Finding your happy place just got easier, thanks to two St. Louis working moms Tammi Johnson and Lori Lander, who know a thing or two about taking care of other people’s needs before their own. After all, they’re moms! So after decades of experience in the IT corporate world and leadership training (Johnson) and a career dedicated to women’s wellness and community service (Lander), these two powerhouses recently joined creative forces to create Language of Happiness, which offers a variety of workshops to women who are looking to make the most of the next stage in their life.
The Jewish Women’s Society Challah Making Club!
Thirty women get together once a month for lots of love, laughter, and learning (and wisecracks about yeast—sorry I couldn’t resist). The long tables are filled with big bowls, measuring cups, spoons and we all have our own spot to combine, mix, and braid the ingredients into eight mini loaves (or fewer depending on the size and shape) of challah.
Some women are balaboostas, effortlessly rolling and stretching the dough in the palms of their hands into the perfect shape of a snake, while others like me still struggle to pinch and tuck the ends. It doesn’t matter; it’s not a competition. We are all there for each other and to have a good time. Sure, I admit I envy the intricate eight-braided challahs and round cinnamon bun designs that line the foil pans ready to take home and show off to their families. I’m still proud of myself for trying, and it all tastes heavenly when it comes out of the oven gold brown, crunchy on the outside, sweet and chewy inside. Honestly, the best part of the night is being a part of this sisterhood and doing an ancient mitzvah while I wear my blue “Keep Calm and Bake Challah” apron. Continue reading
When it comes to parenting, there is no manual. Back in the day, my mom kept Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care paperback in her nightstand, next to the S&H Green Stamps and the TV remote. I never noticed any dog-eared corners on the faded brown pages so doubt if she ever referred to this “timeless bestseller.” Turns out she probably could have used some expert advice on how to redirect her high-spirited daughter because her idea of discipline was chasing me down the hallway with a flyswatter.
It’s almost Labor Day, and I’ve procrastinated to write this back-to-school blog. Maybe because my youngest is a high school senior and in 300-something days I will be an empty nester. (Yes, I obsess about it). For the last 12 years, I have taken my daughter’s first day of school photo in the front yard, with her holding our toy poodle Luci, next to the Chinese maple tree, which has grown from her shoulders to as tall as the two-story gutter.
Last year, I knew it would be my last Mother’s Day with my mom. She had been going down hill for a couple years with a myriad of diseases and ailments…cancer, kidney failure, depression, back pain, a couple episodes of gout, you name it, she was dealing with it. And at the age of 91, she was done fighting. We talked openly about the end of her life, and she told us how grateful she was to have lived a full, happy life until she lost her independence and health. We didn’t want her to suffer anymore, physically or mentally, and she worried everyday that she was a burden to me. It was cathartic for me to write her eulogy a few days before she died. I wrote a lot about my mom over the years, and many of the stories appear in my book Mishegas of Motherhood. Where do you think I got the mishegas from? This piece was the most recent one I wrote about my mom, when her lymphoma came back on my 50th bday. I guess you could say I was prepared to lose my mom, my best friend. And then again, I wasn’t.
What if teenage daughters could see their mothers as a great ally as they grew up and became independent? What if mothers could create safety for a teen daughter’s experience of herself, consciously guiding her to be who she was born to be?
What?! Sign me up!
Being a mom of a teen daughter is challenging, especially in today’s culture with a barrage of social media, peer pressure, and everyday stress that forces girls to grow up too fast. Moms ride a rollercoaster of emotions with our mini me’s. We are each other’s worst enemy and then best ally in the time it takes to get a spa pedicure.
If only there was a parenting manual on how to navigate our way through middle school, high school, and beyond. A resource that is as relevant and timely for moms as it is to our impressionable daughters so that we are both thinking on the same page. Wait a minute…there is such a book that speaks to us. It’s called Mothering and Daughtering. Keeping Your Bond Strong Through The Teen Years. Better yet, the co-authors are mom-daughter duo Sil and Eliza Reynolds, who live in The Big Apple and will be here in St. Louis next weekend as part of the Girls In The Know (GITK) mom-daughter empowerment celebration. Girls, it’s about to get real!
