The Brody Bunch – Life is a Highway

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Snapped a pic of Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez while watching Cars 3 on Netflix.

December Errands Turn Into Holiday Memories

December.  While we need toilet paper, dish soap and mustard, store shelves are overflowing with holiday cheer.  My retail experience has been a teary eyed holiday season regarding memories from material gifts from years ago. The retail world is on high octane with sparkly pajama sets, gift boxed Hot Wheels, non scary looking baby dolls, Barbie and her dream world, Lego kits, books and more. I used to buy it all.  Now, I get a lump in my throat when I see the the holiday packaged merchandise as my kids are too old for this, they outgrew the this world, but my heart and memory did not. 

My kids are sweet, they don’t ask for expensive items, but their interests are expensive (sports gear and arts classes).  Toy catalogs and trips to box stores are now non issues in my house regarding the kids. But these are issues for me. The kids don’t long for their childhood toys, but I do. The toys used to shed light into their thoughts and imaginations before screen time. We used to play together.

My biggest holiday gift was always the joy I received in picking out the perfect doll or race car and watching my then little kids open the presents with such happiness and gratitude.  Those days are now just memories.

Lightning McQueen, then and now

My oldest son, 15, invited me to watch a movie with him.  Cars 3.  At age three, the first movie he ever saw was Cars. We watched this movie at least one hundred times. Ka-Chow! [Ka-Chow is Lightning McQueen’s catchphrase in case you missed the Cars experience].  Cars 3 represented a lot to me: present time with my son and a chance to go back in time.  I had a lot going on in my head. I tried to explain this phenomena to him, but his 15 year old self responded. I knew to pipe down and enjoy being in the moment.  I also knew that I would come back here and reflect this with all of you later.

We were watching Cars 3 just like we watched movies when my 15 year old was three, well that was my perspective.  And, when he told me “I love you”  it was the same infection in his voice as it was at age three, but now much lower in pitch at age 15.

At one point during the movie, we switched roles.  When he was little and something sad happened in a movie, I would remind him that it’s a movie, and I think things will work out.  Now, when I gasped at a Car character spinning out of control and hitting a wall (yes this is all animated), I was reminded by my son, “It’s a Disney-Pixar movie, it will be okay.” And, it was followed up with, “I love you.”   This growing up stuff is hard on the heart, but all will be okay.

Merchandising to the Kids, and to THIS parent

Recently, we gave away hundreds of Hot Wheels cars, and I pulled out Lightning McQueen from the giveaway, to keep for myself as a memento from my younger years of parenting.

The next morning after watching the movie, I was in Target. I knew it would be hard, but I went down the toys aisle to find a Lightning McQueen car from Cars 3, as a gag gift/or a pull at your heartstrings gift to my son, but probably more as a souvenir for myself.  I couldn’t find any movie merchandise, which was probably best.  And, I found myself eyeing the Hot Wheels race tracks that we used to set up through the living room. I saw the section of toys that we always ignored, no offense to the action figures and board games. 

I like to talk to strangers in the aisles and there was no one. No one for me to share with the great life messages that we watched in Cars 3.  The movie was filled with themes of friendship, doing the correct thing, knowing that you can always go home and to be yourself.  I left the toys aisle quickly and got our toilet paper, dish soap and mustard.

Life is a Highway

Whenever I hear the song, Life is a Highway the theme song from Cars I think of the journey my family is traveling.  This song is one of my songs with my oldest son, we hear it and we give each other a nod and a smile.  It’s a special song in our family.

Gifts don’t always come with glitter or with a big bow.  My gift came via Netflix and a trip down memory lane.  This holiday season shaped up to be a reminder via sparkles, movies, Barbies, Hot Wheels, glitter lip gloss and fancy plastic high heels that time moves on. 

To borrow from the lyrics Life is a Highway “Life’s like a road that you travel on/When there’s one day here and the next day gone… I love you now like I loved you then, this is the road….”  It’s a blessing to be on this highway, glad I was asked to watch a movie.

The Brody Bunch – Wishing for Random Acts of Kindness

A Man in Need, A Bully & Me

In the season of giving, things went wrong in my quick exchange with someone asking for help.  I was leaving Target, and walking with two strangers. Another man sitting with his belongings on a bench asked “do you have anything to spare?”  I smiled and nodded my head no. One of the men said under his breath, but loud enough to hear, “GET A JOB”. I said to this very large man, “Stop it, you don’t know his circumstances.”  The man argumentatively continued that the man asking for anything to spare could work at McDonald’s. I added, “he may not have skills or may have medical circumstances whereas he can’t work, you are being unkind.”  The man insisted that McDonald’s was the option. I stood up to a bully.

