Tuesday, November 30, 2010

House Hunting with Property Sluts: Making It

In this episode I find inspiration from an unlikely source for our (still theoretical) new house. I recorded it in my car, but the time change through me off, so it's very dark in terms of it's look; the content though is light, interesting and amusing.

Watch this if only to find out why I'm talking about "humanure."

Thanks to the wonderful Beth Blecherman of TechMamas for turning me on to that magazine many years ago.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday Special

Click below fora free Cyber Monday shipping from ThinkGeek. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em; right?

We bought Bazinga! shirts for the whole family (yes, there's a back story) before I realized this code would be available, but now it's time to head back over to the site and see what I'm missed.

Please note that I'm a ThinkGeek affiliate and your purchases of $1,000 or more will go a long way toward my new house.

Seriously, any purchase through this link is greatly appreciated. Also, our house-hunting is on hold for now, because there's nothing new to see and we've already insulted the aging widows of our community with our outrageously low bids on their homes. (Oh, BTW rumor has it the hoarder house will soon be vacated and cleared out.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Husband's Hot New Moves

Another repost from Chicago Moms Blog. Although this was originally posted in February 2008, Patterson Glass continues to offer seasonal glassmaking opportunities. Check their website to learn about making your own ornament in December. For $20, you get to create a one-of-a-kind handmade gift for someone special, as well as a cool (red hot?) artistic experience for yourself.

Last Sunday when the Chicago Tribune featured a Sunday Home and Garden spread on local glassmaking classes, DH was already halfway through his weekend course at Chicago Hot Glass. Is DH at the leading edge of a glassmaking trend? Wow. That just might be the first time I ever used the words DH and trendy in the same sentence.

DH said that despite the chill outside, it's really hot in the workshop. He said that glassblowing is a physically and mentally involved process. And like any new endeavor, the experience was a bit humbling. You can bet that his finished pieces won'€™t be displayed anywhere other than the Moldofsky Museum or on his desk, but once our boys saw the results of their dad's labor (Oh, a paperweight! Oh, a glass without a stem! Oh, another paperweight!*) they wanted to try, too.

And thanks to the Trib article, we know they can. DH took our nine year-old and one of his friends to Patterson Glass in Mundelein this morning for their annual Valentine's Day Sale and Open House. According to the article, they will work with children over seven, but according to DH,

one of the helpers complained right in front of my son that they shouldn't let such young kids participate. To be fair, my 55lb. almost ten year-old boy is smaller than some seven-year olds, but she should've saved her comment for the break room.

However, what the staff lacked in tact, they made up for in helpfulness. They allowed the guest glassmakers to play enough of a role in building their creation that the guests felt like they truly made it, yet the staff assisted enough to ensure a good-looking piece.

I won't get to see my son's heart-shaped paperweight until next week because the super-hot glass needs to cool in a special chamber that slowly brings the temperature down. Or, as one witty employee put it, "You can take it home today, but it's going to be in a million little pieces, so you might want to wait."

I'm actually hoping I won't see my boy's creation until Valentine's Day (hint, hint). And as for my newly trendy husband, I look forward to see how he's going to heat things up for me on V-Day, but I kinda hope it doesn't involve paperweights*.

*His paperweights are actually pretty cool.

(P.S. I dropped one of his paperweights when we moved! It didn't break, but it did get scratched up.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yes, You Can Surf in Chicago

Another repost from Chicago Moms Blog. This one is quite timely as my husband was recently questioning me in that What you talkin' about Willis? way when I mentioned surfing in Lake Michigan. Also, it is once again time to renew our membership to WBEZ.

Originally posted in January 2008.

At first I thought it was an early April Fool’s joke. Surfing in Lake Michigan? In the dead of winter? That’s insane! But last night I heard a story on Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ, 91.5) on this very topic.

The only time the Great Lakes (say it with me now, the boys’ school just held its geography bee: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) or at least Lake Michigan is surfable is in the winter. If you’ve ever spent a lazy summer day at a Chicago beach this makes sense. The waves are just too small. Last night’s story on WBEZ explained that a protective warm layer of air over the water keeps the wind at bay at that time of year. However, the protective layer dissipates in cold weather, creating sizeable, surfable, waves. Never mind that cold weather means temperatures of 30 degrees or lower, a crazy dedicated group of people don their wetsuits, ignore their frozen snot and the icicles forming on their wet brows for a chance to hang ten.

You can’t catch a wave on Chicago’s beaches; surfing is illegal in the city. According to the story, though, it’s allowed in parts of Indiana, and I found a YouTube video of surfers in the northern suburb of Highland Park.

