Thursday, December 19, 2013

Because We're Jewish

Jewish Christmas is not to be confused with that bastardized holiday "Chrismukkah," a word that to me sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Jewish Christmas is about movies and Chinese food on Christmas Day or maybe cooking up the turkey or, yes, the ham, you got at the office in lieu of a greener holiday bonus and spending the day with Jewish friends and other non-observers because everything else is closed.

Or used to be closed on December 25.

Frankly, I liked the fact that so few places were open. We could use more days, maybe a day a month, during which we all take a sabbatical. It would be like the entire country taking one long, deep cleansing breath for the day. No new email or snail mail building up, no distracting text messages, no bills to pay, just a cozy winter day enjoying your dog family, or a lovely spring day out in the parks with your puppy kids.

But I digress.

Part of our Jewish Christmas observance traditionally involves visiting one of Chicago's world-class museums the day of Christmas Eve because the crowds are typically low. But this year DH suggested taking the boys skiing.

My conversation with my teen boys went like this:

Me: So Dad suggested going skiing the day of Christmas Eve. What do you think?

One Boy: Is Christmas Eve the night that's the day of Christmas?

Me: No, it's the night before.

The Other Boy: When is Christmas?

One Boy: It's the 26th, I think.


Interestingly, even Spertus, the Jewish Museum, will be closed this year.

Whatever your traditions, have a lovely and peaceful Christmas Day!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Which a Crabby Chicago Mom Blogger Actually has Fun at Blogger Events

Let me eat cake!
I've just wrapped up my 8th(!) year of blogging. Clearly at this point I'm the crabby old lady of the Chicago mom blogger community. Gather round, kiddos, let me tell you how things worked back in the day and what you young whippersnappers are doing all wrong.

Well, it's not just that blogging has changed. I've changed. My kids have grown. I'm a legitimate work-from-home-because-my-family-counts-on-my-income gal instead of a chasing-two-young-kids-telling-stories-on-my-blawg-and-getting-a-few-sweet-invitations-and-some-swag kind of gal.

Because of my paid work/need to make money and the lack of kids to escape from (though really, some days I do need to get away from our puppy much as I love him--of course, I loved my little kids too), I rarely go to blogging events these days.

If the timing and the topic are right (not to mention the location and expected crowd), I might go. Most of my blogging energy is directed toward The Maker Mom and their aren't a whole lot of maker or science and tech events that pass through town (side note: while it's fine that several Chicago museums are running blogger reviews though organizations like the Clever Girls Collective, it'd be nice to be recognized as a local blogger whose target audience matches theirs. See? I told you I'm a crabby old lady.).

At this stage of the game, I don't have patience for crowds. Dear brand, if you are hosting a public event and there's nothing special or exclusive for bloggers and (God forbid) you expect me to wait in line with everybody else and pay for my own parking then just leave me off your list.

(Note to self: I was on a trip with OnStar a few weeks ago and though I blogged about the Buick, I still need to write more about the my experience with the brand. They were totally worthy.)

Despite my increasingly hermit-like ways, I did make it out to two outstanding blogger events recently. The fact that I won major door prizes at both was icing on the delicious bloggy cake as you'll see above.

And there was delicious bloggy cake as well as other excellent food.

The first event was sponsored by Red Tricycle Chicago, a where-to-go/what-to-do online destination with site in nine major metropolitan areas across the US. It was interesting to meet with and hear founder Jacqui Boland talk about how she turned her digital city guide into a national presence over the course of seven years.

The event was sponsored by the Microsoft Surface 2, a piece of technology I was interested in learning about (and won!). I liked that it was a luncheon event that promised not to take up my entire day. Bonus: I got to drive in with Stacey and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Little Goat.

The Surface2 demo was seamlessly integrated into a cooking demo. There was an intimate crowd of friends and new faces and it took place on a sunny day in Chicago. Even if I hadn't won the Surface2, I would have called the event a win.

The other event was put on by some of my early blogging peeps, MJ Tam and Beth Rosen. I wanted to see and support them, but honestly, I was a bit twitchy about the fact that it required me to essentially take a full day out of the office (and arrange doggy daycare). However it was a fun and informative event.

The food was delicious--almost a mini taste of Chicago-- there was a factory tour involved and I got to be in the studio audience while they recorded an episode of Chicagonisa Live.

The event was hosted at Nielsen-Massey maker of high quality pure vanilla and other extracts. I knew they were local because I get press releases from them from time to time and I have some of their product on my shelves (and now even more).

Capannari Ice Cream was also part of the event. They are a hike away from me in Mount Prospect, IL. We've never made it out for treats despite their tours, movie nights, and being named both a Chicago Parent and Red Tricycle favorite. They are now closed for the season, but thanks to a gift card in the swag bags, we'll definitely be heading out in 2014.

North Shore Distillery served up beverages. What? They offer factory tours on Saturdays? I'm so there. Also, I won this super cool History of Gin artisan spirits set from them.

I'm not sure who provided what, but both Bent Fork Bakery and the French Pastry School were credited with providing delectable desserts and artisan sandwiches.

There was also a melange of PR folks working behind the scenes on the event.I'll give a shout-out to Savor Agency because I've known them the longest, but we only got in a quick hello (and we've both worked with Mrs. Prindables). But I'm sure the Chicagonista gals- MJ, Beth, Nancy and Duong- played a huge role in shaping the logistically complex event so that it would resonate with the bloggers in attendance. It did. I'm sorry I had to run home before someone could steal my gin to get the dog and take care of the after-school events.

And now, I crawl back into my cave, now with a lovely vanilla scent, until the sun in shining and the average temperature is in the 50s.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Holiday STEM Gifts

What? You missed my TV appearance highlighting this great STEM gifts for kids? No worries, you can take a look here. I'm always amazed and how tiny I look compared to the WGN anchors so let me say, not only are they tall, but Robin wears heels.

