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.

The Brody Bunch Survives Mother’s Day!

It’s Established that Everyone has the Best Mom, We Miss Moms & F U Hallmark

Each Mother’s Day I acknowledge that we all have the best moms ever. We miss the moms who are no longer with us. I have empathy for those who have lost their moms or children. I don’t like Mother’s Day.  Never have. Unreasonable expectations as the kid. My kids misbehave. There’s disappointment. This is all unnecessary. Everyday is important. My expectations are low and despite having pretty awesome kids, this one Hallmark day is an annual giant shitshow. So, I give an annual big F U to Hallmark.

Parenting Days are so Long yet the Time Goes By Quickly

The night before Mother’s Day, my husband, older daughter and I were cuddling and watching videos of our family from when the four kids were really little. My husband filmed moments of our younger life. The little stuff that became the big stuff. I appreciate those clips now so much. My heart was full of emotions as the days of parenting are so very long, but the time goes by too quickly.

Breakfast Was Not Served in Bed, It Wasn’t Even Served in the House, My Husband Made An Escape

No Coffee, No Underwear, Questionable Art & No Little League Games

The next morning, Mother’s Day, my husband burst into the bedroom, “WAKE UP!  Do you want to go out to breakfast with me? The kids are really misbehaving!” No. All I wanted was for the kids to cleanthe house. In the past, I asked them to just behave for the day and my then little daughter would reply, “Behave? Can’t we just buy you a new purse? That would be easier!” So, cleaning joined behaving, and I would receive neither. No, I do not have a new purse.

Next, another daughter came into my room, “Where’s my underwear? What happened to the laundry? I have to wear athletic shorts with built-ins.” Yup, I had Mother’s Day laundry to do.

I asked my purse offering daughter if I gave her instructions, would she please brew coffee.  She reminded me that I had a cup of coffee in my bathroom (a space in the house where the rest of the family is banished – much like a Man Cave) from the day before and she would be happy to microwave that. 

Instead of delivering on the coffee, she took the time to mimic a Mother’s Day art project that she made for me 7 years ago when in Kindergarten, under the supervision of her teacherThe project was little nails hammered into the shape of a heart on a wood block with ribbons outlining the heart. It still hangs in our foyer. Her modern version of this project, sans supervision, was created using my painting canvas and several two inch screws, which dangled out the back of the canvas. No coffee, but now I am the recipient of a weapon-like piece of art, in the shape of a heart.

As the day went on, our boys’ four travel baseball games were rained out.  At least I didn’t have to pack the lunch coolers.

My younger daughter was talking to my youngest son on speaker phone, “I need you to clean the house or else I am not allowed to use the kitchen and I want to make a Mother’s Day dessert.” Her desserts are her gifts. My son looked at me as she did not know that I was in the room and she was on speaker phone. He giggled and hung up on her. I don’t eat desserts, I just wanted the house cleaned.

They Took Me to The Ballgame

Last minute, we went to Camden Yards to cheer on the Orioles, my hometown team in last place. It was drizzling, the bats were hot and the game was so much fun. One of our favorite Orioles, Right Fielder, Joey Rickard, received a call on Mother’s Day morning. He was recalled from the Minors to play again in the Major League.  The game ended with 17 runs including Joey Rickard‘s two home runs. And, my husband, for the first time ever, and while I was buying snacks from the concession stand, got a Joey Rickard foul ball. I was so happy for him! REMEMBER THE BALL.

After a great day at the game, we headed home and the kids played catch while I took an unsanctioned nap.  Yay, naps and more baseball!

Though Banned from the Kitchen a Child made Mother’s Day Ice Cream Sandwiches

While I was at the ballgame, without the house being tidy, my daughter, the one banned from the kitchen, used my brand new and never used baking tray to make ice cream sandwiches, whereas the ice cream melted and then froze all over the tray. The ice cream sandwiches served as the kids’ Mother’s Day dinner. They were happy.

Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg Screening

I was again awoken with the door bursting open, by my husband, again. “Let’s go!  I know you want to see Notorious RBG!”  Yes! I want to see the documentary about an iconic and Jewish woman making HER-story!  We were late to the theater and the cashier didn’t know how to sell tickets to late comers. So, the employees let us into RBG for free! I thanked each of the employees and promised to do something really nice for someone else, soon, but not today.

As a Little League Mom, A Signed MLB Ball (from my family) Was Better than a Hallmark Greeting

My husband handed me the foul ball from the game.  Each person in my family signed my husband’s prized ball.  It was a gift from their hearts. As a Little League baseball Mom, this gesture was filled with love.

After the movie, my husband and I had a dinner date.  We decided, that on this successful Brody Bunch Mother’s Day, if Joey Rickard, who was called back up to the major leagues on Mother’s Day, wanted his foul ball, though signed by family, it would be an honor to give it to him.  I hope one day if my kid is a major league ball player, that the ball recipient would feel the same.

When we got home, my oldest son, in bed for the night, the one who first made me a mom, called me into his room.  I gave him lots of kisses and he asked me to look in my bathroom (everyone goes in there).  He left me a sweet note for Mother’s Day and he signed his first name and our last name initial.  All of my kids came through. While the house is not tidy, it’s filled with love. I had a home run kind of a day.