I guess surfing is about more than the sun, the sand, well-tanned bodies and upbeat music. Yeah, it’s about gray days, frostbite, hypothermia, and gosh, I can’t imagine what kind of music comes out or is favored by this group. As for me, I’ll take a tip from Chicago musician Ralph Covert (of Ralph’s World fame) and stick to Surfin’ in my imagination.

Now I’m off to find out if our WBEZ membership is current and then run a slew of errands, which frankly sound like more fun than surfing in a freezing cold lake.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nordstrom Shopping Service: Good for Any Old Mom

Originally posted at Chicago Moms Blog in August 2008.

She had me at “You look like a size six.” And by the time she headed straight for the sales rack, I was in love. Maybe it wasn't love exactly, but the blend of profound admiration and gratitude as one feels for a parent, tutor or therapist- all of which she was to me in our brief time together.

I never would have thought to engage the services of a Nordstrom personal shopper on my own. Indeed, my blog buddies taught me that Nordstrom's free personal shopping service was not just for the rich and powerful or divalicious types who don’t mind shelling out thousands of dollars in a single shopping spree. It's also for schlubs like you and me (or at least me)!

My mom nearly choked when I told her I had an appointment with a Nordstrom shopper. I'm a fashion-backward type who doesn't make it out of the house much beyond carpools and, well, carpools. I hate, hate shopping. In fact, the last time I stepped foot in Nordstrom was to have mammogram.

And, as if to subconsciously reinforce my lack of style, I showed up at my appointment sporting my backpack instead of a purse because I didn't have time to go home from my morning errands to exchange it for something more ladylike. And I'd been rushed out of the house earlier in the morning with my unstyled hair hanging flat on my head.

To make matters worse, I arrived at the store fresh from a doctor's appointment at which they had to stick me in each arm to draw blood, so I had big generic bandages on both inner elbows.

And did I mention I was wearing a sleeveless shirt?

Sadly, that previous paragraph describes the closest thing I have to a “look.”

But Maureen took this all in stride. She guessed I was a size smaller than I am and took me to the sale racks. She grabbed items here and there looking at me for a nod of approval. We went to the dressing room and I started trying on the clothes.

“Is this like shopping with my mom where I show you all my outfits?" I asked

She advised me to show her anything on which on wanted a second opinion.

And so it began. Anything looked promising but didn't fit was passed over the door and almost instantaneously replaced with the proper size. I didn't even have to put the clothes back on hangers; I just handed everything over the door to her. Talk about Queen for a Day.

In the end, I spent a bit more than I'd planned, but it was worth it. I got a cute dress, that I never would have dared tried on by myself (pictured), a couple of tops and three pairs of capris for less than $350. More than I’d normally spend no doubt, but a good deal, especially considering I was in and out of the store in less than 40 minutes. Usually it takes that long for me to try on 20 items and then leave the store empty-handed, angry and depressed.

It was a completely stress-free shopping- an experience I wholeheartedly recommend. For my day-to-day mom wear I'll stick my plain Jane wardrobe, but I'll count on Maureen if I have to look like an adult or have some other occasion to splurge.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful for Every Wrong Move

We are spending Thanksgiving with my family this year. Its worth recording here because we're supposed to switch back from DH's family to mine each year and though our mothers seem to remember who was with who and when, I tend to forget. Let's be honest, sometimes our moms do, too.

And here's a little bit of my traditional Thanksgiving post:

On Thanksgiving, I often think of a song with this title from Poi Dog Pondering.
(from my fading memory, maybe not in the right order)

"Sometimes I find myself way out of line from the ones I have drawn.
Wasn't the best of paths, you could attest to that, but I'm keepin' on...
I owe my soul to each fork in the road, each misleading sign.
Cuz even in solitude, no bitter attitude, can dissolve my sweetest find.

Would our paths cross , if every great loss had turned out a gain? Would our paths cross if the pain it had cost of, was pain in vain?

Thanks given, for every wrong move...that made it right. That made it right."

I can't say I'm thankful for every wrong move I've made in my life, or even during this past year, but the wisdom of age helps me see how things that might have felt wrong, sad or even heartbreaking in the past, have brought me to the good point I'm at now.

I'm thankful for family, friends and you, too, my dear readers*.

I wish you a very happy holiday!