For sure, the mother-daughter relationship is the most complex one of all, and perhaps no one understands the dynamics of this erratic dance better than Sil and Eliza who collaborated on this bestseller. When it comes to surviving and thriving the rocky adolescent years and into adulthood, this mom-daughter duo has been there, done that. For the last 10 years, they have travelled the country, from the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in New York to the Esalen retreat center in California, inspiring moms and their preteen daughters to “meet in the middle” and create a deeper, more meaningful relationship. And they also know girls just wanna have fun—so they have planned an engaging weekend of ritual, storytelling, art, and exercises in communication that will no doubt create special memories. Through creative strategies and games, moms and their daughters will learn new ways of being together in mutual respect and love—and have a blast!
Next weekend, my son Jack will move into his college dorm as a freshman, and mark the beginning of a new stage in his life and mine, too. As a parent, this is the day I have tried to prepare him to spread his wings and fly out of the nest. Never mind the fact that mama bird is feeling a bit emotional, like the first day I dropped him off at preschool (multiplied by one thousand).
Of course I’m excited for him. He has worked really hard to get good grades, score decent on his ACT, and write an impressive resume and college essay. He deserves this time to explore his freedom, take on new challenges, and meet new people. My biggest concern is that he sleeps into the afternoon or falls out of his loft bed.
What’s the #1 fear of most people? Public speaking. What’s the #2 fear? Watching themselves speaking. OKay, so now that I got that out of the way, I’m actually very excited to share with you our entire LTYM St. Louis playlist, now live on our YouTube channel. In fact, you can watch shows from all 24 cities across the nation, from Chicago to Washington, DC. That’s about 350 speakers, who all have their own stories to tell.
Of course, it’s impossible to capture the energy in the room that day. St. Louis was the only city to have two performances, a morning and afternoon, and, believe it or not, we were so pumped up that we felt like we could have done it again if our Spanx were not so damn uncomfortable.
What’s better than Mother’s Day? How about Mother’s Month? Seriously, I’m considering petitioning Hallmark to officially expand this national holiday for the entire month of May. Who’s with me?
St. Louis women can celebrate motherhood with a variety of exciting events and activities that stretch beyond that single Sunday in May.
Mark your calendars and get ready for some serious fun:
Thursday, May 2, 7-9 p.m.
The Crescent in Clayton, 155 Carondelet Plaza
The month of May kicks off with Mama-Palooza, featuring former St. Louisan Melissa Gerststein, co-founder of The Moms, and the hilarious New York Times bestselling author Jill Smokler, “Scary Mommy” blogger, who is stopping here on her whirlwind book tour of her newest release, “Motherhood Comes Naturally (and other vicious lies).”
Leave it to the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) to host a Girl’s Night Out that brings us together for nibbles and giggles, while raising money to help local children. You’re invited to nosh on drinks and appetizers, win prizes, and laugh at the parenting sagas of these two famous funny ladies, while benefiting NCJW’s Back-to-School Store, which provides school supplies and new clothing to 4,000 elementary and middle schoolers in eight area public schools and the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.
RSVP: www.ncjwstl.org or call 314-993-5181.
Spa for The Soul
Sunday, May 5, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m
The Chesterfield Art Center, 444 Chesterfield Center, Suite 130
The Jewish Women’s Chai Circle hosts the second annual Spa for the Soul, featuring the ultimate day of pampering. Guests will enjoy mini mani-pedis, massages, health and beauty demos, crafts, raffles, a delicious kosher brunch, and so much more. The highlight of the event is a laughter therapy workshop led by stand-up comedian and actress Esther Rachel Russell, who will show us why laughter is the best medicine. Russell began her improvisational comedy career at the famous Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles, where she wrote and performed in comedy sketches with the “Saturday Night Live” comedy stars.