The Brody Bunch – Supporting Arts in Public Schools, Family & Community

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One Day – Two Agendas: Funding the Arts and Supporting the Arts

Support the arts in your local schools. In less than 7 hours, I had the opportunity to both participate in a difficult strategic planning conversation about funding arts in City Public Schools and I attended an elementary school play. Budget cuts impacted arts programming in my City, Baltimore.  I shared in the meeting that now more than ever it is necessary to support arts in the schools and reach as many students as possible. Arts spills into academic subjects. The arts help students become creative learners. Arts help kids process the challenging world around them. The arts in schools need to be valued on the same level as the school guidance counselor. It is unacceptable that the arts are on the front line during budget cuts.  

Hours after the arts meeting about budget cuts and outreach initiatives, I attended closing night of my son’s elementary school play. This is my youngest child, so our last elementary school play.  The after school rehearsals, the hours of teacher and parent volunteering, school matinees, a cast luncheon and two community wide performances were coming to an end.  The beautiful costumes, created by volunteers, would be cleaned and stored for future shows. The hand painted set by teachers and parents would come down. The Middle School Tech Crew raised the lights one last time. The cast took their final bow.  Parents gave the last standing ovation.

Photographing The Play – I Saw Through My Eyes and My HeART

As the volunteer play photographer, I sit in the front row, for each play and capture precious moments of the kids’ proud theater experiences. I share the snapshots with the theater families as mementos from our community experience. Please don’t judge my blog photos, I tried to preserve the students’ privacy.

In this final performance, I saw something beyond my camera lens.  My heart was moved beyond the play itself… I witnessed family love, pride and community. This was a gift from the theater. The play served as a vehicle for me to see my older children and their friends rise to the occasion of celebrating their younger siblings. It’s something that after all of the laundry, lunch packing and stress is a return payout for the parent. Watching the older siblings celebrate the younger siblings was surreal.

Two of my older kids were sitting near me with their friends. Many of the older kids play baseball together, so our families spend a fair amount of time together, we are an extended family.  I was happy for those families, too. I could see the lights bouncing off the older siblings’ faces. The older kids smiled with much pride when their younger siblings entered the stage or had lines. The younger siblings could see us in the audience, and their smiles of comfort, love and gratitude were wide. I could not wait to share this observation with the other parents sitting further back. Also in the audience, were baseball coaches and friends of families, without their own kids in this play, supporting kids they coach, we are a community.

The After Party – Hosted by Parents, Supported by Siblings

The play wrapped up.  Parents put together a great after party. And, one of my daughters, and her friends, 6th graders, DJ’d the post party. The songs were preselected and reviewed for inappropriate language.  Strobe lights and smoke machines filled the dance floor.  It was awesome celebrating as a community supporting the arts. As the night got later and parents went off to other parties not affiliated with the play, we met up at various homes, and celebrated the kids’ successes. The arts bring out the best in people. It was a euphoric night centered around the elementary school play.  And, the night was a great reminder that we need to keep volunteering and fighting to preserve art programs in public schools, for all of the children.

eARTh without ART is just “EH”

Supporting the arts is a value that has been passed on to me by my parents. Arts is a value. My kids attend budget rallies in support of the arts.  In the arts community, you often find people with compassion and passion. These are people to stick with. Attending your local theater is a great way to shape a kid’s world.  Like the expression “eARTh without ART is just EH” kids don’t need EH, they need art.  Less than 48 hours after the elementary school play wrapped, the middle school musical is already in progress. Support the arts in public schools.  You might get extra lucky like me and see your kids do something to melt your heART.

The Brody Bunch – PLEASE be my Valentine!

Valentine’s Day Pre-Planning, Cards

I LOVE Valentine’s Day.  Ahead of festivities, annually, I purchase the Christmas clearance red wrapping paper and save it for Valentine’s Day. I am a planner. I give the Brody Bunch presents which are usually little leftover gifts from Chanukah.  

Valentine’s Day, Classroom Cards

When our kids were much younger, I made sure that each of them had a Valentine for EACH kid in their class. With four kids, it was like a Hallmark factory in my dining room. We would buy pretty paper and make cards.  We never had the popular character card kits. I was disappointed when the kids’ teachers instructed the students (and parents) not to personally address the cards, but rather just sign their names and pass out generic cards to classmates.  With Valentine’s Day a cousin to Halloween in terms of candy, we would go out of our way and find little items to tape to the card, a pink pencil, a heart shaped eraser, heart stamps, something to hype up our generic handmade cards. Think Dollar Store finds!  The kids’ classes were large and we had lots of Valentines to generate.  So, I would buy pretty paper, new stickers, and ribbons, and on lazy cold mornings, we would start making Valentines, like a machine.  

Valentine’s Day, Write from the Heart

At a very young age, one Valentine night, our son declared, while being tucked in, that he did not like store bought cards with our signed names. That year, he was sad. Despite his present bag filled with baseball cards and candy, no one made him a special card, and he was sad. I told him to get out of bed. He walked with me to where I kept my art supplies, and I watched his frown become a huge smile as I made him a very special homemade card.  That was one of my best Valentine moments ever. He taught me that a special card is one with a meaningful message not printed in the card, but handwritten, from the heart. Since that night, I never bought another store produced card. 

