January 30, 2013

If I knew then, what I know now

This morning was one of my more interesting mornings as a parent. I've been doing this mom gig for 17+ years. I feel like a grizzled veteran on the good days and an unrepentant task master on the bad ones. Regardless, I love my kids more than life itself and my goal is for them to do well.

So I was taken aback this morning when my 15 year old asked, "Mom why do you think we are so smart?" Do you think it's just genetics?

The 17 year old chimed in, "Yeah we talk about that sometimes, because it's awkward being the *smart kid*. "My kids asked this not out of arrogance, but rather curiosity. I never thought raising smart kids was a stigma, but for them, at times it is. My 15 year old piped up, "Yeah, why was I doing 60 piece puzzles when I was 3?"

The fact is?

I don't know. I have theories and as harsh as I am on myself at times, I guess I did okay. I wanted to fill their unending source of curiosity. I took them to the library and museums. I limited television time. When we did have television, I watched with them and then created games to expand on it. Yes, I asked my kids to invent their own Pokemon characters. If we could give a half hour daily to Pikachu and Jigglypuff and Charizard,  dangit! They were going to come up with their own character.

I don't know what we did or how our genetics contributed. My husband is a smart guy. We both are. But parenting has taught us that that it's rarely about the recipe. I just know that our kids excel. Nature/Nurture? I'm not sure. We went over a list of siblings in their school who are/were the top of their class. I am proud, undoubtedly. I see my children in the advanced classes, their class rankings and GPAs. I see their test scores. I know they excel. I don't know why. It doesn't stop me from being proud, and I wish I could spell it out. But my book would likely look like this:

Everything I Know About Raising Smart Kids

(crickets chirping). 

Fact is? I have no words of wisdom. I think that always looking for ways to stimulate their brains helped. I think that limited television and complementary assignments helped. I think reading to my kids helped. I think marrying a smart guy and his contribution to our gene pool helped. 

I just don't know why they do so well. 

I am just grateful that they do. 

My advice? Pay attention when they are little and give their brains ways to grow and learn. Find activities outside the school. Libraries, museums, theater. Put it out there. I did. I don't know if "that" was what did it. I just know that is what I did and my kids are at the top of their class. I just wanted kids who knew what to do and how to learn. I think they showed me that the did and could. 

January 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Memorabilia

I'm currently a fundraising chair for one of the non profit groups I work with. I've been combing through my possessions to see if anything I own is valuable enough to donate and earn funds for some of the charities I work with. I stumbled upon something that is so valuable to me, but not so valuable that they weren't packed in a box for over five years.

In other words, uncovering these possessions of mine took me back to one of the most special times of my life. It was the mid 80s and I had just graduated from high school. The most played songs on the radio were ones from Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA album. My rock and roll groupie fantasies were on fire. I had been a fan since I was barely a teenager, when he released his previous album, The River. (Nebraska notwithstanding, as it was not played on the radio at all, nor did the internet exist. I had no idea there was an album between then).

Admittedly, a lot of fans have followed him longer, and may be tempted to call me a poser. I am a product of my age. As soon as I was old enough to really pay attention to music, Bruce Springsteen caught my attention. And thanks the great folks at Columbia House Record Club, for only 1¢ plus shipping and handling, within a few months, all his older music also became mine.

I was able to get concert tickets that soft infested summer after my first year of college. We sat in the old Cleveland Stadium, on the field, in the second second of row AA, approximately 80 rows back on the field. I spent the entire concert straddling between my boyfriend and his best friend Terry's shoulders as they tried to help me see over the masses. The mid 80s were the summers of arena rock and at times it wasn't so much about the concert but the universal experience. That was how I felt that night. I was witnessing history.

Believe it or not, only the really brazen folks smuggled in cameras or recording devices. Obviously cell phones that did everything had not been invented, in fact, unless someone was willing to disguise themselves as pregnant, the size of the portable phones those days would not be something to conceal easily. I know one fellow who smuggled an instamatic camera in his sock and got photos that looked like they were taken through that same sock. 