Offered Kindness & a Granola Bar & Received Rejection

I got into my car, drove around the parking lot back to the man, and got out of the car.  I said to the man, “I am sorry that man was so mean and unkind. And, I have a granola bar for you.  You might want it later.” The man was initially friendly and now had a freighting look on his face. “I do not want your granola bar.”  I responded, “You might want it later. Please.” He said, “Go away with your granola bar. I don’t want it, because of my teeth.” I was surprised, and complimented his teeth and suggested that the granola bar can be crushed.  The man told me firmly “GO AWAY.” No smile. No thank you. Just, GO AWAY.

I went away crushed. I stood up to a man physically bigger than me.  Then I was rejected by someone I was trying to help.

I got in back in the car, sad. Later, I gave my kid the granola bar which he accepted with gratitude.

Wishing for Random Acts of Kindness

On this 8th Night of Chanukah, my holiday wish is that as many people as possible give the gift of small acts of kindness.  Like a menorah, we can all be the light.  If we each do something kind in the Universe, it will be better for all of us, no matter what our circumstance.  My next small act of kindness was to let a car in front of me and not use bad words when he didn’t wave thank you, I started very small. 

We need as many people as possible doing small random acts of kindness. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s the spirit of the holiday season. And, you won’t need a gift receipt. 

The Brody Bunch – The Thought Behind Teacher Holiday Gifts

The Season For Giving To Others

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  My four generous children like to give their many teachers homemade gifts during the holidays. Their kindness and thoughtfulness makes my heart burst with pride. They have done this for as long as I can remember. While writing this blog, I received an email from my then Kindergarten aged daughter’s Principal.  The Principal shared a photo of a Christmas ornament that my daughter made for her eight years ago. That ornament still gets hung on the Principal’s Christmas tree!

Saturday, I went to Target because they sent me a coupon “spend $100 get $20 off.” It is not lost on me that we have very little time to make teacher holiday gifts before Winter Break. Especially for four kids with at least eight teachers each.

From Arts & Crafts to Holiday Treats From the Kids

Our days of pipe cleaner beaded snowflake ornament making are sadly behind us.  And, gluing sequins and ribbons onto pre-cut holiday themed cardboard shapes is also a memory from the past. We have evolved into giving Rolo pretzel treats. Rolo pretzels bring holiday cheer in an affordable manner while allowing my kids to be generous and show gratitude over the holiday season. Instead of glitter glue all over my house like from days long ago, my kitchen and dining room are set up like a factory because we assemble a boatload of pretzel Rolo treats for their teachers.

So, I went to Target to purchase Rolos and pretzels. Coincidentally, I ran into the woman who gave me this recipe – melting Rolo candy onto square pretzels and freezing them. Ta-da.  The hardest part of this effort, after unwrapping each individual Rolo, is to not eat the Rolos.

OY to the World

Back to shopping at Target. I was walking through the crowded aisles filled with many people wearing ugly sweaters and holiday graphic t-shirts.  I considered buying a holiday t-shirt with my coupon money, but the joke will wear off for me after the first wear and I know that I will never find the shirt during the holiday season.  I don’t need such a shirt in February. Also, I am Jewish so I give a nod to Hanukkah simply by wearing a necklace that says “OY to the World” – that is my holiday cheer.

Standing in the candy aisle, the sale tag on Rolos is confusing.  The sale was three bags for $10 or whatever was about 55 pieces per bag/165 total candies.  After I figured out the pieces of candies per servings, times the number of servings per gift bag, times four children, times eight teachers each, plus other adults in the building and Crossing Guards, and receptionists, and nurses, and lunch ladies, the Custodian and EVERYONE, I needed a lot of Rolos.

Alex The Target Employee & Talent Scout

Then I met Alex, a Target employee, working in aisle G30.  He overheard me calling my Dad, “Are you busy? Are you in front of your computer?  I need you to go onto Amazon. Target is smartly blocking the Amazon site (at least that is what I think).  I need you to give me the unit price on Rolos, please. WTF? My measurement in Target is by the pound. No, I can’t do the conversion in ounces for Amazon.  Grams? Hell no. Okay, so you agree? Buy Rolos here? It’s probably the same price? Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Alex asked me if I ever thought about getting my own TV show.  Thanks, Alex. Alex said that I had a lot of options for my TV show, but it would be a comedy, possibly a cooking show, but definitely a comedy.

