Friday, December 11, 2015

Thoughts from an American Muslim Mother

Given the hateful, anti-Islamic rhetoric that is being spewed right now, I followed the lead of my friends Jeanne Marie and Kelly, who posted messages on their Facebook walls offering support to their Muslim friends. I decided to reach out to a Muslim woman I know. We've never shared a meal or gone for coffee or out for a meal, but every Jewish holiday, she sends me an email with good wishes. I am embarrassingly bad about reciprocating. And yet, without fail, there's a Happy Chanuka! or Happy New Year! from her in my inbox.

So I sent her a note expressing my concerns about the current wave of religious intolerance and offering to support her and her friends where I could.

A simple act of kindness can bring unexpected results. Whereas I thought this was a rather small gesture, it apparently meant a lot to her. More than I could have known. (That's a good Life Lesson right there.)

Our email exchange will become a real-life dialogue with a group of local Muslim and Jewish women later this month. I urge you to reach out within your community as well. NPR aired a story the other day about what happens in the Muslim community when we let the media in its Trumpified glory do the talking for us.

This here below is also what happens. Please read my friend's reflections on her community. I am sharing this with permission.

The overall feeling many of us are going through is fear, dejection, depression, and helplessness. I hate turning on the TV with my kids around because bigoted remarks are being made openly and unflinchingly over and over against us--we are being bullied, so to speak, through news and media/social media and no one seems to understand the impact this is having upon the psyche of the Muslim community and its youth. I just can't believe what I've been hearing ever since 9/11 and it has gotten much worse!

And even worse than that, we hear the bigotry spewing from mouths of people in leadership positions! The world has become brainwashed into thinking Islam/Muslim is now synonymous with terrorism--no one even seems to think twice about it now (sadly, not even many Muslims, so you see the psychological damage that's already taking place) even though countless terrorist acts are being committed in our nation and worldwide by people who are not Muslims--recall Dylan Roof and the ideologies he prescribed to when he decided to kill African American church members, the massacre of over 70 people in Norway by Anders Breivik, or the genocide occurring in Burma.

Very few seem to believe (or if there are many, we don't hear them drowning the rhetoric that supports otherwise) that some of these perpetrators are violently reacting due to geo-politics, and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They live under oppressive regimes & inhumane conditions and they have nothing to lose.

Some have suffered severe trauma and have seen horrific things committed in unstable or war-torn environments; and now they've found a cause that gives their lives some meaning and a way to implement some sort of justice. Leaders of these organizations carry out their message in hopes to target these vulnerable people who will support their cause. And we know that when emotions become so raw, it may lead to horrible consequences--whether it's taking ones own life or the life of others.
And like any other community, mental health is an issue in the Muslim community as well, so those who are mentally ill are prime targets. However, somehow these factors are overlooked and an entire group of people are now being targeted, their faith and religious figures being attacked as the root cause of the crimes--because that seems like the most simple answer to something far more complicated which we are unwilling to confront.

Very few media outlets effectively publicize the many Muslim organizations and people who are condemning these acts or it falls on deaf ears. Hate crimes against Muslims seem to fall under stricter guidelines to even be labeled as hate crimes. Some Muslims here do think the terrible possibility of internment camps for Muslims is coming down the road.

When you look the history of the Jewish Holocaust and the internment of the Japanese here on US soil, the things we are seeing out there today are following the exact same pattern that lead up to these events. I attended Anne Shimojima's presentation of the Japanese internment camps at the library. When I mentioned this very real fear that American Muslims have, she said she is not aware of any laws that can prevent this from happening again; meaning, technically, the US government can take such action.

The question is, will America and the world be able to avert such a human disaster?

The Muslim community understands it has to confront these movements because these violent organizations prey upon OUR "own," our youth--we have countless seminars for people to educate them on what to look for in the community, how to help our youngsters cope with stress. Do people really think we want to lose our children to such movements? These groups may be angry about some legitimate issues, but do people really think the entire Muslim world feels this is the way to solve problems? The inciteful message being sent out in answer to these questions is "Yes--that the core value of Islam is to kill non-Muslims!"

I recall a Chicagoland Muslim mother crying and pleading with ISIS to leave our children alone after her son was convicted for planning to carry out an attack--but that is not something publicized and played over and over and over again to show America that Muslims are struggling on two fronts--protecting our own children and fellow Muslims from such organizations and protecting ourselves from racism and bigotry from the rest of the world.

If you look at my son, he will remind you of Ahmed Mohammed, the boy who was falsely arrested for a clock he made that an educator suspected was a bomb--and after the truth was discovered fairly quickly, no apologies were made by the police or the school, which never even followed protocol if a bomb was suspected to be on school grounds. What is going through this bright, young man's head?

Will I live a life worrying that my children will be targets? Will they be denied jobs, basic rights as they get older?

So that's what's going through some of our heads right now. We never thought we'd see such a day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dear Santa, A Book Review

I know my kids are older, but I still can't resist a good picture book. Indeed, I miss them and still tend to linger over them at the library (hopefully not looking like a creepy childless stalker in the children's section). So I was intrigued when I got offered a review copy of Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein (affiliate link) by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer, illustrated by Christine Davenier.

Admittedly my first reaction was, Amanda Peet is Jewish? And then Amanda Peet is a playwright in addition to being an actress? Already, this book was educational.

Dear Santa is an adorable picture book that many Jewish kids and their parents (me!) can relate to. Young Rachel Rosenstein enjoys her family's Jewish traditions, but she really, really wants to celebrate Christmas.