For the next few years of my early college career, I regularly combed the record stores with a great friend of mine. We were so proud that we found an early bootleg double album of Springsteen songs called "You Can Trust Your Car", direct from Kornyfone record label. Our joy quickly diminished when we listened to the album. If my friend's photos looked like they were taken through a sock? This album sounded like it was recorded through one.

You Can Trust Your Car

Because memorabilia was so difficult to come by, it was a big deal whenever we could get our hands on some. In this day of instant Internet access, there is a picture or recording of anything I ever wanted to hear.

Back to the premise of this post. I have these great photos. I don't know whether they would be valuable to anyone but me. If I were a collector, I would want them. I'm not a collector, although I remain a fan. I don't need to see the pictures to love the music. The photos were taken before I was old enough to attend his concerts, when he used to play a small music club venue in Cleveland, Ohio, called the Agora. His concerts there were legendary and said to help launch his career. I don't know who took them and the story of how I have them is somewhat convoluted.

A friend knew I was a crazy Springsteen fan. In her older sister's stuff in their parent's attic were these photos, long forgotten. She had gone up there to find an old yearbook and saw them and figured they'd never be missed so she gave them to me. Nobody knew I had them and nobody ever missed them.

Now I wonder if the memories are more valuable than the photos or if those same photos could bring some of my favorite charities a well needed injection of cash. Readers? Help me figure out what to do. Any proceeds I make will be donated, but I don't even know if they are valuable to anyone but me.

Springsteen in the 70s

Springsteen in Cleveland 70s

January 28, 2013

OZ Superbowl Preview

Even when your team isn't part of the Superbowl, we all admit that we look forward to the commercials. 

Me, I'm looking forward to another advance preview of OZ: The Great and Powerful. I am so excited for this movie. One of my favorite childhood books was The Wizard of Oz. So much that I devoured all the other books in the series. This was well before publishing phenomenons existed and sequels or prequels were anticipated. But as a child, I patiently stood in line outside our school Bookmobile waiting for another adventure from my Oz friends. I read all of them

I loved Oz so much that for my 4H art project, I painted blown out eggs to represent each of the characters in the famous movie and place them on a yellow brick particle board road. My devotion was unwavering and remains so. 

If you didn't know that other stories besides the Wizard existed, allow me to enlighten you. My childhood fascination with Oz was so incredible that as an adult, I insisted on a road trip stop at an Oz trivia museum, in northern Indiana. Loathe as I am to admit, the stop was a cheesy tourist trap. That didn't stop me from picking up a few souvenirs to commemorate my love of Oz. 

All this reminiscing to bring you a teaser. During this weekend's Superbowl, Disney's upcoming feature, Oz: the Great and Powerful has a sneak preview. I'm excited for this movie. Almost as much as I am for an upcoming community theater production of the Wizard of Oz

January 27, 2013

It's Official! J.J. Abrams to Direct Star Wars: Episode VII

The combination of two entertainment dynasties has set the movie world afire with rumors and reactions. The Disney Blogger program has given us an inside track on all information regarding the Star Wars/Disney collaboration.

(for a collection of incredible mash-up art: click here

From Disney: 

J.J. Abrams will direct Star Wars: Episode VII, the first of a new series of Star Wars films to come from Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy. Abrams will be directing and Academy Award-winning writer Michael Arndt will write the screenplay.

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie,” said Kennedy. “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”

George Lucas went on to say “ I've consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller.  He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn't be in better hands.”  

"To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor,” J.J. Abrams said. “I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid."

J.J., his longtime producing partner Bryan Burk, and Bad Robot are on board to produce along with Kathleen Kennedy under the Disney | Lucasfilm banner.

