Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Blood on My Office Walls

Sad Tesla in the rain.
As I headed from my desk toward the kitchen, I noticed smattering of specks on my office floor. I asked Son #2 to fetch me a damp rag. As I swiped at the small spots, it dawned on me that these brick red speckles were dried blood. Blood!

"Remember that time Tesla was bleeding from his neck?" Son #2 asked.

"Yes, that was weeks ago and I cleaned it up." We never did figure out how the dog was injured, only that there was a little blood that dripped from a small mysterious spot on his neck. It stopped as quickly as it started.

I may be a slob when it comes to things like piles of papers and stuff, but when it comes to slime, mold or bodily fluids, I don't mess around. Sh*t gets cleaned.


So I'm wiping up the mess. What seemed like a small spatter actually covered a few square feet. Gross, right?

As I'm down on my hands and knees working my way across the floor, the floor meets the wall. And then I notice blood on the wall!

And the back of my offce door!

Just to cover my bases, I asked the boys if they'd performed any satanic rituals or slaughtered any goats in my office recently.

You never know just what crazy things teens are up to these days.

And then fit the pieces together as best I could.

There's a bed in my office/theoretical guest room. Last night I slept in the bed with the dog because he'd been interrupting our sleep for the last few nights. You see the dog is not allowed to sleep in DH's and my bed, but he sleeps next to it on the floor. Covered by a blanket.

Sometimes he gets up, oh, around 2:00 AM, takes a few steps, gives a shockingly loud whole body shake (it's loud and he doesn't even wear tags on his collar) during which his blanket comes off. If the shake doesn't wake us, the dog's reminder that his blanket is off does. It's a very gentle "woof," not a full-on bark. "Excuse me, Mom and Dad, but I can't get back to sleep without my blanket. By the way, maybe if you turned up the heat above 66 this might not be a problem."

Lately he's been waking and shaking a lot. We thought it was because he's feeling itchy in the cold, dry weather.

So last night Tesla and slept down in my office where he is allowed in the bed. DH would get a good night's sleep and, in theory I would, too, because he generally sleeps pretty soundly when he's in bed with one of us. Of course, that's soundly in the manner of toddlers in which you start out all snuggly and wake up to find his feet or butt in your face.

At any rate, Tesla slept soundly but only for a few hours. He woke at 3:00 AM and wanted to leave my office. He stood at the door, something he'll do this if he needs to pee or poop, but this rarely happens n the middle of the night anymore (thank goodness!). Experience has taught me that he might pretend he has to pee, but will really run up to our bedroom as soon as I open the door. He's done this when DH sleeps downstairs with him and I'm upstairs.

Of course, the dog running up to our bedroom in the wee hours of the morning ruins the whole "at least one of us getting a solid night's sleep" thing.

So I didn't let Tesla out. He was doing a lot of his full body shakes and from what I could tell by sound alone in the dark room, some odd head shakes as well. Nothing seizure-like. Just not his normal shake.

Dogs shake when they're itchy. They also tend to shake, especially their heads, when they have ear infections. In the space between 3:00 and 3:30 I was just lucid enough to think to check his ears. Sure enough, his right ear was full of crud.

Somewhere in his 20 or so minutes of shaking, he must have also scratched himself leaving that creepy smattering of blood, which, of course, escaped my notice in the dark room.

Today we went to the vet (we wind up at the vet every month for some reason and the reason is not, despite what some friends think, Muchausen's by Puppy) and he confirmed the ear infection. Tesla has had his first round of treatment and I'm hoping we'll all get a good night's sleep tonight. My brain's fried and really needs it.

Also, our back porch was torn down this week and the backyard is a mess. When Tesla needs to do his business, we need to leash him and take him out front. Even if that weren't the case, we're not keen on just letting him out at night these days because a neighbor's dog (two houses away!) lost a leg to a coyote a few weeks ago. Yes, the dog was in a fenced in area. (And actually it happened during daylight hours, which means maybe there's, like a rabid coyote on the prowl. Which means even though we don't walk in the woods much it the very cold weather, it might behoove me to pick up a can of mace.)

So anyway, life with Tesla is always an adventure.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

What? You Forgot to Watch/Tivo/DVR My TV Segment on STEM Gifts for Kids?

Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom, on WGN Morning NewsYeah, I understand. Life gets in the way and your world doesn't revolve around me and the Young Maker Teen. That's okay. You can view the WGN Morning News Segment here

Once again, I was paired with an anchor who's nearly two feet taller than me. What is it about that morning crew? I always look like a munchkin next to them. On the other hand, the height difference virtually guarantees no close-ups of my aging, increasingly wrinkled face (in HD!!) because the camera needs to be back a bit in order to capture the us both in the frame together.

So there's that.

You know what else there is? The cool, new STEM gifts I personally selected and got to show off on TV. Even better, I have a recap on my blog with links to the products.

AND, I'm giving one of each item away to a lucky Maker Mom reader in seven separate giveaways. So go be a Maker Mom reader and win a Sphero and other great STEM items that are new to the market.

Also, could you take a moment to like The Maker Mom on Facebook? At first it seemed unlikely that I'd get to 1,000 followers by the end of 2014, but now I'm only 44 likes away! I typically post at least one interesting STEM or Maker tidbit a day at 10 AM. I may post other items throughout the day as well. Join in the fun by becoming a fan!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Look for Me on TV Tomorrow!

We switch off Thanksgiving: one year with my family, one year with DH's. We can't combine because my mom typically hosts and has a whole crowd our "her people" over. It's not that we're opposed to inviting her traditional guests, it's just that her 20 + my in-laws and SIL's family put us over the top.

At any rate, this is the year to be with my in-laws and for the first time ever, we're hosting. I happily volunteered to host, but it wasn't until a few weeks later that I realized it might present a teensy conflict with the fact that I had booked a segment on the WGN Morning News to talk about top STEM gifts. Late night at home + early morning on HDTV is not a good combo for my wrinkles and eye bags.

