Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chicago's One Million Moms for Gun Control

one million moms for gun control, chicgao chapter
Stop feeling helpless and silent about gun crime in this country. Join in this Saturday's Candlelight Vigil & Peaceful Gun Control Rally.

Sat., January 26, 2013 from 4:45 - 5:45 pm

The Chicago Temple Building at N. Clark St. & W. Washington St., Chicago 60602

One Million Moms for Gun Control (1MM4GC), along with the IL Council Against Handgun Violence & Chicago's Citizens for Change, will host a vigil/rally in downtown Chicago with speakers from the metro area, including Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle.

Be a part of launching this movement of concerned parents who support common-sense gun laws. Demand a safer world for our children.

The walk will begin at the Chicago Temple Building (inside -- a.k.a. First United Methodist) due to cold weather and end with a quiet candle processional in memory of children in our metro area who have died from gunfire this year. Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Students, parents and non-parents, all are welcome.

To learn more about the organization or RSVP to this Chicago rally, head to One Million Moms for Gun Control.

Can't make it on Saturday? Like the Chicago Chapter Facebook page to keep in touch.

Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook Review

meatloaf bakery cookbook review
Years ago on an overnight Chicago adventure sans kiddos, DH and I walked from our lovely downtown hotel near the John Hancock building to Lincoln Park enjoying the sights and sounds along the way. We grabbed a casual dinner at a little place called The Meatloaf Bakery, which had an adorable display of individual meatloaves that looked like cupcakes. They were too clever to resist. The social media site that documented our evening is no longer in  business. I can't even remember the site's name, let alone what we ordered that night. Nonetheless, when I was offered to the chance to review The Meatloaf  Bakery's new cookbook, I bit.

Until I read this cookbook, I never realized how complicated meatloaf could be. I typically only make it once every year or two. I take ground turkey and mix it with an egg, some ketchup, maybe garlic powder, or mustard or whatever else I can grab. It often looks and smells like cat food and the boys tend to spend as much time turning it over with their forks as they do eating it. That's why I don't make it very often.

But The Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook by the bakery's own Cynthia Kallile could change that. True, the recipes are more exacting. They involve chopping vegetables and, you know, actually measuring ingredients, but dang, they make some tasty loaves!

I must confess that I didn't follow the two recipes I made to the letter. For instance, I didn't realize that many meatloaf recipes call for milk; I substituted rice milk. And if a recipe called for cheese, I served it on the side for the family members who run short on lactase.

Also, I might have been deep into prepping Chili Chili Bang Bang, a southwest style meatloaf topped with cornbread, before I realized we lacked both cayenne powder and jalapeno. (Related note: I don't do spicy foods.) I tossed in some cumin and that worked well enough-the meal was a hit and perfect for a cold, winter night.

I also made the Herby Turkey Loaf, which is topped with herbed stuffing. To save time, I used packaged stuffing cubes instead of making my own. When mealtime was over, there was a not a crumb left on the pie plate in which it was baked.

That tells us two things: 1) These recipes are flexible enough to allow a bit of variation and still be quite tasty and 2) I am perhaps not a great person to review cookbooks. Seriously though, the results from The Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook recipes were far better than anything I'd created on my own.

The Meatloaf Bakery

My boys have bookmarked a few more recipes they'd like me to make: The Omega-3 Loaf, cupcake-like servings of salmon loaf topped with Garlic Wasabi Potatoes, and Loaf-a-Roma, an Italian inspired, spaghetti-topped meatloaf cake. I'm putting vegetarian options on my list with recipes like the Nutty Veggie Loaf and the Yentl Lentil Loaf.

The Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook includes recipes for sides, appetizers and extras such as the cornbread that tops the Chili Chili Bang Bang. It also includes several sauces that complement the loaf recipes.

This is definitely not your mother's book of meatloaf recipes and though the recipes do take a bit of prep, the results are worth it.

The hardcover book retails for $19.95. Check your favorite bookseller for availability.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Good Life For Less, Book Review

Having first met Amy Clark all the way back in 2008 at Johnson and Johnson's Camp Baby blogger junket, I feel like we are old friends. When I met her, she was friendly, smart and unassuming- that's how she also comes off on her blog, MomAdvice, as well as in first book, The Good Life for Less.

In the Good Life for Less, Amy shares frugal tips and creative, low-cost family traditions, actions that helped her family of four climb out from under a mountain of debt.