Valentine’s Day, Now, My Heart Skipped A Beat

Between my own child’s Valentine card standards, the teachers’ Valentine rules, I found my place in the Valentine empire – art supplies!  We have a closet filled with ribbons, paper, heart stickers, markers, buttons and baubles and more. It’s a very chaotic and disorganized space and happiness is produced out of that mess. Recently, I was hopeful to replenish our supplies.  However, my heart skipped a beat when I photographed pretty art supplies and texted my daughter with excitement about our upcoming Valentines, “Do you want to make valentines?” and she answered, “Yes. Don’t buy, I can make cards.”  I was relegated to feeling like Charlie Brown regarding the Little Redhead Girl.  My kids are getting older. They don’t want to make cards in mass production together.  They will probably used lined notebook paper. Perhaps it should have been a clue that if my kid can text that maybe she has outgrown pretty papers and puffy heart stickers.

Valentine’s Day, Need My Expectations in Check

This Valentine’s Day, I am giving each of my kids a red bag filled with something that they don’t need, with a heart shaped box of candy and a handwritten note.  We will take our annual Valentine’s Day photo with their Valentine heart shaped candy boxes. There won’t be any fancy dinner for me with their Dad on Valentine’s Day as we will be carpooling kids from soccer practice, theater class and Hebrew School. As our kids get older, I know to get my expectations in order.  Incredible memories were created while we made Valentines.  Perhaps those Valentines were more for me than they were for the classmates. Most of those cards should have ended up in recycling, but my memories are still with me.

Before this blog published, I shared with my daughter, the texting one, that I wrote a blog inspired by how much I miss making Valentine cards with her. And it’s that time of the year. She responded, “Well, let’s make some Valentines!” Oh my heartstrings are pulled towards happiness. Though intellectually, I am most confused by the Puberty laced Roller Coaster. I just want to make Valentines!

Valentine’s Day – February 15th!

Perhaps a tradition I recall most from my own childhood is celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 15th. Yes, February 15th. As a child, I always thought that Valentine’s Day was on February 15th because all of the candy and cards were half priced and that is when my family celebrated.

Signing off with much love at full price and clearance price. There’s plenty of love to go around.

The Brody Bunch – Tradition, Trees & Happiness

Celebrating Tu B’shevat – A New Year for the Trees

My family celebrates Tu B’shevat, the new year for the trees, the trees’ birthday. This is a Jewish holiday not widely celebrated in America, but it is in Israel. The Brody Bunch has our own family traditions around this festive holiday.  When the kids were in preschool through last year, each received a Graham cracker with green frosting and M&Ms to depict a tree. This dessert tree was introduced to us through a preschool teacher.  We sing “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew and English.  And, we read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Treeand ate a tasty tree. We were happy.

Often we go through the motions as we manage our busy school and work schedules compounded with theater and sports schedules and life.  I thought that our celebration of the trees would be nothing short of checking off another obligation from the calendar. The Brody Bunch has been more than colorful with their 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old selves. Holidays are important in my family, but we often spin out of control on our self created hamster wheel.  Yet, this Tu B’shevat, my family rose to the occasion and made me the happiest mom during our little celebration. 

Tweaking Tradition, A Pinterest “Nailed It”

With healthier eating choices, I did not buy Graham crackers, frosting and M&Ms. It was strongly noted how disappointed people were without their frosting trees because it is our tradition. Instead, I went to a high end grocery store, bought fresh veggies and successfully mimicked a vegetable design in the shape of a tree as seen on Pinterest, really a Christmas tree, and served the vegetable tree with a holiday tray of traditional dry fruits and nuts.  The vegetables, dried fruit and nuts were all eaten as the Brody Bunch reminisced about the days of their frosting trees.

We gleefully sang Happy Birthday in both Hebrew and English. And, our youngest son read to us, The Giving Tree.  Our copy of this book, which was mine and my younger brother’s, from our childhood, has been on my bookshelf for more than 40 years.  The story has had different meanings to me at different stages in my own life.  However, this year’s dramatic reading of The Giving Tree was different with the character voices given to both the Boy and the Tree by our theatrical reader.  And, like the Boy and the Tree, from the book, I was happy.

I went up to bed ahead of everyone else, and I was happy. My head it the pillow and I heard my oldest son declare, “This is the first year that Mom didn’t make us line up on the couch and take a picture.  Probably because she didn’t make us frosting trees.”  I jumped out of bed, grabbed a camera and rallied (bribed) the troops for our annual Tu B’shevat picture.  I was met with resistance.  And like any mom with a low moral compass trying to preserve pictorial tradition, I offered my son a few extra dollars for the weekend if he went along with photo.  I had to shake on it.  Thankfully he negotiated poorly and requested a specific amount of money after the handshake.  

The Photo Shoot is part of our Traditions

We went downstairs, to regroup on the couch for the photo. And, also like tradition, there was arguing during the photo shoot, people sitting too closely, face making, inappropriate fingers in the air. I promised only to use one camera and not a camera and a phone combo.  We captured some sort of photographic memento.  I have heard the kids say that they are so happy that we have pictures from throughout the years, though their gratitude is forgotten when going through the effort.