Now that I had an audience, Alex confirmed that the price at Target was great. He didn’t even know the Amazon price. But, Alex thought I was funny and I think he wanted to be on my TV show.  So, I tossed 9 bags of Rolos into my shopping cart. Though if memory serves me correctly, that at Christmas, there are larger quantity bags of Rolos. I told Alex what I was doing and he proceeded to show me other candies that would also taste good melted over ice cream.  Please Alex, there is NO ice cream involved. Then I showed him a box of candy canes and suggested that he open each individually wrapped candy cane, place it in a Ziploc bag, and mash it with a hammer so that he would have Peppermint crunch toppings on HIS ice cream. He was impressed.  I bid Alex adieu and told him that I have to figure out the Rolo formula regarding pretzels, because we need enough bags of pretzels for two pretzels per Rolo. And, if you are really on the ball, you know that some pretzels will come broken in the bag, and someone may or may not eat some Rolos, unauthorized.  

Full Price for Christmas Wrap?

Moving along from the candy aisle, I ended up in the Winter Wonderland section. I met a mom pondering aloud with a toddler in tow if she should buy more Christmas wrapping paper, she’s not sure if she has enough paper from last year. I inquired, “Excuse me. Hi. How are you unsure about this?  Don’t you buy Christmas paper AFTER Christmas when it’s on clearance and stock up for next year?” The look on her face was priceless. She responded, “What does that mean? You actually buy Christmas paper AFTER the season when it’s on sale and use it the following year?” WTF? I am no financial planner, but they aren’t canceling Christmas.  She left impressed. I left overwhelmed knowing the knowledge I have to share with the world.

Next thing I see IN the Winter Wonderland is another sized bag of Rolos. So, now I am doing the formulas that I did previously but adding fractions into the formulas for price comparisons.  I was getting screwed by the candy company. Turns out that the second packaging option was saving me pennies. I reached for about 9 of those sized bags and separated my shopping cart between the first batch of Rolos and the second batch. I walked back to Aisle G30 to return the first round of Rolos. I am a model citizen in these situations.  I can’t believe it, on the end cap, there was a THIRD option. I have my calculator app going, I am scratching numbers on scrap paper and decided indeed that I am going with the third option. I pull back into Aisle G30 and find Alex. I tell Alex that I did not intend to spend my morning earning a degree in Mathematics. He was sorry. But, in my absence, he thought of more recipes.  I was putting the bags back on the shelf and his manager walked by. I told his manager that Alex went above and beyond good customer service. Though I worked really hard at all of the math and re-shelving the inventory. In hindsight, Alex just told me that I needed a TV show. I recommended that Alex get recognition and he received a customer shout out on the employee wide walkie-talkie radio.  I led the cheering in my section of Target.

Rolo Pretzels Are Coming! And So Is Discounted Christmas Wrapping Paper!  … It’s the Thought that Counts!

Anyone who has taught my kids over the past 7 years knows that the Rolo pretzels are coming.  When they say “it’s the thought that counts” indeed, I have given this a lot of thought. … and as a public service announcement, put a reminder in your calendars to buy Christmas wrapping paper on clearance after the New Year.  I’ve thought a lot about that, too.

Baltimore, I Love You. What Are We Doing?

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Committed To Baltimore

I live and work in Baltimore City and send our four children to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I am a cheerleader for the City, an unofficial self appointed ambassador. I still love going to Orioles games even in this climate. When we eat out, I prefer restaurants in the City.  If there is a retail location in both the county and the City, I try to spend money in the City. We support the arts in the City and our kids play in City sports leagues. I join the PTAs and I vote in every election.  I am doing my part. And so are so many of you. But as a City, what are we doing?

Not a Blog about Baltimore’s National Narrative

This blog has nothing to do with Baltimore’s high crime, bad public transportation system, racial injustices, failing schools, our lack of a Police Commissioner, and also now a Public Health Commissioner.  Though I am reminding readers that the first week of school, my son’s high school, one of about 70 City schools, closed early for four consecutive days because there is inadequate air conditioning.  At this rate, with the lack of political action, we should plan on early closings next summer, too.

Not a Blog about the Treasures of our City

This blog doesn’t address the awesome things that I love about our City.  There are many wonderful things about Baltimore including our diversity, some of our schools, and our worldwide medical institutions.  We are home to Babe Ruth, the Iron Man Cal Ripkin, former rapper Tupac Shakur, Hairspray and John Waters, two Super Bowl victories, crabs, the Star Spangled Banner, Olympiad Michael Phelps, Preakness, Berger cookies and the snowball.  This blog reflects upon just three hours spent in Baltimore City last night.  What are we doing as a City?  We want people to spent time and money in the City, and even by my enthusiasm, it’s quite challenging.

