Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Take Action to End Gun Violence

Take action to end gun violence. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has a campaign running sharing 5 easy ways to get involved to stem the spread of illegal guns and the violence they cause. Click now to take a step toward ending gun violence.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Help a Teacher Out with Adopt A Classroom and Win

I wasn't kidding when I wrote that teaches around the country give their all to students each day. For many teachers, that means dipping into their own wallets, something that 92% of teachers report doing. Although teachers can write off up to $250 in classroom expenses on their federal taxes, the reality is that many spend much more than that --we're talking $1,000-- outfitting their classrooms and ensuring that all students have the supplies they need to succeed.

I once saw a teacher with a "giving tree" bulletin board in her classroom. Each paper apple on the tree listed an item she hoped to acquire for her room. The items ranged in price from a bottle of hand sanitizer to a classroom dictionary and beyond. It was a cute idea, but parents rarely enter the classroom. Here's something better: AdoptAClassroom.org. It's like a giving tree in the cloud, a wish list that can be accessed by almost anyone, at anytime, in any place.

As the second part of my work with Office Depot, I'm pleased to share that if you donate to a classroom as part of the REAL Change campaign, the recipient will be able to spend 100% of that money to secure school and classroom supplies at Office Depot. Nothing off the top, no transaction fees.

Whether you're a teacher or an outside helper, learn how you can get involved in the REAL Change campaign and sign on to Adopt A Classroom.

As you see in the graphic above, Office Depot is hosting a #TeachersChangeLives Pinterest Sweepstakes. Enter to win gift cards for you and your favorite teacher. Three winners will receive a $100 Office Depot gift card for each along with a $50 gift card for the teacher of your choice.

Create a board per the instructions above and then be sure to report your #TeachersChangeLives board here. Looking for examples? Check out Office Depot's board. Good luck!

Disclosure: I am an Office Depot REAL Change blog ambassador. This
post is part of a campaign where I was compensated for my time. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When It Rains in Chicago, Overhead Sewers Provide Flood Control

Overhead sewers are not actually overhead, but they do provide good flood control to prevent (eeeeeewwwww) sewer system back-ups..in your house. As my husband challenged me when I questioned the significant installation expense of this for our new-to-us house, "Do you want to clean up our neighbor's poop from our basement during a big storm?"

No sir, I do not.

For your viewing enjoyment, I present the skinny on overhead sewers. The installation was a messy, messy process, but it does not involve poop, just digging up most of your front lawn to a depth of 5-8 feet. Maybe 10. It's been a while. Oh, ans then you have to deal with a big mess inside as well as 2 metric tons of dirt and clay that don't fit back into the ground.

If you'd like to read more about our experience with the installation of overhead sewer flood control (it's not a DIY job!), read my thought at the now-defunct Reluctant Renovator.

Fun Fact: Nearly two hundred people have watched this video since last week's deluge of rain.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Favorite Teacher

Office Depot for REAL change

I loved elementary school. My teachers, my friends, learning to read and being able to write my own stories- it was all good. I can look back and rattle off the names of half of dozen teachers who supported (and challenged) me.

But if you ask me now about my favorite teacher, which the folks at Office Depot asked me to do in this sponsored post, I'd have to say it was Mrs. Polko, my younger son's kindergarten teacher. Years ago I described her on this very blog as a woman who looked like a grandmother but had the energy of a toddler. She so embodied the spirit of Miss Frizzle that I was tempted to search the school parking lot for the Magic School Bus.

Mrs. Polko loved to learn and she loved to teach. In fact, she was once given a prestigious teaching award, but turned it down when she learned that it came with a six-month sabbatical that would require her to leave her young charges in the middle of a school year.

I'm the kind of old skool mom who thinks kids need to earn rewards, not just get them for showing up as often happens these days. But my heart melted when she held an end-of-year award ceremony for the class. Here's what I wrote about it in 2006:
This award ceremony was different. It was different because it was meaningful, not just to the parents, but to the children. Almost every award she gave out was delivered with very specific verbal praise for the recipient. As she addressed the children, I got this sense that I was watching them get imprinted for life. Mrs. P. has touched them deeply.
I recently saw a headline noting a positive correlation between a high quality kindergarten and later career earning. If this is the case, my younger boy is set to become a millionaire.