She has a lot of advice on cutting back by doing thing from buying day-old bread at the bakery,to  making your own household cleaners, to shopping at thrift shops (with tips on how to maximize that, too) to taking a no-spend challenge.

When it comes to money, although I'm generally pound-wise, I do tend to be penny-foolish and get carried away at a store clearance event, garage sale or other fabulous deal dangling in front of me. Amy passes on sage advice from Wiliam Morris, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful."

Still, when I dropped off two bags on good to donate at a local charity resale shop last week, I *might* have come home with a small bag of colorful feathers, but they're for my makerspace, really.
(Note to self: search Pinterest for a feather project and be sure to document on my blog.)

In addition to money-saving tips, Amy shares favorite recipes and her trademark spice blends and homemade sauces. I'm savvy enough to know spice blends are a waste of money, yet I do often buy them. I'm looking forward to making a few of my own starting with barbeque

One of my biggest takeways from her book is meal-planning as a money-saver. I go to the grocery store 4-5 times a week. Outrageous, I know. And I'm bad about sticking to my list if I see a good sale. Amy points out that for someone like me, each extra shopping trip might cost and extra $15 or so each time. This means I'm likely spending an extra $60 a week and, gulp, more than $3,000 a year on impulse purchases.

Prior to reading Amy's book I told my husband I wanted to cut back on our grocery bill. That's no small feat with two teenage boys in the house, but with Amy's advice and careful planning, I think I can shave 10 -20% off of our monthly bill.

Seriously, everything you've read about the voracious appetites of teen boys is true. When I say leftovers are for a second dinner, you should know the second dinner takes place about 3 hours after the first one. (This from a family that never had a habit of late night snacking. They're just growing.)

Amy's tips are general enough to apply to most families, clearly I have a few takeaways as a veteran mom, but I think her book is especially well-suited for young families who are just getting in the swing of family life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Have You Driven a Ford C-MAX Hybrid Lately?

Ford C-MAX Hybrid
Source: Ford Photo Library
I must admit it's been decades since I've driven any kind of Ford, but when I was approached with the opportunity to drive a Ford C-MAX Hybrid, I was intrigued, and not just because it meant a chance to ditch my creaky, old minivan for a few days. Let's be clear, though, I was eager to ditch my minivan.

I'm a firm believer that the best car is the one you own free and clear. We're fortunate to have two such cars, but they've each got more than 100,000 miles on them, so a new car purchase is somewhere on the horizon.

Safety and mileage are big concerns for us, and then there are features. Given that it's been about a decade since we purchased a new car, today's features are exciting and a bit overwhelming. I remember when anti-lock brakes and a five disc CD changer were the shiz. Gah, I'm old.

We're definitely looking for eco-friendly features, so the C-MAX Hybrid fits the bill. It's a direct competitor to the Toyota Prius. The C-MAX looks larger, zippier and more masculine than a Prius. It's less soft around the edges and not as cute and small.  When I saw the C-MAX in real life for the first time, I thought it had a masculine vibe.

Maybe this is why my husband liked it. In fact, I think he liked it more than any other test car I've driven over the years. Sidenote: I'm only five feet tall, so head room is never an issue for me, but my husband who's nearly a foot taller has more opinions on the matter. He felt comfy with the 41-inch front seat head space.

Officially, this five-seater is EPA certified at 47 mpg city AND highway, but I checked in at about 33 miles to the gallon, which is still impressive compared to the 8-10 mpg I likely get driving my minivan around town on very short trips.

The C-MAX Hybrid runs on a combination of a gasoline engine and a battery-driven electric motor. Starting up the car takes getting used to as they are so quiet until the gas-powered engine kicks in. More than once I found myself wondering if the car was on after I started it with keyless fob, Ford calls this Intelligent Access.
2013 Ford C-MAX - Intelligent Access with Push Button Start
 If you have the Intelligent key in your purse or nearby, the system will sense it
and you start the car with a simultaneous push of this button and the break pedal.
When the driver brakes, the system captures the energy and stores it in the battery. The dashboard features a "brake coach" that would indicate how efficiently I stopped the vehicle, with my scores typically ranging around a 98%. My boys would alternately challenge me to bring that score up or down.