Never fear, I cautioned DH that I'd go light on clean-up duty and head to bed early and he was supportive about that. Yeah!

Tomorrow, my younger teen and I will be on WGN at around 8:40 AM Central Time on 11/28 showing off my top STEM and tech gifts for tweens and teens. I'm showing off 6 products, all of which are pretty new to the market. Let's all say an offering to the tech gods that the bluetooth works and so do all of the tech support devices.

Even more exciting, I mean, it's exciting for me to be on TV, but it's probably less exciting to watch me, I'm going to be giving away one of each of the items I'm showing off on TV. Be sure to click over to The Maker Mom for a chance to win!

This is my third annual appearance on the sharing my top finds for the holidays. Because I keep my eye out for new products to showcase, it can take a year or two for some of the items to catch on in the mainstream. So while you're waiting for the 2014 list, be sure to check out The Maker Mom's top tech finds of 2013:

See the full list here.

My 2012 list included items like:

See the full list here.

Remember to pop over to The Maker Mom for more information.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Going to be a Very Chicago Weekend

Chicago from the Lake
I love that we live close enough to Chicago to enjoy the best that the city has to offer. On a weekend morning, we can hop on the expressway and be downtown int he blink of an eye (not so much during rush hour, though). We can also take the train in when we don't want to deal with driving.

This weekend I'll be in the city for two fun events.

First up, Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Auditorium Theatre.

I've heard about this racially diverse dance troupe for years through a social media friend who's on their board and I'm excited to see them perform. It's been more tan 15 years since this troupe performed at the Auditorium Theatre. Like many shows there, it's only in town for a few days, so don't miss it!

Performance dates and times:
11/21 at 7:30 pm
11/22 at 2:00 PM and again at 7:30
11/23 at 3:00 PM

Tickets range from $30 -95
Learn more about Dance Theatre of Harlem

I'll also be attending..

ChiTAG, the Chicago Toy And Game Fair takes place this weekend, November 22 and 23, at Navy Pier. We attended the first (or second) one when the boys were little and it was a smallish event in Schaumburg. It's been fun to see this event move to the city and grow over the years. Not only are there more exhibitors, but there's more to do. Check out the events at the Fair.

I'll be there early Saturday for a media preview. Let me know if you're planning on going. And if you are planning to attend, don't miss this coupon for $2.00 off admission.

Want to attend for free? My friend Angie is giving away a family pass, but hurry over and click. The giveaway ends 11/18 at 11:59 PM.

Telestrations is one of my family's favorite ChiTAG finds!

Speaking of toys, games and Chicago, I'm going to be on WGN Morning News on Black Friday sharing my picks for this year's top STEM gifts! The time is still TBA, but I'l be sure to post when I have the details.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Family Dinner: Throwback Thursday

This post was originally published at The Chicago Moms almost four years ago to the day.

The family dinner is both a uniter and a protector. Sitting down to shared meal not only provides an opportunity for family members to talk about their day, it creates a point of connection and support after a busy or stressful day. Family dinners impact children.  Recently, yet another study indicated that the the benefits of the shared meal stretch far beyond the kitchen table, helping keep kids off of drugs.

So why aren't more families gathering around the table to eat and (hopefully) share a few laughs?

I wondered this myself when my boys were younger. For most of our married life my husband has held jobs that get him home at a decent hour with plenty of time for family meal. We always ate together.

But that changed when my boys entered elementary school and started sports. First it was a dinnertime soccer practice for one that made us miss a meal, then it was soccer for both. At one point we added baseball and karate practices, both of which have since fallen by the wayside.

But here I am with boys 10 and 12, at ages where staying connected is increasingly important and challenging and I can barely coordinate the logistics of a family meal.

Mondays my younger son has a theater class from 4:45 – 5:45, AKA dinner time.

Tuesday are good for now, but our week falls apart on Wednesday, when both boys have an after-school practice (Science Olympiad, rather than sports this time). In addition, next week my older son begins bar mitzvah tutoring after dinner. Assuming we have a mild winter and the roads are clear, we’ll have about 30 minutes for family dinner.

Thursdays the boys come home from school and grab a quick snack before they are whisked off at 4:00 to Hebrew School. By the time they return around 6:30, they usually eat a rushed dinner before diving into (or whining about) homework.

Fridays used to be the most important family dinner of the week until soccer took over back in 2007. In 2010, it’s especially dicey as both boys have an after school practice (Science Olympiad again). I get the boys home around 4:45 and then my older son has an in-home piano lesson from 5:00 – 5:30. As soon as that’s done, we’re off to the soccer fields for my younger guy until it’s too dark to see the ball.

By the time we make it home around 7:00, we’re ready to call it a week. At least I am.

When my boys were younger, family dinners just happened. Now all this running around means I need to be more mindful in my approach to a dinner (and maybe break out the crock pot). It’s going to take a bit of planning and maybe a few convenience foods to get us through this school year, but the good times and shared experiences will make it all worthwhile. Right?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How We Talk about Israel

Jewish Dialogue about Israel
Yeah, I doodled. Don't judge.
Around the time of Brant Rosen' resignation, I read several articles about rabbis who are allegedly unable to criticize Israel for fear of alienating or angering their congregants. I have no doubt this is true in some congregations, but this can't be true everywhere. It certainly isn't true in mine despite what played out in the media. But still, it's been a while since we've had a large-scale community conversation about Israel.

Roughly 100 members of our synagogue recently gathered to discuss Israel. Thanks to JRC's Israel Program Committee with assistance from the Jewish Dialogue Group (JDG), it was a calm and reasonable affair.

I want to share more about the event because I think it's a great model for other congregations. That said, I am aware that in within the confines of some Jewish organizations any criticism of Israel is considered heresy. This, in my opinion, is unfortunate. Just as we Americans criticize our government when it falls short, we can be critical of the Israeli government.