Millionaire or not, Mrs. Polko surely made a lifelong impact on my son. That's what a good teacher does. And Office Depot wants to help them. They are a presenting sponsor of the star-studded Artists for Education, a show featuring top acts highlighting the important role of teachers.

It's not airing in Chicago, but it will play on other CBS affiliates across the country on April 23, 2013 and can be accessed at REAL Change Watch the trailer below and tell me it didn't make you tear up--which is exactly how I felt when Mrs. P, now retired, told me that she would be able to join us at my son's bar mitzvah later this spring. I can't wait for her to see how far my son has come. I know she'll be kvelling alongside me.

There are many critics voicing concern about the state of education, heck I'm one of them, but behind the bureaucracy of our system are millions of classroom teachers giving it their all to educate students, day after day, year after year. Teachers change lives and you can help them. Learn more about Office Depot's REAL Change initiative

Disclosure: I am an Office Depot REAL Change blog ambassador. This post is part of a campaign where I was compensated for my time. To learn more about REAL Change, visit their website.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I Have to Wake Up so I Can Witness My Death

We're headed to the Illinois Science Olympiad Competition today and as in the last two years I've attended, the weather is horrible. This year, I'm going downstate on the bus with the school kids, but two years ago Hubs and I drove down to the University of Illinois with another parent from school during a heavy rainstorm.

I drove for the first hour or so until started getting sleepy and/or it was getting harder to see in the rain then Hubs took over. I told our guest he could sit in front seat since I'd likely fall asleep. I tried to stay awake as I caught bits of their conversation but my mind wandered into drifting thoughts and then sleep.

I don't know how much later Hubs suddenly braked or skidded or jerked the car on the wet road. I have no idea what happened beyond the thought that jarred me awake, "If I'm going to die, I'd better be awake to experience it."

Both car and passengers were fine and my adrenaline kept me awake for the remainder of the ride.

Let's hope the team member and their parents all arrive safely and that I don't have to spend a third year running all over campus getting drenched in the rain for Science Olympiad events.

Wish my team good skill!

The Flood

There's a street and sidewalks under all that water.
After a couple of rainy days we got hit by a huge storm last night two nights ago, a relentless downpour that went on for hours. Such storms used to be called 100 year rains, as in torrential downpour that took place about once a century. It seems we get one about every 5-7 years. Was the century mark always a bit optimistic or is climate change causing extreme weather patterns?

I woke several times during the night. I'd listen as the patter of raindrops changed into heavy drops slamming the window and maybe a distant bit of thunder. I should go unplug my computer, I thought to myself. It's a precaution we like to take. The chances of our house getting hit by lightning are slim, but they are greater than our chances of winning the lottery, so there's that. Also, it doesn't matter if you computer/phone/big screen TV is plugged into a surge protector which in turn is plugged into the house's electric box which is also plugged into a surge protector. If lightning strikes, your gadgets and appliances will fry.

The lull of the siren song of sleep was stronger than the pull of acting like a responsible adult at 1 AM, so I  fell back into slumber.

The next thing I know, I'm down in the basement watching water seep in and slowly work its way across the room, cursing at my husband for insisting we install the pricey overhead sewer flood control system (see video below). The overhead sewer system provided us with a false sense of security, so we left items sitting directly on the unfinished basement floor. There was nothing of monetary or sentimental value at risk...yet.

I was worried about the water making its way to the cabinet where we keep our scrapbooks. Yeah, I'm old enough that my babies have their early years preserved on film, not to mention the wonderful vacations hubs and I took during our 6 or so child-free years. The photo albums would likely be okay, but I wanted to move the books to a higher shelf just in case the water began to rise.

I started the relocation process, glaring at my almost-teen sitting on the couch in a pair of pajama pants, a fleece blanket wrapped around his bare chest. "Get off your butt and come help me," I snapped.

"But I'm cold," he whined.*

And then I woke up.

You know how if you have a dream that you really, really have to pee, it's best to wake up and head to the bathroom post-haste? Well, I considered this vivid dream a sign. It was not yet 4:30, but I popped out of bed and ran around the house inspecting the basement, the sometimes leaky windows and the airy porch.

