the process of creating their manifesto, it reminded me the process my husband and I went through to create our ketubah (Jewish wedding “contract”). We obsessed over word choices to express the values and hopes we brought to our union. We not only wrote the text, but we had custom artwork done (with hidden pictures in a papercut deign a la Highlights magazine). I'll have to post a photo of it when it's unwrapped and on display once again (ahem) in our new home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Report

Here's what I've been reading lately:

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder, Founder of Boing Boing and Editor in Chief of Make.

I received a review copy of this book, which is part of a trendy DIY, getting back to basics wave. It seems to me that the kind of thrifty, bootstrappers who adore this genre are more likely to check books out of a library than purchase them outright, but that's a story for another day.

We haven't thrown away most of our possessions, but in the last couple of years, we have stored, donated or sold much of it, and it really does make a person think. Think about our stuff. Realize how much of it we have and how unnecessary and meaningless much of it is. It's actually been a rather freeing and enlightening process (she says until she realizes she has a very empty new house).

So this book came to me at a good time. I was intrigued Frauenfelder's efforts to slow down and unplug. I enjoyed reading about his exploits keeping chickens and bees, making kombucha, carving wooden spoons, and whatnot, though admittedly I was curious what his wife and kids were doing while he spent an afternoon carving spoons.

His efforts were not always successful, but Frauenfelder always walked away from a project with a new appreciation and a few lessons learned. I liked that.

I don't think I'll be carving spoons for teacher gifts this year ("Thank goodness," sigh the ones who read this blog), but I just might turn our (theoretical) new lawn into a vegetable garden and if I could figure out a way to keep keep chickens, I'd do it.

This book is an interesting read, especially for an aspiring DIY-er.

Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, Edited by Dave Isay.
I enjoy the Story Corps bits when I catch them on NPR, so this book caught my eye at the local library. Isay (yes, ironic name) compiled previously recorded StoryCorp conversations with and about mothers. Many of the stories were quite touching, bringing tears to my eyes, others made me smile and warmed my heart. This delightful little read would be an excellent Mother's Day present or a nice gift for a new mom.

I couldn't get this to embed and it's not in the book, but this lovely interview by a 12-year-old boy who has Asperger's and his mother on the StoryCorps site is worth a look/listen. (Plan to stay there a while!)

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.
Another library pick. Although the co-author (or translator) did not speak in the voice of a young girl, the book provided a shocking glimpse into this true story of a ten-year-old Yemeni girl who was forcibly married off to a much older man. Breaking with tribal custom, she managed to get a divorce. (I don't recall this from the book, but wikipedia suggests that the judge initially suggested she return to the husband who raped and beat her after she had grown up a bit and matured physically. Oy.) It's a very quick read and made me thankful to live in a free country.

Sarah's Key
A good, if somewhat contrived, story shedding light on the French government's mistreatment of Jews during WWII. The real story here is that this was the first book I read on my new Kindle! The new Kindle is more compact and lighter than the original and oh so easy on aging eyes.

When I first charged it up, my instinct was to touch the Kindle's screen to get it going, but it's no iPod/Pad, it's a reader. Also the monitor is monochrome. Limitations aside, I was up and running, er, reading, in no time.

I have more exploring to do on and with the device, but my first book on the Kindle was a joy (depressing storyline aside, of course).

Disclosure: the Kindle was a gift from my mom. She did not require me to write about it, nor did she influence my opinions about it. That said, she is sharing her Kindle library with me, which makes it and her even more awesome.

What are you reading these days?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Get Your Mind Set

From my Table of Good Fortune, a piece I painted years ago. It's covered in bright blues and purples with a bit of green and yellow on the legs. The tabletop is lined with fortunes from long ago desserts at Chinese restaurants and embellished with bits cut from wrapping paper from a special gift.

Actually, I don't remember the gift, but it came from a new age-y, grad school carpool friend. The attached card said, "May the light of heaven shine down on you."

Monday, September 20, 2010

We Moved in with My Parents for Few Months

Originally posted to The Chicago Moms.

Yes, we moved in with my parents for a few months... back in 2008. And we are still here due to circumstances none of us ever imagined back then. Had we glimpsed into a crystal ball , we would have made different choices. I think we all regret to the current situation to some degree.

But here we are.

Not that there haven't been lovely moments, and funny ones. But. Ugh. Can any 40-something proudly admit, she schedules parties around her parents' vacation schedule?

I've been pretty quite about this on my blog. I've missed some good stories, but they were not meant to be shared. I've got enough fodder to write a book, but surely the most engaging parts would not be the communal family dinners we enjoyed or our happy times, but the disagreements, the unpleasantries, the times when someone should have bit his or her tongue instead of letting it fly. Things that are not meant to be shared.

I mean, how fun it might have been to share my parents' quirky habits, but it would not have been worth the cheap laugh. And now you know why I never responded to my mother's request to help her start a blog; she might be writing about me! (And thank goodness my kids don't have blogs either, for that matter.)

