Summer of the ice bucket

Last year around this time, I declared it was the Summer of the Rainbow Loom. In a matter of weeks, everywhere I turned, there were colorful rubber bracelets.

This year, it’s all about the #ALS ice bucket challenge.

#ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It started with just a few posts here and there on social media but now it seems everyone’s got the ice fever. It’s reaching its peak this week for sure, but so far, I can’t resist clicking on any video that promises to show people getting doused. From my neighbor down the street to Lady Gaga, people all over the country are getting drenched in the name of charity.

Kudos to the geniuses who came up with this simple yet effective fundraising campaign. It’s worked so swimmingly, the ALS foundation has raised nearly $23 million! Last year in August, they raised about $22,000.

That’s alotta cold cash.

It’s also an amazing awareness campaign. I knew what ALS was only because it’s also called Lou Gehrig’s disease– after the famous baseball player who died from the condition– and my baseball-crazed boys knew his history.

The ALS website says: “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed (and eventually die.)”

It’s a cruel disease for both sufferers and the people who care for them.

But now there are literally millions of people talking about ALS, and inspired by the idea of doing good. I love that celebrities have gotten in on it. Here’s a link to some of the best celebrity soaks. I highly recommend Justin Timberlake (nothin bad about him in a wet t-shirt), Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift, who did group dumps. But Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner had the cutest one, with their daughters cackling in the background.

ben affleck jennifer garner #ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It’s a social media success story.

I’ve read some negative pieces about the Challenge– claiming it’s a popularity contest, it’s taking attention away from other causes, it’s self-indulgent. I’m freezing out that soggy nonsense.

I love it!

I knew my time was coming as I watched the degrees of separation between me and the challenged get smaller and smaller in recent days. In the last 24 hours I was challenged by my friends Julie G., Holland G.,and Julie P.G.

There was no escaping my arctic assignment.

We prepared for the 30-second videos like we were on a Scorsese set. We set the ice-maker to make extra ice, made sure we had the proper spot to get the most effect, and argued over what to say.

I had a frigid friend in Aden who also got challenged today. Jacob was only too happy to do the dumping.

Aden went first. You can see his here.

My favorite part of Aden’s is watching the glee with which Jacob douses his brother. Watch it again just for the beaming older brother getting a free pass to torture his nemesis.

Then it was my turn as you can see here.

#ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It aint pretty.

Who likes to see themselves on video, especially sopping wet??! But I’ve decided there should be no judgment when doing a good deed and spreading joy. And I’m sure watching me surprised by a waterfall to the head will amuse many.

I’ve seen scores of videos this week but can’t stop watching them. It’s 30 seconds of unscripted fun. When it’s your turn, you know what to expect but you’re still shocked.

And now I challenge MaryEllen Dawkins, Allison Levy, Shani Braffman, and Raquel Grosman. Ice, ice babies!!!

I’m sure this will all fade away in a week or two and we’ll put the ice bucket in the back of the closet….next to the rainbow loom.

But like any good trend, it’s fun while it lasts, right?

My top 7 Jersey Shore restaurants for foodies

Happy summer kids! I just got back from vacation last week at the Jersey Shore and I’m pleased to report we had a lovely time and didn’t see Snookie once. The Shore gets a bad rap sometimes– mostly from those who’ve never been there– but there are gorgeous beaches, great towns, spectacular views, fun family activities…and most importantly yummy eats.

Spring Lake, NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Spring Lake, NJ

Our family vacations are often anchored by meals. While we usually rent a house for a week, this year we stayed at a hotel in Spring Lake so we ate out more than usual.

Jacob has become a real foodie. He’s incredibly focused on where and what he’s eating next, and now that he’s growing like crazy, he can really put it away. He studies his menu carefully, pondering all possible choices so he doesn’t experience the dreaded “order regret.” His enthusiasm for dining experiences has demanded we up our game.

The Jersey Shore met expectations and Jacob was pleased with almost every meal. So I thought I’d share some of our favorite spots so you know where to eat on your next visit.

Committed Pig burger NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Committed Pig burger in Manasquan, NJ

The Committed Pig/Manasquan– Great place for epicureans like Jacob who fancy themselves burger experts. Ideal for brunch, the place has become famous for unique burgers and delicious pancakes and French toast. We, of course, tried all of it. The gourmet burgers boast a hangar steak, short rib, and brisket combination that sounds complicated but tastes amazing. My boys loved the crispy fries (sweet potato and regular) and the eggs. I was trying to behave and ordered one of their inventive salads and wasn’t jealous of their meals at all.  I advise you to go at off-peak times, or put your name in and walk around charming Manasquan while you wait.