It was hard to see what was happening outside as the rain was still pouring down. Everything looked fine inside the house, but I saw an 18-wheeler roll down a nearby street where they normally don't drive and figured this meant bad news for a major artery in our town. I was right. I headed to the back and saw that our next door neighbor's yard had turned into a pond whose edges reached into ours.

I grabbed a sturdy jacket and a hat and headed into the dark wet morning to investigate. The elbow joint connecting one of our downspouts to a rain barrel had been blown off in the wind leaving water pouring down to where the sidewalk meets our foundation. Ugh.

Our backyard, though faring better than our neighbor's, was rather marshy and our sump pump kept churning out water. Thank goodness we didn't lose power or our basement really would have flooded. We haven't yet installed a battery backup pump. Note to self, call a plumber next week.

I had this idea about digging a small channel in our yard to deal with some of the runoff we were receiving from our other neighbor, but decided I should check with Hubs before altering our landscape (at 4:30 AM in the dark in the middle of the storm). Of course, he advised me to hold off. He's always so logical.

At any rate, thank goodness the basement water was only a dream. Our town was crazy with water today. Every large open space had turned into a pond overnight and the nearby North Branch of the Chicago River has overflowed its banks and then some.

I'm thankful that we and most of our friends stayed dry. A quick drive through the neighborhood tells me that not everyone was so lucky. I've seen trucks for plumbers and clean-up crews as well as piles of carpet and household goods that fell victim to sewer backups.

*We have this conversation just about every day as he lounges about the house shirtless, but cold.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Join Me in the Race Against Hate

This morning I heard a piece on NPR's Morning Edition about the 7 Boston Marathon runners from Newtown, CT. One of the runners explained that they were dedicating each mile of the race to a victim of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Through tears, she said they were going to sprint the remaining .2 or so miles like the kids running from school to escape the shooting.

Racing like school children running from a gunman. Oh, my heart. By the end of the segment, I was in tears, too.

My husband's employer has a running team and will cover the cost of entry in to various CARA races throughout Chicago. The hubs has signed on and caught the running bug. He's been training and last weekend competed in a 5-miler.

He's running a 10-miler in May and has his eye on a handful of other 5 and 10K races through the season. He sent me a note today that maybe he'd cut his racing career short "after what happened in Boston today."

I figured maybe someone he knew was running the race and sustained a bad injury. It sounded serious, though.

Before he could reply with details, I checked in with Google and then Facebook and then there I was tears with streaming down my face once again. Among the sad realizations for me was that until a news reporter mentioned the possibility of the bombs being the act of foreign terrorists, the idea that it was anything other homegrown crazies hadn't even occurred to me. Oh, America, what's happened to us?

My friend Jessica said it best:

I don't want to be afraid to send my child to school. I don't want to be afraid to run free. I don't want to be afraid of the library, the movie theater, the quiet residential neighborhoods of my city. I don't want my child to grow up in the reality of explosives and gunfire. I don't want your children to feel this fear either. Why is this country at war with itself?
Seeking solace in prayer and looking for the helpers, but my heart is grieving for us all.
She has an expanded version of this on her blog, Sassafrass. She captures what's on the minds of so many mothers today.

So does Liz Gumbinner at Mom-101.

My heart goes out to all of those affected, but personally, I'm at a loss for words. As I watched the news rolls in on my social media feeds and listened to press conferences from traditional news outlets, I felt beyond sad. Depleted. Helpless. And then I had an idea that felt just right.

I registered for the Race Against Hate. It's a 5K, it's a 10 K. It's a walk, it's a run. People can make it their own. The race is a memorial for Ricky Byrdsong, a former Northwestern University basketball coach. On July 2, 199 Ricky, an African-American, was gunned down by a white supremacist as he was walking through his quiet Skokie neighborhood. (The same shooter went on to wound 9 orthodox Jews and killed Korean student that same day.) The race is dedicated to raising funds to "combat hatred in all its forms."

Run, don't hide. Please join me on June 16.

Food is Delicious When It's Homemade with Love

I was delighted to see my friend Jennifer Perillo and her new cookbook, something I'd heard to talk about when it was little more than a twinkle in her eye, in Chicago recently. I heard her speak at Chicago's Book Cellar and also had the privilege of attending a small get-together in honor of the debut of Homemade with Love.