A Blog About Three Hours in Baltimore

Last night, Saturday night, we had dinner in Federal Hill and thought about going to the O’s game, free sweatshirts were enticing, and we planned to wrap up our night at the Sandlot Beach bar. I won’t out the restaurant by name, but it’s disappointing in Baltimore to order a crab cake, and learn that the restaurant doesn’t serve cocktail sauce.  I inquired if the restaurant had horseradish. The chef sent all of the ingredients to me: horseradish, ketchup and lemons. I made the cocktail sauce myself at the table. The waitress was impressed. First and last time dining there.

We decided to walk over to Camden Yards.  We arrived in the first inning. We saw several fans walking away from the stadium with their game swag giveaway sweatshirts in hand.  I walked up to the ticket booth and asked for the cheapest tickets. Sweatshirts got people back into the Yard, but at $27 per ticket, for the very last place team in the Major League, and many open seats, even I decided to keep walking.  I will buy a new sweatshirt in a retail store another day.

We walked to the Inner Harbor. It was dark. No entertainment in the amphitheater. None of the bars near Pier 4 had outside seating or entertainment.  It was 8 PM on a warm Saturday night. It was uncomfortable being there.  Our well known tourist attraction was empty.  I saw a psychic with a pop up tent in front of a relatively empty Pavilion and even she didn’t have business.  I have memories as a kid being at Harborplace on Saturday nights and the promenades were filled with music, crowds, and entertainment.  Not last night.

We walked past the Aquarium and through Harbor East.  It was difficult to find the entrance to the Sandlot Bar.  It’s a great concept, but the first thing I read on the entry sign to the Sandlot was that everything is card purchase only, cash is too dangerous. The venue had a very small gathering. When we left, our Uber driver canceled because she couldn’t find how to get to the bar.

Marketing, Reality and Potential

Baltimore City is geographically located in a great spot.  We have terrific tourist spots and great entities for the locals.  After last night, I can’t imagine reading about Baltimore on Tripadvisor, or whatever, and traveling here for a quick getaway, and finding a local bar without cocktail sauce, no cheap tickets left for the last place baseball team, and a dark, entertainment-less attraction, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Better lighting, street entertainers and visible security might make it appealing again to make the Inner Harbor on a Saturday night a destination spot like when I was a kid.

The Brody Bunch – Happy New Year

Tradition, Community & Rain

With heavy rain, it is understandable that the annual Rosh Hashanah services Under the Stars, an outdoor event ringing in the Jewish New Year, with a service alongside a picnic dinner, was moved inside. Since the inception of this spiritual, casual, community event, I do not believe that my family has ever missed one year.  Mother Nature broke our streak.

For many, this gathering, is a time to reconnect with former neighbors, old school friends, their parents, and their kids.  Old camp bunk mates attend. My kids’ teammates, preschool teachers and current teachers attend. We ring in the New Year as a community, about 5000 people from the Baltimore Jewish community. We gather to hear the first sound of the shofar.

Dinner is a big part of the Holiday

I am always amazed that for a three hour event, the outdoor Congregants drag lawn chairs, Bridge card tables, tarps, coolers, enough food for a banquet, and wine to celebrate the Jewish new year.  Even if the rained stopped, I can’t see our people dragging the gear and food through the mud.  Our cars wouldn’t survive getting out of the fields – we struggle with the parking lot on dry land.

Dinner is a big component of this evening.  Some people get carryout.  Some people partake in the food trucks.  Some families cook. For my family, my father often makes the main dish which varies from year to year: filet mignon, salmon, flank steak, deli, masculine green salad and more. I bring the traditional Jewish favorites including Dr. Brown’s diet black cherry and cream soda cans, rainbow cake, chocolate tops, and the balance of dinner.

Many families have three big dinners and luncheons over this holiday. My daughter and I cook for the second dinner. Because of the rain, this year, my family is swapping out the second dinner menu in lieu of the canceled picnic dinner. We will figure out tomorrow’s dinner later. I have heard that some of our friends will be eating their Royal Farms’ fried chicken intended picnic dinner in their dry and warm homes. I am racing against the clock and hoping that the traditional brisket, matzoh ball soup, kugel, and apple cake are cooked before for sundown. We already polished off the chopped liver.