Also consulting on the project are Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg.  Kasdan has a long history with Lucasfilm, as screenwriter on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. Kinberg was writer on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Abrams and his production company Bad Robot have a proven track record of blockbuster movies that feature complex action, heartfelt drama, iconic heroes and fantastic production values with such credits as Star Trek, Super 8, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Abrams has worked with Lucasfilm’s preeminent postproduction facilities, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, on all of the feature films he has directed, beginning with Mission: Impossible III. He also created or co-created such acclaimed television series as Felicity, Alias, Lost and Fringe.

January 17, 2013

The 5 Money Personalities: Book Review

Every year, as part of our annual financial kickoff and January purge, we try to do something better with our money. It's an annual tradition where we reevaluate our savings, our spending, and our investments. With two high school aged children who will be in college soon, it's very important for my husband and I to maximize how our money works for us. When I had the opportunity to review The 5 Money Personalities book, I hoped to glean some tips and additional advice. 

The timing of the book's publication was perfectly aligned with our goals, as it was just released on January 1, 2013. According to the publisher, 
Every couple argues about money. It doesn't matter if you've been married for 40 years or dating for 4 months, money touches every decision you make as a couple—from the $5 cup of coffee to the $50,000 car. And when the two of you don’t see eye-to-eye on how much to spend or how much to save, that’s when arguments turn into ugly toxic fights that leave both persons feeling hurt and angry. 
The website has several free tools, including a Money Personality Profile. I plan to have our teenagers take the test because I think knowing your money personality is a valuable step in the start of any personal financial management plan. According the authors, the different money personalities are Saver, Spender, Security Seeker, Risk Taker, and Flyer. Every person has a primary personality and a secondary one. Marriages run into trouble when the core personality types are at odds which is quite common in couples. 

I did not realize that this book was more of a couple's class and needed to be read together when I wanted to review it. That said, I am not able to offer my husband's opinion or input because he does not have the time or inclination to read the book. However, I also can say that for our personal case, the book didn't contain any particularly enlightening information, but he and I are also very closely aligned in our approach to money. We both are motivated by savings and security. The book addresses how couples with different money personalities can find ways to communicate better, which simply isn't an issue in our home. While we certainly have our disagreements, rarely are they about money. We just are very similar in how we like to handle it. 

After reading the book, I can see that it would be useful for couples who do not see eye to eye about money, although I found the advice at times a little simplistic. However, that would probably be the first step in understanding different approaches. It is not a budget planning book or filled with tips to save money. It is a way to stop arguing about money as a couple. Best of luck! 
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this eBook in exchange for my honest opinion. My honest opinion is that getting something for free is pretty much in line with my Money Personality of a Saver. 

January 16, 2013

Making a Difference

Yesterday, on my other blog, Our Daily Green, we asked a simple question, Are you ready to be a changemaker? We weren't referring to working as a cashier and counting 43 cents back to a customer, but instead, we were referring to the ability to make a difference in your community. But I'm here to tell you about the ways I've made both kinds of change.

When I graduated from college, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was, I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it. I still subscribe to that philosophy, but it can be a rather nebulous concept if you don't know where to start. 

My first job out of college was actually the same one I had all through college, but I was promoted to full time with additional responsibilities. I worked at a grocery store and we were part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. And wow, did I make a lot of change. Usually to the tune of at least 1500 customers per day at the store. After college graduation, I quickly went from clocking in and out without much thought, to really looking long and hard at what I did 40 plus hours/week. I studied the contracts and knew what our rights as workers were and before long I was elected store union steward. It was pretty shocking on many levels because without question, most of the members were grizzled veterans of the industry, folks who had slung bags of groceries, unloaded semi-trucks and filled the store shelves with cans in the late hours of the night for well over 25 years, whereas I had only been on the job about 4 years. 