Of course, that's one of the questions that came out of an evening filled with many more questions than answers. What role can Americans take in Israeli politics? To what degree is it our place to do so? And yet, can we ethically turn a blind eye to some of what is happening over there regarding things like human rights violations?

Back to the program, JDG, whose acronym ironically looks a lot like "judge" is all about listening and not judging, especially in the context of Israeli-Palestinian relations. They seek to get Jews talking across political lines to build relationships, clarify concerns, and hash out feelings, though the program wasn't as touchy-feely as it may sound. JDG mainly works in synagogues and college campuses in the US and Canada, but their work also takes them across the pond.

Basic ground rules for the evening included a reminder to keep the event focused on Israel and not about our rabbi's recent resignation, which, for many, is tied in to the topic because he influenced people's feelings about Israel.

We were asked to think about our relationship to Israel, our stories about Israel and the values expressed in or behind such stories.

We were reminded the evening was not about right or wrong or coming to consensus, but simply listening to one another with the stated goal being to understand others and deepen our own thinking. As Stephen Covey would say, "Seek to understand before you seek to be understood." It's not always comfortable to withhold judgement and listen, but that was our charge.

By the way, I feel comfortable writing this post because the stated confidentiality rules noted that it's okay to share our experiences from the dialogue as long as we don't identify specific individuals.

Before we broke into small discussion groups (a necessity given the large crowd), three congregants shared their stories of Israel. Each speaker spoke of an evolution in their feelings about Israel leading, often, from a deep sense of pride in, love of, or admiration for the Jewish state to a sense of concern or discomfort with the current state of the state's affairs.

For one speaker this meant a lot of questions without answers. For another, it led to involvement in the boycott and divestment movement based on the idea that until Israel is in pain, it won't make the changes needed to end the current political situation. (P.S. I plan to buy gifts form Israel for Hanuka this year. Soda Stream, anybody?)

Overall, it was an encouraging evening, but even at 2+ hours, it felt too brief.

Here are a few of my take-aways:
  • I'm proud that my congregation held this an event and that it was so well attended
  • This was an overdue dialogue (though worth noting that it was being organized prior to the rabbi's resignation)
  • Many of us have a special relationship with Israel, but are struggling with the political realities and what they mean for the country's future
  • Our community is strong despite unpleasant fallout from Brant's surprise resignation
I heard a comment at the dialogue that I've heard a few times in recent weeks, "Brant did the thinking/acting for me." Whether the issue was Israeli-Palestinian conflict, immigrant rights, or labor issues (I think those were his Big 3), Brant took the lead and congregants could follow along if they chose. Now many people seem to be feeling more accountable for educating and acting on the social or political issues that matter most to them.

The Israel Program Committee is hard at work on another program for next month. It's not a continuation of this one, but it's certainly related. One of the ground rules of the JDG event was not too assume that the dialogue would continue or that a given participant would choose to continue it. I'd like to see it continue, though.

I want to thank the committee for a job well-done. I also want to thank the 14 or so small group facilitators who, in their commitment to serving as neutral sounding boards, willingly passed on their chances to share their own thoughts and feelings that evening.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cipora Katz: May Her Memory Be for a Blessing

Cipora Katz, Holocaust survivor
Cipora Katz, Holocaust Surivor
In a progressive religious environment, it can be a challenge to get kids to continue their education after they become bar or bat mitzvah. One way our synagogue meets that challenge is to offer the post b'nai mitzvah kids an exciting and unusual curriculum, The Jewish Lens.

I don't know if we use that exact curriculum or one inspired by it, but I do know the program is a hit. And thanks to the leadership of Liz and Rich, it's a dynamic program that changes from year to year. Each new class of students picks a theme for the end-of-year gallery display. My older son's class did "10 Modern Plagues" my younger son's class did something entirely different.


Heavy, huh? They had, of course, learned about the Holocaust and knew something of the Rwandan genocide, they also learned about the Cambodian genocide that started in 1975 and was immortalized in the movie, The Killing Fields.

They decided their final exhibit would be a portrait gallery featuring survivors of genocide. They would pay tribute to those people by listening to and sharing their stories, along with photos.

The class took a field trip to the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. It's a very small museum on Chicago's north side that is worth a visit. They don't seem to have a website, but you can learn more in this piece from Chicago Public Radio. Some of the students did their interview and photo sessions on site after meeting a handful of survivors.

My son was hoping to meet with a Holocaust survivor, but the one woman who came to mind was too ill to talk with him and then fortuitously, I found myself seated across from a man at a random community event who promised to introduce me to Cipora Katz.

Cipora Katz Holocaust survivor

A few phone calls later and my son and I were off to meet her for an interview. Cipora was a tiny woman, even I felt tall next to her, but her presence was grand.

In my son's words, "She was a really nice person who had gone through a lot in life and was still strong. I think she wanted to spread her story to help stop anything like the Holocaust from happening again,"

She shared her story of survival. Her family had avoided the camps, but spent years, I think from when she was 4 until she was 7, living in a potato cellar with a handful of relatives. She was the only one who could stand up in the space.

When they first fled her village, her mother stayed behind waiting for Cipora's older sister to return home from a playdate. The pair was never heard from again.

Can you imagine?

Cipora talked about not understanding the war and wondering what horrible thing she could have done as a child that people hated her and her family so much that they had to live underground for years.

She showed us a mint tin loaded with sugar cubes like the one her uncle had packed for each member of their party when they ran from home. She told us how they eventually found shelter and what she could recall from those cold dark years (including the death of her father) in that same small, dark, dank space.

Cipora made it to Israel after the war and eventually came to the United States in her late teens. She received a nursing degree, married, and had a family of her own as well as a successful career.

It was not until she had reached midlife, that she began speaking up about her past. Her daughter encouraged her and, like my son, I think Cipora ultimately felt a responsibility to educate others.