This is something like my fourth TV appearance and I feel like I've got it down to some degree. Even though I made it to the studio on time, they didn't have me set up until just before the segment and I wound up being very rushed at the last minute. So rushed then I didn't get to put the littleBits Korg Synth Kit on display because it was blocked by the regular kit (though I was quite fond of the sound-sensitive rocking Santa I created).

I felt (still feel) horrible about this because I'm a big littleBits fan and the Synth Kit is a really cool addition to their line. And I was pretty psyched to have it show off before it went on sale.

Here's the kind of thing I had hoped to demonstrate. I had my keyboard and oscillator ready to go and planned to play a killer rendition of "Do-Re-Mi."

So the TV segment wound up being pretty stressful, but I think I came off okay in the end.

Many thanks to the awesome, patient and helpful Drew Fustini of Element 14 for setting me up with the BeagleBone Black project and serving as my onsite tech assistant/roadie. Given my rush, I might not even even unboxed it all without him.

Because I can't resist, here are a few more useful STEM and STEAM gift lists. And whatever you buy this season, make sure it's not one of these.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Look for me on WGN Morning News on December 5, 2013

Great Science and Tech Gifts for Kids from The Maker Mom
I'm still not sure what I'm wearing, but I've already selected what I think are the coolest STEM gifts of 2013. On Thursday, 12/5/13, I'll be on WGN Morning News at around 8:45 AM CST. The show is syndicated throughout North America, but you can watch anywhere with this link even if you don't have a TV.

Be sure to click over to The Maker Mom blog to learn more about my product picks and enter some great giveaways in the coming days!

In the meantime, take a look at last year's picks, which I still stand by.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Because Some Gifts are too Good to Keep to Myself

It's been a crazy Chanukah here. Between the overlap with Thanksgiving and some, but not all of us having jetted off to Florida for a few days last week,  things feel off-kilter even though Chanukah is a minor holiday. But dangit, there will be latkes. They just may Christmas latkes. I was one of the jet-setters in the family and rumor has it I left a bag of potatoes rotting on the counter during my leave.

Last night as we lit candles,still not as a complete family as one teen was too tired and crabby hungry to join us, the other teen presented DH and I with a gift. Each time the boys mention something they want to buy us, we tell them to save their money and simply be kind, helpful and respectful to us. Oh, that is so much easy said then done. 

The boy who was present handed us a present-- a homemade card. On the bottom of the card, there were two coupons: one says it's good for one free sidewalk shoveling, something that is normally a paid chore. The other coupon is good for one clearing of our driveway.

As we're thanking him he tells us to read the back of his coupons.

The free sidewalk is good with the purchase of a paid driveway shoveling and the free driveway shoveling is free with the purchase of  paid sidewalk shoveling.

We should have just had him buy us something.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Glass-blowing in the Chicago Area

A 2008 creation.  Glassblowing: harder than it looks.
This weekend the older teen and I are headed to Chicago Hot Glass for a one-hour glassblowing workshop during which we'll make a handful of ornaments. Yes, one of his Hanukkah presents involves making Christmas ornaments. They can always be light-catchers, no?

At any rate, keeping with this year's theme of looking back on my archives-I've been blogging since 2005, yo- this originally appeared in February 2008 on the Chicago Moms Blog.

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.  (Ed. note, they do this around Christmas, too!) 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 55-pound 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 in! It didn't break, but it did get scratched up.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Wilton Products Unleash Creativity in the Kitchen (and Beyond)

The day before BlogHer13, I was invited out to Wilton headquarters for a behind-the-scenes tour. We not only got to visit the Wilton test kitchen, we got to play in it! They also gave us goodies to take home and promised to send us one of their new snack cake pans. You can see mine on the right! I received a Wilton Treatwich Mini Cake Pan. It's officially called the 12-cavity pan, but as someone who spends a lot of time and  money at the dentist, I just can't do that name.

Remember the Suzy-Qs and other snack cakes we gulped down as children of the 1970s? Wilton's new new snack pans help recreate these treats only without the preservatives that let the packaged version survive for 10 years in your basement.

Homemade Ho-Hos, anyone? 

With my 12-spot pan, I made six sweet treatwiches (using a Wilton recipe, but successfully subbing in a gluten-free flour blend and rice milk for cow milk).

I even managed to keep a few around long enough to take a picture, but only because the boys were away at school.

At the test kitchen, we had a chance to build with Wilton's Shape-N-Amaze Edible Decorating Dough. Following a simple set of instructions and using a few cool tools...

We made these adorable owls! 

Each owl looked a bit different than the others, but I promise you, there was not a bad looking one in the bunch! I recently used some of the samples I got to take with my Science Olympiad team. Edutainment and hands-on learning at its best.

One of the best parts of the Wilton tour was getting to seeing some of the amazing creations the staff made. There was some truly jaw-dropping stuff. I'd like to hone the decorating skills I developed as a teen, but I need to pair up with someone who will A) bake the cakes and B) eat the cakes. When you work at home, you don't have in-house co-workers to feed, which is maybe why I used the Treatwich pan to make dog treats before putting it away for the day.

At any rate, I was grateful to brush up and try new decorating techniques at Wilton; it was a lot of fun. I got skillz, people.

Despite my hopes, I haven't decorated anything since that workshop, but I did use some of the flavored candy melts the other day and my Wilton food-safe markers came in hand as I worked on a Hanukkah post (coming soon!).

Click over to see more behind-the-scenes photos and check out the tasty snacks my friend Michelle made with her Wilton Mini Orb Pan (also part of the new line).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wouldn't You Really Rather Drive a Buick?