Oh, how I yearned for a Christmas tree as a child. I lobbied for years, eventually coming full circle by the time I was in college. "No Christmas tree or Chanukah bush in my house. Ever."

Anyway, Rachel manages a visit to a mall Santa, sneaks up a few Christmas decorations at home, and even prepares a snack for Jolly Old Saint Nick, to no avail. In the end she comes to realize that her family isn't the only one that doesn't celebrate Christmas, and in fact there are lots of cool holidays celebrated by people of different religions and cultural backgrounds. Like so many kids before her, Rachel (mostly) makes peace with her lot in life.

If you have a child like Rachel (or me), this is a wonderful book to normalize those Christmas yearnings.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tap in, Turn up with the Chicago Sinfonietta

Chicago Sinfonietta Tap In. Turn Up.
Photo via Chicago Sinfonietta
This is a guest post by my husband. We were invited to this performance as media guests. The Chicago Sinfonietta took a back seat  on a recent Monday night at Symphony Center for Tap In. Turn Up., an incongruous blend of dance and symphonic music. With the orchestra visible on stage, two Flamenco dancers and a tap dancer distracted us from the swaying of the violin bows and the flapping of the conductor’s baton.

First, Wendy Clinard performed a sinuous flamenco to Roberto Sierra's Fandangos, her pink-sleeved arms elegantly posing like twin flamingos to the lull of the music.

Similarly, tap dancer Cartier Williams crept onto the stage, arms writhing in ballet-like poses to the slow segment of Stravinsky’s Firebird. I was unclear if he was poking fun at ballet or just passing time until the vibrant parts of the piece.

Soon the tempo picked up and Williams was clacking feverishly across the stage, his ankles a blur as he machine-gunned multiple beats beyond the orchestra’s ability to keep up. I don’t know that the tapping enhanced the music, but it was certainly more fun to watch.

Williams was all energy and rhythm until finally, he threw himself off the stage. It almost looked like a mistake, but it was pure performance. He slowly tapped his way across the first row, up the stairs to the stage and back behind the conductor’s podium as he concluded the finale segment to a standing ovation.

Instead of taking a nap, which I would have done after all that dancing, Williams joined Clinard and Flamenco dancer, Marisela Taples, for a tap/Flamenco hybrid dance to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor. Although Clinard and Taples employed a green shawl as a prop, their movements didn't seem to tell a story and their interactions with the tapper didn't bring out the most interesting elements of each genre. But the tapping was fun.

At intermission we took a communal tap-dancing lesson thanks to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and then the Sinfonietta finished with Rimsky-Korsakov's dance-free Scheherazade.

Although this was more familiar than the earlier tunes (and as much as I like classical music), I was primed for something more visually appealing to keep me at the edge of my seat. Although I was awake the whole time, my step- and sleep-tracking watch claims I slept through the last 33 minutes of the performance. But I swear I didn’t.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 2016 Coca-Cola Scholars Award and Other Scholarships

As a high school senior I remember poring over thick reference books at the library in an attempt to find scholarship opportunities. In the end, the winning formula was the advice that's still dished out by my son's school college counselor applied: Think Local. I was awarded money from the PTA and the Rotary Club. And at the end of freshman year of college, I earned a scholarship from my university that brought my tuition costs down to a pittance for sophomore and junior yeas of school.

If your child is on the hunt for money to help cover the costs of college, see what your local civic clubs and parent organizations have to offer and encourage your child apply for those scholarships. Apparently, these smaller scholarships are often left behind as masses of students put their energy into applying for national scholarships. I know, in the scheme of college costs, a $200 scholarship is a drop in the bucket, but it will still take a dent out of book fees, activity fees, dorm fees, technology fees or whatever other fees a university can dream up. So encourage your child to pursue those.

Of course, there's no need to hunker down over big old books anymore. These days, all it takes is a Google search to follow the (potential) money. Along those lines, FastWeb has been recommended as a go-to source for scholarship information.

And don't forget the the schools themselves. There are many opportunities for merit scholarships for high-achieving students. But be mindful that college applications are often due by November 1 in order for students to be considered for merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are often granted for things like achieving a certain ACT/SAT score or a class rank. Easy peasy money if your child fits the bill, but your student's application must be turned in promptly, often months before the official college application deadline.

There's a reason that students are attracted to the big-name scholarships: money. Take, for example, this scholarship from Coca-Cola Foundation. I caught wind of it after a Twitter chat last year and asked them to remind me when it as open for applications. Which is to say, this is not a sponsored post, but info I think is worth sharing. You can bet I shared it with my high school senior!

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation grants 150 high school seniors a $20,00 scholarship. Nice, right?

But what is even better about this scholarship is that its value extends beyond the financial reward. Along with that generous amount of money, the honorees are invited to Coca Cola Scholars Retreat, a program that brings the winners together for a few days of fun, networking and leadership training. What an amazing network to be a part of.

This year’s Coca-Cola scholarship application is now available online at Coca-Cola Scholars. They are looking for "150 high school seniors who are socially-conscious and servant-minded leaders. Coca-Cola believes in investing in students who are leaders, both academically and in service to others."

The application process is completed online, but involves a lengthy questionnaire, so don't delay. The application for the 2016 Coke Scholars is October 31, 2015, so don't delay!

Monday, September 21, 2015

College Admissions Slush Pile

Now that we're my son we're (it really is a family affair to some extent for pretty much everyone I know) in the thick of the college admissions process, I decided it was time to clear out a few distractions. Namely, the large and growing pile of printed material that's been keeping the US Postal Service in business for the last 1.5 years. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor darkness or night can prevent college recruitment materials from filling our mailbox.