It Was a Joyous Night and the Frosting Was Missed, But Like the Tree, We Were Happy

Again, I climbed the stairs and put my head back on the pillow.  My husband then inquired, “Did you look online to create that vegetable tray?”  Indeed I did! It was my first Pinterest ‘Nailed It’! My family ‘nailed it’ it, too.  Their participation and appreciation makes the effort worth it.

I fell asleep hearing, “I have known you for a long time and knew that you found that online, it was great, but not really you … I missed the Graham crackers with frosting.” Like the Tree and the Boy, from the book, I was happy. We were all happy. Perhaps part of celebrating holidays is to create traditions that are special to each family.  Kumbaya to celebrating the trees as a tradition.

The Brody Bunch – Living in Two Baltimore Cities

Living in Two Baltimores

I have always known that I live in two Baltimore Cities.  Yesterday, I spent the morning surrounded by friends in their warm homes, visiting, talking about social and political issues, sharing laughs and coffee.  In the afternoon while patronizing a closing Target store, in West Baltimore, I had another smack in the face of reality regarding the other Baltimore City, the one that makes national news.  The one where surrounding counties are afraid to let their children visit on school sanctioned field trips. The one where kids are in schools without heat. The one with the high murder rate. I ended my evening at a party with like minded civic friends in a warm home in the comfortable Baltimore City where we talked about our first world problems, our kids, hopes and the reality of the other Baltimore City.

My family and friends live in generally safe Baltimore City neighborhoods and send our children to an outstanding Baltimore City public school. Our school has engaged parents, devoted teachers and an administration supporting the needs of teachers and families. Not too far from our part of the City, we live relatively close to some of Baltimore City’s most dangerous neighborhoods.  We are geographically near where Freddie Gray lived and died. We aren’t far from where a Baltimore City Police officer was murdered and there is still no suspect several weeks later.  These are the two Baltimore Cities that I know.

School District Closed, a Free Day and the Universe

Our entire school district has been home from school because one third of Baltimore City Public schools do not have heat.  My children, in a school with heat, did not have educational instruction on Friday, because the whole system shut down for the third of schools without heat.

The Mayor announced that they were hopeful that all schools would have heat restored over the weekend and hopefully school will open on Monday.  The statement was carefully worded. This is a decades old problem, with the goal of being fixed within 48 hours.  Mind you, this problem hit the fan after it was announced on Twitter that all schools were checked for heat prior to the snow… then came the viral influx of photos showing classroom thermostats at 40 degrees and kids wearing hats and coats inside many Baltimore City Public Schools.  In response to public pressure, schools with and without heat system wide were shut down. And, this also meant that many children receiving free food were without food until emergency plans were executed. There were problems with locations and quality.  Schools are serving the needs beyond academic instruction.

On their day off from school, my children had the luxury of ice skating in the City, going to lunch in the City, and visiting the National Aquarium in the City.  I was at work, in the the City, whereas my employer understands that I am a working mom and my kids need to check in with me from time to time when they are not in school.  

The Universe Corrects Itself

With last minute planning, three of my four kids slept at their friends’ houses after their excursions.  The next morning, I volunteered to pick kids up from various sleepovers and take their friends back home, too. I complained to the other moms via text: “Karma got me, I will bring home 5 kids from sleepovers, that should be a great car ride.”  One mom replied to my snarky mom attitude, “You don’t have our sympathy, we took 3 of your kids last night and ‘the Universe corrects itself.’” Remember, the Universe corrects itself.

Throughout the post sleepover morning pickups, I lingered at each stop and we had meaningful conversations.  We talked about volunteer initiatives for both adults and kids. We talked with older siblings attending Baltimore City Public schools and why they don’t use the City’s unreliable public transportation.  We talked about kid pranks.  We covered a lot. Though at the third house visit, while acknowledging that I was wearing my daughter’s warm fleece pants, it was stated, by my daughter, that the warm fleece pants were actually pajama pants. All of the families we visited were still in their pjs, that’s how you know you have good friends.

Knowing I am Privileged. Toilet Paper is Toilet Paper.

I finished with the sleepover carpools and dropped off my daughter for a free arts program at the inspiring Baltimore School for the Arts, a gem within the Baltimore City Public School system.  Then, I went to a closing Target in West Baltimore at Mondawmin Mall.  This was the site as seen on the national media when Baltimore was looted and rioted in 2015 in response to Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody.  In my small part to show support for this part of the City, I began shopping here.  I felt that if there were more sales, there would be more jobs.  

In this part of town with high crime and without many community resources, I patron the Target and Marshalls stores.  I am often criticized by people I know, outside of the City, for being in this part of Baltimore. They are right, this is a high crime area.  And, I am right, this is an area with kind people needing an influx of support.  I know I am privileged.  I am white.  I have an engaged family. I am a college graduate. My husband and I are employed professionals.  So what if I look different than the majority of the clientele? Toilet paper is toilet paper. The customers are generally pleasant, and the employees are always helpful and I sense that they have a high level of pride in their work. Frankly, this is not the consistent employee vibe that I have felt at other Target locations. Nonetheless, this Target, corporately known as Baltimore West, is closing in a few weeks.  The pharmacy already closed.  

