Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Unite To Give

As you may know, I'm a big fan of charitable giving, and about finding ways to do so with my child. Part of my impulse is born out of the fact that almost all of my paid work experience has been in the service of non-profit organizations, and part of it is because I just deeply believe that helping others is the right thing to do. That helping can take different forms, like volunteering, sponsoring a friend in a walk-a-thon, donating stuff to a thrift shop, and of couse direct cash contributions.

At the end of the calendar year, we sit down and talk through the pile of envelopes from this, that and the other place. Shall we give to help the homeless? Or the animal shelter? Or the local fire department? How about the library, or an arts organization? Maybe Doctors Without BordersPartners in Health, Planned Parenthood or Physicians for a National Health Program? There are so many, so very many worthy causes that it can be hard to focus the conversation.

Members Unite is a new platform for giving, with a little twist. They choose nine projects a month; you get to vote on one, and your monthly membership fee goes to the winning project. It's actually a little more complicated - in a one month cycle, nine become six become three become WINNER - but you get the gist. Sitting down with my child to winnow the initial nine down to our weekly pick was fun.

The nine projects were an eclectic bunch. Two were to support “random acts of kindess” – distributing smile cards and handing out helium balloons. A few big well-known charities like DonorsChoose and the Nature Conservancy were included. One project would provide companion dogs for veterans with PTSD, another would supply milk for young children in Guatemala. Several addressed different facets of homelessness: Schools on Wheels tutors for homeless children, doors for houses built by Habitat for Humanity, local healthy produce for at risk women in Chicago. The girl and I talked about each of the nine. “I like animals but I wish it was a cat, because I don’t like dogs. Balloons are stupid. I like education.” In the end, we picked Sarah’s Circle, because “I want people to be healthy.”:

Empower At-Risk Women with Fresh Food
Talk of the local food movement is sweeping the nation, as foodies, bloggers and chefs wax poetic about the virtues of fresh-from-the-nearby-farm fruits and veggies. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the crunch of a fresh carrot, or the sweetness of a succulent summer strawberry? The reality is that fresh produce can be more expensive than canned or frozen fruits or veggies, meaning that women seeking sustenance at homeless shelters don’t get the full health benefits—or the joy of biting into a perfectly ripe peach. Fortunately, Sarah’s Circle, a Chicago refuge for homeless and at-risk women, is implementing a solution through its Fruits and Vegetables Project. The wonderful people at Sarah’s Circle have streamlined a process that allows them to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the women they feed for only $75-100/week. If members choose this project, we can help Sarah’s Circle provide healthy produce to their beneficiaries for an entire year!
In order to participate, you sign up and pay a $25/year membership fee (which covers their site overhead and operating expenses), and commit to a monthly contribution of $5, $10 or $20. At present, the monthly fee - the part that ends up going to charity - isn't tax deductible, but they say they're working on that (which is good, because it should be). The annual membership fee isn't refundable, but "you can cancel your monthly donation with 30 days' notice".

It's an interesting concept. By making charitable giving into a collaborative process and pre-selecting a handful of projects, it makes it very easy to get children invested in the world of giving. Sure, it's my nickel, not hers, but she and I together made the choice to vote for the vegetables, and we'll go back next week and see how the vegetables are doing. Together we'll make our garden grow.

What do you think? Do you give to charity? How do you encourage kids and young people to give back? Are you inclined to join Members Unite? And if you do, which project will you vote for?

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For a limited time, Members Unite is offering my community a 50% off discount on the annual membership fee of $25! Use code “WELOVEMOMS” when you sign up!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pot Pie Disassembled

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I seem to remember my mother ripping out an article from somewhere or another, a listing of various supermarket products that were unimpeachable and better than homemade. I want to say it was by Craig Claiborne and from the Times, but a diligent perusal of the Google has been fruitless. In any case, I think it included Thomas’ English muffins, and Campbell’s black bean soup – two kitchen staples of my childhood, the black bean soup always served with a paper thin slice of lemon floating atop. Lists like that are perennials; food editors must assign them on a regular basis. “Okay, Julia Moskin, it’s time for the quinquennial supermarket round-up – see what you can find”. Moskin’s list is pretty straight ahead: cheese, crackers, cookies, lentil soup, pasta sauce. I actually bought some Kozy Shack Rice Pudding because of Moskin’s list - rice pudding being something I love and never make - and it’s pretty damned good.