*Canadians, too, even though it's not your holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Cranberries and Road Trips

You can learn all about cranberries and get a close up look at the bogs where they grow in Warrens, Wisconsin. They have a Cranberry Museum, a cafe that serves cranberry scones and cranberry ice cream, as well as a gift shop that sells all things cranberry, from soap to salt and pepper shakers.

Warrens is also host to Moseley's U-Pick strawberry farm.

This town offers lovely diversions on the road from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Geeks Grow Up with Science Channel's Mike Senese

I'm happy to be back with another episode of When Geeks Grow Up, the web series that provides parents of gifted kids a peek at the future and maybe a tip for the here and now.

I met the Science Channel's Mike Senese after he headlined at the Chicago #VoltUnplugged event. Having rushed over from the Family Dollar event, I didn't get to drive the Volt, but I did get to take a smooth and cool ride in one. The car felt more powerful and responsive than I expected.

The Volt has a unique digital dashboard. This middle unit provide constant feedback on the car, its power source and its limits. Here's my view from the back seat.

The party was hosted at The Craftsman Experience, which is like the Kenmore Live Studio, but for tools instead of household appliances. It's always a good time as there are power tools to play with and inspiring projects all around (look for them in an upcoming episode of Property Sluts).

After chatting with Mike for a minute, I realized he'd be a perfect fit for When Geeks Grow Up. I grabbed Mike and ran into a back room with him for a quick interview. And here he is:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

House Hunting with Property Sluts: Is a hoarder house a great deal at any price?

I was planning on taking the weekend off from house hunting because I headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Blogger Familiarization (FAM) trip. En route, I got a call from my Realtor. Apparently, he got a call from the listing agent of the hoarder house. It turns out the sellers dropped the price (again) and are very motivated to sell.

But is a hoarder house a deal at any price?

I was hanging out with some of my blog buddies, so I decided to ask for their opinions. See what

  • Beth Rosen from The Midlife Wife
  • Duong Sheahan Live Healthier and Happier
  • Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and
  • Stephanie Precourt of Adventures in Babywearing have to say about buying a hoarder house.

  • And let me know yours in the comments! Should we pursue this house?

    Yes, this is a bit longer than normal. You expect any less from my friends?

    Property Sluts Episode 1 Intro

    Property Sluts Episode 2 In Bed with Nate Berkus

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Family Dollar Wins over Bloggers in Chicago

    My day started with an 8:00 AM conference call (new client {happy dance}), followed by another conference call, followed by the MomImpact webinar with Rick Calvert and Deb Ng {fabulous!}.

    Then I went to the grocery store for my mom and got in the wrong line, where I waited, I'm not kidding, 10 minutes for the customer ahead of me to resolve a dispute. Then I rushed home, showered, drove the not sick, but still whiny, child to Hebrew school and headed into the city for a Family Dollar Store blogger event.

    "Why am I bothering?" I asked myself on the drive. I'm not a frugal blogger and I've never stepped foot in one of their stores. But by the time I left the event, the question had been answered, and I was beaming.

    A few months ago, I was invited out to Consumer Reports HQ where I heard Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum talk about product safety and recalls. I'm paraphrasing, but she essentially said that "dollar stores" were the bane of the CPSC's existence. (Somewhere in my drafts I have a related post called "Cadmium is the new lead.") I was kinda curious to hear what the Family Dollar folks had to say about this.

    It turns out that Family Dollar not your typical "mom and pop" dollar store. They carry name brand foods and toys, in addition to their own budget lines.

    Family Dollar has (or soon will) American staff based in Asia full time to more easily and closely monitor product quality and safety, which impressed me.

    I was also impressed by PR Manager Joshua Braverman's approach to the evening. He said a lot of the right things. For example, he told us he was more concerned about opening up our minds about Family Dollar than he was about whether we wrote about the event on our blogs.

    Smart guy.

    And he got even smarter.

    During the final Q & A, I asked him to tell us about the company's philanthropic efforts. One of the employees had commented earlier that Family Dollar supports the communities that support them and I wanted to know more.

    He told us about the hundreds of requests that come in each month (week? day? I should've brought a notebook) and how they dole out gift cards to support this or that group. Then he mentioned how once instead of the cards, Family Dollar donated, I believe he said 80 cases of diapers to an organization that needed diapers more than gift cards.

    Before he'd even finished his sentence (while a camera was filming him, mind you), I mentioned that Chicago finally has a diaper bank, the Bundle of Joy Diaper Bank, and sorry to put him on the spot, but would he consider making a donation to them?

    Without a blink, he said he'd match the donation.

    He's a PR pro. Brilliant.