Really, my P's have been outstanding sports about this whole unexpectedly and entirely too long visit of ours. I'm incredibly grateful because I realize that while my crew may have added a bit of zing and a lot of love (aforementioned disagreements aside) to their golden years, we've also added a loads of mess and more noise and whining they than ever anticipated at this point in their lives (heck, on a daily basis, I encounter more whining and noise than I ever anticipated).

Finally, our third year into this not-so-little misadventure, we are in a good spot. Business is going well for me, hubs just moved into a permanent position, and we are looking for a house, a home of our own.

When we've got one, I can't wait to throw a big party. I'll still plan around my parents' travel schedule, but this time it will be so they can join in on the fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Tashlich

Last week after peaceful Rosh Hashanah services, we headed off to a favorite spot along the Chicago River for Tashlich.

When they boys were young and we didn't belong to a synagogue, we'd invite our friends to these woods and celebrate the "birthday of the world" with stories, songs, talk about what we'd try to do better in the new year and of course, challah with apples and honey.

Tashlich (tosh-leehk) is a ritual casting away of one's sins from the past year. This quiet spot in the woods is a great place for reflecting on the past and thinking about the one ahead. And as you can see there is a lovely body of water for dropping in bread crumbs and pocket lint (symbols of our misdeeds).

The problem is that no place is quiet and pensive if my boys are around.

Given their boisterous nature, I was surprised to spot another, calmer family in the forest preserve.
This time of year, it is customary to apologize to those you hurt, or may have hurt through words and actions. The Jewish concept of sin, is taken from the word's Hebrew meaning, which is to miss the mark.

Surely you have missed the mark in some ways this past year. I certainly have. And I ask for your forgiveness.

I had a boss who once put it quite bluntly. He'd walk around the office saying, "Sorry for being an a**hole."

I like the way my rabbi put it in this Rosh Hashanah reading:

And let us face the honest truth of our humanity:
while we harbor a terrifying capacity for destruction and violence
we never, ever forfeit the ability to choose another way:
the path of forgiveness and reconciliation
the way of Shalom.

Wishing you the path of Shalom, peace, in the year ahead.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If I'm going to hunt, I'd better learn to shoot

Yep, I'm on the prowl. For a new house. And I keep forgetting to bring my camera because OMG people, you would not believe some of the stuff we've seen!

Although, to be fair, if you've done your share of shopping for 50- 80-year-old houses, or even any previously owned houses, you probably know what I mean.

I understand. When you own a house, you get used to its quirks and add to them with homespun repairs, like the tube socks that were stuffed in between storm windows to keep out harsh winter winds. Um, that was the house we purchased last time around, and we replaced all of the windows within the first year of ownership.

This time around, we saw some doozies like a bathroom that was so small you had to stand outside of the doorway just to pee.

Well, practically.

So on my next house-hunting excursion, I'm going to try a take a shot of anything that truly makes me go hmmmm. (A safe tucked away behind the bathroom cabinets?)

On a related note, Mayberry Mom
sent me a link to what might be my new obsession, Lovely Listing. I want to find something worthy of that site, the Cake Wrecks of the real estate scene, the FailBlog of housing.

Edited 9/14 to add: I finally remembered to take pictures on our most recent outing. These barrel chairs are quirky, but charming in their own 1970s way. You can rock back and forth on them. I kinda dig 'em.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's like when Pinocchio became a real boy

Finally, after years of hoping and trying and waiting, DH has a "real" job. Starting today he's a full-time, permanent* employee at the place he's been contracting. He now gets paid holidays, vacation days, insurance benefits, and a couple of commuter-free work at home days. We're all breathing a deep sigh of relief and doing our happy dance (click; it's cute and will make you happy, too).

I'm off to celebrate with a trip to the ENT! Later this week, I'm off to the dentist and then I'm scheduling an afternoon with the dermatologist, cause I know how to party it up like nobody's business.

*Discussion for another day: what does it even mean to be a permanent employee in today's job market?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Disgusted (Oh, and Happy Jewish New Year)

Yesterday we received word that the Phelps Family and their minions from the Westboro Baptist Church would be in the Chicago area. Specifically, they'll be in Skokie and Evanston demonstrating tonight, erev Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish new year.

Here is a picture I took when the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church (regarded by many as a fringe hate group) name through Chicago in 2009.

Encouragingly, there were only about five WBC folks and several hundred counter-demonstrators (pictured). Edited 9/14: I removed the photo of the young children holding the "God Hates Jews" sign because A) when I saw it on my blog, it shocked me, B) I feared some nutjob would find and copy the image through search and use it for nefarious purposes and I do not want to play a role in perpetuating that kind of evil.

Of the five or so folks from WBC, two of them were children. It's bad enough to be spewing that kind of hate, but to brainwash children like that? Horrible.

We won't be going to the erev service as we'll be welcoming the new year with my husband's family. I hope the WBC crowd won't be around at Thursday's service, though we've been assured there will be a sizable amount of security on hand.
But still. Ugh.

We've been asked to stay calm and merely continue with our holiday as planned, so I'm hoping maybe the Unitarians and Methodists and such will show up to counter-demonstrate while we're deep in prayer (or catching up with friends we haven't seen since May).