Behold, a pile roughly 14 inches high built of postcards, letters, brochures, and hope. Just as starry-eyed writers send off manuscripts that never garner more than a glance from editors at the big publishing houses, so, too, do colleges send my son college recruitment materials. They present their best, sunniest, most culturally diverse and glossiest versions of themselves, only to be piled up and crushed under the weight of one the ones that come after.

At first I passed everything on to my son without comment, but eventually I realized he only bothered to open a small amount. He also began to clarify his vision for the types of schools that interested him, so I began to filter lest he run out of space to store his clothes on his bedroom floor.

Small liberal arts college? Not his thing. Design school? Nope. Large state universities outside of the Midwest? Straight to recycling. (Sorry, UT Austin.)

In recent months, the postcards have been replaced by denser materials, some as thick as small books. If I can still recall the details next May after my son has committed to a school, maybe I'll share a few of the biggest hits and misses. Hint: if I spend more time wondering how much time and money it took to produce and mail your piece than actually reviewing its content, it's a miss. 

Not pictured is the pile of materials from schools of interest. That was about 5 inches high, mostly due to multiple mailings:  Come to open house for prospective students! Check out our summer program for high school students! Visit our fabulous campus! That's been pared down to relevant application information and visit days that are still in the future. 

And thank goodness, because now my sophomore is already starting to receive college recruitment materials!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

One Difference Between Having Toddlers and Having Teens

One difference between having toddlers and having teens is that when the kids are little, it's easy to gain weight from snacking on their unfinished meals. You remember the crusts they didn't want, the big bowl of Mac and Cheese they never finished?

(Oh, I loved those. I can't imagine buying the blue box stuff without kids in the house, but it is a guilty pleasure/comfort food even if the "cheese" is like 95% artificial gunk.)

With teens it's the opposite. I'm about to bite into my sandwich when a man-child suddenly appears by my side. Can I have a bite? A teen boy does not take a mere nibble; he leaves me with crumbs.

When they were little, we were very firm about not eating again after dessert, or at least a certain time before bed. Now at 10:00 at night, I hear the microwave beeping. Time for second dinner! They either eat the evening's leftover dinners or grab a frozen meal.

Fruit will be consumed if it's rinsed/peeled/chopped and put out in a bowl. But God forbid they have to do that themselves. This, like waking a certain child up most mornings, kills me on a certain level, but I know if I don't bother preparing fruit, they'll consume every processed carb in the house instead. Actually, they'll eat the fruit and then hunt down the processed carbs anyway because their growing, athletic bodies are calorie-burning machines. They have several before their metabolism catches up with them.

At any rate, if I look like I've lost weight, it's because my boys have eaten all the food.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Best Worst PR Mistake

PR mistakes when dealing with bloggers
My inbox is filled with press releases. It comes with the blogging territory. You get on a PR list targeting parents of kindergarteners because that's the age of your youngest when you start blogging, and ten years later you are still being sent pitches for clothes or games targeting that age group.

Even worse, because you're on some type of "mommy" list, you wind up on other types of "mommy" lists. So I get pitches for diapers, strollers, and other products that I haven't needed or written about in ages.

In fact, I think it's been at least 4 years since I asked Rashida Ferguson to please remove me from her mailing list because I don't care about infant car seats, or any kind of booster seat for that matter (unless they now make one for petite adults) and I will not devote editorial space on any of my blogs to them (except for the petite adult model). Rashida is top of mind only because I noticed something in my inbox the other day from a Rashida New Name, and I was like, "Oh, she got married!"

But this is not about Rashida and the laziness or refusal to remove a recipient. It's about another kind of PR sin related to recipients--the full cc. 

The fullest cc ever. 

I didn't notice at first, because when I get a pitch with a horrible subject line, say, one about a pregnant teacher's great new idea that's now on Kickstarter, it goes Right. In. The. Trash. I didn't give the note a second thought until a "reply all" message with that subject line popped into my inbox.

My curiosity piqued, I opened it. The PR flack who sent the first note apparently cc'd a few people on the message. 

No, not a few. A few hundred

The PR person copied more than 450 people in single email!

After that first person replied all to chide the PR person for the mass cc things got awesome. People started "replying all" with smartass comments, funny GIFs, with a few cat facts thrown in for good measure. Apparently once you apply to this cat facts service, it's hard to get off the list.

Those notes were followed up by emails from people from around the world inviting others on the cc list to get together for coffee. How nice to think that I can head to Spain, India or Dubai and have a new friend who will join me for a cuppa Joe.

We've even got our own Facebook group now. Two, actually, but only because lines crossed. I think we're going back to one. It's actually an interesting international mix of traditional tech journalists and bloggers. People are introducing themselves more formally, invitations to meet up continue to be shared. It's a beautiful thing. We're hoping that two people on the list will meet and get married.

I'm generally up for a bit of serendipity. Plus, I now have the email addresses for some editors at several top tech and lifestyle sites.

But as for that Kickstarter campaign? Nobody is actually talking about that.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Great College Essay Topics

Great College Essay Topics
Looking for just the right college essay topic? Now that the college application season is here, essay topics for the Common App, personal statements for this school or that have become part of our daily household conversation. I have several great college essay topics! But my son has rejected them all. That's fine, he really needs to "own" his essay, right? Maybe they are right for your child.