Expired Dairy Representing Other Social Issues

I went to Target, with hopes of a closing sale (there were none) and I needed sour cream. I rarely check expiration dates, but I noticed many expired products on the shelves from December 2017.  Of course there are health concerns, but my outraged feelings weren’t about expired dairy, per se.  The expired yogurts represent a plethora of issues:  this area is under served, a corporation built here under the auspices of tax incentives and they are leaving.  This area has struggling public schools, people need better access to healthcare, there is a trust issue between the police and the citizens, public transportation is unreliable and violent crime is high.  Target responded to my tweet calling them out about their closing and having expired dairy with: blah, blah, blah … “after careful consideration of the long term financial performance ….  is seeing several years of decreasing profitability.” So, I believe that the lesson learned is that Baltimore City needs to have a prenup with corporations receiving tax incentives.  For example, if the corporation stays for x amount of years, they keep x amount of the incentive. However, for any reason that the corporation needs to leave, we get a prorated amount of the incentive back so that we can invest in other corporations or community programming.  

I spoke to a young employee who began removing the expired dairy that I was photographing.  I asked him if Target was helping him to relocate to a different Target for other opportunities.  He shook his head in the negative and said, “I live 2-3 blocks from here, so I’m not sure how I could get to a different Target to work.”  I shared this story on a Facebook thread and many people, suggested that he takes a bus, on the surface, of course that makes sense.  But, the bus may not be affordable and is unreliable to another Target. This young man didn’t suggest that he was finished with working, period.  There are other places in the area where he can try and secure a job. We do not know the realities of this young man. I like working in the community where I live, it’s convenient, I understand that. I wished this employee the best for him and his family, he appeared thankful for our impromptu chat.  And, I walked out the food aisles telling everyone to check the expiration dates that there is a lot of expired food on the shelves.  One customer was helping me photograph the inventory.

Driving Around Inspires Me to be Part of the Solution

After picking up my daughter from her vocal class, we intended to drive two minutes to my favorite Italian market.  This family owned market reminds me of the Sal’s Pizza Shop in Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing.”  This market, owned by an Italian Family has been in business for more than 100 years and is located in an impoverished black community.  The community left this business alone during the recent riots, or the uprising.  I was so distracted by my beautiful morning with friends in my Baltimore versus my errand time in the other Baltimore. But, I got a fire in my belly and I got really lost on the two minute drive.  

With my daughter, we drove through some of the most dangerous areas of West Baltimore filled with boarded up properties and subsidized housing. It was five degrees so many people weren’t out.  I didn’t feel sad for this community, rather I felt empowered.  I felt renewed to be a voice, be part of the action and be part of the solutions.  I know people, we can are the seeds in the community to continue to bridge the Baltimore Cities that I know.

In less than a year, my children have joined me as we marched in Washington, Annapolis and protested at City Hall in Baltimore.  Our voices were heard on federal, state and local issues.  Clearly, we haven’t scratched the surface and have to keep up the good fight.

Good Intentions, Failure to see the Issues

Later in the day, I received an email from a prestigious sports organization even though my son no longer plays for them.  They outreached to their sports community seeking donations of gently worn warm hats and coats for the students of Baltimore City Public Schools.  The message went on to say that “FORTUNATELY a lot of schools are closing but that won’t be the case everyday with cold temps continuing over the next few weeks.”  I hit reply, thanked them for their lovely hat drive and asked them to use their resources to contact our local and state leaders so that my children with heat in their school, along with the children in buildings without heat, can’t get an education if schools close, and thanks for the scarves. There was no follow up and with good intentions, privilege gone awry.

Do Your Part and A Little More

My night ended at a friend’s house party in the City.  This family has a son who was my oldest son’s first friend when my children transferred out of their private school into their current Baltimore City public school.  I was surrounded by my children’s classmates’ parents, now my friends for several years. I told many about my day in two Baltimore Cities.  These are the people attending PTA meetings, Board of Education hearings, candidate forums and Little League games. This part of Baltimore City is very aware that we need to do our part and more.

First You Need A Lemon, Then the Universe Corrects Itself

I read another Facebook exchange between two of my friends.  One suggested that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  I live by that mantra.  Yet, a different friend replied, “first you need a lemon.”  

I am a native of Baltimore.  I love Baltimore City.  I live here, I work here, our kids go to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I continue growing with friends I have met through the Brody Bunch’s village and people we meet along the way trying to make things right for our City. If problems in the City don’t improve, they will sprawl into the counties because that is how crime works.  But out of humanity, pick an issue, help and DEMAND action. I want to find the lemons, share the lemons, and smile when “the universe corrects itself.”

The Brody Bunch – Happy New Year with Love

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Happy New Year from the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore.

Winter Break Through the New Year

Winter break 2017 is about to come to an end. I am pretty ready to resume the Brody Bunch’s hamster wheel of school and extracurricular activities, family pressures, and it all restarts tomorrow. I don’t feel too revived from the break. I live and survive in chaos, and on the first day of the New Year, I have enjoyed being at home in PJs, writing, binge watching bad TV with my daughter, doing a puzzle and not being anywhere, until a New Year’s Day birthday dinner later tonight, before the first day back to school – timing is not our specialty.