Dana AKA Mombian passed along this brilliant Pennies in Protest idea that I in turn passed along to the rabbi and several members of our synagogue. Via Twitter, I've learned of other ways people have used a visit from the Phelps for the greater good, rather than getting caught up in the WBC's message of hate.

I don't think there will be riots or fighting, but still, what an awful way to start a new year. That said, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are supposed to be a time for contemplation, and this certainly provides a lot of food for thought. (Ha, food for thought, day of fasting.)

By the way, if you teach one or more of my boys, would you kindly refrain from mentioning this demonstration to them? We've not yet discussed it as a family.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I Won at Project Mom Casting!

Yes, I won at project mom casting! I was also the master baiter and I caught the most fish during our annual outing to Lake Julian Trout Farm.

This year we tried our hand at the Big Lake, which is really more of a large pond. Unlike the stocked trout pond, which is more like a kiddie pool brimming with hungry fish that are destined to be a hungry person's lunch, the Big Lake requires a real fishing pole. In the trout pond, one merely dips a bamboo pole into the water and raises it out with dinner attached. (You have to buy what you catch---at $6 a pound.)

My family went fishing fairly often when I was a child, so I can deal with worms and hooks and the related mess. When I suggested we stretch our budget by halving the the large nightcrawlers, DH was ready to get out a knife. I showed him how to do it the old-fashioned way, though I'd forgotten how slimy and disgusting it is! Thank goodness by the end of the morning the boys were baiting their own hooks, as well as casting out like pros and dutifully watching their bobbers.

Ultimately, we didn't catch any keepers in the Big Lake, and I fear one of the panfish that we tossed back is not long for this world. Perhaps he made a nice lunch for one of the neighborhood herons? But even if I did impress my boys with my fish-handling abilities, I feel like "catch and release" is cruel.

In the end, we headed back to the trout pond, where the boys each caught a lively one within minutes of setting the pole. (Yes, I see the irony of farm-raised, fresh caught fish.) I think fishing is a good life experience and survival skill, plus everyone benefits from a farm to fork meal.

I grilled up our catch and I'm happy to say our trout made a fine meal; they did not give up their lives for naught.

Photo: The fish formerly known as "Lunch." Note the small container of Purell hanging off my bag.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Cluttercasting My Vintage Caparro Boots

I'm borrowing my friend Darryle's idea and offering up these truly lovely old boots to a reader or friend (readers are just friends you haven't met IRL). I'm gonna cross stitch that for my blog.

These fab knee-high boots are in great shape! Except they need new soles. Black suede that's in good condition and the stitching and embroidery look great.

These are size 5.5. Maybe they can be stretched a bit when the new soles are put on?

The resoling process could set you back $50 or more, but just tell yourself these boots would cost $150 brand new.

I've never been able to really rock a pair of boots and though I think these are cool, I just can't picture myself in them. Also, I'd have to bind my feet down to a 5.5 and that sounds pretty painful.

Someone passed them on to me, now I'm passing them on to you.

If I have to ship them to you, it's going to cost you $10 -$15 via PayPal. If more than one person wants these I do some kind of draw. If you live nearby, run as fast as those 5.5 feet can take you and get to my place so I can hand them off to you. If I don't hear from anyone by the 10th, I'll list them on Craigslist.

Edited to add: Sadly, my friends all have large feet. I went the Craigslist route and found a taker who will hopefully love the boots. Perhaps, as my husband insists, she will resole them for $50 and sell them for more than $100. I like to think the recipient took these for herself and will rock the boots this winter.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Parenting Gifted Children: Do Kindergarten Students That Start Ahead Fall Behind?

Kindergarten. Ugh. After an incredibly enriching preschool experience we literally sent our oldest to kindergarten to learn to walk quietly in line in the halls , understand the school rules and hopefully make a few friends.

He was in a half-day program, so we figured it couldn't hurt. After all, we'd still have the afternoon to read, play, or go on adventures (or as it turned out deal with melt-downs from whatever stresses he was holding in at school).

I was a naive mom who meekly suggested to the kindergarten teacher, "You should hear him read. I think he's kinda smart."

Yeah whatever. By our fall conference she still hadn't sat him down to listen to him read, but that's a whole other post.

I came across this old report card just days before my friend Gina sent me a link to a Science Daily article, Learn More in Kindergarten, Earn More as an Adult.

"Moreover, students who learn more in kindergarten are more likely to go to college than students with similar backgrounds. Those who learn more in kindergarten are also less likely to become single parents, more likely to own a home by age 28 and more likely to save for retirement earlier in their work lives."

Disappointingly, much of the article seems to focus the impact of small class size and it still sounds specious to me.

Still, it does raise a bigger question: what is the long-term impact of not learning much in kindergarten (or any grade) because a student had met most or all of the stated academic goals for that grade prior to entering it?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: What Have They Done to My S'more?

Take a look at that marshmallow; it's a Campfire Giant Roaster and it's huge.

I sure could have used that when I toasted marshmallows over flowing lava back in the late 80s. You can hardly see the tiny marshmallows in my photo of our ultimate roast.

But does that daddy of all marshmallows hold up in a s'more? Read and learn at Scrambled CAKE, my friend.