She traveled around the Midwest sharing her story at schools, libraries and houses of worship. She was so full of energy at the gallery opening in May, I was shocked to learn of her passing.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pet Costumes: It's sad because it's true

dog costumes

I used to be the kind of person who scoffed at pet owners who dressed their animals up for Halloween. And then I became that person twice over. Yes, I not only bought my dog a costume, I bought him two costumes.

How many Pet Halloween Costumes (affiliate link) will you buy this year? Or how many will I? He might have outgrown them.

Some days I can barely look myself in the mirror. Who have I become? And then I see how much we've spent at the vet over the last 1.5 years and I know exactly who I am. Tesla's mommy.

Some friends apparently think I'm a paranoid pet owner because we've been to the vet so often. While I'm not immune to being labelled with Munchausen's by Puppy, he has had
  • eye infections
  • ear infections
  • injured limbs
  • hot spots
  • skin conditions 
  • allergies
  • papilloma virus (doggy kind)
I'd post pictures of his various diagnosis defying bumps and spots, but they're gross. Which is not to say I don't have pics of them; I do. But I'd rather leave you with this.

Now that he's trained to look at me, I should get better shots this year! Stay tuned

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Flips HD Headphones go from Solo2Social

Flips Audio headphones go from solo to social with a quick flip!Please note this item was sent to me for review and this post contains affiliate links. With two teens in the house it seems we can never have too many sets of headphones or earbuds. Therefore, when I was offered the chance to try a new kind of headphone, Flips HD, I readily accepted. 

The Flips concept is that the headphones have ear cups that flip outward. As their "solo2social" tagline implies, these headphones allow a user to easily transition from individual listening to providing a soundtrack for a group.

Having tried a few different (free, cheap conference swaggy-type) speakers for smartphones, you know like a little plastic cup you rest your phone in so the sound can fill a room?, I wasn't expecting much from Flips. But it's not that kind of thing at all.

I was prepared for something muffled or tinny, but the sound quality in speaker mode is good. And while Flips aren't going to replace anyone's high end sound system, they're great for a dorm room, study room or small gathering of friends for which you just want some background music. They plug into phones, tablets and computers. They also have pretty good sound-dampening qualities, which comes in handy when your roommate (or brother) won't turn his music down.

The Flips came in a sleek package that contained another sleek package and another. I eventually found the headphones in their hardshell carrying case. I don't know if my boys would take the time to put the headphones into the case before stuffing the headphones in their backpack, but as a mom, I try to teach them to take care of things and store things away properly, so I appreciate when brands make that easy to do. The storage pod comes with a carabiner, so it's also easy to just attach to a backpack strap or hang.

Flips headphones hard shell carrying case with carabiner

The headphones are adjustable and comfy with padding in all the right places--meaning every contact surface. I was worried that my boys would flip the ear cups from social mode to personal mode and blow their eardrums, but there's a brief interruption of service when you switch modes and the headphones adjust the volume accordingly.

The unit must be charged in order to operate in speaker mode. I've only had to charge them once (via USB) and it was just for a matter of minutes. A single charge allows for hours of playtime. A blinking blue light in speaker mode indicates the battery is running low.

So what do I think? The photo below says it all. I shot this while my younger son and I were working to make our DIY virtual reality headset, Google Cardboard (it's awesome!). I didn't pose him or tell him to wear the headphones. He just sort of made them his own (as my boys are wont to do with my stuff).

making the Google Cardboard VR headset

It's fine though. The Flips are ideal for kids his age as well as tweens. I think these are especially suited for college students.

Flips retail for about $120, at the time I write this, they're selling for about $10 less on Amazon.

You can read about the other headphones we recently reviewed here.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Rabbi Brant Rosen Resigned From Evanston's JRC Synagogue

It's an odd thing when your rabbi resigns and the news makes international headlines. Welcome to my synagogue. I have many thoughts about Rabbi Brant Rosen's sad and surprising recent announcement, but one of the things that irks me most is seeing how my synagogue community is characterized in the news and especially (insert eye roll here) the comment sections of the online press. I don't know if I will comment further here personally, but I did want to share (with permission) a note written by Joshua Karsh, a past president of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. He eloquently states many of my thoughts from an informed perspective.

Regarding Rabbi Brant Rosen's Resignation

When Brant announced his resignation earlier this week, he said in his email that the decision to resign was "mine alone" and added that: "The Board has not asked me for my resignation, nor have I experienced any pressure from our congregational leadership to curtail my activism as a result of this controversy. On the contrary …"

Brant made his own choice. But of course choices are influenced by circumstances. And having served on the JRC board for several years, including as President from 2009 to 2011, and been involved, twice, in making sure that the congregation came to terms with Brant in contract negotiations so that he would continue as our rabbi, I know something about the context of his resignation. So I find myself more than a tad defensive for the congregation when I read press coverage and Facebook posts stating or insinuating that Brant was  "silenced" or "forced" to quit or "pushed" out because of his positions.

When Brant began speaking out about the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008, that would have been a career-ending move in most congregations. Not at JRC. At JRC, Brant had a home in a congregation committed to the proposition that rabbis should have freedom to speak their minds—when they're right and when they're wrong and also, as is often the case, when only time will tell. As recently as June, the JRC Board stood by Brant and reaffirmed those principles.

JRC did not limit Brant’s activism or silence him: Brant’s blog (, his book (, his writings for Al Jazeera (, his attendance and remarks at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in support of divestment (, his leadership role in Jewish Voice for Peace (, and his cooperation with a group of protesters who disrupted a JUF dinner in Chicago last month (, all prove that.

