Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Yesterday, Openlands' staff and some special guests toured a patchwork of community-powered food-growing gardens, small and large, throughout Chicago.

I was struck by the blighted Englewood neighborhood in Chicago. It's notorious for being the murder capital of Chicago. Boarded-up buildings are the norm, and even on a beautiful, sunny June day, it just has a beat-down feeling to it.

However, in the middle of this neighborhood is a little oasis - Hermitage Street Community Garden. This one-year-old allotment garden is fueled by the neighbors' passion - families each have a plot to plant their strawberries, squash and tomatoes. The chief community organizer told us that the space is also used for gatherings - a neighborhood safe haven. Other neighbors are being inspired to claim other abandoned lots to make their own gardens.

We also visited the Chicago Botanic Garden's Green Youth Farm in Chicago's Washington Park (Chicago had proposed this park as a major site during its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.) The coordinator of this education/summer job program told us many stories. One was about the daily routine of going around the group of high school students, where they'd receive feedback on things they were doing well and one thing they needed to work on. One student broke down in tears, the coordinator recounted. Not because of the room-for-improvement feedback but because of the positive feedback. She explained no one had given her that reinforcement before.

And so.

I can always relate these things back to parenthood, can't I?

Chicago has lots of week-long camp options. You could be a superhero one week and a zoo explorer the next. This week, Jack is participating in his first day camp experience at our tennis club. I was nervous - I've been to the club but I didn't have a chance to meet his counselors or see what he'd be doing. And Monday night, Jack was whispering into his plate, "you're bad." This set off a tiny alarm for me.

I pressed him to tell me more. In my head, I'm imagining older, bigger boys jeering my son and his clumsy ways (he has my genes, let's be frank). I briefly considered homeschooling.

In reality, he and a girl  apparently got into a row about a water bottle, and this little girl declared him "bad."

Jack and I talked about how he can behave with this fellow camper and then just overall about how he feels about himself. We can't control what people say to us, I told him, but we can control how we think about it and how we act.

Who knows what sank in.

This morning, I related the high school student's reaction to positive feedback to Jeremy. In the next breath, I asked Jack what makes him special. He just hugged me.

My kids know they are loved and how to love. I hope this helps to build them a strong foundation to rely upon as they grow. I can't be at every thing Jack will take on in life, nor should I be. He will need to rely upon his own foundation of what he believes....kind of like the hope and strength the gardeners in Englewood are cultivating and propagating.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Slow summer days

While I'm not a fan of retro-blogging, I do have to say, we had a nice weekend from my Monday evening vantage point. This blogger has published a book, has a strong following and is thin and pretty, and I still like her. I appreciate her love of family and friends and her positive outlook on life. Anyways, she has been doing more with video on her blog and has provided a tutorial on YouTube. She, along with the new desktop computer Jeremy bought us, inspired me to make this video from our visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden Saturday afternoon with a little something added to the end.  I literally followed the tutorial step-by-step; more creativity to come as I get more comfortable with my movie editing skills.

June 2012 from Jennifer Mullman on Vimeo.

Sunday was a day to rest and be lazy for my family. We thought it might rain; it didn't. We treated the day as if it was a rainy day anyways, reading books and doing inside things. Jack got into the cozy, lazy spirit of things by wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants (while it was nearing 90 degrees outside, mind you), and Roscoe the cat is always ready for a good snooze.

Jeremy and I tried a new slow cooker recipe from this blog Sunday night.

Easy slow cooker carnitas
2 pounds pork shoulder
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1 large orange)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 large lime)
7 cloves garlic (whole intact)
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 cup beef broth
corn tortillas
sour cream, salsa, sliced avocado, limes (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the salt and cumin. Rub mixture all over the pork, then plop into the slow cooker. Add whole garlic cloves. Squeeze on the citrus, and pour the beef broth evenly over the top.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the pork shreds quite easily with a fork. If your meat is still fully intact after 8 hours, remove and cut into chunks, then return to the crock and flip to high for about an hour or two.
Shred meat fully and serve on warmed corn tortillas with desired toppings.