I found another such list on the web recently: “8 Grocery Store Products that are Better than Homemade (really)” - and based solely on the fact that Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies are listed, I was inclined to be seduced. Those Tate’s cookies are awesome, and thoroughly addictive. I was totally skeptical about one product, though, the Marie Callender’s Pot Pie. First, my husband and I make a mean pot pie, and second, we never buy frozen prepared food. Well, I cotton to an occasional frozen pizza, but that’s IT. I’ve never bought a TV dinner in my life. It’s not that we never buy frozen food - but it’s plain frozen fruit, or spinach, or ice cream, or that amazing naan they sell at Trader Joe’s.
Back to the pot pie and my inherent skepticism.

When we make a pot pie at home, we never do it as a double crust pie - we just lay a crust over the filling and tuck it in around the edges. The crust stays flaky and dry, instead of getting all soggy on the bottom.

But hey, The Motherhood offered up an opportunity to review the Marie Callender’s Pot Pie, and out of some perverse curiosity, I decided to try it. After all, I'm always encouraging my child to have an open mind about food.

We baked the pie for the dictated 65 minutes at 400°F, let it cool for another 5 minutes, and cut into it. The crust was golden, and steam was arising.

I distributed pens and index cards and we sat down to dinner.

Short answer? We won’t ever have it again. Tasteless, salty, gummy yuck.

Long answer? The single 16.5 ounce pot pie - which lots of people would eat all of - contains 96% of the recommended daily value of fat, and 66% of the sodium. It's full of ingredients I can't explain, including: disodium guanylate, interesterified soybean oil, disodium inosinate, polysorbate 60 and something just called "flavors". The chicken had a nasty, gelatinous texture. The carrots, peas and celery were flavorless (despite the afore-mentioned "flavors"). It's way too salty. The gravy/sauce was like condensed soup. The crust had a weird graham-cracker-like flavor, and most of it was gummy. It's not a quick dinner to put on the table - it took 65 minutes in the oven! It doesn't taste anything like a homemade pot pie.

If you want a homemade pot pie, make it yourself. If you don't want to take the time to do that, have a bowl of plain buttered pasta instead. It'll taste better, it's quicker to the table, and you know what all the ingredients are.

Disclosure: I have been compensated by Marie Callender's and TheMotherhood for my time writing this post and reviewing the product. The opinions are 100% mine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chores, Chores, Chores

I am conflicted. She’s old enough to be doing chores, but we’re too disorganized to organize the chores. I nag clean up your room when I can’t walk in there anymore. We say do your homework every night before dinner. Brush your teeth seems to be a chore; shouldn’t it be ingrained by now?

We tried a printable blank chore chart I found online, and got as far as printing and laminating it and writing some chores in with a dry-erase marker. And it’s been forlornly stuck to the fridge ever since, unheeded, chores unchecked.

Since I am extremely fond of TeuxDeux for managing my own lists (a/k/a chores), I thought that an online tool might help for the kidlet - in other words, if it were something more interactive than just a printed chart. Lo and behold, MomSelect put out a call for reviews of a online resource for goal tracking, chore charts and to do lists. Timely, so I checked it out.

Goal For It lets you make customizable charts, which you can then use online, or print out. There are lots of available choices for chores (Eat My Vegetables), and you can make more on the fly if you need something specific (Feed The Corn Snake). Then, as the week goes by, you can click off the completed chores.

It makes a cute chore chart, it’s free (and no, we don’t have a corn snake, Kyla does).

I have a couple of caveats to report. You need to sign up for an account in the Goal For It online community in order to use it - and I need another online community like I need a hole in my head. Your child can’t use it (unless they’re over 13); a child’s chart “belongs” to a parent’s account. So, either you have to print it out so the kid can mark off her completed tasks, or you have to go on-line and do it for her - and frankly, I don’t love that. What I’m looking for is something that will help my child take ownership of her tasks, and check them off herself as she goes - and that kind of means that we need something stuck on the refrigerator, which means we’re back to print-outs (until Apple introduces a fridge with a built-in iPad).