    We joined hands and sang kumbayah and I cried.

    Well, that's what it felt like.

    So know I know why I went.

    I'll leave it to the other bloggers to talk more about the store, the great deals and fabulous finds. And though there aren't any Family Dollar stores in my immediate area, next time I'm near one, I will make a point of stopping in. My mind has been opened.

    After our chat, there was an outing to a Family Dollar store for which participating bloggers received a gift card, a shopping challenge and some other goodies. I'm sorry I missed it, but dozens of (cases of) diapers for Bundle of Joy is the most amazing swag* I could want.

    Also, I had been invited to test drive the Chevy Volt. The Volt! How could I pass that up?

    Disclosure: I got free apps at both events. The eating kind. Thank you in advance to Family Dollar; I'll drop in an update when the diapers have been donated.

    * Most amazing swag of 2010 is still the copy of the health care reform narrative signed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but the diapers are awesome, too.

    Updated 11/19 to add: I made good on my promise. On my way to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a blogger FAM trip, I stopped for a potty break in Michigan City, IN and noticed a Family Dollar store across the street, so my traveling companion, Beth Rosen, and I stopped in. It was not a schlock fest; we each bought a few items.

    Now, we wait for the Family Dollar folks to make good on their diaper donation promise.

    Disney's Lion King in Chicago: Don't Miss Out

    I've seen a few Broadway in Chicago productions this year. Over the summer we saw Shrek: The Musical (disclosure: sponsored by my mother-in-law) and last week I saw Disney's Lion King (thanks for the BinC folks).

    While Shrek was lively, colorful and had a few clever aspects, like way the pint-sized Lord Farquaad was portrayed, but my husband and two tween boys and I were itching to exit the theater as soon as the curtain went down...maybe a bit before. The play was so much like the movie, it was a bit of a snoozefest.

    But Lion King, oh, Lion King. It's amazing! I saw it many years ago with DH when it last passed through Chicago. This time around, I was delighted to be with my 10 year-old son, who in turn was delighted by the costumes, the brilliant visuals and the music.

    Julie Taymor's creative costumes make the play, but the acting, singing and music are top-rate, as well.

    As with the Lion King movie, there are some scary bits made all the more intense due to the live setting, but none of the children in the audience (and there were a handful of them under age 8 at our evening performance) seemed too bothered by it.

    Lion King is only scheduled to be in Chicago for a few more weeks, but if you're into the concept of a pre-holiday gift, take the family to see this. It was a great time.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    House Hunting: The Privilege of Frustration

    It's no secret that I'm frustrated that we haven't found the right house. But we have a (mostly) wonderful place to live alongside my parents for now. We also have food in our bellies, paying work for the grow-ups and even decent health insurance.

    That I can whine about not finding a home of our own right now is a privilege (or maybe just freakin' obnoxious and self-centered). I know a lot of families are struggling right now and I hope you'll take a moment to think of them.

    Gosh, that didn't do much good, did it?

    Can I ask you to do something on their behalf?

    What? Your wallet is looking a bit empty right now, too?

    Let me make this easy. Please head over Share Our Strength and take the No Kid Hungry Pledge prior to November 24 and The ConAgra Foods Foundation will donate $10 in your name to the No Kid Hungry Effort.


    Disclosure: I do consulting work for ConAgra Foods, but this post is not a client project.

    Wordless Wednesday: Surprise!

    No, I'm not pregnant. I'm simply sporting a belly cast I'd made when I was pregnant with number two.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    House Hunting: In Bed with Nate Berkus, the 2nd episode of Property Sluts

    You know you want it. Yes, another episode of Property Sluts! Last time I did it in my car; this time I'm in bed with Nate Berkus.

    I really benefited from Nate's experience, but DH lost interest after about five minutes.

    The real house hunting is not fun, but I'm kinda into this vlog series. Channeling my shelter anxiety into a creative project means less whining for DH to put up with, not to mention fewer embarrassingly low bids that I insist our agent to present to the elderly widows of my community.

    We all win!

    And before I know it, it will be March and there will be a fresh crop of houses on the market priced to sell. Right? {smiles nervously}

    Back to my video. I won't let our lack of a house stop me from making decorating plans, but I need help! What are some of your favorite resources?

    And stay tuned for our post-Thanksgiving episode, Property Sluts Gets Hammered.

    Missed Episode 1? Watch it here.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Cool MomImpact News

    It was a busy Monday, but why didn't I take a few minutes to share some exciting MomImpact news?