Funny thing- she thanked us for coming. Like anyone would have to drag me to eat a meal prepared by Jennie. Followers of her blog, In Jennie's Kitchen, know that she weaves a bit of her herself into every blog post; she's like that with her cooking as well.

You can get to know her in this video.

video via www.foodcurated.com

The book, subtitled Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen, is filled with page after page of easier-than-you-think recipes, which is why I found myself making ricotta cheese last week. The light, smooth, oh so fresh and creamy cheese impressed my friends. I don't know how I'll manage to buy the store-bought stuff again.

Which is exactly what Jennie is trying to do- show the reader/reluctant home cook how easy (and tasty!) it is to build your cooking skills and your repertoire to feed the ones you love.

In Homemade with Love, Jennie also gives advice on setting up a homemade kitchen covering the basics for the pantry, fridge and freezer. Each recipe is coded via icons imparting information about whether a recipe is gluten-free (or can be adapted as such), whether it's freezer friendly (something I often wonder) and more. The photography is amazing and, although hardcover, the book is stitched in such a way that it will stay open on your counter.

I'm eager to tackle more of her recipes. In fact, I've got the ingredients ready for Chickpea, Parmesan and Fennel Salad ready to go once I finish my day's work. I'm so happy to have a bit of Jennie's kitchen in my own and I bet you will be, too.

Check out what some of my friends have to say about Jennie's book and her recipes:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thanks Blissdom Partners

Am I really THAT small?

As noted, most of my blogging and social media activities are centered around The Maker Mom, but I wanted to give a little love to a handful of Blissdom conference sponsors.

First off, my personal conference sponsor and longtime client ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Ends Here, put on a super fun Girl's Night Out featuring the best food of the conference (what? I was hungry.) and fabulous entertainment. See me to the right with Blissdo's Barbara Jones, Chris Mann, Amber Riley and Carmen, who knows how to manage a line. Look for specially marked packages of ConAgra Products and enter codes via the link above to provide meals to food insecure children.

Among my favorite sponsors were the Sleep Foundation and California Raisins.

The Sleep Foundation had a suite in which they hosted an ongoing “slumber party” featuring things like manicures at one point and a sundae bar at another. Their room featured products from their partners including Serta mattresses (I was a blog ambassador for the brand last year and my family sleeps well on them!). They hosted speakers (sleep experts) throughout the day running giveaways of partner products at the end of each session. One of my roommates, Michelle from Honest and Truly, was delighted to win a set of room-darkening shades to use back home.

This year the raisin folks downsized from a suite to an impressively themed booth with a country feel. They gave away tins of “cowgirl crunch” a raisin/nut mixture and asked people to take a survey on their raisin habits (do you use raisins as a snack or ingredient?) to enter to win an iPad Mini.  I didn't win, but the survey did get me thinking about my use of raisins. Snack? Yes, sometimes. Ingredient? Not if I can help it. Baked raisins? Eww. I realized that as the primary cook and shopper, my kids may not grow to enjoy raisins as an ingredient. They're happy enough to have cinnamon bread with raisins, but I don't buy it or make it. Enough about me, raisin folks also handed out a recipe book with recipes from their "raisin mom bloggers.” It was a nice touch.

Extra Storage returned as a sponsor, providing something like 150 attendees the opportunity to send up to 10 pounds of swag home for free. I especially appreciate their service since I was travelling light and had picked up three hardcover books on my short trip to Blissdom.

Bissell was there with a longtime PR peep, Trish Taylor. As we discussed my home's cleaning needs, she told me that the old skool sweepers are great for collecting LEGO pieces. Of course, they had higher tech cleaners on display.

And the folks from AT&T were there talking about the dangers of text while driving and related programs they have available for high school students. My oldest is a little more than a year away from driving, so...yikes. (Also, if you watch the video I linked to, bring tissues.)

Speaking of drive, PetsSmart will be hosting their annual adoption drive soon. We plan to adopt a dog before summer, ideally a shelter dog, so it was interesting to learn that PetSmart partners with shelters to find homes for animals.

There were other sponsors, but the ones above struck my sweet spot.

As far as workshops, Shelly Kramer for Writing for the Web was great as was Wendy Scherer's whose presentation I'll link to later.