Committed Pig pancakes NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Eli loved his Committed Pig pancakes

Porta/Asbury Park– This wood-burning oven pizza place feels like hipster Brooklyn on the water. The menu is on the small side, but the pizza and pasta are delish. It’s a huge warehouse space with exposed brick walls and three glass garage doors that open onto a terrace with twinkly lights and umbrella tables. There’s also a large bar with a very cool scene of kids who surely had much more exciting after-dinner plans than ours. But after stuffing ourselves with meatball pizza and a pork ragu penne that Jacob is still talking about,  we walked a block to see the famous Stone Pony and stroll the boardwalk. Rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy, it has all new shops and restaurants and live entertainment that was a big hit with the kids.

Pizza at Porta in Asbury Park,  NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Margharita pizza at Porta in Asbury Park, NJ

Surf Taco/Point Pleasant and other locations — I’m slightly obsessed with seeking out the best fish tacos in the land so when this joint was recommended several times we had to check it out.  Note that it’s not a sit-down restaurant. You order at the counter and bring it to your table, but calling it fast food would be insulting. There’s a wide menu with plenty of kid-friendly options, the fish, shrimp, and beef tacos were scrumptious and the price is right. All the ingredients are very fresh and the taco sauce is yummy. Make sure to get an order of guacamole to share.  Other locations. include Long Branch, Belmar, and Shipbottom in LBI.

Surf Taco,  NJ on carpoolcandy.com

My fish taco before I gobbled it up

Tom Bailey’s Market /Spring Lake — Sometimes you don’t feel like sitting down and waiting for your meal at a restaurant. Sometimes you’re too sandy and sunscreened to be seen anywhere but the beach. And sometimes, you think if you have to sit with your loud, unruly, picky, kids through one more meal you might stab someone with a butter knife.  On one such day we opted to get lunch at this market in town. Think Balducci’s on the beach: a giant selection of gourmet sandwiches they make on the spot, fancy chips and cookies. and fresh fruit and veggies. Great alternative to dining out.

Lobster at Moby's Deck, Atlantic Highlands, NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Lobster at Moby’s Deck, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Moby’s/Atlantic Highlands — This has been a staple in our family for years. We love a place that welcomes you in your sandy bathing suit, flip-flops, and windblown hair. You order fresh seafood at a counter and sit at picnic tables overlooking the water. They have a great deal on twin lobsters and we’ve enjoyed all the seafood — calamari, clams, scallops, fish filets. Wilson loves the giant oysters and clams from the raw bar, and they have a real bar so you can get a coupla cold ones to get you through your lobster cracking.

Cocktails at the Breakers, Spring Lake, NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Enjoying the view at The Breakers Hotel, Spring Lake

Breakers Hotel cocktails at dusk /Spring Lake– We’re big fans of The Breakers and have stayed there several times. It has large rooms, a pool, great food, and is located right on a gorgeous beach that never gets too crowded. One of our favorite things to do is order cocktails and appetizers while sitting on the front porch, overlooking the water. The wicker chairs and cool ocean breeze put us into slow gear. The hotel is over 100 years old and staring at that view with a mixed drink in my hand makes me feel like Daisy Buchanan, planning the next party.

Hoffmans Ice Cream, NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Hoffmans Ice Cream, Spring Lake Heights, NJ

Hoffman’s Ice Cream/Long Branch, Spring Lake Heights and other locations– If you go during prime hours– anytime between 7-10pm– expect a wait but I assure you it’s well worth it. The homemade ice cream comes in nearly 50 creative flavors. We made it a point to taste a variety and not one was less than excellent. I highly recommend Sea Salt Caramel Latte, Espresso Mocha Chunk, and S’mores. Kids and Wilson also loved Key Lime Pie. Is it wrong that we went 3 times in 5 days?

We are headed to Long Beach Island for Labor Day weekend so tell me in the comments some of your favorite Jersey Shore eateries to add to our list!

No matter how much you do, someone’s always doing more

I recently took a power walk with my friend, Sandy. She’s one of the most amazing people I know: smart, funny, creative, talented, and a standup gal.

Her resume is insane.

A successful actress, writer and producer, she wrote a sketch comedy musical about parenthood called Rated P (for parenthood), which opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway in 2012. I saw it at least three times and adored it.

Rated P for Parenthood poster on carpoolcandy.com

It recently got picked up as a musical series for TV on ABC Family, through Kelly Ripa’s production company. Then, one day she had an idea and sat down and wrote a full length comedic straight play called The Cottage, which ran in Queens for a few weeks last year and has now been picked up in regional theaters in Aspen, Phoenix, and Plymouth, MA this summer.