Traditions, Disappointments and Surviving on Coffee, Dry Shampoo and Thermal Underwear

Over the holiday season, I navigated our family calendar with traditional things that the Brody Bunch, rather I, like to do over winter break. Our festivities begin the week prior to Thanksgiving with two birthdays and conclude on January 2nd with another birthday. I try to do it all, Monument lighting, parades, a trip to Pittsburgh, 8 crazy nights of Chanukah, Christmas in New York, train gardens, “The Nutcracker,” art museums, high tea, lights at the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore and more. I felt disappointment when the weather didn’t cooperate, it has been so cold. We canceled our day trip to DC. Bagged an NFL game. We saw three movies in the movie theater, which is not my favorite activity, I like being out and about and not sitting still. Surprisingly, all of the movies were great. Our kids felt disappointment when we didn’t host their friends for big dinners. We navigated our kids’ heightened social desires whereas I was a professional chauffeur but without their sports gear.  We didn’t watch my favorite Christmas classic movies. I promised ice skating, but not all of the kids went. I said we would go bowling and we couldn’t get lanes. I said we would go to a jump zone place, and I got my days of the weeks messed up, I never knew what day it was, that is winter break.  I survived on coffee, dry shampoo and thermal underwear as pants.

This winter has been tiring, cold and hard. I struggled with my kids pushing limits and my own desire to keep traditions on the calendar – not all of their plans included me. That was my own growing pain for the winter combined with four kids going through puberty at once.  

Resolutions Turned into Bucket Lists

As the New Year approached, one of my kids scrapped resolutions for bucket list items. WOW, bucket list items, this is brilliant.  My own simple goal is just to put the Chanukah decorations away before going back to work, I still have about 48 hours. Everything from standard to extravagant made their bucket lists: exercise goals to catching a foul ball at Camden Yards. We reflected on being better people.

Ready for the Hamster Wheel in the New Year with Memories, a Bucket List and LOVE

My mommy bucket overflowed last night at 11:49, PM, on December 31, 2017. One of my kids texted a sibling, and I received the notification on my phone, “I love you! Goodnight.” All of my planning is so that the Brody Bunch has good memories.  Their growing up is tough, for me. But, this simple text, highlights that the important things are going well. Tomorrow is the first day back to school and theater practice. I am sure we will be rushed, unorganized and grabbing salad bar for dinner. Fortunately, everyone has clean underwear for the school week, which is a huge accomplishment here.  For me, it’s time to resume wearing a bra and get back on the hamster wheel with overflowing buckets and love.  Happy New Year!

The Brody Bunch – Chanukah, Lights, Memories and the Fire Department

Tis the season for the Festival of Lights, Chanukah, Hanukkah, the Miracle of Lights … 2018/5778 (Jewish Year) is down in the books.  Here are the Brody Bunch Chanukah Chai-Lights in no random order.  For those who celebrated, may the new wax you accumulated from your candles add to the good memories from years past.  For all, may there always be light.