1.     What I learned after my freshman yearbook photo became a viral meme.
2.     How I plan to use my White Privilege to better the world.
3.     The moment I realized that my father really does know best.
4.     Affluenza, the scourge of my generation.
5.     #MyLifeMatters.
6.     What I learned after I put an end to my mansplainin' habit.
7.     In-home wifi: right or privilege?
8.     How I found out that Snapchat messages don’t really disappear and what I learned from the experience.
9.     The most meaningful participation trophy I ever earned.
10. My parents suggested I put pen to paper to write the first draft of this essay. You won't believe what happened next.
11. Straight Outta Suburbia.
12. #Winning: The week I got myself out of bed without my parents needing to wake me up for school.

Did you catch that episode of Modern Family a few years ago in which Haley was applying to college? As part of her application, she was supposed to write an essay about "the biggest obstacle she's overcome in her life." Haley bemoans the fact that her life has been so charmed that she has never had to overcome anything. (That was in 2011, but certainly jives with current conversations about the oversensitivity and high level of anxiety among today's college students, which is speculated to be an outcome their oversheltered early years.)

Haley's mom, Claire, takes her on a drive promising to share a family secret. When they are out in a rural area, Claire pulls off the road and points to a tree that she says has a secret message from when she and Haley's dad were dating. Claire acts like she's going to take her daughter to see it, but after Haley steps out of the car Claire drives off leaving Haley to find her way home, without money or a cell phone, so that her daughter would have something to write about.

I'm not going to that kind of extreme-nor do I need to. Despite my casting aside my incredibly awesome prompts, my son has some meaningful topics of his own. And I know once he gets serious about writing (and rewriting and then rewriting yet again) his essays, they will be fabulous, original, heartfelt and truly his.

Also, my prompts are dripping with sarcasm and in some cases not true. You think he ever gets himself up for school?! (I'm kidding.)(Sort of.) His yearbook photo did not become a meme as far as I know, he never got in trouble with Snapchat, and even as a child, he felt a disdain for rewards he did not earn. True story: his favorite trophy was actually a very large, shiny one he picked out of a "free" bin at a garage sale.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Do You Need to Hire a College Admissions Counselor?

A friend wrote me the other day asking if I thought she should hire a college admissions counselor to help guide her child (and her family) through the application process. I gave her such a long-winded answer that I decided to polish it up and turn it into a blog post. So,

Do You Need to Hire a College Admissions Counselor? 

Probably not.

I should clarify, do you need to hire a college counselor at a cost of several thousand dollars that equal the amount I paid for my first new-to-me car? I doubt it.

Do you want to hire a college admissions counselor?

Yes, maybe.

Do you need to shell out thousands of dollars? Probably not.

When it comes to the college application process there will be plenty of other expenses (test review materials, tutors or classes, college visits, and application fees) to name a few.

Oh, and let's not forget the added fee for registering late for the SAT Subject Test which some highly selective schools request, especially, it seems, for STEM majors. Is my child going to apply to a highly selective school? I'm not sure, but we wanted to keep the option available. But back to those late fees, typically they were due to his lack of organization, not mine, so he paid the fee.

On a related note, did you know you could register for one of those tests and simply not take it without it harming the child's record? Yes, but if it wasn't your fault that the child wasn't prepared, that child will reimburse you for the fee, at least in my house.

I didn't even know about SAT Subject Tests until I did a series of three Google Hangouts with college admissions counselor Susan Goodkin. There's not much to watch, but you can listen to them via my YouTube channel. I learned a lot from our discussions; maybe you will, too.

Search online and you'll find a lot of useful information. Some counselors like Susan (disclosure: I didn't pay her nor did she pay me) also offer free or low-cost webinars in addition to one-on-one consulting services.

Check your local library, community parent group, and of course your child's school for additional information. If you do hire an admissions counselor, I'm thinking you could trim the budget by going in as an informed consumer.

Before you jump into the college search and admissions fray, read Frank Bruni's book, Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be. It's a common sense reminder that a child, even your special snowflake, can thrive at just about any institution of higher learning if s/he is motivated to do so.

Also, know your support system. Learn who you can talk to about the college search- friends who are level-headed and good listeners with sound advice. Avoid those who drive you into a subtle game of one-upsmanship, a dizzying spiral of insecurity. Why isn't my kid applying to Harvard? Why didn't I insist on three years of hard-core summer school? I've done it all wrong!

My older son asked me to sign him up for a fee-based ACT review class at school. The course met for several weekends for several hours each time. He would have hated it on many levels. I also suspected an online review would be too distracting because, internet! I bought him a review book for $25 instead and told him to spend at least 10 or 15 minutes a day on it in the days leading up to the test. Which he mostly did with a bit of parental nudging. Should I have insisted on more? He set a threshold score and met it on his first try. Sweet relief!

That said, I can easily get thrown into the spiral of should we insisted on a more disciplined approach? But then I also think, would an extra point or two make or break his future? In his case, probably not, but your mileage may vary. I think most admissions officers would rather, say, see his app in the App Store(!) than get an inkling of the hours he might have devoted to making an incremental increase on a standardized test score...but I'm not a paid professional.

These days many kids take the ACT, which is popular in the Midwest, two or three times! Why? Because colleges may only consider the best set of scores or pick the best section score from each test and "superscore." It's good for the college board ($) and it's good for the schools because they can they claim to higher test scores on behalf of their students? Is it good for the kids?

Oh, and by the way, Stanford insists on seeing all standardized test scores, so there's no hiding the bad ones from them.

When it comes to my younger son, I will likely sign him up for an ACT class. Not because I learned some lesson from the first go-round, but just because he's a different child with different strengths and needs. I think he'll benefit from the structure and advice (which will no doubt includes the words, "Slow down and take your time with each question.").