Really??!

She has a one-act comedy that won a playwriting competition and is currently in development for TV, and created and stars in a web series on NickMom.

Exhausted just reading about it, right?

What’s most annoying is she’s a wonderful daughter, supportive friend, and attentive, fun mom to two little boys. It would make me feel better to think she’s a crappy wife, but I know her husband and he doesn’t seem like the type to put up with that.

A walk with Sandy is like a hard slap to the ego. No matter how much I’m doing professionally or personally, it never seems enough.

I’m no slacker. I’m busy all the time, like most of you. In addition to playing cook, maid, chauffeur, therapist, and gal Friday, I work in Manhattan two days a week and write freelance pieces for various websites in any “down” time, when the kids are in school.

This summer, the down time has been minimal to nil.

I signed the boys up for various camps but there has yet to be a week when all 3 are out of the house at the same time. I don’t have any childcare on the days I’m not working in the city so I’m on call all day for meals, rides, and questions like “Where’s the remote?”

I’ve really enjoyed the one-on-one time with them. But instead of embracing that time, I always seem to have a nagging feeling I should be getting more work done.

Work Life balance image on carpool candy.com

I should be blogging, reading, pitching stories, or trying to get paid for stories I’ve already written. I should be completing the bedroom upgrade I started three months ago, or getting forms ready for the new school year. There are scores of to-do list items swirling around my head at any given time, distracting me from enjoying the present.

I’m lucky I have the option now to be with my kids more than when I was working full-time. I should channel my inner bumper sticker: Carpe diem! Live in the moment! Life is short!

Sometimes I do. But not often enough.

The life of a freelancer and blogger is extra tough on the psyche because you have to constantly hustle and produce content, but the amount of hours doesn’t always translate to dollars.   I love what I do and don’t mind the hustling, but life sometimes gets in the way, and I don’t want to feel badly about that.

But I’m getting older and worry that if I don’t make a big mark in my career soon, it will be too late. The window on work goals is closing slowly and I want to be on the right side when it does.

I’m always in this weird middle place between dreaming big, working hard and making sacrifices….and wanting more flexibility and time with my kids before they grow up and leave. So I haven’t figured out how to feel satisfied about getting a little of both, and enjoying that luxury.

There’s always going to be a Sandy. She never makes me feel like slouch, I do that to myself.  My new goal is to try to feel gratified, whether I’m working hard or hardly working.

boys hiking on carpoolcandy.com

I spent today with Aden, Brady, and some friends hiking in a state park.

Hiking selfie on carpoolcandy.com

I didn’t get any work done.

But it was a good day.

My summer TV catch-up

I’m writing about TV today– one of my favorite topics– and an antidote to the 24/7 baseball vortex I’ve experienced this summer.

 

What TV to watch this summer on carpoolcandy.com

As I’ve mentioned– probably about a hundred times– we are all baseball all the time over here. In summer travel leagues, we’ve probably had at least 50 games between my three sluggers in just the last month.  It’s difficult to make plans with friends or travel because our schedule is so relentless and unpredictable.

But the one respite I’ve had in these last few weeks is my shows. No matter how late we’re up hosing dugout dirt off the kids, or soothing a fragile ego in the middle of a slump– Wilson and I always make time for a show at the end of the night.

With all our regular network shows on hiatus, we’ve been able to catch up on some buzzworthy premium cable shows that were on our ever-growing list of must-see-TV.

breaking-bad What TV to watch this summer on carpoolcandy.com

AMC

We finally finished Breaking Bad. Whoa. Lived up to the hype. While I was very disturbed by what happened to Jesse and Skyler in the penultimate episodes, the finale was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Brilliantly conceived, directed and acted. Creator Vince Gilligan tied up the story realistically and effectively. My one complaint is that Skyler’s part was minimized to nothing in the last season or two. She started out so strong and rounded, but ended up as a prop with no back story or meaty scenes until the very last few minutes of the series. While I didn’t love Saul, I’ll watch Better Call Saul, (which debuts on AMC in 2015) because I trust Gilligan will make it compelling.

True Detective What TV to watch this summer on carpoolcandy.com

HBO

After saying goodbye to Walter White, we turned to the even darker True Detective.  There are only 8 episodes of this HBO drama but each one feels like a movie. It’s Twin Peaks meets Seven. The show is set in the savage underbelly of the Louisiana bayou where two detectives– played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson– try to find a twisted serial killer who targets young women and sets up sacrificial altars by their bodies.  The story jumps around in time, building suspense, but it’s the strong writing and complicated characters that grabbed me. Harrelson and McConaughey are both excellent as flawed, seething, selfish, narcissists.  Unraveling their stories was a trip. No wonder the show just received 12 Emmy nods.