  1. Pulling out Rubbermaid boxes filled with preschool made Chanukah art from when the Brody Bunch was little, signifies that Chanukah is upon us. Seeing their little projects displayed brings much happiness.
  2. Hearing Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” kicks off the festivities for 8 crazy nights.
  3. Four kids x eight nights = 32 gifts.  The Brody Bunch tells me that we don’t have to exchange gifts, just light candles, but they have much gratitude, expect nothing, appreciate everything and indulge me in a nightly sibling photo.  We give them things they need or little things we know they want.  Though, it was an epic fail when I let our 13 year old daughter order a book off Amazon on Black Friday featuring her favorite teeny bopper heartthrob like entertainer to discover that I paid for a book about Jeffrey Dahmer’s youth. Thankful for free return shipping.
  4. For the first time, the Brody Bunch created a candle lighting schedule regarding who strikes the match which lights the Shamash candle (the tallest candle in the menorah, the candle helper) and kept to the schedule allowing each sibling to use matches twice. Four siblings x two nights each =  8 nights.  I didn’t mediate once.  That is considered a miracle, too.
  5. Playing dreidel.  Dreidel is a Hanukkah game using something like a spinning top, is similar to gambling, and we use Poker chips instead of Hanukkah gelt (chocolate candy coins) as money. There were no high stake tournaments, but lingering problems such as if the dreidel falls off the table and lands on a good jackpot side, how is that counted? After all these years, we are still in need of clear rules or players become like the Maccabees (the victorious Jews who won the battle) back in a modern battle.
  6. I had so much fun buying boxes of frozen store made latkes, I ran into old friends and we had a great time. But homemade latkes taste better even though they are a lot of work and stink up the house from the oil.  We were gifted with a family friend frying latkes at our house.  And now will be eating the frozen latkes throughout the winter.
  7. We finally used all of my mother’s circa 1970s Manischewitz brand candles. It was a miracle that the jumbo roll of Chanukah wrap, purchased three years ago, the extra long tube that is really hard to store, finally depleted.  I marked my calendar with a reminder to go to the supermarket and restock clearance candles and Hanukkah wrapping paper for next year. Toilet paper and Chanukah supplies, you never stop using either.
  8. Amazon Prime IS Hanukkah Harry.  I will miss my daily visit with our mailman as the last delivery was today. Our mailman is funny like Newman, the Mailman, from Seinfeld.
  9. We festively go through the motions of the holidays for Tradition and to perpetuate our heritage with our children.  The kids waited each night for their Dad to come home from work, late, before lighting the menorahs.  It was a family ritual each night.
  10. My favorite night was night 6.  With more family, we had good laughs, lit lots of menorahs, ate too many homemade latkes, sang Christmas songs, told jokes, used my parent’s very old China serving platters, and the Brody Bunch was full of personality. My kids keep asking what gift I would like to receive and I tell them “just behave”.  They tell me it’s easier to buy a new purse, but on night 6 everyone behaved, that was my gift. Not all gifts are materialistic. I have a new memory to always treasure.
  11. On the 7th night of Chanukah, my daughter lit her Great Grandmother’s menorah. The menorah has been my daughter’s since she had the fine motor skills to place the candles in the holes.  And, this night was special because it would have been my Grandmother’s 98th birthday.  So, I saw the the passing down of traditions from generation to generation literally unfold both in our dining room and in my heart.
  12. On the 8th night, and final night, of Chanukah, I finally located our large dreidel collection and found all of our Jewish themed paper products, it’s like finding your Christmas decorations on December 26th.
  13. Irony ended with the Baltimore City Fire Department.  While celebrating the miracle of lights our circuit breaker kept tripping off.  The electrician didn’t fix the problem, but instead tripped our smoke detectors and left with the smoke detectors chirping.  So, without my family at home, I celebrated the 8th night of lights early when the Baltimore City Fire Department came over with the big truck and lights blaring to help this damsel in distress. What a way to close out the miracle of lights – with fire truck lights.
  14. This Chanukah, I received great memories and new smoke detectors.  Like the Israeli dreidel symbolizes, “A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE, it was a great miracle that I survived 8 crazy nights.

The Brody Bunch and The Nutcracker

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I Once Threw Shade at The Nutcracker

It’s the holiday season.  With an abundance of traditional and festive options, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular winter seasonal highlights for many.  And, I admit that I was not a fan of the beloved Nutcracker, until now.  My mom and my daughter Blanche have made an annual pilgrimage to see this beloved ballet throughout the years. I am invited each year and decline.

Rising to the Occasion Because Your Kid Asks You To

This year, my mom was unable to take Blanche on their traditional outing.  So, I made arrangements for Blanche to see the show, but Blanche wanted me to come, too.  I had no interest.  I saw it once as a child, and that was enough for me.

Though, when your kid asks you to go to the ballet, and her Grandmother can’t go, you rise to the occasion.  For two hours, I was mesmerized.  I loved everything in this holiday treasure.  We saw a stellar production at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From the costumes and makeup to the dancing and the facial expressions, we were given a beautiful gift for the holidays and beyond.  I tried to understand deeper meanings of The Nutcracker.  But deeper meanings pertaining to the story were unneeded.  The meanings in my own story is what unfolded.  It was beautiful, and draining, and a gift received from self reflection.  It was like believing in the magic of the Clara’s dream and the magic of the holidays.

The Magic of The Nutcracker Gave Me Gifts, Too

For the first time, I was engaged in the actual event.  I usually photograph events so I miss being in the moment as I am “focused” on my job. I never realized this.  But I enjoy it. And, I usually watch the expressions on my kids’ faces when we are sharing an experience, but I am never in the moment of the activity.  My happiness is gained by watching my kids experience the moment.  I don’t remember how I experienced things before they were born, but as they grow older, I am sure that I will need to relearn how to be in the moment for myself.  Perhaps, The Nutcracker gave me a gift, too.

Several days have passed since the ballet.  And, I don’t recall watching my daughter’s expressions during the performance. I was most engaged in the actual performance. She doesn’t understand that my experience differs from her experiences. She doesn’t know that I receive much joy out of watching her and her siblings experience happiness rather than enjoying the actual outing itself.  She feels that we went to the show together and shared that journey, which is also true. For her, it is that simple. The moment I treasure most from this outing is that my daughter so much wanted to be with me, and I experienced actually being in the moment.  We were both happy. We supported the arts. And perhaps the arts supported me in my personal growth.

I Understand the Best of the Holiday Season

I finally found the love that many have experienced through The Nutcracker thanks to my daughter, my mom, and the talented performers.  Perhaps this journey of being in the moment, for myself, and with my family, represents the best of the holiday season.  

The Brody Bunch – Growing, Pride & Crying in Baseball

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To commemorate my special birthday, we bought a fundraising brick for our new Little League field and paraphrased from A League of Their Own while honoring the Brody Bunch.  Though, after a phone call and opportunity for our first born little league player, I plan on crying.