    First off, we have a cool new client, Arctic Ease. Read more and sign up if you might be interested in trying out these new wraps and perhaps posting a review on your blog or Facebook.

    We're also hosting a webinar this Thursday with the some of the big brains behind Blog World New Media Expo. Rick Calvert and Deb Ng will instruct participants on how to write winning speaker proposals. The webinar is the kick off event for MomImpact's 2011 series, The Year of My Blogging Career. Click for info and registration.

    I hope to have more client news to come, but as I learned in the early days of consulting (I've been at it in some form for nearly 15 years), best to save the celebration until after the ink on the contract is dry.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    The Puberty Trip

    TamponsAnother post rescued from the archives of Chicago Moms Blog. This was posted in May 2007.

    A bus waited in front of the school and the big kids were lining up to get on. When I asked a mom where they were going she gave me Don't Ask look. Once her child was out of hearing distance she opened up, "They're going to the Robert Crown Center to learn about puberty."

    I laughed. Not because the idea sounded so ridiculous, but because I was on that same field trip to the Crown Center nearly 30 years ago.

    Ugh. Talk of the puberty trip makes me all giggly and nervous, though I'm not sure if it's due to reliving my awkward past or thinking ahead to the future anxieties of my boys.

    I don't recall much about my actual field trip, but I do remember a little booklet from those kind folks at Tampax with all sorts of Q and A. Can "unmarried" girls wear tampons? (Yes!) I was a pretty innocent 10 year-old, but even then I sensed something was odd about that question. Regardless the FAQ left me with the impression that maybe inserting a tampon was a lot like sexual intercourse. (Phew, turns out it's not!)

    My Dear Husband attended a different school, but he also went to Crown for the puberty trip. A post-trip talk with the gym teacher stands out most in his mind. During their "guy talk" the boys were asked to submit anonymous written questions to the gym teacher. Coach pulled out a slip and read it aloud: How close do a man and woman need to be to have sexual intersection?

    "Who wrote this?" He demanded. So much for anonymity. A socially-unaware boy who clearly hadn't been wearing his listening ears at the Crown Center raised his hand to the jeers of his classmates (yes, that would be DH). "Did you mean sexual intercourse?" That was one cruel teacher.

    Fortunately, DH and I figured out a few things by the time we met as young adults. And now we've got two kids to prove it. My boys have outgrown their snuggable toddler bodies are just as few years away from their own puberty trips. As for me, gravity and time are having their way with me. I wonder if there's a local Crone Center I can visit to get better grasp of this whole menopause thing.

    (Tampon dolls photo courtesy of mypapercrane plushies.)

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Property Sluts: My New Vlog Series

    Introducing my new, not-ready-for-HGTV vlog series, Property Sluts.

    It's my answer to Property Virgins, where, more often than not, the home-buying process seems so simple. At least simple compared to what we are going through.

    And have you seen My First Place, where the happy couple not only gets the house of their dreams, but HGTV redecorates or furnishes a room, to boot. Seriously, I was practically a puddle of tears after my first episode.

    Speaking of "to boot," what's with all these Canadians on HGTV?

    At any rate, as I fantasize about Mike Holmes wrapping his big strong arms around me after he's completely renovated our master bath (master bath, that's a fantasy, right there) I need to face up to the reality that we still haven't found a house. It's frustrating, but I figure I'll have fun with the process where I can.

    Tuesday, November 09, 2010

    Electrical Stimulation Boosts Math Skills: Don't Tase Me, Teach!

    You may recall that "Don't Tase Me, Bro" was the top quote of 2007. I'm wondering if "Don't Tase me, Teach" will be the hot one of 2011.

    You see, recent research indicates that sending a mild electrical stimulation to the brain may help improve people's math skills for up to six months.

    Imagine the test scores! Though I can also see a sort of Flowers for Algeron type-fallout.

    I originally saw this in Investor's Business Daily, but the link above mentions that the stimulation can also be applied to decrease math skills. Interesting.

    Disclaimer: The amount of electricity used in the trials was much smaller than the hefty jolt served up by Tasers. Let's keep Tasers out of our classroom and out of the hands of our children for as long as possible. 'Mkay?

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    House Hunting: The Hoarder House

    Back when we first started house-hunting, I was was intrigued by a specific piece of property, but when my Realtor tried to book a tour for me, he was told they were not showing the house.

    Not showing a house that's for sale?

    "They're positioning it as a tear-down."

    Having seen the inside of many more houses that I ever will, my Realtor explained there there was likely some significant issue with the house...and its owner. Something that prevented that person from letting others into the home.