Brant was not forced out. Brant resigned. And he resigned in the third year of a ten-year contract, which the congregation gave him while knowing all about his political views and activism and the controversy they occasioned. The congregation gave him a 10-year contract despite the fact that some long-time members had left the congregation because of his politics, others no longer wanted Brant to officiate at their life-cycle events, and some, including some of the largest donors, had stopped giving to the capital campaign, which pays our mortgage—because of Brant's politics. Supporting Brant was not always easy. But the Board stood by him. The congregation, as a whole, stood by him.

Brant has decided that he doesn't want to be our rabbi any more. I sympathize with him. As a pulpit rabbi, Brant served two masters, his conscience and his congregation, and sometimes, by speaking his mind, he inflamed significant numbers of members of the congregation, who spoke out against him. There is strife within the congregation. It had to be exhausting and painful for Brant. No sane person would not be anguished. After a while, in this case six years, enough is enough. Maybe that's the point that Brant reached. Maybe he realized that there are other jobs he can do where he can advance the causes he cares about without becoming a lightning rod. But being a pulpit rabbi isn't one of those jobs—unless your congregation has a litmus test for membership that requires all members to agree with the rabbi or agree not to voice their opposition when they don't. At JRC, we have no such litmus test.

The JRC Board gave Brant a ten-year contract. We worked really hard to make it possible for Brant to be our rabbi, and we will miss him dearly.

JRC lost a popular, inspirational, and charismatic rabbi once before (Arnie Rachlis, in 1992). Then, as now, the rabbi resigned, his resignation was not planned, and many members did not see it coming. They were shocked, hurt and angry. They despaired, believing that the rabbi was JRC. But JRC survived and, as it turned out, prospered, growing and improving, including, ultimately, by finding and hiring Brant. We’ll survive again now and prosper too. Every great congregation is bigger than its rabbi, and conflating the two is a mistake –and also a distinctly un-Reconstructionist mistake. (Reconstructionism is a "bottom up" approach to Judaism).

We have just celebrated JRC’s 50th year. We have been through change before and will change again, and we've had and will have other rabbis. Although it’s a painful lesson to learn, rabbis, even the very best rabbis, are not forever. For many of us, and for my family in particular, Brant has been the best or one of the best rabbis we've ever known. But ultimately, the most important and stable part of any great congregation—and JRC is a great congregation—is its members. Our members come to JRC and stay at JRC for many reasons—including the congregation’s commitment to social justice, the environment, and tikkun olam; the warmth of the community and the friends who become family; the inspiring music (much of it composed by our own members) and the dancing; the joyous spirituality; the beach services; the Kallah; Families Enjoying Shabbat Together (FEST); the adult education programming; the early childhood program; youth group; the religious school. I could go on. All of that, and more, is still here. We have a lot of work to do, but we also have a lot to celebrate.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: The Dark Side of Summer 2014

Lest you get the impression that our summer was all garden-fresh veggies and walks in the woods, I should tell you we had our share of illness. I'm not just gonna tell you, I'm gonna show you even though it breaks some of Kim's Commandments of Netiquette-- namely those rules against showing sick kids or gross things related to sick children (or pets). Stop reading if you get grossed out. My younger son came down with hand, foot and mouth disease over the summer. At first, he thought he was getting strep. We went to a pharmacy-based clinic because he's usually pretty good at predicting strep. Instead, he was diagnosed with an ear infection, but a couple of days later developed a rash. After poking around on the interwebs, I was pretty sure he had hand, foot and mouth.

I looked at lots of images on Google to compare them to his body and, of course, called the pediatrician to share my thoughts on the Sunday he developed the rash. 

But then a day or two later the rash on his feet turned to blisters. Lots of blisters. As I Googled around to find images that would reassure me that this was the natural course of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease I became concerned because I did not find images that looked like his feet.

Early in the week we headed to the doctor after all. I wanted to make sure he was properly diagnosed because Dr. Google left me wanting. The doctor listened to my story of how his symptoms evolved and examined his feet. She confirmed Coxsakie, or Hand, Foot and Mouth, but repeatedly mentioned that his feet were "very involved." Very involved.

Of course, that's because my children excel in all things. Even illness.

In fact, she said, a dermatologist would love to have a picture of his feet for a textbook. 

My son! A picture-perfect model!

At any rate, parents who are desperately scouring the web in trying to diagnose their kids because they cannot access a doctor at the moment, I offer you this:

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease with foot blisters, Coxsakie virus

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease with foot blisters, Coxsakie virus

Needless to say, a few days after these photos were taken, the blisters burst and his feet were even worse--and more painful. Bleh.

Tesla kept us on our toes, too. 

When the vet isn't planning his next luxury vacation thanks to our frequent visits, he secretly wonders if I have Munchhausen's by Puppy. In our 15 months of pet ownership, we've made at least that many visits to the vet. We finally wised up and bought pet insurance last fall. It paid for itself and then some, but I think we've maxed out on this year's benefits. 

And the dog doesn't even have anything seriously wrong, but there's always something curious going on with him- an eye infection, an ear infection, bumps by his mouth, bumps in his mouth, bumps on his skin. 

As with most pets, Tesla is not a fan of going to the vet. But oh, how the staff members fawn over him! He might just be the cutest patient they have. Or they're really good at fawning, which is smart, because when they're all telling me how cute and sweet he is, I forget to take a close look at the bill.

But he really might be their cutest patient.

Hiding from the doctor.

At any rate, we think he's got allergies. Possibly seasonal allergies. My money is on grass. Or human skin flakes. Apparently dogs can be allergic to humans just like humans can be allergic to dogs. He might be allergic some food. First we'll see if the change of seasons helps. If not, we'll do a food challenge, which will be miserable for us all. My poor Tesla!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

So Long Summer 2014

Summer went out with a fizzle, but DH and I took a lovely walk with the dog after dinner. The weather was pleasant- not too hot, not too cool, not too humid and the cicadas provided the quintessential summer soundtrack as we made our way through the neighborhood.