So back to that admissions counselor....

If your child has known since 5th grade that he wants to attend a Big 10 School, it might not be hard to find the right one or two for her on your own. Does your child want a college that it larger or smaller than his current high school? Rural or urban environment?

IMO, you don't need to hire someone to walk you through these questions. There are plenty of free online materials and books to guide this piece of the process. Speaking of which, does your school have Naviance?


Naviance is a whole suite of tools to help guide the college search process. If your school provides Naviance, take advantage of it, especially to note your child's activities and honors as they go through school because by the time senior year rolls around those details from freshman and sophomore years can be pretty fuzzy.

For all it's helpfulness, Naviance can also be like that toxic friend who sends you into fits of anxiety---but for different reasons. Naviance provides scattergrams, data visualizations that reveal patterns of student acceptances rates at a given school. The data points are anonymized, so that, for example, you know Student X got into the University of Illinois with an ACT score of 28 and a GPA of 3.9 and so did Student Y with an ACT score of 20 and a GPA of 3.4.

However, you don't know about the details of the students' backgrounds, nor do you know which college within the university each was admitted to. Or if Student Y was maybe recruited to be on the Division 1 baseball team, etc. So the data only provides a partial picture.

And, BTW, that picture is based solely on historical data from your child's school. So, for example, my friend who has a son at a highly competitive public school told me with no small amount of anxiety in her voice, that even kids with 4.2 weighted GPAs don't seem to be making the cut for Ivy League schools. Naviance is freaking her out.

On the other hand, my boys attend a very mixed public school that has a small number of students applying to the most selective schools. Because of the low numbers, some of these schools don't even have scattergrams. For example, if only three students applied to MIT last year and only one gained admittance, I could figure out who that data point represents, so the information isn't shared at all. Hmph. In this case, Naviance simply isn't helpful except to wake that sleeping giant bear of anxiety called, must one choose between socioeconomic diversity and a high quality education or can they co-exist? (see also, as noted above, I've done it all wrong!) which, let's be honest, is not at all helpful.*

Okay, I've gone even farther afield than the email it was based on and I still have more to say. So, stayed tuned for Part 2!

In the meantime, prepare yourself for when those acceptance letters come with this etiquette post from my friend Alexandra Rosas and Peyton Price.

*This is issue is too big for my blog. I'm working on a novel that, like many first novels, is a fictionalized version of my own life about our (mis)adventures in public (and private!) education. I'm tempted to make it a choose-your-own-adventure book and explore things like a version of life where we move to the Lake Wobegon-like affluent, white neighborhood before my boys started school. Or explore what life would have been like if we homeschooled with the fantastic co-op in our area. Or what might have happened if my son got this teacher instead of that one. Or... you get the idea.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Knees Went Weak When I Read the Email

My heart is still pounding and my knees are still weak from the email that landed in my inbox this morning. It should have gone directly to my son, but it came to me first. Sh*t's gettin' real y'all.

"We are now taking applications for the 2016-17 freshman class..."


I thought August 1st marked the start of what I shall call Application Season. Apparently that's the date for most schools, but not this one. I tried not to bug my senior (too much) about working on his essay for the Common App, a common application that is accepted by more than 500 colleges and universities. Many schools require a bit of additional information, but even with supplements, the Common App makes it easy to apply to many schools.

Which is why a growing number of students apply to a growing number of schools. The Common App does limit a student to 20 schools. But applying to that many schools seems kinda crazy. I'm hoping our son applies to no more than 8. Okay, 10 max.

The more schools a student applies to, the less focused his or her search is. Ideally your child has a vision, if not a strong preference, as to what type of school they are looking for in their post-secondary institution.

But think about yourself at that age. Did you have that laser-sharp focus?

The school that's now taking applications doesn't have an application fee, doesn't require an essay, and is "non-binding early action." Meaning that he can find out in December if he got in and what kind of merit aid they will grant him without being committed to accepting their decision. I think my son might have sent a set of scores to them already, so even that expense is lowered. I think he'll wind up applying.

Oh, wait up. I just Googled something and learn that some schools have non-binding early action, but don't want you to be applying to other schools early action nonetheless.

What? I dunno. He'll probably apply anyway. Will this come back to bite us in the butt? This is why it's great for your kids to have a short list of schools by the end of the summer before senior year.

That said, I've been assured that my child will grow and mature a lot this final year in high school. So the colleges that appeal to him now, might be less appealing by next April.

In short, I only have a vague idea of how this works. This process will be the nearly-blind leading the completely blind person who insists he can navigate on his own, but mostly would rather be at the computer doing something he enjoys instead finishing off his essay and applying to college(s).

Stay tuned for our next adventure.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What's Happening in My World

Every now and then this blog starts to feel like a ghost town. Let me assure you I haven't gone offline, I'm just putting my words elsewhere. Well, this didn't involve a lot of words, but it did take several months of planning with a fabulous team at the Skokie Library--I co-hosted a Teen Appathon!

Inspired by my friend Debi Pfitzenmaier and her San Antonio Code Jam, I've tossed about the idea of some kind of youth coding event or challenge for a few years. Chicago already has a vibrant Scratch Day program, mostly geared at middle school students. I wanted something for a slightly old crowd.

On The Maker Mom, you can read everything you might want to know about the Teen Appathon, including tips for hosting your own, just click here. Short on time? Skip to the video in the post. It provides a nice visual summary of the day.

Speaking of videos, this one featuring Tesla is proving to be a hit.