Baseball Attire Leads to an Opportunity

Months ago, I was in a Hebrew school meeting and wearing jeans with a baseball jersey and baseball cap. My younger son was wearing his little league uniform. A guy kept motioning to me to get my attention and asked if my kid plays baseball.  This guy was recruiting boys to tryout for the  Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team. We exchanged information, went to a tryout, my husband was recruited as a volunteer coach, and I sortof forgot about it. Our older son also went to a tryout, and I sortof forgot about that, too.  Coincidentally, I was in another community meeting, and the speaker stopped her presentation and said to me, “Aren’t you the baseball family?” I never really thought of it, but yes!

The Phone Call That Shapes Our Future

Last night, as I was falling asleep, I received an enthusiastic call welcoming our older son, Leo, onto a special baseball team for the experience of a lifetime and are we ready to sign? There are more players than spaces, so we need to commit now.  Wow.  I was unprepared for this call, as I sortof forgot about it.

I hated my circa 1950s housewife response: “I am so thankful, but my husband is not home.”  WTF, Robyn (me)?  I wasn’t sure how we would commit to the large expenses involved. Immediately, I told the Coach how unacceptable my answer was to him. I repeated my gratitude and strongly emphasized that this is my decision, too.

I was distracted by my younger son throwing moldy strawberries from the fridge into the sink.  The entire moment was surreal. I knew that I was proud of my son making the team, I was annoyed with my anti-feminist response, and I was really annoyed with my younger son throwing food across the kitchen.  I was letting negativity override my happiness, and that made me really mad.  That is not me. I sensed that it was more than berry throwing getting to me, my hand was forced to let my older son grow and I see that his time is, NOW.  And my time to grow is also NOW.  We had to accept the literal call and grow, NOW, together.

The Coach asked to speak with Leo. Leo, happily took the call in the bathroom and I was nervously listening through the door. My son is very polite.  But like many teens, he is not the best telephone conversationalist. But, because my family speaks on speakerphone, and Leo thinks this is a common practice, their conversation was audible. I was beaming with pride from his athletic achievement but moreso for his character and demeanor.  I fast forwarded my thoughts by several years, and I imagined that this moment might be similar to receiving the call from a college coach offering my kid a baseball scholarship. But, that is getting ahead of the gift of time.

Dreaming, Realizing, Role Models & Responsibility

Leo has been playing baseball since he was four. His Dad has coached him for years. And, many of his coaches are our friends. Baseball families become extended family. As a term of endearment, most of Leo’s friends parents are called Coach rather than mister so and so.  Once, Leo asked me what one of his coaches did in the professional world.  It seemed to me that Leo recognized that a professional backup plan should be considered in case the major leagues don’t come knocking at his door.  That was a sad moment of reality for me watching my kid realize that a dream may not become real.

There were many times that we had to have the “Sandy Koufax sat out of the World Series” conversation when Leo was disappointed with us that he had to miss practice for Rosh Hashanah or a game for Yom Kippur.  Now, Leo was offered a coveted spot on the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team representing our hometown.

Once the sibling excitement and the news of the hour settled down, Leo and I snuggled on the couch. It was our first time sitting on the new couch together. And, we had a memorable moment, while still unable to bounce off the walls like I usually do in excitement, I spoke quietly.  I never speak quietly. “Leo, you know I am so proud of you?” Leo’s special smile that comes out at very special times, beamed, “Yes, I do.”  I quietly asked him, “How do you know?”  Leo stated, “Because you are my number one fan.”  I hit a homerun.  I asked Leo, “WHY do you want to do this?” Leo told me, “I think it will be fun and I will have a chance to represent the Jewish people.”  Oh my goodness, I hit a grandslam in terms of our heritage.  The grandparents and the Rabbis should be kvelling.

A Plethora of Firsts are Coming Our Way

With this opportunity, there will be lots of firsts for my firstborn. This adventure is scheduled weeks before the start of his freshman year of high school at a new school.  He will be flying on a plane for the first time.  He will be visiting the West Coast for the first time. He will be traveling without his parents for the first time.  He will be have an experience of a lifetime without me, for the first time.  I won’t be there to see all of his expressions, for the first time.  As Leo seeks independence, I am seeking strength in growing and letting go, as best as I can.

Leo stopped attending Jewish camps around age 7, attends school in an urban community, and while we try to have regular Shabbat dinners, being Jewish doesn’t come as easily to him as it did for me growing up in an insular community. This baseball opportunity gives Leo a chance to connect with people who have similar backgrounds and interests.

All of the Brody Bunch kids play baseball or softball, and I use baseball as metaphors when talking about life lessons.  It’s ironic that a lot of my upcoming personal life lessons will also be centered around baseball.  

In my conversation with the Coach, I pulled the mommy card big time: “How are the host families screened?  As a hobby, I photograph little league, I am happy to help!”  The Coach told me that I could travel with the team! Though, I cannot. The expenses for this journey are too steep, and some of the non monetary expenses include me recognizing that my number one son is growing up whether I am ready or not. I am blessed that he calls me his Number One Fan.  

For Me, there WILL be Crying in Baseball

I tell my kids’ teammates, “there is no crying in baseball” it’s one of my favorite baseball expressions.  I believe that this Number One Fan (me), is exempt from the mantra, as when the journey gets closer, I will be crying tears of pride for my baseball player.