    What could be inside?

    23 feral cats?

    A pack of coyotes rescued from the nearby woods?

    Massive amounts of stuff.

    Yesterday, we were finally allowed inside the mystery house. And now I understand why they kept us out. Though I've been watching enough HGTV, to know that almost any house can be transformed into something livable, if not beautiful.

    So the house's back story is that an elderly couple used to live there and their daughters are now handling the affairs of the estate. This house and its largish piece of property might have been scooped up back in the day, but it didn't hit the market until after the bubble burst.

    But it's not clear if the old couple were hoarders or if the daughter occupying the house is. I mean, even if the place is a tear-down, it has to be emptied. So, for example, why not toss those home-canned tomatoes labeled "Summer 1997"?

    Why not get rid of the few dozen bags of books cluttering up the place while you're at it.

    It seems like the likely scenario to empty the house involves a dumpster and a bit of cheap labor, but the fact is, there were definitely some diamonds in the rough. A circa 1930 washing machine that appeared to be in good condition was buried under a pile of clothes, but looked promising.

    I am no neatnik. In fact, I outed myself as a surface area abuser back in 2006, but hoarding is an entirely different story.

    I couldn't even bring myself to take pictures of the place. I mean a 1970s bathroom or asbestos wrapped pipes are one thing. This mess seemed too sad, too personal, too deeply psychologically disturbed to mock on my blog.

    Later this week we'll likely put a bid on a different house. It's large- larger than we need- and lacks a garage and like many of the other houses, has a strong 1970s vibe, but it's clean and well-kept and supposedly the owner is very motivated to sell.

    Though perhaps not motivated enough to accept our bid.

    Which is fine.

    We might re-bid on That 70s House. (Same low bid as before, but maybe it will be better received given that they've dropped the price?)

    It's easy to walk away from all of the houses, because at this point, even the ones we've bid on, have at least one glaring issue that prevents it from being The One. Sigh. We're largely just marking time until March when a crowd of new houses comes on the market.

    Friday, November 05, 2010

    Indiana, I'm Over You

    Another one from the archives at Chicago Moms Blog (April 2009).

    We loaded my boys and their best friends into the minivan and left our north suburban home just after 9:15AM on Good Friday. I don't know if it was our timing or the holiday, but we breezed through the city on our way to Indiana. Life was good.

    But then we hit a major traffic snafu heading south on I-65. A lane closure due to construction slowed us to a standstill. I was more annoyed than worried. After all, we had plenty of time to make it to our 1:30 tour of the Endangered Species Chocolate Factory near Indianapolis.

    By the time we passed through the bottleneck, our crew was ready for a bathroom break, so we pulled over at a nearby rest stop. We piled out of the car and made our way to the entrance only to run into locked doors with a smattering of signs taped to them."Facilities Closed." This did not deter some men and boys (not my group) from going around the back of their building to pee near it. Or on it. Take that, Indiana rest stop!

    We located the chocolate factory, and headed to a nearby fast food joint for a quick lunch. So many choices, so little time. I decided on Hardee's, just for something a little different. It was not only slow; it was horrible, even by fast food standards. When my son and his friend complained about their chicken tenders, I told them it was because we weren't familiar with this brand and to just eat. It turns out the tenders were barely cooked. Disgusting.

    We rushed over the Endangered Species Chocolate and arrived to some confusion. Our guide explained that the production line had already shut down for the day. "But you told me to schedule our tour for this time," I said with disappointment.

    "Yes, but you're an hour late."

    Indiana is on Eastern Time?!?

    Yes. And no.

    I have since learned that northwest and southwest Indiana are on Central Time like Illinois, but the rest of the state is not. Grrrr.

    The kind marketing woman took us around the facility and answered our questions, anyway, but it certainly wasn't as exciting as it would have been if they were still in production. And we didn't get to taste any chocolate.

    Fully aware of the time zone issue, we hurried from the chocolate factory to our next scheduled tour, Trader's Point Creamery, an organic dairy farm, creamery and restaurant.

    When I made the tour arrangements, I was told to arrive in the later afternoon so we could observe the cows coming in from pasture and being milked. As we were walking around the farm waiting for our tour guide, I saw a sign noting that the afternoon milking had been cancelled.

    Afternoon milking cancelled for the first time in five years. As with the chocolate factory, we still had an interesting and informative tour (which I will expound upon at TravelingMom), but we missed the biggest highlight. We did get to sample their delicious drinkable vanilla yogurt and specialty cheese for free, and enjoyed their ice cream, "the best ever" according to our crew, for a fee at the restaurant's dairy bar.