Memories From Past Rosh Hashanahs

While I am disappointed that our family’s traditional evening will be different this year, and as I continue to procrastinate getting dinner ready, here are a few good stories from the past:

  • The year that the selfie emerged, my mother and I discovered we could not get our heads into one photo. We have photos filled with laughter and our heads are cut off.  We bought a selfie stick that week.
  • One time my father made an 8 pound flank steak and brought it into the park whole. He brought an industrial grade butcher’s knife and I had to slice it on the picnic blanket sitting on my knees.
  • My Mom couldn’t open her folding chair and kindly asked surrounding neighbors if they had KY Jelly while wishing them a good New Year.  We intervened after the third inquiry.
  • The year my dad prepared filet mignon. We were already to eat and it was discovered that my mom forgot to pack utensils. My dad and I walked around the park wishing everyone a Happy New Year and begged for a spare plastic fork here and an extra plastic knife there.  We may have had to share a spoon or two during dessert.
  • We went light one year with an extravagant deli spread. There must have been 8 different mustards. Mark asked my Dad if he brought any other condiments. My Dad who is generous and flexible responded with a tone, “Mark, I picked up all of the deli. We have a lot of options.  Can you figure out something else?”  Mark, “Sure, Freddie, but the mustard is expired. One expired about 12 years ago.”  Our first born son wasn’t born the year that mustard was manufactured.  We have never looked at mustard the same since.
  • Yes, my mother’s beautiful Jewish Apple Cake fell out of the container and rolled down a hill.  We pulled the grass off it, and ate it anyway.
  • My kids remember when they were little, that they used to receive apples and honey sticks on our way out for a sweet new year.  When our son was about 9, a relative didn’t come with us. My son asked the volunteer for an extra apple and honey stick to bring home.  I am still proud of my son years later for his empathy.

Music, Rain & Wishes for a Sweet Year

Music is always my favorite part of this service. I tear up each year when we all sing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in unison. This one event of the year is when I feel the most spiritual and community strong. It is incredible to hear your community, religious or not, sing the prayers of the high holidays together.  And Bob Marley just adds a little extra.
As the rain keeps us inside this year, and the menus abruptly change, it feels like Passover when the Jews were forced to flee and the bread didn’t rise, we got matzoh. I will look at the Rosh Hashanah matzoh balls with irony this year.
From our table to your table we wish you another sweet year filled with good health, peace, happiness and humor no matter what you are eating, and however you are celebrating. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Brody Bunch – The Bike, Teen Freedom & Adult Personal Growth

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Reflections, Freedom, Personal Growth Because of a Bike

Labor Day is the universal date marking the end of summer. Our summer included great vacations abroad, the beach, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, California and camps. Our memory buckets are overflowing.  And, I will look back on this particular summer as our oldest son’s “Summer of Freedom” combined with the byproduct of my “Summer of Personal Growth”.  

Our son turned 15 in July.  All he wanted was a bike. For his fifth birthday, I gift wrapped a tricycle for him.  His four-year-old sister saw the wrapped gift and excitedly announced: “You got a bike!” He was disappointed that she “ruined” the surprise. There was no doubt that under the Sesame Street wrapping paper a bike was in there.

Ten years later, he wanted a bike.  After bikes were stolen off our porch and there was a stretch of teens being knocked off their bikes by thieves in our neighborhood, we denied bike requests.  Our son’s friend shared an extra bike and the boys spent hours riding around the neighborhood. Yet, my son wanted his own bike. He offered to pay for it. So, I stood between the bike and my fears.  And, should the pendulum swing towards the bike, there would be a beautiful rite of passage for this teenager: independence and freedom.

A Birthday Wish, Agonized and Granted

A grandmother asked me what birthday wish she could fill.  I told her about the bike and asked if she wanted to contribute to that.  She called me back and offered a wonderful bike. My younger children went to see the bike and confirmed that this bike was the perfect size and he would love it. The siblings never mentioned the bike to their eager brother.  My concerns about past crimes and the issue that we live on the West side of a very busy street that needs to be crossed to get into the neighborhood of friends living East of the main road was well known. Now, I held the permission to the gift of freedom. After restless sleep and with tremendous trepidation, I graciously accepted the bike.

Days later after a family dinner, we stepped onto the patio.  The bike was revealed. Our reserved son beamed with happiness and his recessive dimple popped out. Grandparents, parents and siblings filled the porch to see this surprise. I imagine this moment was like someone receiving their first color television or their first car.  With much gratitude, my son held onto the bike handles and quickly shared the safest routes to bike around busy roads. He had a responsible plan already worked out for this magical moment.

The Gift of Freedom and Independence and Letting Go, Riding off into the World

My son, through the bike, was given the gift of freedom.  Throughout the rest of the summer “the guys” rode their bikes to various friends’ homes, the pool, the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the park, and on trails. I received photos of my happy son on his adventures. With a knot in my stomach, my heart was happy for him.  I recognize that I lived through this agonizing decision.