I was in the customer service booth, training cashiers and programming prices into the computer. My co-workers put their trust in me to represent them with the management. In fact, I was soon elected to be part of the entire local union's contract negotiating committee, one of about 10 members of 26,000. As part of our contract, we were required to picket non-union stores in the area, or management could require us to take a cut in our hourly wage, to remain competitive. If you ever see picket lines around at local stores, that is why, it's part of the contractual agreement. I actually marched on a picket line while I was 8 months pregnant. I also participated in a city-wide media campaign which included television commercials,  radio spots, printed fliers, newspaper inserts and billboards. 

I still believe strongly in the concept of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We had medical benefits, pensions, and modest hourly cost of living increases. Our work force was able to pay their bills with dignity and honesty. Non-union stores traditionally pay their employees minimum wage for part time hours with no benefits. To this day, Walmart has more employees on welfare than any other job creator. 

This all was over 17 years ago, before I had children and decided that I was going to save the world 2 people at time instead of 26,000. Still I get the itch for activism and making a difference on a larger scale. That is what is so incredible about the power of social media and the ability to build communities and affect change from the comfort of your own home. Whatever your cause, whatever difference you want to make, you can join communities around the nation to pool resources and become a vehicle for change. The tools are at your disposal. Take a look and learn more about how you personally can make a change. 

disclosure: I am the luckiest person in the world. I am actually being compensated to encourage you to go out and make a difference. How cool is that? 

January 14, 2013

sleep on it

What a difference a few days makes! Last Friday, I regaled my tale of a volunteering day gone south. I had a rough class, a group of kids that seemed totally unreachable. I felt so sad that I didn't reach them and came home feeling dejected and ineffective. I take my volunteer work very seriously so when it doesn't go well, I feel like it's a reflection on myself.

Today, I returned to the same school, for a similar group of students. Upon leaving last Friday, I was promised by the principal if I came back on Monday, it would be a better experience. I was skeptical, admittedly. I mentally prepped myself thinking that if only I had known what to expect, I could do better. I wished desperately for a do-over because I feel like those young people the other day were cheated.

As I started this essay, a day makes such a difference, as does information and preparation.

I had a charming group of 5th graders today. Similar circumstances, in an alternative setting, with a full time teacher and aide in the room. The children all have to take medication for behavior issues and I was warned ahead of time that one of the kid's meds usually took the first hour to kick in.

I apprehensively walked into the room and asked the teacher if I could have a few minutes with her before I started. I explained with trepidation that I had been there on Friday, with the class next door, and that my day had been less than ideal, and actually at times frightening. I almost pleaded with her that if there was anything I needed to know before I started my day, to please let me know. I asked if I would need a talking tool (a small toy that whoever was speaking would need to be holding), I asked her if it would be a problem to put the children all together at a table, or would they start breaking into fights? I found a new level of humility the prior week, by assuming too much in my abilities.

Armed with my resolve and my bag of lessons, I greeted their smiling faces and eager dark eyes. I felt a warmth. Their desks were arranged for a little more eye contact and the teacher assured me that there would be no disrespect or cursing. That it simply didn't happen in her classroom. She also warned me that the kids may get a little rambunctious because they are used to routine and my class plan was outside the routine. I want to report that they were nothing more than typically energetic students. They were polite, on task, and attentive.

I had a wonderful day. I met children thirsty for knowledge and ideas. Every one of today's kids participated, said please and thank you, joined in the game and met my eyes not with hostility but friendliness.

I am not sure what the difference was, but after talking to the aide for a while during our lunch, I learned that the other class was taught by a long term sub and that they'd had several teachers in the past year. Meanwhile, today's class had the same teacher this year and last year. She knew her charges and their stories. They were good and bright little people. They were the product of consistency. One of them begged me to stay all day or at least come back. We had fun and they learned so much. I am so proud of them.

What a difference it makes to sleep on it. I think one of the keys is not to give up. Their teacher hasn't given up on them, she has reinforced so much with them repeatedly. They knew what she expected and they lived up to it. They are a reflection of her dedication to her profession. I sing her praises.  For a few moments, I wavered the other day. I was afraid I was unqualified, untrained and unprepared to help this type of group. But if not me, who? I had committed to help and I had a job to do.