Episodes What TV to watch this summer on carpoolcandy.com

Showtime

After immersing ourselves in drug lords and murdered prostitutes, we needed some levity. So every night after an hour of drama, we watched Showtime’s Episodes for a laugh. It’s a playful half-hour comedy starring Matt LeBlanc playing himself as a once huge TV star, now trying to stay relevant. The show features a British couple who created and wrote a hit sit-com in England, lured to Hollywood to produce an American version. Inevitably the network suits screw up the natural humor and originality of the British show and turn it into crap.  It took me a few episodes of Episodes to get into it but once I was in, I fell hard. The characters– especially LeBlanc– are funny and engaging, and I love the irony of a show making fun of Hollywood behind-the-scenes with good writing, instead of predictable clichés.

MASTERS OF SEX What TV to watch this summer on carpoolcandy.com

Showtime

But alas, we powered through all of those shows and needed a new focus. I’d heard good things about Masters of Sex on Showtime and was intrigued. It’s based on the relationship between William Masters and Virginia Johnson as they developed their scientific theories on human sexuality in the uptight late 50’s. The show is beautifully shot, the costumes are technicolored eye candy, and the acting is terrific. The writing is not as smart as some of our other favorites (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Girls) but the story is fascinating. I don’t know who is more gorgeous, Lizzy Caplan who plays Johnson or Caitlin Fitzgerald who plays Masters’ long suffering wife. And the sex scenes aren’t bad either.

After we reach the climax of Masters of Sex, we need to finally get Netflix so I can see what all the fuss is about on Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.  We still have another month or so before the fall season begins!

What’s on your DVR? Tell me what you’re watching this summer in the comments.

 

How my teen son and I found patience in the woods

My 14-year-old son, Jacob, has a pretty sweet deal this summer. He’s at that awkward age where he’s too old for most camps, and too young for a real job so there’s no natural place for him to be on summer days.

His travel baseball schedule demands he be home by 4pm to get ready for games or practices most nights in July. Last summer was the first without the structure of day camp and he and his intrepid friends started a business doing yard work, babysitting, animal care, and other odd jobs during the day.

It kept him busy enough and put more than $300 in his pocket, allowing him to purchase his own iPhone, plus the insurance and part of his monthly bill. What parent could argue with that kind of spunk?

helping hand flyer on carpoolcandy.com

Jacob’s business flyer. Love how they use “high school freshmen” as a selling point.

The boys of “A Helping Hand” are back at it this month, but when they don’t have a job, there’s too much down time for my comfort. Wilson and I require Jacob to read every day for an hour, work on his blog (JakeKeepingScore.wordpress.com) at least twice a week, and do chores around the house so he doesn’t turn into a lazy slug.

So far, so good. There’s certainly been plenty of sleeping late, bike riding around town with the fellas, and eating many, many, many Taylor Ham, egg,and cheese sandwiches at Bagel Chateau. But that’s what summer’s for, no?

Last week I was meeting my friend, Holland, to take our weekly run on a path in the South Mountain Reservation, and decided Jacob needed some exercise. He was not psyched to haul his ass out of bed (he had stayed up too late watching a Criminal Minds marathon on OnDemand) but I gave him no choice.

We did our usual 4-5 mile loop– us chatting away, Jacob tuning us out with his iPhone music)– but when we got to the end of the run we decided to walk another loop. It was hot and humid and Jacob preferred to rest. I was cool with that, gave him some water and left him by the parked car.

As I walked way I tossed him the keys and said casually, “If you get too hot, just turn the car on and run the air for a bit.”

BIG mistake.

When we came back about 35 minutes later, he was sitting in the car with the air blasting. That dope turned the car on and ran the air for the entire time we were gone, draining the battery.

The car wouldn’t start.

Granted, this is a 2002 Suburu Outback on its last legs. (I’d like to trade it in and get a pre-owned car but Wilson is digging his heels in. We will likely drive that dinosaur until it becomes extinct on an open road somewhere. I just pray it’s not me driving when that happens. But I digress.)

Car breaks down on carpoolcandy.com

Jacob calling Wilson for advice. (He was useless and told us to call AAA.)

Have I mentioned before that I grew up in the city and didn’t get my license until I was 25? Or that I then never used said license until I moved to NJ when I was 34?

Yeah, I’m not an experienced driver.