Buick LaCrosse at Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
I'd have taken better pics of the car if I'd known they'd be public.
I remember this classic Buick tag line from my youth. Maybe that's why I associate Buick with my parents generation. That said, a quick reality check reveals I essentially am now what my parents were then: middle age, 2 kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs and all that. So when Buick turned out to be the featured brand during a recent General Motors' OnStar Blogger Immersion Trip in Detroit, I was open to learning more about the brand.

Well, there's a little more to it. On our recent trip to southwest Utah, our compact car rental was upgraded to a mid-size Buick LaCrosse. We spent a week in that baby driving from Las Vegas up to Goblin Valley State Park and back, logging more than 800 miles with more than 20 hours in the car. 

We enjoyed the SiriusXM satellite radio service switching between music and news updates in the hopes of learning when the government shutdown would end and the national parks would re-open, but this didn't happen until after we'd returned home.

We started a hike at Capitol Reef National Park just before the rangers shut the park on October 1, 2013.
DH and I were both impressed with the car's handling and responsiveness on the Utah roadways, which ranged from interstates with speed limits of up to 80 mph(!) to the twists, turns, and grades of Route 12-one of the most scenic drives in the United States to, uh, this:

Cattle Drive near Hanksville, Utah
At three points during our trip we had to steer around steer. In other news, check out that luxe interior.
Given that we had sketchy-to-no cell phone service, it was handy to have OnStar in the car. Honestly, we weren't sure it was active and forgot to ask the rental company if there would be a charge to use it (the Onstar folks told me during the blogger trip that it was likely active and available to use without a fee). Luckily, we didn't find out the hard way- if the air bags in the car deployed (i.e. we were in a crash) the OnStar command center would have received prompt notice and sent help. I wish I had known this ahead of time as it would have given me peace of mind. We were in some pretty isolated areas!

Buick LaCrosse outside of Zion National Park

We both appreciated the heated seats on chilly mornings, especially near Bryce National Park. The many electric adjustment options for the seats (passenger side, too) came in handy as we switched drivers from my nearly six-foot tall husband to the five-foot me. My husband was not a fan of the car's bucket seats, finding them uncomfortable on some of the longer legs of the trip. However, this wasn't a problem for me. In fact, when I pulled a muscle in my back several days into the trip, I feared that was the end of our hiking, but between the adjustable lumbar support on the driver's side and the heated seats (and a few Advil), I was almost as good as new.

The dual-zone temperature controls were also a hit, eliminating his and her bickering over what temperature to keep the car. The car likely had other features we weren't aware of, but this trip was more about exploring Utah than the exploring the cool aspects of our rental car. Ah, if only I knew then what I know now.

The trip to Utah was one of the best vacations of my life, so Buick now has an automatic positive association for me.

On my recent visit to Detroit I learned a few things about the 2014 Buick Lacrosse. Check out these features:
  • Adaptive cruise control (it senses the speed of the car in front of you and adjusts your car's speed--even stopping and accelerating- in reaction)
  • Intellink infotainment System with touch commands or voice control
  • USB port
  • Auxiliary port
  • 6 month free trial of OnStar Directions and Connections (i.e. hit your blue button to find the nearest Starbucks, access to vehicle diagnostics and stolen vehicle slowdown)
  • Remote start and remote keyless entry
  • 3-month trial of SiriusXM radio
  • and more
Also, all 2014 GM vehicles, including Buicks, get 5 years of free RemoteLink Key Fob Services. That allows owners to lock/unlock/start car with the RemoteLink App. One other option for Buick owners is "Experience Buick" leasing, which gives 2 years of included OnStar Directions and Connections. 

MSRP staring at just over $33,000

I thought this little bit was interesting, too. Starting in the 2013 model year the Buick Enclave, a luxury cross-over SUV began providing a front center air bag that pops up between the drive and front seat passenger for increased crash safety.

The blogger trip included a visit to the OnStar Command Center and the OnStar Call Center as well as a chance to see Detroit sites while riding around in tripped-out Buicks assisted by OnStar advisors. As part of the trip, I also had the opportunity to interview a couple of GM engineers as well as Susan Schneider, the Global Manager of GM's AppShop.

My trip to Detroit was sponsored GM and Onstar and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, but I was not required to post about it. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

St. Jude Give Thanks Walk November 23, 2013 in a City Near You

Have you heard of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital? You might recall commercials featuring Danny Thomas or tear-jerking ones featuring Marlo Thomas and some of their young cancer patients. Maybe you've heard of this magical medical facility where parents do not pay bills? That alone makes me want to cry happy tears, especially when I flash back to time our insurance denied payment on a nearly $20,000 claim for an out-patient procedure on my younger son. They finally paid after several months of denials and as many anxiety attacks for me.

My friend Holly from Culture Mom had the opportunity to visit St. Jude and see their good works firsthand. I learned a lot through her. I'm going to snip a few facts about the hospital  from her blog:

  • No family ever pays St. Jude for anything. Not one single dime. Nothing.
  • Daily operating costs are 1.7 million, which is primarily covered by public contributions.
  • In 1962 – the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic Leukemia- the most common form of childhood cancer- was 4%. Today.. .survival rate 94%.
  • St. Jude is the FIRST AND ONLY National Cancer Institute designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted to children.
  • The Flu vaccine was developed at St Jude.
  • St Jude accepts patients up to 18 years of age and cares for them for a lifetime.
  • Although there are only 78 beds in the hospital for in-patient care, they still see close to 7800 patients a year on an out-patient care basis.
You can read about Holly's visit, too.

I had the chance to connect with some of St. Jude's PR people at BlogHer 13 and wanted to pass along information they shared with me about their November 23, 2013 Give Thanks. Walk., a 5K walk with more than 89 locations nationwide (find one near you) and 31,000 participants. Together they raise millions of dollars to help families in difficult circumstances.