His friends’ parents maintained stocked fridges, a welcome place to sleep, and space to lock up all of the bikes.  It took an entire Village to lift my son, support his wishes to get a bike, and let him be a kid experiencing adventures and journeys.  Deep in my heart, I know this is about me letting go. The experience of getting a bike at age 15,  is very different than a 10-year-old getting a bike. From his parents’ point of view, the issues surrounding a bike at an older age feels much closer to getting a car – further travels in the City, navigating decisions, personal safety, unsupervised travels, and more. We still worry about him constantly, and I share in his happiness about his outings and experiences.  Now, he has the opportunity to ride off into the world, on his own bike.

The Brody Bunch – Hot Wheels

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Just $1 each. My kids’ little fingers played with each one.  And, it was time to pass them on.

Hot Wheels, Driving Out of My House, But Not My Heart

Five Hot Wheels suitcases filled with 48 – 96 cars each, remained unplayed with for many years and stored in a basement closet. The chore of reclaiming valuable real estate space back in closets is long overdue. I am horrible at this task. With all of the kitchen gadgets, school art projects from long ago, future snow day activities, boxes of stuff family members thought they could store in my house, etc, the Hot Wheels were randomly chosen for the clutter purge.

More than a decade ago, when our son was three or four, I remember asking the pediatrician if our first born child was safely able to play with Hot Wheels.  The wheels are little parts, a toddler issue. Yes, pediatrician signed off on Hot Wheels! This was so exciting! I remember my son standing in the red Target shopping cart and spending a lot of time picking out the most special Hot Wheels from the display racks. He had a meticulous process. We often repeated this outing. The Tooth Fairy brought Hot Wheels. Grandparents bought Hot Wheels. Everyone was into this. Hot Wheels were gifted as first day back to school presents. Packs of Hot Wheels were given as birthday and Hanukkah gifts. We accumulated a large collection.

I remember buying a carpet with road designs at the Home Depot and spending hours playing with my oldest son and his Hot Wheels. My son learned math with Hot Wheels: “If a Hot Wheel cost $1, we need 25 thousand Hot Wheels if we want to buy a real car.” We bought plastic orange race tracks and made courses around the living room. Imagination triumphed and we stayed away from electronics for a very long time. Hot Wheels went with us in the car. Hot Wheels were played with in bed. Hot Wheels were stuck in between the couch pillows. Hot Wheels went with us to restaurants. And, I don’t know when, but the Hot Wheels were relegated to the storage closet.

Recently, I ran into a friend and her two boys, ages 4 and 8, in a retail store.  I whispered to her, “do your boys like Hot Wheels?” Yes, indeed! I found happiness discovering that these boys would give new life to our old treasures. Yet, I hoped that we had a secret stash somewhere in my sons’ room.

Days later, my daughters and I put the Hot Wheels in the car. When we arrived at the Hot Wheels’ new home, I randomly dumped the stuffed suitcases of cars into my trunk. I wanted to see them one more time.  My daughter said, “Oh, you should not have done that! Please don’t cry.”  I had flashbacks of memories from a lifetime ago.

I found a Lightning McQueen car (not Hot Wheels but my son’s first movie) and put that car in my pocket.  I found a silver Mercedes which resembled my Mom’s old silver Mercedes. I put that in my pocket, too. I found two different taxis which reminded me of how much my son loved taxi cabs in New York City.  So, I put two taxi Hot Wheels in my pocket.  My daughter told me that it was time to put the hundreds of cars back in the recyclable bag or else the cars would end up coming back home, and we didn’t want that. She was right. I would have kept the Hot Wheels until my sons were married. They don’t want the cars now, they won’t want the cars later.

So, with dust bunnies and some loose hair strands, I parted with the Hot Wheels. The boys were good with this plan. I am proud of my first son who is starting high school next week and his younger brother who is starting middle school, they simply outgrew the Hot Wheels.  May the boys who received these cars enjoy them at least as half as much as I did. It was the best dollar at a time that I ever spent.

Brody Bunch – And School Supplies

School Supply Shopping and No New Markers, Lauren

Back to school supply shopping is one of my favorite hunting and gathering expeditions of the year.   I am a marketer’s dream. I start stockpiling supplies as soon as the major box retailers put out their big displays.  With four kids we accumulate a surplus of supplies on sale that from year to year and we have an abundance of color pencils, markers and unused construction paper.  For the first time, we are no longer getting first dibs on cute pencil pouches, the kids don’t care.  I announced to my kids in the aisle, “We have enough magic markers from last year, no new markers this year.” An exacerbated mother also shopping for school supplies addressed her daughter, “Hear that Lauren? You too have enough markers from last year, no we are not buying new markers.”  Lauren rolled her eyes at me. (Sorry, Lauren).  … For all of the Moms of Laurens out there, I feel that these popular retailers should be granted a liquor license during school supply season. 