I got angry at Jacob for about two minutes. Then I realized that he had no idea how a car works and didn’t know you’re not supposed to run an old, decrepid Suburu without the engine on for 35 minutes straight. He didn’t even know the car had a battery. How could I get pissed when he had no clue?

Holland had jumper cables so after some very girly attempts at opening the hood and gazing into the abyss of a car engine, we found the battery. It was extremely corroded as you can see here.

Car breaks down on carpoolcandy.com

We couldn’t find the red and black plugs you need to hook up the cables, and none of the three of us were willing to stick our heads in there to try. I didn’t panic.  I have AAA.

Or so I thought.

When I called, it turned out the credit card on file had expired and our service had run out. One week prior.

Luckily, I was 5 days within the extended renewal period and gave them a credit card over the phone and the driver promised to be there within an hour. Holland offered to drive Jacob home but there was no way I was going to wait in the woods by myself, stewing over his mistake while he ate another Taylor ham bagel and watched Sports Center in my air-conditioned house.

So we sat and flipped through some People magazines and talked. My survival instincts kicked in and I tried not to use my phone or drink too much of my water just in case we were there for more than an hour. (God forbid I couldn’t check Twitter or hydrate on command.)

While he normally would have been furious, brooding, annoyed and spiteful, Jacob felt guilty that he caused the problem so he was actually quite delightful. I decided to take a Zen attitude towards the situation. I pointed out that we were lucky we weren’t freezing cold, on a dangerous highway, or late for work or a concert. We were also fortunate to be able to pay for AAA and whatever repairs we needed.

We were hot, sweaty and stuck. But there are always two ways to see every situation and I figured this was a teaching moment about what to do when your car dies, and how to stay calm and patient when faced with a challenge beyond your control.

Car breaks down on carpoolcandy.com

Bobby had no luck getting the car started.

Exactly one hour later,  Bobby the AAA dude, showed up with his giant tow truck. He tried to jump the car and determined it would not start, so he towed us to our repair place in town.

Car breaks down on carpoolcandy.com

What are you gonna do? We made the best of an annoying situation.

We had to take everything in the trunk (baseball bag, bag of dirty clothes for cleaners, my heavy purse) and carry it home on our backs. As we trudged up the hill in the heat, Jacob said, “Well at least we got some quality time together, Mom!”

I was thinking the same thing, but wouldn’t have dared to say it out loud to my impatient, perpetually annoyed teenager.  Glad he said it first.

P.S. The battery was dead and we needed some new parts but the AAA tow was free with our plan and the repair bill was only $190. Not too bad.

Some questions for you more experienced drivers. Was there more I could do to test the battery before calling AAA? Did I need to tip Bobby for his help?  Is it worth it to purchase jumper cables to keep in the trunk if I’m too afraid to use them?

I’d love to hear your advice and similar experiences in the comments.

My Listen to Your Mother video is online! (Can you tell I was nervous?)

Remember my post about how sickeningly anxious I was to appear on stage reading a piece I wrote at the Listen to Your Mother show?

Listen to Your Mother logo on carpoolcandy.com

Listen to Your Mother is an annual staged reading event performed before a live audience where people share experiences about motherhood.  It started out in one small town in Wisconsin and has grown to 32 cities across the U.S. I was honored to be chosen to read in the first North Jersey show in May.

But I was as uptight as a grasshopper in a shoebox about getting up in front of 450 people at the South Orange Performing Art Center. Despite the weeks of hand-wringing leading up to the performance, on show day I was excited to be part of such a special evening.

Brooke Lefferts in LTYM NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

The audience went gaga for the show. Friends and strangers who didn’t have to say anything at all, told me in the days afterwards how much they loved hearing the stories. In our cast, we had 13 women and two men. They ranged in age from teenager to grandma and the topics varied, making the evening a roller coaster of emotions.

We laughed, we cried, it was much better than Cats.

This week the national peops at LTYM finally released the reading videos onto their site via YouTube. It would be crass of me to demand you watch mine, but if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably curious.

You can see it here.

But even if you don’t want to watch my bit, do yourself a favor and watch C.J. Prince’s “The Pump.” I had heard it twice before the show and still laughed until tears threatened to trash my mascara. It’s that funny.

LTYM-NJ on carpoolcandy.com

courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

There are others I could pick out as favorites but that wouldn’t be fair to my castmates. The truth is, they’re all great and worth your time. You don’t have to watch all at once. Savor them like a box of fancy chocolates with mysterious centers. Open up a couple a night and enjoy the surprise.

Let me know which are your favorites in the comments. Happy watching!