If you're looking for a way for your family to acknowledge the many things you have to be thankful for while  also helping those in need, consider getting involved in this walk.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I can't believe it (and neither can my mom). I have become one of those people. I bought my dog a Halloween costume.

And then I bought him another one--they totally go on sale if you wait long enough. I only spent about $10 per costume if you average them out. Which is to say, I spent more than $20 on Halloween costumes for my dog.

Who am I?!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Round-Up

Realm of the Mad God Pumpkin
I've written a few Halloween-themed posts that I thought I'd share here. It's not too late to incorporate these ideas into your Halloween celebration, especially if you still have to make one more trip to the store tonight because you ate all the candy you planned to give out buy your candy yet.

At Sylvan Learning's Mom-Minded blog I shared a bunch of fun ideas for adding excitement and science to your party with dry ice.

I also posted on ideas to add STEAM (STEM + Arts) to your celebration with a few simple activities.

And look, I finally made something! A DIY Meme-friendly Portable Photobooth! )That's Veronica from Viva La Feminista and her "partner in mime" below.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BlogHer 2013 Hits and Misses

BlogHer 2013
BlogHer13. All that and more.
Somebody has to be the last person to post a BlogHer recap. Right? I'll save someone else from the bloggy version of the walk of shame.

But I will offer a few excuses. First I was catching up from the conference, then my mom had a medical mishap and then as memory of this post, put in draft on 7/27, began to fade my dad had knee replacement followed by a few eventful weeks in a rehab facility where he died and was brought back to life (but the staff later decided maybe he just fainted and they kinda rubbed his chest instead of doing full-on CPR to revive him) and then I was madly preparing for one of the best vacations of my life, then I took that vacation, caught up from that and now I don't have any more excuses.

So here are my hits and misses of BlogHer13 as first recorded on July 27, 2013 in a rather loose manner.

I was invited to an official pre-conference event from Wilton. It was a fun day and I will write about that soon.

Misses. The big miss was my friends! A lot of them skipped this year. However, it was wonderful seeing the friends that were at the conference.

I attended a lovely brand lunch with US Cellular featuring a panel with Melisa Wells, Donna Mills and Jenna Hatfield where we talking about cell phones and technology bringing families together.

I was part of a private dinner with Boks, a before-school program designed to gets kids physically active and get their bodies and brains ready for a day of learning.

It was disappointing walking the expo floor with most brand reps looking at me blankly when I said that I mainly blog about STEM or science and technology for families. 0_0

However, a man at the canned food booth mentioned that one of his agency's other clients might be a fit for me. So then I was all, hey everyone go to the Cans Get You Cooking booth to get your face on a can. It was a cute promo. My promo can is still sitting on my window sill. (Note to self: it probably needs to be dusted at this point.)

The two brands I was most looking forward to meeting, Intel and Petsmart, both listed on the BlogHer sponsor page (also both brands I tweeted to prior to the event who never responded to me), hosted private events and had no presence at the expo.

Note to BlogHer: it's great that companies are officially partnering with you for these special events, but please let attendees know not to expect them at the expo. "Meh, it's not like they were giving out computers," said one friend of Intel. I don't need any more computers, I just wanted to talk about #STEMchat or maybe connect with some people to interview for my video series when Geeks Grow Up.

As for Petsmart, well, I've spent a fortune for puppy toys that sometimes last for as few as 15 minutes (true story), so yeah, I was just grasping fro bones there.


Big time miss: Who thought it would be a good idea to include approximately 5 pounds of liquid products in the swag bag? No really, who? Most Many Everyone I know, dumped the 32 oz. red Gatorade-like liquid before they even hit the expo floor. Who wants to carry around all that weight?

Admittedly, my memory is a bit fuzzy on some of this, but the full-value coupon from Kozy Shack was pure awesome, even the cashier commented on it when I redeemed it. We still use the mug from that brand, too and miraculously we can still locate the accompanying little spoon and it's in one piece.

My memory needs to be jogged on the other stuff. (I'm trying to forget the Jockey Bra fitting thing. I know they must've focus-grouped the hell out of that thing before bringing it to market but no. Just no. My friend Jen sums it up.). July feels like it was so long ago.

I also enjoyed a post-BlogHer event with Virtual Piggy.

And that's why you don't wait three months to recap a conference.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Could the Goblin Valley State Park Incident Have Been Prevented?

Goblin Valley State Park
After hearing the news that a small stupid group of men not only toppled an ancient rock formation at Utah's Goblin Valley State Park, but also videotaped their actions and posted the incident to YouTube (and by the way the two adults in the group are Boy Scout leaders for a church-based group), I felt compelled to write a letter to Fred Hayes, Utah State Parks director.

Dear Mr. Hayes,

What a month you're having! First you're dealing with capacity crowds due to the masses of people rerouting from national parks and now these guys, toppling a goblin at Goblin Valley State Park. Sheesh. I hope you catch a break in November.

My husband and I were among the rerouted tourists and I want to compliment you on your fabulous state parks. Although Kodachrome Basin was always part of our itinerary, we count our detours to Goblin Valley, Pink Coral Sands, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Snow Canyon as the silver lining of the dark cloud of the national parks closure. (You can read the highlights here.)

Each one of these parks offered something (often many things) that amazed or delighted us including wide open spaces, stunning views, and a new appreciation for geology and the forces of nature.

Capitol Reef National Park on 10/1. We we up earlier than the ranger.
We'd read about the otherworldly rock formations of Goblin Valley and since we'd been kicked out of Capitol Reef National Park, we decided to make the drive out there (with a little nudge from the owner of Luna Mesa Cafe, who makes a mighty fine BLT sandwich, by the way).