Founder and artistic director of the all-female comedy improve troupe, “Woman Gone Mad,” Russell has performed in the acclaimed off Broadway comedy, “A Match made in Manhattan-The Interactive Jewish Wedding.”
See you at the spa, and get ready to feel beautiful inside and out.
RSVP: www.ChabadofChesterfield.com/spa or call 636 778 4000.
Listen To Your Mother
Saturday, May 11, Showtimes 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
St. Luke’s Institute for Health Education
232 South Woods Mill Road
This special Mother’s Day celebration is not to be missed, and I’m not just saying that because I’m co-producing/directing the inaugural show in St. Louis. Listen To Your Mother St. Louis, which is held on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, is part of a national series of live readings that features some of our area’s most talented writers and bloggers, as well as everyday people who have an amazing story to share. Proudly, St. Louis is one of 24 cities across the country to host a production that is produced, directed, and performed by local communities for local communities.
Fifty percent of our ticket sales benefit Connections to Success (CtS), a local nonprofit organization that helps break the cycle of poverty through hope, resources, and a plan. CtS will be at the show with their Mystique Boutique, a mobile upscale shop that sells designer clothing and accessories to raise money for their programs.
I promise, you will laugh, you will cry, you will be transformed by this national movement that gives moms a microphone. Our show also features refreshments, live jazz music, prizes, shopping, and more surprises. Plus, Virginia Kerr, of Great Day St. Louis, is our emcee, so you don’t want to miss out. Bring your family and friends, and start a new Mother’s Day tradition in St Louis.
Also worth mentioning…Spring is in the air, and the Lou has plenty of outdoor fun, too. For example:
Laumeier Art Fair is a nationally acclaimed fine art and craft fair at Laumeier Sculpture Park, one of the world’s premier open-air museums. This popular annual event, which is held on Mother’s Day weekend, features creative and original works of art from 150 artists from across the country, not to mention food, drink, and musical entertainment.
For an old-fashioned good time with your family, visit Eckert’s and enjoy strawberry picking, wagon and pony rides, live entertainment, and, of course, festival foods like funnel cakes and frozen custard.
If beer is your choice of beverage, the St. Louis Microfest is for you. This premiere event offers samples of international and craft beers, live music, silent auction, and plenty of food to make you thirsty for a cold brew. Profits benefit Lift For Life Gym, which provides supervised and safe activities for children eight to 18 years old, five evenings a week, all free of charge.
Got a green thumb? Shaw Nature Reserve and several nurseries from throughout the area will offer hundreds of varieties of annual and perennial wildflowers, ferns, trees and shrubs to use in home landscaping and to attract wildlife. The sale will feature the showiest and hardiest native plants for sun or shade, including purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, blazing star, dwarf crested iris, cardinal flower, compass plant, wild phlox, ostrich fern, bottle-brush buckeye, fringe tree and short-leaf pine.
And for all us dog lovers, the annual Bark in the Park promises a day of fun for both dogs and their owners. As the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Humane Society of Missouri, this annual festival features a one-mile pet walk and 5K run in Forest Park. After you work up a sweat, enjoy a full day of entertainment and favorite foods like funnel cakes, kettle corn and fresh squeezed lemonade.
Enjoy your Mother’s Day Month! You deserve it!
An accomplished singer/songwriter, educator and community organizer, Peri Smilow promises to take women of all ages and denominations on a spiritual journey they will never forget. Her music and message of tikkun olam has been heard worldwide; on March 12, she will perform at Nishmah’s annual pre-Passover extravaganza. It features music, food, learning and even shopping for Judaica items crafted by local designers.
Along with recently completing a national tour of her new cabaret act “Peri Smilow Sings the Great (Jewish) American Songbook,” this New Jersey-bred mom is a cantor, Harvard University graduate, social activist and an educational consultant. At the Nishmah event—which is a fun girl’s night out for moms and their daughters—Smilow will use her passion for Judaism, particularly the Passover holiday, to inspire women to immerse themselves in their Jewish identity and learn how to create a memorable seder that casts them in a central role. She recently took time out to answer a few questions before her stop here.
