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.

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