As noted on the Goblin Valley website:
Goblin Valley State Park is a showcase of geologic history. Exposed cliffs reveal parallel layers of rock bared by erosion. Because of the uneven hardness of sandstone, some patches resist erosion much better than others. The softer material is removed by wind and water, leaving thousands of unique, geologic goblins. Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown dust work together to shape the goblins.
Bedrock is exposed because of the thin soil and lack of vegetation. When rain does fall, there are few plant roots and little soil to capture and hold the water, which quickly disappears, in muddy streams without penetrating the bedrock.
Precariously balanced boulder at Goblin Valley State Park

As we walked by formations like the one pictured above, my husband and I discussed how long it would take for the top piece to fall off; it appears to be so precariously perched! And yet, I'd give another 10,000 years or so. Or who knows, maybe the winds and rains will shape that top bit into sometime more delicate and spire-like?

I certainly didn't feel like it was in danger of falling on me. And I can't believe that someone as familiar with the outdoors as a Boy Scout leader would think otherwise about a similar looking stone.

What those men did was wrong and I hope they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

They say they knew the rock was loose because the boys in the Scout group had been playing lava, "You see who can get the farthest in the park leaping from top of rock to top of rock without touching the ground..."

Apparently he didn't read the same signs I did requesting that visitors not touch or climb on the rocks.

In fact, I'd think a Scout leader would encourage his group to stick to the trail. In a nature preserve, the trail area is sacrificed, trod and beaten upon to provide the visitors with a path to access the wonders of that piece of land. When people go off the trail, additional flora and fauna are damaged or killed. A "leave no trace" Scout leader should know this without having to read a warning sign. For the record, there are warning signs at the park, but not in in the actual Valley of Goblins, from what I saw.

I can't help but wonder if their actions would have been prevented if there had been tighter controls. In many of the desert parks we visited, at some point during a hike we had trouble differentiating the actual trail from so-called social trails that are created when people head off the main trail, leaving sets of sandy footprints behind that lead others to believe the new side path is the actual trail.

According to my guidebook, we'd be taking a short hike through the Valley of the Goblins. In reality, there was no clear trail and people wandered about as they pleased. That made it a bit more interesting in some respects, but I was all, "What about that microscopic life on the desert floor that we're constantly being told is disrupted by humans tromping over the delicate ground? A single footstep can kill 10,000 years of growth that's barely visible to our eyes. How can they allow this?"

Think of the microbes!

My husband reminded me of how un-fun I can be at times.

Goblin Valley State Park Does lack of a clear path lead to vandalism?

I have to think that freewheeling visitors are just that. Without the confines of a trail, folks might be more inclined to touch the rocks, scratch their names into the sandstone (vandals are a huge problem in state and national parks), or, as in the case of these Boy Scouts, hop from rock to rock, despite warnings against doing so.

If those troop leaders were concerned about the safety of their boys, perhaps jumping on sandstone rock formations is ill-advised. I have two sons. I know their energy and understand that they like to flirt with danger as much as they do with girls (sometimes even more), but if the adults sensed a danger in the area, why not call off the rock-jumping that shouldn't have been going on in the first place?

And again, trouncing over delicate formations hardly fits into BOA's Leave No Trace philosophy.

Mr. Hayes, your own park literature noted that you are examining the long-term effect of visitors on these natural wonders. I feel like you have your answer now and it's an unfortunate one.

I sense that you'll be reigning in the crowds at Goblin Valley now. Hopefully they won't be confined to viewing the crazy hoodoos from the parking lot with a pair of binoculars, but maybe the valley needs to be set up more like an art museum than a school playground. It stinks when the whole class loses recess privileges because a student or two can't play nicely. The well behaved among us want to play in the state parks.

Thanks again for an amazing park system. Utah is full of natural wonders, plenty of which can be experienced outside the national parksl.

I wish you patience and wisdom in your quest to preserve and protect some truly special areas of your state.


Kim Moldofsky

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confession of a Surface Area Abuser

Don't be fooled by his innocent look.
Funny how our issues catch up with us. Although I don't share the most personal ones on this blog, on January 15, 2006(!), I did come clean as a surface area abuser. Which is to say that I found a name, or diagnosis if you will, for my bad habit of cluttering up every horizontal surface within reach in my office in my house that I have access to. Here I am almost 9 years later to say, well, I still have the same problem. 

Only now I have the clutter problem and a curious pup who is now tall enough to reach the top of every table and filing cabinet (I have short ones) in my office. And they're all piled with papers along with other odds and ends.

When Tesla is ready for a walk or wants attention, he'll grab something from my office and run off to his playpen to gnaw at it. At least he's pretty obvious in his approach. It's become something of a game for him. He loves to take papers and though he doesn't eat them, he very much enjoys shredding them to messy bits that stick on the rug in his pen. 

Did I mention I'm also the type of person who write down notes on scraps of paper and leaves them about?

Things really hit critical mass the other day. This weekend I've got to find a place for everything and put everything in it's place. That also means taking a stack of books and a few (unreviewed) review items I've sitting around and getting them off my to-do list, so I can store or give those items away.

Wish me luck. And if you see a slew of reviews on The Maker Mom, you'll know why.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month

October is National Medicine Abuse Month Stop medicine Abuse
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. I was asked to share my thoughts along with information and resources in this sponsored post from Stop Medicine Abuse.

Parenting babies and toddlers is hard work. Man, I get tired just thinking about those early years. But that saying, "little people have little problems and big people have big problems" is true. It's not that my boys didn't get into trouble or have problems when they were younger, it's just that as they gain independence and near adulthood, the stakes are higher, the consequences graver. Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart.