How would you describe your music?
It is contemporary Jewish. There are only a handful, maybe 50 or a 100, people in the world writing this kind of music. We use important intellectual and spiritual themes of Jewish people, often singing in Hebrew and English, and set it to music of our contemporary times. I call it “Nusach America,” which is the sounds of the traditional chanting of our people and America because the new melodies are reflective of the sounds of popular music in this country.
How do you incorporate social justice into your music?
I use Jewish teachings to deepen our understanding of our obligation to social justice. I want people to feel good about their Jewish roots, think more deeply and learn how they can be more impactful in the world.
This year’s social action project at the Nishmah event is about microlending, or giving small loans to poor people to alleviate poverty. Why is this important for Jewish women to be involved in?
This microlending project engages the St. Louis community about their role in helping Jewish women around the world. There is something about the dynamic of being expected to pay the money back that lifts people out of poverty. Each woman who receives a loan chooses where the money goes, which puts the control in her hands, and this is a very important tool for taking people out of poverty. Also, microlending is doable, manageable, and lots of people can afford to give $25. (That’s) a lot of money for a woman in Cambodia and can mean the difference between eating and not eating.
How do you inspire girls and women to take an active role in the Passover seder?
At the Nishmah event, I lead a program that is built around the framework of an actual seder. We will sit at round tables and talk with one another like at a family seder. We will share important dialogue about the role of women in Jewish life. We will get a chance to exchange ideas and recipes, but we will also go much deeper than that. The goal is for women to not have to be in the kitchen preparing, but to be seated at the table enjoying the seder.
Why is it important for Jewish women of all backgrounds to learn from each other?
This Nishmah event is different from any other seder because it is the most inclusive women’s seder in America. We have Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Chabad women celebrating together, and that does not happen in this country. Over the last several months, a great deal of work has gone into planning this program, allowing women from various denominations to highlight their experiences from their own Passover seders. I’m so excited to have Hasidic women join us; it’s like a cross-cultural experience even though we’re all Jewish. It’s called “Klal Yisrael,” which means we’ll have women in the room that night who represent every corner of the fabric of our people, all of Israel.
Describe how Nishmah’s pre-Passover experience relates to the story of Exodus.
We are basically Jews celebrating Passover in the framework of a seder, and we are reenacting the ancient journey through the dessert from slavery to freedom. If I do my job as the ringleader, the emcee, the train conductor, the journey leader, the women will feel like they have been on an extraordinary journey. We sing, we eat, we dance, we create, we talk, we explore, we question. We will do all those things at the JCC.
Why is it important to have programs like this for girls and women?
First of all, I’m a girl. Second of all, I’m a mom. And third of all, I’m a daughter. I connect with women and girls, naturally. The thing about Passover is that in most generations, even post-ERA, women spend most of Passover preparing, getting food ready and taking care of kids. This event allows us to have our (behinds) in the seats and relaxing. In the Haggadah, we are supposed to be leaning on a pillow. This Passover seder allows women to sit and relax and think and reflect, which is critically important because all that reflection comes back into their homes and families. This event shows women how to be full contributors to their seders in a way that often we are not.
Does your family share your love for music?
Yes! I married into a musical dynasty. My husband is a NY1-TV Senior Correspondent and a former Kutz Camp song leader for NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth). His brother Doug Mishkin is a lawyer and a well-known singer/songwriter of music in the Reform movement. My daughter also sings, and plays piano and violin. But she is a typical 9-year-old and doesn’t like when mom sings. She prefers to listen to Taylor Swift.
Your most recent release, “Blessings,” which was co-produced by Grammy-Award winner Ben Wisch, draws on your experience as a two-time cancer survivor, wife and mother. How has cancer changed your life?
I think that having experienced cancer has deepened my desire and drive to make a difference in this life. Cancer is a reminder that we have no promise about how long we have to be here. I really want to make every single day count and one way I’m doing it is by participating in Nishma’s pre-Passover event. I’m so looking forward to celebrating with the women in St. Louis.