This was a summer of morning carpools as I doted on my older teen, perhaps more than I should have, but he was working hard, impressively so! Plus there was some part of me that appreciated being needed because he might only have another summer or two at home. So between driving him to school for cross country practice and summer school, going on a 2 mile (+/-) walk with the dog and showering or running to the grocery store, picking him up hanging out either at home or maybe at my parent's house for 20-30 minutes and then driving him to the train so he could go to his job in the city, my morning was spent without much to show for it (other than being an awesome mom, FWIW).

My younger guy typically rode his bike to and from school, but on the days I had to pick him up, I fell even deeper into the rabbit hole of unproductiveness even as I raised myself up a bit on the awesome mom pedestal.

My younger guy made the most of his pool pass. I didn't even bother getting one this year. I'm not needed. I did go (as an observer) to the recently renovated community pool once.

Somehow they still managed to have fun.
At any rate, lest summer feel like it flew by with nothing but a series of carpools, I bring you highlights of Summer 2014 (at least the ones I have photos of).

Oh, and maybe the biggest personal accomplishment was moving The Maker Mom over to Wordpress, even if I did hire someone to do it. Go take a look!

DH and I went to a live taping of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

Kayaking with my niece and my younger son.

We hosted a couple of backyard parties.

I entered a pie contest-mixed berry with a cricket crust.

Kayaking with my Science Olympiad team.

Prairie restoration near Chicago
Volunteered at a prairie restoration day. I was literally up to my eyeballs in weeds.

Kale chips, kale salads, lots of kale from the garden.

Bountiful garden! (Thanks to DH and lots of rain.)

Learn to play mah jong and bought a vintage set.
Participated in a Chicago Stands with Israel Rally.
Blogger Bkfst at Eli's Cheesecake. Son is wearing a Maker Mom shirt!

Late summer kayaking; the water was a bit mucky by then.
More garden veggies!
Little Pup on the Prairie.

Deer watching in the woods.

Ice cream at The Chocolate Shoppe on Devon. Freakiest theme ever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Even More College Admissions Tips

I started blogging nearly 10 years ago when my kids were in early elementary school, so it makes sense that now college admissions is my biggest educational obsession. I like using the blog to bookmark helpful resources for myself, while at the same time sharing them with friends and readers. (Wait, isn't that what Pinterest is for?)

When I say my old friend Marsha wrote this, I mean she's really old. Okay, not really, but she's from the original network of mombloggers I connected with way back in 2007, which is like the stone ages in blogging terms. (Pinterest? Caveman blogger don't know Pinterest.)

Marsha is one of a handful of moms from that group, the first generation of Mommy Bloggers, whose kids are headed off to college this fall. The kids are almost all grown up. {sniff} In Marsha's case, they are crazy talented, too.

At any rate, Marsha recently posted an informative piece sharing 5 Secret Tips for College and I already feel my blood pressure rising wondering about the date of our district's financial aid seminar and if they will let me in to the night that is billed as being for senior parents only.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Tips for College Planning

typography from
This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

I am officially the mom of two high school students, a freshman and a junior. As excited as I am for my boys to return to school and its routines, I'm keenly aware that the clock is ticking. Next year is it for my older boy. Next year is the last time I'll shoo him out the door to make the morning bus or have a chance to take a first day of school picture*.

Our high school provides a meet and greet with 8th grade students and their assigned high school counselors. Admittedly, it's a short meeting and a bit overwhelming for first timers. In addition to helping students select classes for freshman year, they routinely ask the kids about their 8-year plans. That is, the counselors don't just want to know about freshman year plans, they want to know what college (or post-high school) plans the 13-year-olds have.

Like I said, it's a bit overwhelming the first time around. My baby is heading to the big scary high school and you want to know where he hopes to attend college?

I was tempted to bury my head in the sand and leave it there for up to 8 years, but as time passes, I see the wisdom of the school's ways. If you don't start thinking about college plans early, the admissions process can easily overwhelm you.

Here are three tips for college planning.

Start Early

It might feel scary, but the earlier you start, the more relaxed you can be about the process. Or, as in my case, the more time you have to freak out, calm down and do research. Repeat this cycle every few weeks or months. You don't have to dive in if your kid is a freshman or in middle school, but gently dip your toes in. Talk to friends who are going through the search or admissions process. This is what prompted me and my friend Jen to start a G+ discussion series on College Admissions. (New episodes coming this fall.) Talk to school counselors to learn about free resources available to you and your student.

Sometimes You Lead, Sometimes You Follow

If your child is grounded, determined, and organized, follow her lead. Which is not to say that boys lack focus and organization, I'm sure some boys have it together, but most of the parents of boys I know report that even if they are college-bound, they are rather hazy or noncommittal about their preferences and options. My husband argues to let our son take the lead, but I fear I'm certain that if we wait until he's ready to take charge of the process his application deadlines will have passed. It's a give and take process. As we get further into it I'm sure into I'll have more insights to share. For now, I'm a fan of the Fiske Guide because my boy can't complain when I ask him to read a mere 3-page description about a school for us to discuss.

Tests Scores Count

Although the number of schoosl that offer test-optional admissions, that is they don't require SAT or ACT scores, is growing, those scores still matter in a lot of ways. My brother pointed out that at some schools solid scores not only help with admission, but can also be the ticket to a merit scholarship. The higher the score, the heftier the potential award. The cost of taking a test prep class or taking tests a second or third time (which many schools now allow and supposedly only "count" the best scores) might pale in comparison to the money your child might save in tuition thanks to a merit award.

Those are a few of my current thoughts on the #JourneyToCollege. Follow the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to see what other parents have to say.

This post was sponsored by Kaplan Test Prep and their KapMap College Planner. Download your free KapMap here and note that you can receive a $100 discount on an SAT or SAT course through August 28, 2014 with the code SHESPEAKS100.

*Who am I kidding. My boys haven't be willing to pose for one since 2008.