Moving into the high school years, your former little people change. Whereas physical development occurs in a linear fashion (they get taller for example), their emotional growth is more like a roller coaster. There is a whole lot going on in their brains. Indeed, brain studies indicate that the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us think before we act, may not mature until the mid-twenties.

Heaven help us parents of teens.

This roller coaster of emotional growth and developing decision-making skills can lead to experimentation in everything from hairstyles to dress to drugs. Thanks to Miley Cyrus a lot of us old fogies recently learned about molly, a dangerous new form of ecstasy. And, of course, most parents are aware of alcohol and drugs like marijuana. However, most of us don't give a second thought to things like prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs sitting around our house, but those can be a danger as well.

Teens abusing cough medicine is a thing. Yeah, about 1 in 3 teens knows someone who has abused cough medicine, with about 1 in 20 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high through the ingredient DXM or dextromethorphan. ("Dextromethorphan? What's that?" you think if you're older enough to recall circa 1978 commercial.)  DXM is a cough suppressant found in many OTC cough medicines. Though safe under normal, recommended use, when abused DXM can lead to side effects like vomiting, stomach pain, slurred speech distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.

The Stop Medicine Abuse website shares additional information like slang terms for DXM (robo, skittling, velvet syrup, to name a few), and helpful resources for parents. It'd good to be aware of warning signs like finding empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in your child's backpack, the trash, or for those with sneakier children, just sitting in the medicine cabinet. Some warning signs are trickier. For example, "hostile or uncooperative attitude" is part of the daily existence of many teens I know.

Communication is key when it comes to preventing any kind of drug abuse. Part of that communication include the talk, sitting down with your kids to see what they know or are hearing from their peers and sharing information and your concerns despite their eye rolls. Seriously, research indicates that teens who learn about the risks of drug use from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.

But ongoing conversation is also key. Open communication can be tricky with teens when a lot of conversation is brief and to the point, centering around the teen's needs (like more money, a ride to the movies or the mall) and your teen's attention span moves as quickly as his fingers do when he texts his friends.

Dear parents, persevere!

Whether it's insisting on a technology-free family meal a few times a week, arranging 1:1 time with your child, or sharing a hobby (or trying to), taking time to connect and create a space for conversation is key even if the conversation doesn't go as planned. Keep in mind that the big conversations are going to happen with they're ready, not when you hope to have them.

The really cool thing about raising teens is that every now and then you get glimpses of the fabulous, sharp young adults they're becoming and as a parent, you know you want to do your best to get them there.

Stop medicine abuse information for parents

Connect with @StopMedAbuse #NotMyTeen on Twitter and Facebook.

This post and Stop Medicine Abuse are sponsored by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. By the way, because I've been alive long enough not to have a digital footprint of my entire life, I think only about 10 people who know me online are aware that a gazillion years ago I was professional drug prevention specialist leading leadership and life skills development programs with teenagers. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Dream Trip to Utah to (Not) See the National Parks

Utah state parks overview
Oh, the wide open spaces!
Twenty years in the making, on September 29, DH and I left home for the trip of a lifetime. Thanks to my parents, who watched the boys and pup, and several friends who helped with carpools back home, DH and I set out to explore the national parks of Southwest Utah- Capitol Reef, Escalante, Bryce and Zion. When our plane took off, I turned to DH with amazement, admitting I hadn't been sure our trip was actually going to happen due to some family issues. I confessed that since 9/11/01 I've never really felt anything was certain anymore. And yet, here we were headed on a trip for out 20th anniversary! It was time to start believing again.

Erm, sort of. You've probably heard that on October 1, major components of the federal government, including the national parks, shut down. So although my general outlook remains cynical, that didn't stop me, us, from having a fantastic time in Utah. It was an amazing trip and thanks to the state park system and other federally managed lands that didn't lock their doors (though they did lock their bathrooms) we got up close and personal with a variety of the Utah's geological gems, just not on the grand scale of the national parks.

It's no surprise that Utah's state parks have been hosting record crowds since the federal government closed. In fact, I just read that they will currently honor national park passes, though their typical state park entry fee is only $6 per car.

The government shutdown stinks on so many levels. I'm not going to get into here, but I will say that there are thousands and thousands of international tourists who come to see the area stretching from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Arches National Park up in Utah. We were disappointed after traveling just a few hundred miles. Can you imagine booking a two to three week trip from halfway around the world only to find out your tour was cancelled? We talked with a handful of such tourists, apologizing for and embarrassed by our government.

We also talked with locals concerned about what the shutdown means for an area thick with services catering to such tourists, not to mention the number of folks who work directly with the federal lands in some capacity. We're talking rural towns too small for stoplights in some cases, let alone a McDonald's or Starbucks. (We saw more stoplights than fast food joints, for the record.) These communities lost on out the last weeks of their big tourist season and they're hurting.

On a related note, if you're planning on touring this area of the country either make sure you have Verizon phone service or a plan that includes roaming allowances. Out in the country, our Sprint phones wavered between roaming service and no. service. at. all. It was kinda nice in some ways, but I did miss texting my boys, which I couldn't do in roaming mode (thank goodness we didn't bring the children with us; can you imagine the horror of no texting to internet service?).

I did grab some photos on my phone, though, so it had some use. DH got some shots on his, too, and we brought a camera, but I don't have access to those photos right now. Still, this gives you a taste of the trip.

We arrived at Capitol Reef National Park around 4:40 PM on 9/30/13. We didn't realize we'd lose an hour driving from Nevada. We stopped in the visitors center where rangers warned us about the likely shut down. We had about 15 minutes to explore the exhibits before the park center closed its doors OR to run down the park's scenic road to the Gifford Homestead and grab some pie. Pie from the homestead was on my bucket list of this bucket-list trip. It's a testimony of my husband's love that we hurried into the car to pick up a pastry.