    On the way home we caught more construction traffic on I-65, which seemed like a fitting end to our cold, damp, sunless, mishap filled trip. We were glad to be back in Sweet Home Chicago.

    Road Rage, Interrupted Or, How Did I Escape This Unscathed?

    Another blast from the past from Chicago Moms Blog. Originally posted June 2008.

    While I was out with the boys the other day, we saw a really nasty exhibition of Road Rage. Driver A swerved out of his lane to avoid someone making a left turn and nearly cut off Driver B. Driver A almost got hit, but forced Driver B to let him into the right-hand lane. (I later surmise that Drive B or one of his passengers flipped off Driver A at this time.)

    About 50 yards after this near miss we all arrive in a line at a stoplight. Driver A, a man about 5 foot 10 in his late 20s steps out of his car to inspect the damage, though I wasn't sure if there had actually been an accident. Driver B, a man of similar height, but a good 30 years older, also exits his vehicle. I am in the next car in the line, taking this all in.

    Words are exchanged. Drive Am the young guy, hits and then shoves Driver B, the old guy.

    I honk my horn at them and then turn off the car and jump out. “What are you doing?!? Leave that man alone!” I shout.

    Is Driver A embarrassed to be put in his place by a five-foot small woman?

    No, he defends his actions.

    WTF? He’s assaulting a senior citizen!

    I frantically try to dial 911 from my cell phone, but I’m shaking and keep messing up. I know, I know. It’s only three digits! First my jittery fingers typed in an extra 2 and then a 0. Had to hit the “talk” button to send the call….

    Finally I get through. How to explain? It’s not a traffic accident per se, more of an incident. I can barely hear and I’m frantically trying to explain about the young guy hitting the old man. I’m not sure if I’m coherent, but I have the wits about me to give the cops Driver A’s license plate number and car description.

    After a bit more shoving and shouting Driver A returns to his care and takes off at the green
    light. (I think it was because he saw people with their cell phones out and heard murmurs of "911" and "cops.")

    Driver B heads in another direction.

    I return to my car.

    OMG. My boys. What did they think of this?

    Where they scared? Yes, a bit. Scared of the guys or worried about me? Both.

    “When you see something that is so wrong, you just can’t sit by and watch it happen.” I tell them, adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I also tell them that if anyone approaches their car like Driver A did to Driver B, just lock the doors and windows and call the police. (Actually I left the last bit about the police out, but I’ll tell them in the morning.)

    Upon reflection it seems almost comical, tiny me playing the role of Big Mama, yelling at these bad boys to play nice.

    I acted strictly from my gut. My need to stand up for this stranger outweighed my normal instincts to focus first the safety of my kids. Is that bad? The young healthy guy shoving around an old man was just too much. Sometimes I hate this world.

    Friday Fun

    This was referred to as a "little bit of Zen," but it's a whole lot of fun. And you get a bit of a physics lesson along with a custom soundtrack, to boot.

    Check out Ball Dropping.

    via @AnnaTarkov and @LenKendall

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010

    Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Veggies at the Halloween Party

    There's a new school rule or guideline recommending that all classroom parties include fruit and or vegetables. Amen to that! It's about time.

    We put out the healthy stuff before the big cupcakes were passed out and though there were a few ghoulish moans of resistance at first, the children filled their plates.

    Of course, they still managed to find lots of room on their plates and desks for cookies, cupcakes and about 15 different types of candy.

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    Can You Ever See Too Much of Your Elected Officials?

    Seems like a timely day to post this old thing from the Chicago Moms Blog. It was originally published June 19, 2007.

    Kim_postWe were hanging out at the local pool a couple of years ago when I spotted our congresswoman frolicking with her grandchildren. When we walked past each other I took that brief opportunity to introduce myself and thank her for her hard work.

    Back with DH, I told him how badly I wanted to go back over to her and give her my two cents about a topic that always gets my panties in a bunch--how No Child Left Behind is ruining our public schools. “Give her a break. She’s enjoying her family,” he coolly advised. He was right.

    She went on playing with her grandkids while I ignored my offspring, instead fantasizing about an audience with my congresswoman. Why, yes, Kim, I’d love for you to join me for a meeting with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

    Before I knew it, the pool was closing. I headed to the changing room and once again found myself face to face with the congresswoman, only this time she was taking off her bathing suit! I immediately averted my eyes. I mean, wouldn't you expect a member of congress to use one of those little changing stalls? It’s definitely possible to see too much of your elected officials.