This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fiske's Guide to Colleges 2015

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015
My oldest is about to enter junior year of high school, so we're increasingly focused on his future. Most likely he's headed to college, though some of his co-workers and students this summer encouraged him to follow the money and put his tech skills to use right out of high school. For now, however, college is the thing.

Susan Goodkin, the college consultant I've been featuring on my G+ Hangouts, mentioned that she's a fan of the Fiske Guides, so when I was offered a chance to review the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015, I jumped.

I love this book. It's going to be my go-to resource for quite some time. When I mentioned this to a friend she replied, "Uh, doesn't every college have a website with much of the information that's in the book?" Well, yes. And also no because the book provides additional insights.

I like this 820-page paperback book. I like that I can make notes and dog-ear pages and stick in post-its if I want to flag something for my son or husband. I like the quotes from students. I like that it feels more objective than a given school's website. (In other news, I'm pretty sure Georgia Tech is off our list.)

But mostly I like that so much information is right there on the pages before me. When I go to college websites, I wind up having about 6 tabs per school open so I can look at an overview, requirements, majors, AP score acceptance, financial information, net price calculator, etc. It's a frenzy of information overload!We're just dipping our toes in and getting a feel for things, this book is a valuable first stop.

The Fiske Guide provides overviews of "more than 300 of the country's best and most interesting colleges and universities." As well as a handful Canadian, British, and Ireland. It contains an index of colleges by state and country, index by price, a list of "Best Buys" and several pages on how to use the guide I t also includes a list of ACT/SAT optional schools, a list of colleges that are known for working with students with learning disabilities and it closes with one of my favorite pieces, a pledge for parents, which is more like a serenity prayer for parents of high school seniors  and worth the $24 cost of the book.

The Guide also contains a brief survey to help students pin down what they might want in a school. Yes, we've asked these same questions and yes, he can find a similar checklist via resources at the high school, but I might actually get my son to complete this one.

He's got mail.
The Guide was born as a way to "cut through all the hype that was coming from the colleges" in the late 1980s. There's as much hype as ever, but today's students are pickier about their distractions. My son has a pile dozens (possibly hundreds) of postcards and brochures that were cluttering up our mailbox and are now cluttering up his room. If he's bothered to read more than five of them, I'd be surprised. His email inbox is similar.And I'm getting more and more curious about a certain school simply because they are relentless in their emails to me.

In its attempt to focus on what's important, Fiske profiles colleges with summary paragraph followed by a flowing narrative for each school. It will also list compare schools or "overlaps," which can help point families toward other schools to explore. And, of course, each school has a sidebar noting:

  • location (ubrban, suburban, etc.)
  • whether it's public or private
  • total enrollment
  • breakdown of male/female
  • ACT/SAT score ranges
  • percent of returning freshman and percent of students that graduate in six(!!) years
  • social life
  • a debt rating indicating average undergraduate principle borrowed to graduate
  • and more! 

The Guide does not have a line item for campus safety, but I expect they will add one in the next year or two. Sign of the times, right?

As I mentioned, we're at the start of of our search. If you have a favorite resource for learning about colleges, please share!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Help Shot at Life Donate Vaccines and Spread the Word about Walgreens

It's that time of year: August, Blogust. Shot at Life, a United Nations program to help vaccinate children around the world, is once again pairing up with leading bloggers to not only spread the news about the importance of vaccines, but also work with Walgreens to actually get those vaccines to needy children around the world. And here's how: for each comment a dedicated blog post receives, Walgreens will donate one vaccine, up to 60,000, through the UN and other partners.

However, even as Walgreens tackles the important role of Caring Global Citizen, the company is wrestling with big issues here on the home front. The company is said to be considering a move that will make them a bad corporate citizen here in the US: an inversion. That is, they're considering relocating their company headquarters overseas in name only in order to procure a hefty tax break here in the US.

Edited 8/6 to add: Great news! Walgreens has supposedly put an end to the inversion talk and plans to remain a US corporation!

Nearly 1/4 of Walgreens' nearly $17 billion income is derived from the US government in the form of Medicare and Medicaid patients. In addition, just a few years ago they received around $46 million from Illinois. Yet, Walgreens may undertake this move to save on their tax obligations.

Their move could cost the US government an estimated $4 billion over the first five years, not to mention what it will cost to Illinois.

A vocal, but not necessarily a majority, group of shareholders is said to be advocating for the move. The company needs to hear from stakeholders--US citizens who will be impacted by this move. Thats' where you come in.

As I mentioned, Walgreens has pledged to donate a vaccine to a child in need for each comment left as part of the Shot at Life blogger campaign. I urge you leave a comment on relevant blog posts encouraging the company to leave their headquarters here in the United States. Feel free to copy and paste from this post.

Click here to see a schedule of the Shot at Life blogger campaign. Now let's go save some lives.

Chicago Sun-Times (source of the numbers above)
USA Today,
New York Times

Friday, July 04, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moms Demand Gun Sense Action

Niles Village board votes on gun shop and gun range near schools
This post is not affiliated in any direct way with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. However, if you are concerned about the amount of gun violence in our society, school safety as it relates to gun violence, or the number of people walking around with weapons, concealed or otherwise, it's an excellent organization to join or at least follow on Facebook

Last night I attended a village board meeting in Niles at which they planned to discuss a potential gun shop and gun range in an industrial area, an industrial area that also houses family-friendly attractions including one of those trampoline spots, a volleyball facility that hosts youth teams, and an alternative school. In fact, the proposed facility would be just 1,000 feet from the school, which serves kids 11-21 years old who "withdraw socially and emotionally, have difficulty with social skills, and have difficulty fitting in."

The proposed facility would also be within "walking distance" of three other schools.

Any red flags for you or is it just me?