Only two or three pies from the day's supply remained when we got there. I bought a small pumpkin pie and, honestly, it wasn't spectacular, but the view while eating it couldn't be beat. We drove along the scenic route during sundown as the light reflected beautifully on the walls of the water pocket fold.

Indeed, on October 1, the pie shop, the visitor's center and the scenic drive were all closed. However, an early morning drive indicated that some of the hiking trails off the state highway remained open. DH and I pulled into the Chimney Rock Trail parking lot around 8:15 AM and hoped that the rumor we'd heard about trails near public roads staying open would be true. Alas, from our view atop Chimney Rock, we saw a park ranger blockading the parking lot.

After our hike we returned to our car, a fellow traveller moving the barricade for us. While debating Plan B, we drove through Capitol Reef, passing the eastern boundary without realizing it. We were so mesmerized by the scenery that we didn't care. Also, with the park closed, we had spare time on our hands. We stopped in at the Mesa Luna Cafe, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere (seriously, Google it). The site apparently sees its share of international travelers, and to hear the proprietor tell it, some intergalactic ones, too. She convinced us to head out the 1/2 hour or so (wound up being close to an hour) it would take to get to Goblin Valley State Park. We took a short, hot, walk among the red "goblin" rocks, formed by erosion surrounded by international tourists who also followed their Plan B routes.

 Little Wild Horse Canyon is just outside of Goblin Valley State Park. Despite the sign, the parking lot was packed and we encountered several sets of hikers during our short journey into the slot canyon. We were later told that federal lands under the Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction were open for hiking, but that amenities like visitor centers and restrooms were closed. I think the restrooms at LWH Canyon were among the few that were actually unlocked.

LWH Canyon. Always eager to reach our next destination before sundown on the dark twisty state highways, we only hiked about a mile in. Most excitement was at the beginning of the hike as we had to scramble over rocks in order to avoid soaking our boots in the large puddles on the path.

The view from our front porch at Red Stone Cabins on property at Kodachrome Basin State Park. We did three challenging hikes here (see one below), saw a coyote, and ogled an amazing sky full of stars at night. We counted three shooting stars, a satellite and the cloud-like Milky Way in the night sky.

Similar to Bryce, but not gated off, was Cedar Breaks National Monument. Perhaps the ranger didn't lock the front gate out of sympathy for anyone who'd bother driving out to the isolated spot in 28-degree weather with light flurries. That said, the park ranger wasn't totally sympathetic; the bathrooms were locked and the ranger station was closed. Did I mention we visited after lunch and the bathrooms were locked and it was snowing and we were in the middle of nowhere?

Red Canyon provided a Bryce Canyon-like setting in which to hike. It's one of several sites in the area favored as a hideout by Butch Cassidy and his gang back in the day.

After stopping at a rock shop (one of three) in the town of Orderville, we headed out to a nearby slot canyon at Red Hollow. The hike was recommended by a friendly, sympathetic rock shop owner. We saw a small group of hikers leave as we started our hike. They advised us which fork of the dry river bed led to the canyon. As we finished our hike, we ran into another pair of hikers and passed on the same advice.

We loved hiking in relative isolation, and near complete silence, two things that are hard to find in the suburbs of a major city. Our hikes were exciting and invigorating, except when I mentally paused to imagine what would happen if one of us twisted an ankle--or worse-- out in these isolated areas with few others (and no rangers), spottily marked trails and, at times, no cell phone service.

On a related note, remember the movie 127 Hours? As my boys say, if you watch the film in reverse, it's an uplifting story about a guy who finds his hand in a Utah canyon. The real-life story behind the movie took place about an hour or so from Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Due to our national park detours, we visited sites that we'd previously considered touring, but didn't make it onto our official itinerary like the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (and Goblin Valley above)

To reach Springdale, Utah, we had to drive though Zion National Park. The brief car tour made me wistful. The park is magnificent. (By contrast, the peek into Bryce Canyon from private land on the rim left me cold. Literally. Snowflakes were falling and winds were blowing hard at around 10,000 feet above sea level.) 

The scenery along Route 9 was just so grand, the scale so very large. Driving along, cars stopped to view wildlife and the scenic vistas, despite warnings from the rangers. At one point, a ranger driving the road stopped, flashing the police-like lights on his car instructing people to move along. There were rumors of written warnings, license plates being photographed for ticketing and even $75 per person fines for hiking or illegal parking, but we didn't meet anyone who had been served one.

We stayed in Springdale, a touristy, but charming town just east of Zion, at a surprisingly nice La Quinta Inn. It was new, modern, and clean with a stunning view from our window. Nestled by mountains on either side of town, I think every hotel in Springdale offers its guests a lovely view. The town has restaurants, shops and galleries that stayed open late (as in 9 PM) keeping the bustle of tourism going well past sundown.

The folks at La Quinta preempted their guests' disappointment over the park closure by handing out a list of alternate hikes just outside of Zion. We took an old wagon route near a 19th century cemetery. The printed information we were given said the trail has not been maintained for nearly a century. The trail was so rocky and steep, it was hard to believe an wooden-wheeled wagon powered by a team of mules or horses could possibly navigate the route. Or maybe we took a wrong turn? It was another fairly isolated hike, with the only glimpse of other people being a group up on the mesa. That said, the route is known as one of the premiere area trails for technical mountain biking and we saw plenty of tire tracks (400 or more vertical feet up on the trail!) to prove it. I'm pretty sure that sport is more dangerous than skydiving.

Our last stop in Utah was Snow Canyon State Park on the outskirts of St. George, near the Arizona border. We visited on a Sunday and it was quite crowded, at least compared to our earlier hikes. Snow Canyon has it all- volcanic rocks (which we also saw on our drive out to Cedar Breaks), red hoodoos and spires, pink sand, scenic view points, and a couple of slot canyons, to boot. What the park lacked in isolation, it made up for in variety.