I only have one wish now... I want a do-over. I want to spend another day with the other kids. I wish I could try again. I believe in what I do and I believe in the power of young minds to absorb. I believe.

January 11, 2013

looking over the picket fence

I spent my day volunteering in a classroom for at-risk children. At-risk doesn't begin to describe their situation. The class I taught at normally has 10 children, but today, there were only 5. Two were suspended, one moved, one was sick and one had a death in the family. The class is 3rd and 4th graders, and they are on their last stop of the education train before they are expelled. Expelled in 3rd grade. And then what?

My job today was to teach a financial literacy program. I was to talk to the students about how bank accounts work, how to deposit and withdraw, how interest works. I was to teach them what it means to earn money, and start talking about career aspirations, to get them thinking about things they do well and how they could turn that into a career down the road. To explain what a mentor or role model was and how to model behavior after someone they admire. I was to explain a work ethic and business start up costs.

I arrived on time, briefcase and lesson plan in hand. The principal pulled me aside before I went to the class room and told me what to expect. I had no idea. I am too sheltered, I feared, as I listened to him explain that this was the last chance to educate these kids. Imagine...  on their last chance before some of them are even 10 years old. His words baffled me. He explained that some of the kids could not read or do math, so not to lose patience if they couldn't. I tapped my case and said, I brought calculators to keep things moving along.

Then I confidently announced, I've got this, I have taught all over the city. I have worked with kids from every area and in all grades. I believe in this program and I believed all it took was a positive attitude, a different teacher, and a genuine love for what I do.

He led me to the classroom and the teacher as well as her aide wanly smiled at me. Maybe I imagined it, but I think they wondered if I knew what the heck I got myself into. I don't know. Maybe they were just exhausted. Or exasperated. I took a few minutes to organize my supplies and jumped in with enthusiasm.

Each desk was set up like a group of islands, with no child able to make eye contact with the other. No desk touched another, and one boy was even hidden behind a partition. I invited them to sit at a big table with me together because I had a group activity that was part of the curriculum. The teacher pulled out a big spiral notebook, as I unfolded the game board. I took a few minutes to explain how bank accounts worked and how to keep a ledger of deposits, withdrawals and total balances.  The teacher, meanwhile, was keeping a ledger of behavior infractions. Each student received a worksheet and when they rolled the die and moved their game piece, they had the opportunity to change their bank balance. It was a simple simulation game.

They wanted none of it. They couldn't understand why I didn't give them real money and why they needed to pay attention. They all wanted to go at the same time but nobody wanted to wait until the last person's turn finished. It was chaos.

I realized that I don't know a thing. At least not about this world. I don't know a thing about a world where children are kept separate because they will hurt each other otherwise. But I was about to find out. The morning slowly moved along and we found ourselves barely through 2 of the lessons, of which we were to teach 6. It was time for lunch and the teacher explained that the students didn't leave for lunch it was brought to the room for them. They were not going to a cafeteria, but instead were isolated for repeated behavior problems. They were at this school to try to earn their way back to their mainstream school.

After lunch I gathered them back at the big table to attempt to continue the lessons and get through lesson 3. The trash talking started and the kids were openly hostile. They were cursing at each other in language that I would ground my high school children for using, let alone 3rd and 4th graders. They were grabbing each other's papers, arguing about whose turn it was and smart mouthing me. One handsome little boy with long eyelashes and eyes so dark they were almost black was so angry I actually felt a tingle of personal fear run over my spine. If he had the wherewithal, he would have hurt me physically because I asked him to please pay attention while I was talking. I couldn't believe that for that moment in time, I was actually scared of that beautiful little boy.