And I did my fist "unboxing" video. Have you heard about these? It's a thing; a genre. Top unboxing YouTubers are supposedly making six figures just by posting videos of themselves opening boxes of toys and whatnot and showing off what's inside.

There's so much wrong with my video including my lighting, make-up and hairdo. For the first time in almost 25 years I've grown out my bangs and am not liking still getting used to the look. Also, people over 35 shouldn't have to broadcast themselves in HD. Then again, I guess there's no need to show my face in a true unboxing video, so maybe I'll continue on this seemingly bizarre path.

At any rate, I'm showing off the contents of a Doodle Crate, part of the Kiwi Crate Family. I'm an affiliate of their subscription box program. They have monthly maker and STEM kits designed for kids ages 3-16. I'm looking forward to making the Doodle Crafts next week with one of my nieces.

Watch and reveal the mystery craft!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don Quixote by the Royal Ballet at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre

photo credit: ROH / Johan Persson, 2013

"I am Don Quixote; the man of La Mancha," is the refrain I recall from the musical of the same name back when my high school performed it in the 1980s. That was the all-singing all-dancing version. This week I'm headed to see the all-dancing version performed by the Royal Ballet, accompanied by live music performed by Chicago Sinfonietta at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. My husband and I will be guests of the Auditorium Theatre.

Performance June 18, 19 and 20 at 7:30 PM with a 2PM matinee of the 21st. Tickets begin at $32.

On Saturday, June 20, there will be a family-friendly matinee. How family-friendly? Well, for each adult ticket you buy, you'll receive a child's ticket for 50% off using code FAMLY. Child, being a person age 17 or under.

Even better, with tickets to the June 20 matinee, your family members can participate in a movement workshop with a former dancer from the Royal Ballet, David Pickering. He currently works as their Learning and Participation Manager. The workshop runs from 12:30 - 1:30 and is free with June 20 matinee tickets. How cool is that?! Click for details.

For tickets, call 800-982-ARTS (2787) or go to the Auditorium Theatre website.

Monday, June 08, 2015

She Lost Her Child at Target

So I was at Target with the other day when an older woman pushing a baby stroller with an infant passed by calling out "Carolyn...Carolyn!"

I stopped her, concerned about her lost child (or maybe grandchild, but I wanted to err on the side of caution; maybe she had late-in-life babies?).

"Is Carolyn your daughter?" I inquired.

She paused and gave me an odd, confused look before answering. "Yes," she practically whispered.

"Would you like me to help you find her?" I offered.

Then she smiled. "Oh, Carolyn is my daughter, but she's 30 years old. This is her baby," she said as she pointed to the contents of the stroller."

"Uh, okay. I guess she can manage safely on her own until she's found then."


Friday, June 05, 2015

Our Dog Reacts to Frontline Plus

Although our dog has a stomach of steel, which is to say very little upsets it, his skin is much more sensitive. In general, his immune system is delicate, or perhaps I should say supercharged, ready to react to...stuff. Allergies have been an issue. Late last summer was an especially miserable time for him. We haven't pursued testing, but he's likely got environmental allergies.

We keep him on a grain-free diet. That is, until he gobbles down a bagel someone left too close to edge of the kitchen counter, raids the garbage can, or one of his doggie grandmas buys him treats with ingredients he's not supposed to have.

We've been using Frontline Plus for flea and tick prevention on him without incident since we first received it from his vet nearly two years ago. Two months ago we received a sample of NexGuard, a chewable "treat" put out by the same company, Merial. In April, I gave him the NexGuard to try it out. He gobbled it down with no ill effects.

In May, I gave Tesla our last remaining dose of  Frontline Plus. I was pretty eager to be done with it and move to the chewable, despite the additional expense. Tesla always tries to scratch at the area where the stinky Frontline Plus is applied, but this time it seemed to bother him more than normal.

He'd rub his neck either by going belly up on his pillow and wriggling around or scratch with his back claws. I noticed the spot where I'd applied the Frontline was looking bad.

Normally it's a bit greasy looking for a day or two, but this time the hair was matted down and looked a bit dusty. When I went in for a closer look, it was clear that something was going on underneath his matted fur, but I couldn't tell what. It looked nasty, though. Oozy and maybe infected. Tesla let me know the area was tender to the touch. I did my best to clean it off and then covered it with as much antibiotic ointment as I could.

The next day I got him in the shower and was able to gently shampoo the whole area, but I still couldn't get a good look before I covered with ointment again.

Finally, we visited the vet the day after Memorial Day. They shaved him down and cleaned him up, and did a laser treatment that they said would help heal the area. They decided to put him on antibiotics and a short course of steroids. (He also had something going on with a back paw, but I'm not sure if it was a cause or effect of the Frontline Plus, or possibly unrelated.)

Because the spot is on his neck, we couldn't cone him, but I did cut the sleeve off of an old t-shirt and used that to cover up the spot and preventing scratching while it was still raw. We also had some prescription powder on hand.
I called Frontline to make an official report on the issue. They told me that a dog can have a bad reaction to Frontline Plus at any time, even if they've used it without incident previously. Still, the company is only aware of reactions if people (or their vets) report them. So if something like this happens to your dog, be sure to call their hotline and let them know!

PS Tesla is going fine now. The area is clear and his hair is coming in.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Outshine Simply Yogurt Bars #GiveBrighter

Outshine interactive billboard to benefit Feeding America
I'm participating in Outshine's Give Some Good billboard campaign. As a team member, I receive product and incentives in exchange for this sponsored post.