All in all, it was a fantastic, memorable trip! These photos don't do the scenery justice. The sense of scale is lost, the colors not as vibrant, etc. I've love to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Park next, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to plan a trip around national parks after this experience. Would you?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Life Lessons and Bongo Lessons

I'm on a social media hiatus for the next week(ish), so I'm bringing in one of the loves of my life to entertain you with his skills on the bongo drums. My husband bought me these for my birthday (on request) a long, long time ago. I still haven't gotten around to taking lessons. But I'm hoping that by immersing myself in the present in real life (which sounds more pleasant and less zombie-like than, say, the flesh and bones world), I can think a bit more about my plans and goals instead of getting distracted by emails, tweets and status updates.

What a concept.

Maybe I'll finally sign up for bongo drum lessons or the yoga class I planned to take the year I turned 40, a number that is now a distant memory, or get organized because I'll be able to reflect without the many and constant distractions that are always just a tempting click away.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime, enjoy the crazy cool beats.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Puppy Playdate at Petco

Puppy Dog in Thinking Chair
Tesla's Clues
First off, this is not a sponsored post, but I'd gladly accept money from Petco given that they seem to be popping up on my credit card statements with alarming regularity since I became (yeah, I'm saying it) mama to a "furry baby." I have more than $200 worth of Petco doggy crates in my house as I type. (Don't ask.)

By the way, we are changing his name to Tesla K. The K represents the first thousand dollars of doggy expenses. What a milestone!

Tesla had an anaphylactic reaction to his first round of vaccines in late July, as in he almost died, but that's a post for another day. Let's just say about half, 4/8 of our expenses have gone to the vet, who I hear is now planning a lovely winter vacation with his family, 3/8 has gone to Petco and the remaining 1/8 has been spread around to other pet sources like Costco and the doggy food dude at the farmer's market.

Our local Petco has a free, drop-in puppy socialization group on Wednesdays. Let me tell you, it's no accident this takes place on hump day, because that's a recurring theme of this little gathering. They simply block off an aisle to let the puppies run and play...and hump each other while the owners watch on the sidelines...and pulling their dogs apart now and again.

Last week there was a dog named River (name changed to protect the innocent) at puppy playdate. He was some kind of spaniel with saucer-like eyes and long, floppy ears. He looked like a girl. It's hard to say that about a dog, but he really did. Apparently the male dogs got that message because the they dogs gave poor River the old Humpty Dumpty whenever he tried to make his way into the small crowd. Even the tiny, adorable boxer with the shiny coat got in on the action and he's only 12 weeks old.

Poor River.

At any rate, it's crazy puppy mayhem.

Tesla is in obedience class now, so he gets to socialize there, and he's met a few other dogs on personal playdates. Everyone tells us it's SO important to socialize our dog with other dogs, so I'm glad we have the puppy playdate option and I think we'll be regulars especially once the weather turns. As it is, we pop in now and again and are getting to know some of the regulars and by regulars of course, I mean the cashiers because we're spending a lot of money attending this free group. It's marketing genius.

But it's also like a ringside seat to the Puppy Bowl.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11/01

Twelve years ago I was going about my typical media-free breakfast with my boys (then 1 and 3) when my husband called blabbering some ridiculous story about airplanes an the World Trade Center. I turned on the radio (we didn't have TV service) and couldn't find any news at that moment. Was he kidding me? Finally I caught NPR where I heard, for the first time I can remember, fear and confusion in the voices of their reporters. I stuck in a tape into the boom box to record it (I know, old skool!). I didn't see video footage until that night. 

It was one of those rare Chicago days where the weather was just perfect. We had a morning playdate with a cousin and an afternoon playdate with friends we met at the local pool that summer. The sky was eerily empty and silent especially that we are often in the flight path for planes from O'Hare airport.

Life has never been the same.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Nothing Bundt Cakes now open in Skokie! Grand opening details.

Nothing Bundt cakes bakery in Skokie, Evanston
I first noticed the inviting storefront of Nothing Bundt Cakes on one what is becoming a weekly visit to the Petco across from Old Orchard Mall at Skokie Blvd. and Golf. We always seem to be needing a little something for our new pup and we've started taking advantage of the free weekly puppy playdate there. I was thrilled when I received a press release for the shop and was invited to sample a few of their wares. Yum!

Just a few days later I became a paying customer.

As the name implies, Nothing Bundt Cakes Skokie offers bundt cakes* that come in several sizes from teeny bundtinis, sold by the dozen, to the bundtlets which, like large cupcakes provide a generous single serving or can be shared, and their full-on bundt cakes. They typically have ten flavors on hand-standards like chocolate chocolate chip (yum!), lemon, white chocolate raspberry, and carrot to name a few. They also offer a monthly seasonal favorite.

Their bundt cakes are moist without being too dense and their signature cream cheese frosting is heavenly. You should know there's always a bundtini available for sampling in their bright, airy store.

Nothing Bundt Cakes bakery Skokie Evanston Free Samples

They've got a few things planned in honor of their grand opening:

Saturday, Sept. 7 at 10 AM
The first 50 paying customers will receive a card for a free monthly bundtlet for the next 12 months.
From 10-11 there will also be "abundant cake sampling," a balloon artist and a raffle.

Thursday, September 12 from 5-8 PM
Ribbon cutting with the Skokie and Evanston Chambers of Commerce

Friday, September 13
Benefit Day for Les Turner ALS Foundation. 20% of proceeds will go to this great organization. We have a friend with ALS, "the Stephen Hawking of Hollywood," and I'm sure if you know anyone with ALS, you know how much needs to be done to support those affected by it.

*They also sell candles, a few party accessories and hostess gifts.