The room was packed with folks on both sides of the issue, but before anybody got a word in. The village trustees voted to send the issue back to the zoning board for further discussion. Apparently when the issue came up at the previous zoning meeting few, if any, citizens showed up to share their concerns. (Related note: few, if any, citizens were aware of the zoning commission meetings.)

Once the discussion was tabled, the trustees allowed a few minutes for the room to empty out and I left with a friend. My friends who stayed reported that those who remained were allowed to air their concerns at the end of the meeting.

Although the discussion is just getting started, I want to share a few observations. Observations, not interpretations, which means I'm sticking to the facts.

It's very difficult to have a constructive dialogue about gun control. Emotions run high on both sides of the discussion. When I saw a notice posted about last night's meeting on Facebook, one person asked if there was data to validate safety concerns about having a gun shop/range within a certain distance of the high school. That person was then verbally attacked. (Note: this is a problem relating to other sensitive topics, too. When did looking to science and data become a bad thing?) People on both sides of the issue have a tendency to abandon arguments of logic and resort to naming-calling. They look at people on the opposite side of the issue as "others" rather attempt to understand them or find common ground. (Which is one of the reasons I'm game to going to a shooting range one day.)

Moms really do demand gun sense action. Based on the people who expressed a clear opinion without using their voices--like those holding "vote yes" signs or those wearing green ribbons (a nod to Sandy Hook and the need for gun control), the moms/women want gun sense and men want their local gun shop/range. This is not to say there was a strict gender line, but there was an apparent one. I've observed this before.

Smokers in this group favor the gun shop. As people left the non-meeting, small crowds gathered outside the building. To reach the parking lot, I had to pass next to the group of smokers at the bottom of the stairs outside the building, "vote yes" signs tucked under their arms as toxic secondhand smoke lingered in the air around them.

The traditional news media was out in full force last night and imagine in the coming weeks this issue will blow up on both sides. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and I mentioned above that there are 4 schools within walking distance of the proposed shop, including that one just 1,000 feet away. I also have regional concerns. According to Tracing the Guns: The Impact of Illegal Guns on Violence in Chicago, four gun shops in the Chicago suburbs account for 20% of the guns used in crimes in the city. All of these suburbs are adjacent to Chicago, as is Niles.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Join Me This Morning at the Farmer's Market!

Join me this morning at the Morton Grove Farmer's Market for STEM fun with The Maker Mom and friends. Click for details--there will be giveaways!

Next week is the big pie contest, so if you're a pie maker or pie eater, you'll want to come by. Last year I entered my first contest ever. It was fun. I made my first pie sometime in my late 30s and have only made a handful since.

The market requires entrants to make two piece- one for the judges to view and taste and another that will be sliced up and sold to benefit the local food pantry. I planned to buy my whole pie to bring home for dessert, but much to my surprise a man purchased it before I had the chance to. I was a bit miffed, but also quite flattered.

Not only did I learn that I make an attractive and tasty pie, but I can now offer up the following #ProTip. Use disposable pie tins when entering a pie contest.


I doubt my pie will win this year. Indeed, I'm going to make a "cricket crust." Yeah, that's what it sounds like. If we're connected on Facebook or Instagram you may have seen pics of my "chocolate chirp" cookies featuring cricket flour. The thing is, you only substitute about 1/6 or so of the wheat flour for cricket flour, so it's no biggie. You don't even taste it, really.

In other local news, my niece and I collected tadpoles last week in the spirit of the 1970s summers that everyone seems to be raving about online. Of the four we brought home, one developed into a cute little frog (toad?), but the other three are showing developmental abnormalities. That's a nice way of saying each has a missing or incomplete limb. Disconcerting, no? I'm going to post about this on The Maker Mom blog next week, so stay tuned.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Capannari's: One of Chicago's Top Ice Cream Shops

Late last year I walked away from a Chicagonista blogger event with truly sweet swag that included a $20 gift card to Mount Prospect's famed Capannari's ice cream. Back then the ice cream shop was closed for the season, which was a good call on management's part. Who wants ice cream during one of Chicago's worst winters ever?

This past hot and sunny weekend when sifting through my stash of gift cards and (expired) coupons. I came across the Capannari's card. And then I found another one!

Yesterday around brunchtime, I quickly emailed a hyperlocal group of friends inviting them for a spontaneous mom's night out, my treat.

Lessons learned:

  • Not all of my friends check their email often enough to respond to an event that is just hours away from occurring.
  • My friends are generally not a spontaneous lot.
In the end only three of us went for ice cream, so I treated everyone to a take-home pint as well as a scoop. Had I known just how sweet, creamy, and desirable Capannari's ice cream is, I might have been a bit less generous.

Kidding. I was glad to share my bounty. Plus Capannari's is far enough away that a return trip would only happen with some thought. Our typical ice cream splurge brings us to the nearby Chocolate Shoppe (or maybe Village Creamery or Oberweiss). 

Capannari's makes excellent ice cream. They had several unique flavors like a cherry-goat cheese and a spicy chocolate  in addition to the basics like chocolate chip and mint chip.

The shop offers an ice cream flight that allows patrons to sample several flavors in one dish. You may have seen this done with wine or beer. I'd never seen a ice cream flight before; I think it's a brilliant concept.

The flight allowed for four flavors and was served in an elongated banana split holder instead of a typical cups. If you eat your ice cream fast enough, the flavors don't melt together. I've always been slow when it comes to ice cream, but the mixing and melding toward the end of my treat didn't diminish the experience.

My flight consisted of cherry-goat cheese, chocolate peanut butter, java chip, and brownie batter. I was expecting baby-size scoops, but instead it seemed like I was given four child-sized scoops, which frankly was a bit more ice cream than I needed. But oh, so good. So decadent.

This weekend they're hosting a Brain Freeze speed-eating contest. Their ice cream is too good for devouring IMO, but they do like to have fun. Check their website for special events. Capannari's may be out of the way for you, too, but it's worth a trip. Their ice cream is some of Chicago's best.