    Still, it’s good to know that the old saying is true. Congresswoman, Shmongresswoman! She puts her pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.

    Monday, November 01, 2010

    The Art and Science of Legos and When Geeks Grow Up

    In my write-up of Lego KidsFest Chicago, I mentioned that the event left me with a deeper appreciation of the art and science of Legos. Once a child goes beyond the mere kit instructions, there is so much creative exploration that takes place. And whether the child realizes it or not, there's a lot of engineering and physics, not to mention the ability to visualize objects in three dimensions, that goes into building a cool creation.

    Which explains why all I ever build is really tall, square buildings.

    Speaking of engineering and physics, I had the chance to talk to one of the programmers behind LEGO Universe, the new MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). Based on what I saw at KidsFest, it should be called a MPMOG, Massively Popular Multiplayer Online Game).

    Two notes about the video:
    1) My display screen was not working, so I apologize for the drift. Though now you know how a person only five feet tall sees the world.

    2) The video gets a little commercial at points as Michael explains the game. I wish I had captured what he said after I turned off the camera, which was that he wants kids to know that a love of math and science can lead to really exciting careers.

    I hope Michael doesn't mind that I called him a geek. After all, it's the new black. And I think this might make for a good series here.

    Some quick facts about LEGO Universe. It requires a paid subscription, internet access and a DVD that costs $39.99(!). This game is designed for 8-10 year olds think: too adventurous for Club Penguin, but too young for World of Warcraft. However, like the real LEGO bricks, this game is drawing in an older than expected crowd. Because it's designed for younger children, there are parental control options as well as 24/7/365 moderators, but I advise you to look into this yourself and make sure your concerns are addressed before you sign on your little one.

    Other cool resources that build on the science of LEGO bricks (though not formally affiliated with The LEGO Group):

    Play-Well TEKnologies (Teaching Engineering to Kids)
    An organization that provides fun for after-school enrichment, parties, summer camps and home school classes in select states, including Illinois, New York, Colorado, California and Oregon.

    First Lego League
    A robotics program designed to get kids excited about science and technology. It's part of a family of program ranging from the Junior First Lego League for kids in grades K -3 to the First Robotics Competition for grades 9 -12. If we weren't up to our ears in Science Olympiad, I'd dig around to see if there are active groups in my area.

    Do you love Legos, too?

    And would you like to see more "When Geeks Grow Up" features?

    LEGO® KidsFest Chicago Amazes and Delights

    Honestly, after reading reviews of the Boston Lego KidsFest, I approached the Chicago event with a bit of trepidation. Happily, the event staff appears to have worked out the kinks. My 10-year-old Lego lover and I had a great time at Lego KidsFest.

    We didn't encounter any unusually long lines or wait times, the staff was pleasant and we got to chat with one of Lego's Master Builders, i.e. the guys who get paid to play with Legos all day.

    In some sense, this is just an expo with a lot of Legos and a few related vendors, but if you are a fan of the brand (or your child is), this event is so much more. On a related note, with door prices of $20 per adult, and $18 for children over age 3, I'd limit this event to the ones who will appreciate it most. (My son and I were comped.)

    Who will appreciate it most? Based on my observation that would be boys ages 5 -10. McCormick Place was crawling with eager little boys.

    The event itself is divided into 5-hour time slots. Our time slot allowed plenty of time to take in the sights, like the group mural that my son got to help create, have a bit of Lego free play, check out a few Lego video games, try out the Lego board games, and the new MMOG: Lego Universe. Of course we also managed to visit a few vendor booths and shop at the on-site Lego store, too.

    We also learned about AFOLs, Adult Fans of Legos, a population the brand only recently tapped into. I heard a former Lego employee speak at the Word of Mouth Supergenius Conference several months back and he talked about how while the key Lego consumer may be about 8 - 10 years old, he only spends something like $50 a year on the product, while AFOLs spend hundreds or thousands.

    The AFOLs will be flying their flag this June in Chicago at Brickworld, an event which sounds like the Comicon of the Lego world. We saw a few Brickworld creations on display at KidFest and, wow, these are amazing. My son is already asking to go.

    Rather than feeling like the cynical consumer I often am, I left Lego Kidsfest more aware of the art and science of Legos. This is a toy I'm willing to buy for my boys as long as they keep playing.

    Sorry for the lack of pictures; they seem to have disappeared into the ether. I will add them when I find them.