Next-generation SmartGauge<sup>®</sup> with EcoGuide
Other dashboard features provide a steady stream of performance feedback. 
Other high-tech features in the C-MAX Hybrid I tested include outlets and USB ports, rear-facing cameras that activate when the car is in reverse, a nav system, satellite radio service, blue tooth compatibility for related devices and voice activation commands. My tween, the younger of my two boys, enjoyed being able to boss someone, or something, around as he switched the radio back and forth between his favorite stations.

When I picked up the car, I neglected to ask for an orientation to the Park Assist feature and the Ford guy forgot to point it out. Luckily, my blog friends came to the rescue. Here's a video of California Girls Jessica Gottlieb and Donna Schwartz checking out the feature.

Performance-wise, although the average mpg I achieved during my time with the car didn't live up to the official ratings, it was better than anything else I've driven. Ever. I did have an issue with the clock resetting itself several times during my week with the car. I'm not sure if that was a glitch the car or something my tween did. The vehicle handled well on the road, it was comfortable to drive and lived up to its zippy look despite being a hybrid.

According to Ford, the C-MAX Hybrid is expected to be America’s most affordable hybrid utility vehicle. It has a base price of $25,995, including destination and delivery.

Breaking News. Since my test drive in December, news about the C-MAX has caught my eye.

Ford will be incorporating EV+ technology, something that helps the car learn a driver's favorite destinations and use the information to optimize power consumption. EV+ combines a vehicle's built-in GPS with proprietary software that identifies frequently visited locations and adjusts how power is stored in the battery. As a suburban mom who makes a regular treks to school, the library, the train station and, um, Starbucks, Target and Costco, all within 3 miles of my house, I'm excited about this. I know these short drives with plenty of stop signs and stop lights along the way make my minivan guzzle gas.

As a geek mom, I'm excited that new Ford cars will allow voice control of the awesome NPR news app through. Waiting in the carpool lane will never be the same!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Should I Send My Kid's Bar or Bat Mitzvah Invations by Email?

Short answer: No, you should not send your kid's bar or bat mitzvah invitation via email. It's not that I need a 3-layer, hand embossed invitation with foil trim to put on my fridge, but I do need something to stick up there. It's not about propriety or tradition, but the practical matter of getting your message posted to that old skool bastion of family communication--the refrigerator.

Am I hopelessly old-fashioned? I mean, I use an online family calendar and I have a smart phone, but unless I receive an email at just the right time, your lovely invitation will get sucked into the black hole that is my inbox. And if you send it directly to my kid? Fuggedaboutit. I might not even learn about your simcha until the week after it took place.

Based on an unscientific survey of moms with boys, if you email the invitation directly to a 12 or 13-year-old boy, it will be forgotten. Or perhaps news of your blessed event may may it to the parents, but the boy will forget to email you the reply. Or maybe he'll respond without checking with his parents or forget to tell you he can't make it after all, which is no big deal in his mind because he's never worked with a caterer and doesn't realize his absence will set you back financially.

With #1 son, we found lovely, but simple, invitations from Shutterfly and ditched the response cards. We asked guests to reply via email and created a special address hotmail address just for that purpose (nicely avoiding the black hole I mentioned above). We also included a phone number for the five or so elderly people on our list who never rode the wave of the digital revolution and don't have  email. That green move saved paper, needless printing and postage. More green on the Earth and more green in our pockets--win-win!

But I need a paper invitation, please.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Worst Pitch Ever?

I've been blogging since 2005. Now, the marketers didn't fully embrace mom bloggers until about 2008, but I've received thousands of pitches since then, including this doozy. Sometimes a bad pitch is just off for my audience (no, I don't write about baby products--have you seen my blog?), sometimes there's just no value exchange between this blog and the brand (no, I won't blog about your product in exchange for your beautiful hi-res images) and sometimes the pitch just stinks. In this case, the odor nearly wafts off my screen. Seriously, it's only January and I'm pretty sure I've received the worst pitch of 2013.

I quote: ... a company known for its composting initiatives is releasing its limited edition, eco-friendly 2013 calendar that goes to extreme measures to raise awareness about the environment. The (name redacted) Foundation calendar features scantily-clad women decked in poop, and posing over toilets – all in an effort to capture the attention of those who don’t consider green living to be a priority. 


I thought it was going to be the scantily-clad women was going to be the deal breaker, but then I kept reading.

If this isn't the worst pitch of 2013, I'm a little worried about the year ahead.