Buying Required Embroidered Uniforms Became an Experience, A Destination

This year, as the parent of a freshman high school student, we are required to purchase school approved embroidered uniforms.  This article is not about the merits of school uniforms versus street clothes, but I go on record that I am opposed to uniforms for a host of reasons, but that is for another blog.

So, I marked my calendar for a specific date that I would take my growing son for his high school uniforms.  He was not looking forward to this. I was trying to maximize both capturing a rare moment when he wasn’t rapidly growing combined with the store having a large selection in their inventory.  I am good at logistics. 

We went to Herman’s Discount School Uniforms in Baltimore City.  Herman’s is the recommended retailer.  I have never seen a store like this before.  I was like a deer in headlights but guided by an expert staff. Each Baltimore school has a large section displaying their unique logo items. Rival schools are not in the same aisles.  Parents, grandparents and alum, whether buying uniforms or not, had a lot of school pride throughout the store.  The store owners are parents of a student at our high school, so the sample uniform and spirit wear on display in the store entry represents our school. My previous pencil pouch interest transcended into the high school swag.  I tried on winter hats, in 95 degrees weather.  I was pulling T shirts over my head.  I negotiated if I needed the matching scarf with the school pride gloves, everything has the school logo. My son wanted to get in and out. 

I mixed and mingled with the staff and the customers.  It was an outing. My son just wanted a jogger jacket and the new custom polo shirts.  We bought all of it. But while we negotiating on shirt sizing – he wanted clothes that fit, but like a seasoned mother without coupons, I was trying to buy items that will last for all four years of high school, that’s the financial planner in me.  

I turned around and in addition to school uniforms, store inventory included: helium balloons, rugs, socks, toilet seat covers, curtains, baby needs, candy, batteries, and anything that you would find in a party store to a neighborhood hardware store and school uniforms.

Touring the Marvels of Herman’s

I was in awe. The owner took me on a tour.  It was enlightening. We went upstairs and there were computers, spools of threads and sewing machines, embroidering all of the various Baltimore City schools’ gear.  Hours are spent embroidering to keep up with the demand. I inquired about the store’s community charitable involvement, and the owner, while quite generous, was most humble. I felt great about spending my money here.

My son, somewhat mortified by my enthusiasm and excitement, in combination with teenage attitude, was waiting by the exit for me to leave while at the same time I was hoping to be hired for the holiday rush.  

Farewell Magic Markers, Hello School Spirit Wear

So, this year, Lauren and I didn’t pick out new markers. I made new acquaintances in the uniform store. And, while Halloween is just weeks after the start of the school year, another big retailer extravaganza, I am happy that my daughter offered to be a Trash Bag as her costume.  The money I save on her costume will be spent on new spirit wear at the uniform store.  Farewell to new markers and hello to pom pom hats donning City Forever.

Israel – I Went. I was Inspired. I am Empowered.

 

Girls Night Out Becomes A Journey of a Lifetime

I texted three friends from my youth: “We can’t schedule a dinner, so who wants to go to Israel?”  Immediately, we made plans to travel, grow and learn with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). Looking back, we didn’t really understand what we signed up for. Passports were renewed.  Frivolous travel items from Amazon were secured. JWRP seeks to inspire a women whereas the woman inspires her family. And, through families, we inspire a community. Inspired communities can change the world. JWRP’s mantra, #ItAllStartsWithWomen starts with me because of this extraordinary trip to Israel with 600 women nationwide, I found inspiration.

Not My First Visit, And Completely Engaged

Returning to Israel as a tired Mom, a longtime community activist and a concerned Jew, I didn’t realize until I called home that I was fully engaged on this journey. Through JWRP seminars about courage, self-esteem, generosity, peace in the home, trust, unity, human dignity and gratitude, I cried. These presentations were emotionally draining and gave me tools to understand where I am in life and where I am heading. With help from the women sharing the commonality of being Jewish mothers, I embraced this experience with wide eyes and an open heart.  I felt a sisterhood bond and went beyond my comfort zone. My two left feet danced at every Hora including at the welcoming dinner, at the Hebrew Naming celebration for women who did not receive Hebrew names at birth, before Shabbat and at random times. I ate foods beyond my regular diet. I declined cab rides so that I could walk far with my new soul sisters, see art and symbols reminding me of my family, talk to the locals, hear street musicians, see playful children, and watch soldiers engage with Yeshiva students. I wanted to be part of it all. I met local artisans and shopkeepers and introduced them to my travel mates. We did our part to stimulate the Israeli economy.    