That’s okay. The Goal For It print-outs are fine and dandy. Maybe someday we’ll actually use them.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Instant Dinner

For years, I've seen Dr. Oetker products in the baking and dessert aisles at the supermarket - glazes, flavorings, puddings. But until The Motherhood asked me to participate in a Valentine's Day chat, I had no idea that they made frozen pizza. But they do! And they sent me some to try! For free! On dry ice!

We're on the crunchy side when we come to food, what with making our own bread, and belonging to a CSA, and investing in large quantities of grass fed beef, but I'm not above frozen pizza. Because, sometimes there's just no time to cook. We usually keep the freezer stocked with a couple of emergency pies from Trader Joe's.

The other day, the cupboard was bare, so we cranked the oven and cooked up the two Dr. Oetker pies. One was basically a plain mozzarella pie, the other was spinach. In their still frozen stage, both pies looked as though they'd been partially cooked, and then had additional ingredients added before freezing. For instance, the slices of mozzarella on top of the cheese pie had no evidence of meltage when it came out of the box. The pies were baked at 425°, directly on the oven rack, and weren't bad, weren't bad at all. The crusts were light and cracker-crispy - not as good as the chewy toothiness you'd get at Pepe's but far better than the soggy doughiness you get at your run-of-the-mill slice factory. The cheese pie had nice little flavor blobs of pesto and the mozz got all melty-toasty; the spinach pie was remarkably fresh tasting (and looking). The girl, naturally, refused to try the green pizza, but she loved the cheese pie (and even ate some suspicious-looking pieces of tomato).

Not bad, not bad at all.

And hey, there's a prize pack for one commenter De!! You'll get a cooler bag, a pizza cutter, an apron and some Dr. Oetker coupons. Leave a comment by day's end on Monday 4/25 - U.S. residents only, please, and keep in mind that the Dr. Oetker products aren’t widely available on the West Coast.

Dr. Oetker provided us with the free pizza to try, and I received a stipend for participating in the review and giveaway, and a talk on The Motherhood. This is my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How To Play Santa

It's always fun to play Santa Claus, but it's really fun to do it unexpectedly.

I was offered the opportunity, as Nintendo Ambassador, to take a Wii along to a holiday party, set it up, and leave it there. I thought that sounded like fun, but when I got to the party, the TV set turned out to be out of commission. So, instead I set up the multi-colored disco ball and sleuthed around the party, sidling up to people and engaging them in conversation about the Wii. Apparently, everyone in the suburbs has one, because the person who forlornly told me that she didn't have one, but wanted one, lives in the city. So, I took her by the hand and played Ed McMahon. Shrieking ensued. I think it's gone to a good home.

Disclosure: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast. They sent me the Wii system (which included Wii Sports Resort) for me to give away. They also sent me the above-mentioned disco ball, along with a copy of Wii Party - both of which are a huge hit with the seven year old. I received no compensation for this post. I have to say, though, that it was awfully fun to be able to give the Wii system away rather randomly and out of the blue!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Finally Finished The Christmas Card!

Classic Without Edge 5x7 folded card
Unique party invitations and greeting cards by Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Christmas Comes Earlier Every Year

Even though it isn't even Halloween yet, I confess that I've been thinking about Christmas cards, because it's a tricky thing, getting the Christmas card picture just right. I definitely tend towards the offbeat; last year's card had the kid riding a tractor and when she was two, she was throttling Elmo. Let's put it this way: I'm never going to be sending out a soft-focus commercial portrait (or even having that kind of picture taken in the first place).

The other day, I went through all the photos from our Canada trip, and showed one to my husband. "It's not very Christmas-y", he said. I pointed out that the girlie was wearing a green fleece hoodie and looks distinctly elfin; I don't think he bought it. I may have to keep looking.

In the meantime, I've been poking around at Shutterfly, looking at holiday cards and Christmas invitations and New Year’s cards because for the past five years, I've gotten my cards via Shutterfly. They're easy to work with, the cards are delivered in a snap, and there are lots of options.

I tend to go for a plain photo card like the "classic without edge", but a "gorgeous gift tag" on just the right picture could be perfect and stylish. Then again, I'm kind of loving the girlie in the sea in the "all wrapped up" card.

It's Christmas-y. Think I can talk my husband into it?

Do you want 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly? Click here to go to Shutterfly for information on how you can get 50 free cards this holiday season, and make sure to select Clever 1000 as the referral source.

This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do. In return for this post, I got a coupon code for 100 free cards.