Have you ever had Outshine frozen treats, like their refreshingly sweet fruit bars? I'm pleased to be working with the brand as they partner with Feeding America, the nation's leading hunger-relief organization to Give Some Good and help bring fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need. They've come up with a novel concept that's a first for Chicago and the nation, a "donation billboard."

Located in the BNSF tunnel of Chicago's Union Station through June 9, the billboard invites passersby to actively join the fight against hunger. Look for it and give a swipe!

Here's how it works:

Commuters and tourists can donate $1 with a quick swipe of a credit card right down the middle of the billboard.

In addition to making a donation, the swipe activates a film sequence on the billboard screen that shows fresh fruits and veggies falling from the sky into the hands of a young girl.

The $1 donation may not seem like a lot, but it allows Feeding America to provide nine pounds(!) of produce to people in need.

Have you heard the story about how a person in line at Starbucks bought a drink for the person behind her in line, starting a chain reaction of people that followed suit lasting for hours? Well, you can start something similar at Union Station. Step up to donate and others will follow along. And at nine pounds of produce for just $1, you'll spread more good will and good nutrition than you would with a pricey cup of coffee.

You can help from home, too.

So maybe your commute only takes you down the hall or across town. No worries! Pick up a specially marked box of Outshine Simply Yogurt Bars this June or July and the brand will donate a pound* of fresh produce to local food banks.

If you've ever volunteered at a food bank, you know that most of their food comes in cans and boxes. I'm glad to be part of a program that is helping bring fresh produce to those in need.

Outshine Yogurt Bars

*If you're doing the math, the purchase of each box of Outshine Simply Yogurt Bars that meets the conditions above means an $.11 donation, or one pound or produce secured by Feeding America on behalf of local food banks. The brand guarantees a minimum donation of $150,000, but will donate a total of up to $220,00 from the sale of special packs until July 31, 2015.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: Book Giveaway

Frank Bruni College Book Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be
The giveaway has ended.  Shortly after lingering over Frank Bruni's Where You Go Is not Who You'll Be (affiliate link) I received an email offering me a review copy and a chance to give away up to 5 copies of the book. I jumped at both. Frank Bruni's new book is a hot topic among my friends who are in the midst of or getting ready for the college admissions process. The book is like a reassuring hug for those who easily get sucked into feeling like their child has to go to a big-name, high-prestige college or university.

Rather than spotlight big name schools, Bruni highlights our national obsession with them. Think about it, how often do you read or hear a business leader being referred to as "Harvard-educated" as opposed to being called out as a graduate of, say, Northern Michigan University (which is where Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz went)? The less well-known schools do not get their due. Further, Bruni drives the point home that a less well-known school is not a lesser institution.

He rips into the college rating system that's currently dominated by US News and World Report, sharing examples of their flawed rating processes.

As Bruni provides a detailed overview of the modern admissions process, he lays out application trends. I didn't realize the Common Application has been around for decades. It only recently caught on like wildfire, though, likely because of the ease of modern communication. Today's student typically applies to more schools than my age peers did. He notes the rise of international students coming to college in the US and its impact on admission rates for US students. In addition, he examines the impact of legacy admissions and other political aspects of the admissions process.

He also shines a light on the rapidly growing business of college admissions consulting. Affluent families set on top tier schools may spend as much as $50,000 for coaching and consulting from middle-school until their child matriculates. Bruni notes that although many counselors stress their role in finding the right fit for a given student, they also tend to boast about the number of their clients who head off to highly selective schools.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book right now and even though we're not eyeing the Ivy League schools for my boys Bruni has given me a lot to think about and discuss with my family. His book is an informative, but easy, read. I think you'll like it.

Win a copy of
Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be!

To enter, leave a comment below and a way to contact you (email or Twitter or just your name if I know you in real life), so I can get in touch if you win. If you have any tips on the admissions process share them in your comment. Also let me know if you have any questions about the admissions process that I can address in a future post since that's pretty much the recurring theme of this blog now. Leave a comment until 11:30 PM on Friday April 17, 2015. I'll notify the winners next week. Books will be shipped from a PR company.

Monday, March 09, 2015

College Road Trip: Cancelled

The whole college thing is a complicated dance. You want your kids to lead because in the end this largely about your child and his choice. But on the other hand, if you simply relegate yourself to the role of follower, your child might might miss out on certain opportunities, like actually being organized enough to apply to college the fall of his senior year of high school.

The college counselor at our high school is a big advocate of campus visits. So with Spring Break on the horizon we started planning an epic college visit road trips: 4-5 schools in as many states with brief stop in Canada to see some family. My son made the requisite school tour reservations (I'm told admissions offices do not appreciate working through parents) and we checked the dates with our dog sitter.

Last Friday I assured my husband that our trip was a go before he left town last weekend, but I changed my mind by the time I picked him up at the airport on Sunday.

We didn't cancel as a punishment to my son. And it's not that we feared the "fun" of the four of us being packed into my sedan for a nearly a week, knowing that at least 50% of our children would be tired/bored/hungry/grumpy. We didn't back out because of the thought of 4 near-adults sharing a single hotel room (not to mention bathroom) made us twitchy.

We cancelled because I was the driving force behind the trip. We planned to see an urban liberal arts school, an urban highly selective technical school and a technical school in a small city. All good possibilities, my son agreed, but all schools of my choosing.

My son didn't oppose any of the schools. He remains open to the thought of someday attending any one of them, but he didn't express a passion for any of them. I wouldn't say that our trip would have been a total waste of money, but I also don't think it would have been money wisely spent at this time.