Repairing the World & Sisterhood

We participated in a Tikun Olom (repairing the world) project by spending time with girls from an orphanage.  Our language barrier did not matter because the Drumming Circle and Bunny Hop dancing united us. While wearing two inch sandal wedges I climbed Masada and our brilliant tour guides shared knowledge that I may or may not have heard before in Religious School.  Being on top of Masada with the Israeli flag waving in the gentle wind was breathtaking.

Like many, during Shabbat I was rusty reciting prayers, but we confidently sang Hebrew songs in solidarity. These songs we learned decades ago as children in Jewish camps. When hundreds of women sing in Hebrew, there’s a connection. My soul needed to be in Israel for this experience.

Jewish Mothers, the IDF, Camels & The Wall

Our tour bus passengers included Israeli mothers, seeking the experience we sought, and they eagerly shared Israeli life with us. These women served a minimum of 25 years each in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  And now, as mothers, like me, they send their children into the Army whereas I purchased Shabbat candles for my daughter’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah. It’s apples to oranges. I am forever grateful for their sacrifices. Thanks to the IDF, Israel is a democratic society with history, traditions, and is considered a vacation destination despite being surrounded at all borders by people wishing to exile the Jewish people.

Camel riding is not my thing, our angry camel tried biting, but I felt like a kid. Being at The Wall moved me to my core. I can still feel the stone on my hands. Every activity was an opportunity to engage in sisterhood while connecting to Israel.

Support Israel, Be There, Send Your Children

I went to the Promised Land. I laughed, sang, danced, sobbed, ate, spent money, toured, and saw sunrises and sunsets. I asked questions and found answers. I took time to smell flowers and appreciate fig and pomegranate trees. Chaotic markets and street vendors helped me feel connected with Israel. It’s important to visit our roots, learn and remember our history.  Support Israel by being there, send your children.

Finding Purpose.  Being Inspired.

At Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum), I was moved to tears by both the horrors of the Holocaust and by the heroes and survivors from this dark time in history.  Yad Vashem ends with a vision of light. Perhaps the light symbolizes the survivors, future generations, and opportunities for a purpose in the aftermath of this atrocity.  On this tour, I rediscovered my purpose. I am an empowered and inspired mom. I want to inspire my own family regarding our Jewish identity and our values of repairing the world, seeking justice, giving charity and having courage. This spark was ignited with my trip, a mother’s’ mission, to Israel. Now when I light Shabbat candles, the light means more to me. Israel helped me find inspiration for myself, my family, my community and the world.

The Brody Bunch – Old Art Supplies

 

pencils in stainless steel bucket
Every home should have creative supplies

An Art Space in Your Home Fosters Creativity

I found myself in my messy art closet. Ribbons, markers, beads, buttons, fabrics, Popsicle sticks, stickers, paint, yarn and more. I read that it’s important to have an art space in your home to foster creative habits. Art is a value in my home.

When our kids were little, we spent countless hours painting, making puppets, gluing, and drawing.  Our art wasn’t outstanding, but it was our art made with heART. We had meaningful conversations and listened to great music while we were creating art and it kept little hands busy.  Yet, school projects, team sports, screen time and kids growing up cut into our family’s art time. And, sadly, without realizing, our artistic projects stopped. Then markers dried out, paints got too thick and frayed ribbons were no longer so pretty.

It’s Okay to Mix Up Art Supplies

I learned from my then toddler daughter that it’s okay to mix up ALL of the art supplies.  Initially, everything was meticulously sorted, but in a nano second, she dumped all of the supplies together. This chaos was out of my comfort zone.  I quickly learned that mixed up art supplies was a transferable life lesson. I learned to be flexible: If I couldn’t find string, I was happy using rhinestones instead.  

Display and Store or Recycle and Let It Go

A LOT of their early kid art hangs in our home.  And, too many storage boxes house years of their creative treasures. I photographed many art projects and made coffee table books of their work.  When our youngest son was 5, he found photographed art work in the recycling can and proclaimed, “Mommy keeps our things here so they will be safe!”  Sigh. I wish I could keep their art forever. But we can’t.  Letting go of their creative work is hard.  I have not done a good job of letting it go.

However, I decided it was time to tackle our untidy art closet. I manically parted with old glitter glues, fabric scraps, ribbon pieces, baubles and other fancy art remnants (aka trash) because my kids no longer sit around with me making puppets, sock monkeys or other treasures.  This purging experience reminded me that my little kids grew older. They don’t want to make puppets and use them to entertain me with make-believe shows anymore. My heART aches that time moves too fast.  I have such good memories of creating art with each of my kids.

We can all be Artists

Our art closet is tidy and thinned out for now. In my opinion, creative people are problem solvers, have empathy and appreciate the small things.  I saved some supplies for a rainy day. Buttons, beads, fabric, love and creativity … we can all be artists.