Another boy kept pulling his hood over his head and refusing to participate, while another one kept doubling over in pain unless he forgot there was nothing wrong. He was feigning illness because he didn't feel like working. Another young boy with crooked, bent glasses explained that he had lost them at the gym where he was learning how to box so he could punch anyone who messed with him. The dark eyed angry boy called him out on his statement and kicked him under the table. Then it disintegrated. Within seconds, the talk escalated, and the n- word flew out as well as several other profane expressions. I realized that I needed to send the children back to their desk islands. On the way back to their seats, fists flew as one child got shoved so hard a desk almost fell over. Three adults (a teacher, an aide, and myself), five children and the children were dominating.

I opted to skip lesson 4 and combine lesson 5 and 6 with no table time or game playing. I cannot say I was losing patience, but I was out of ideas. I didn't know how to reach them nor did I know what to do. I felt ineffective. At one point another person from my organization stopped by to take some photos, and was threatened by the children not to take any photos. Then the kids took a few moments to talk about their counselors and conditions. They said very matter-of-factlly that they had been diagnosed with ADHD and bi-polar and I sarcastically said, "I never would have guessed." At that point I realized I was in over my head. Because I was wrong to make jokes, however surreptitiously. It's not funny, it's tragic.

We have failed the least among us. Society has failed. Yes, it takes a village and the village left. There were 5 children today who needed someone to care. By the end of today, I only wanted to finish my day. I didn't know what to do and it has me sad. I thought I had the answers.

I am home now, sitting in my suburban enclave writing this very raw blog. But I'm left with more questions than answers, I fear.

January 9, 2013

More motivation! Let's do it!

January 2, 2013

Weight loss step one: Get the right tools

Earlier last year, as part of our ongoing blogging outreach program, we received an amazing tool that we plan to utilize strongly as part of our weight loss program.

digital kitchen scaleThe kind folks at Ozeri Products sent us a digital kitchen scale for review. We set the package aside and only discovered it again during our holiday preparations and quickly realized how useful it would be. Over the holidays, it was an invaluable kitchen tool for precise measuring. There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours baking and having a recipe fail. Many times that failure is due to imprecise measurements.

For example, depending how tightly packed a cup of flour is, it may weigh up to twice a typical cup of flour. By knowing a cup of flour should weigh 4 ounces, it is much easier to have accurate results. What is really great about the Ozeri scale is that you can even set the scale to deduct the weight of whatever measuring vessel you're using, so you can still use the measuring cups, but with a digital weight for accuracy. Another great feature is that the scale weighs in both ounces and grams depending on the recipe used.

The scale also came in handy for mailing packages this past season. We had a few packages we weren't sure whether they required extra postage or not, and with the scale we could cross check the weight with the postal charges. The scale can weigh up to 12 pounds.

Our final use for the scale is still to be tested, as we are going to be measuring all our portions to make certain we don't overeat. We are very excited and happy to work with Ozeri. We give the digital kitchen scale our highest level of endorsement and recommend if you are planning to lose some weight this year and want to measure your portions accurately, this kitchen scale is the perfect product.

See a copy of our review also on Amazon

Here are some of the manufacturer's details as provided to us by them:

  • Ozeri Pro II Digital Kitchen Scale in Elegant Chrome, 12 lbs Capacity, with Kitchen Timer
  • Newly design with a capacity range from 0.05 oz to 12 lbs (1 gram to 5.4 kg), the Pro II features a built-in countdown kitchen timer with 3 alarm modes (audible beep, blinking LED, or combined).
  • Precision tare feature subtracts the weight of the container for the net weight of the ingredients; easy unit button instantly converts between oz, g, lbs, and kg.
  • Large screen features a bright LCD with an improved viewing angle for the on-the-go cook.
  • Oversized buttons generate audible click confirmation; 3-minute automatic turn-off preserves battery life.
  • Finished in elegant chrome or black and sized for easy storage and portability; ships with 2 AAA batteries included.


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