If he wants to get a sense of different campuses there are plenty we can see in Chicagoland. And when he decides he wants to see a school that's far from home, we can make a visit. (Or, in the case of a certain highly selective school or two, we might wait until he gets accepted before planning a campus tour.) Maybe it won't be a big family trip--chances are it won't. In fact, maybe he'll head off alone to a university that one of his friends attends--that's how I made my college visits.

How are you handling the college review and admissions process? How do you encourage your child to take an active role in it? And doesn't this seem so much more intense than when we went through it?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Why Your Kid Should Apply to Harvard

First off, I'm hosting a  #STEMchat tonight (3/5) on Twitter. The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is sponsoring this chat on the science of everyday life. If you have a middle schooler, encourage them to participate in fabulous competition (click the link for entry details). Things are set for the chat and I've finished up a few other projects which means my mind has room to wander again and college admissions is one of the first places it goes.

The college recruitment mail has been showing up at our house since my oldest son took the PSAT as a sophomore. This means that a steady stream has been arriving for over a year, much of it in the form of glossy brochures. Shout-out to Harvey Mudd College for a cool GIF-worthy piece with a lenticular image.

Most of the colorful pieces blur together, ultimately landing in pile like the one pictured. Maybe he's saving them for a big bonfire after he commits to a school? Only a few are actually opened and examined.

The other day he received mail from Northwestern, some school in Michigan claiming to be a perfect fit, and Harvard. The Harvard piece stood out because it didn't look slick or glossy, but did resemble the kind of large envelope one might equate with a college acceptance package.

I admit, my curiosity was piqued and I opened it. I mean, A) I knew it wasn't an acceptance letter and B) he opens almost none of this stuff; it was doomed to be ignored like the rest. Wait, did I just confess to a federal crime?

Let me tell you about the contents before the fed take me away. There was a letter, addressed to  Mr. Moldofsky (so fancy!), encouraging him to explore what Harvard has to offer. It shared a few highlights and noted their "revolutionary financial aid." That hooked me.

I moved on to the enclosed brochures. "Wow," I thought. "Their brochure features students of color." Oh wait, it's the financial aid brochure.

(I mentioned this on Facebook, which led to a friend posting this piece about colleges relying on Photoshop tools to accentuate their diversity.)

It wasn't really a brochure, so much as a fancy, full-color fold-out flyer. What was really impressive was what was inside. Check out these fun and encouraging facts about financial aid at Harvard. These are pulled straight from the piece:

  • If your family income is below $65,000 your parents are expected to contribute nothing to the cost of your education.
  • Families with incomes from $65,000 to $150,000 normally contribute between 0-10% of their income. Those with higher incomes often find that need-based aid is still available.
  • Your financial aid award accounts for the total cost of attending including tuition, books, and allowances toward personal and travel expenses.
  • Students are not expected to take out loans, and most students graduate debt-free.
  • Applying for financial aid does not negatively affect your chance for admission.
The letter noted that nearly 60% of students at Harvard receive financial aid and that their families pay an average of $12,000 per year and their students don't take out loans.

I don't know how this plays out on campus in terms of the haves and have-nots, but this seems like a big step in trying to level the playing field for low-income and, what do we call it, low-upper-middle class-income families.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


I know things have been pretty quiet around here. You can keep up with me over at The Maker Mom blog and TMM Facebook page, where I post at least one interesting item a day, usually at 10 AM.

I'm hosting a #STEMchat this Thursday evening, 2/12, at 9 PM Eastern. Join us! We're talking engineering with a fabulous panel thanks to sponsor Georgia-Pacific. Look at the cool graphic they made for the chat.

Speaking of graphics, I'm trying to stay on trend by including more graphics in my posts. I love this quote I pulled from a recent STEM Girl Friday feature, though I might have gone a bit heavy on the pink.

And check this out: it's the fab new logo for STEM Kids Chicago. I'm building up the site in fits and starts and hope to hit my stride with it by April.

And I have a great idea for a podcast, but need to school myself on the fine art of podcasting before I jump in.

So it's not that I've disappeared, it's just that I'm elsewhere. What are you up to?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wonder Wheel 1.0

The Older Maker Teen created a nice interactive bit of code for me to share on The Maker Mom for the Year of Wonder, but Wordpress keeps messing with it, so I'm posting it here.

Drum roll please.

Introducing the digital Wonder Wheel 1.0.

Read more about the Wonder Wheel and download a printable version here.

Scroll down and click on the box that says "click me" and a question will appear to spur your scientific or creative exploration. Of course, you need to complete the question with a few thoughts of your own.

How might I..?
What if we...?
's Wheel of Wonder 1.0

Monday, January 12, 2015

Illinois Underage Drinking Social Host Laws 2015

Happy new year! If you follow me on social media, you've likely seen that I started writing for The Alcohol Talk. I'm one of a handful of writers sharing information, advice, and conversation starters for parents on having the alcohol talk. That is, talking to their tween and teen children about the dangers of underage drinking. One of my December posts focused on social host laws. These laws dictate penalties for serving alcohol to underage children in the home.

As I researched my piece, I learned about laws in different states. For example, Illinois laws are pretty strict compared to those in Texas.

Okay that's not such a surprise, but I learned that starting this month, January 2015, the Illinois social host laws became even broader. In the past, parents and guardians who allowed underage drinking in their house faced liability issues. Now, quoting from an AP article,
[They] can be fined up to $2,000 if they allow those under 21 to drink in vehicles, trailers, campers or boats under their ownership or control. And if a death occurs as a result, parents or guardians can be charged with a felony.