One of our favorite appetizers is the guacamole from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which went perfectly with our pork tacos.

4 ripe Haas avocados
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
8 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a hand mixer, blend avocado mix to your liking. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

And for anyone who thinks I edit my life for my blog - well, okay, sometimes I do - and now I'm getting into video! Just to keep things real, here's a picture of my life taken by Jack.

Here's to slowing down to enjoy our happy, messy lives, gentle readers.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Doing what you love

I'm working my way through this article - I know I've limited myself in my professional pursuits to ensure I have had flexibility for my family life. And in other ways, I feel unlimited in my personal pursuits, being in control of my work schedule, never traveling for work and having a full-time caregiver who loves my children like her own.  In my own small way, I am hoping I am doing my part for women's equality, being a mostly happy mother who has found balance and meaning at work.  I do not have it all but I'm happy for what I've worked hard to have. 

And the irony that I type this one-handed as I cradle Jossie in my other arm is not lost on me.

I'm high on work right now. We had a retreat Thursday afternoon to talk about the "why" of Openlands. The how and what of our organization's work are easy to describe but why do we do what we do is much more complicated. It's intensely personal, as the staff and board in this point in the organization's history help shape these concepts. The closest we came Thursday to a draft was that we believe nature is essential to our well-being. Agree or disagree?

As my BFF pointed out, Openlands is a nice place to work. On Friday, we held our summer picnic at a neighborhood garden that we helped protect in Chicago's South Deering neighborhood. Typically, on these summer picnic days, we unofficially have the morning off and then come together in the midday for a picnic. Jeremy took the day off as well, and he and I had breakfast alone at Milk & Honey Cafe, one of our favorites. Then it was time for the picnic. There was shade, white wine in plastic glasses, and a contained area for the children to play. The weather's heat had broken and there was a nice breeze and milder temperatures.

We all bring something, and I brought a cake that BFF had made for us the weekend before. This is a cake you could make any night of the week - simple and all of the ingredients you probably have on hand, even buttermilk (to make your own buttermilk, mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup of milk and let it sit for 10 minutes). You could use any type of berry you have available.

Raspberry buttermilk cake
Adapted from Gourmet

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
8 oz fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 23 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

Enjoy with ice cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy's day

While Jeremy was feted with handmade cards, brownies, gifts and a new coffee mug this morning, I think his greatest Father's Day present was mine - 24 hours of no nagging. No returns, no exchanges.

The man was resolute - he wanted to go to Chinatown for Father's Day with our friends Emily and Steve. They readily agreed, bringing along their baby boy, and we headed to Cai in Chinatown. I'm always happy when we can spend time exploring Chicago's diverse neighborhoods. And eating dim sum.

After lunch, I was vying for a trip to Evanston - a walk around our alma mater is a nice Sunday activity. But Jeremy had other designs. We headed to 31st Beach in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.

We love it and will be back - this park area was recently renovated with a dream playground, complete with a sprinkle park; a harbor; clean bathrooms; a turn-around for dropping off beach supplies and eager children; and spectacular views of downtown. Parking is paid but it is in a garage so your car stays cool. And Jeremy checked out the beach. "No broken glass," he proclaimed. Our standards have been lowered after years of city beach trips.

So Daddy knows best today. I'm glad we followed his lead and tried something new.

One more Father's Day treat, extending into tomorrow. Our favorite lemon poppy seed muffins are cooling on the counter. And if you've got some play dates this week, like we do, try The Baby Grands on Pandora. Happy week ahead, gentle readers.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A healthy reminder

Today, after three years of planning and $30 million spent, the 100+ patients at Children’s Memorial Hospital were moved to their new digs at the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in downtown Chicago. This move has been on my mind and heart. As Jeremy and I took the kids for an outing to the Green City Market early this morning, we sat at the intersection of Stockton Drive and Fullerton Avenue as two ambulances drove past us. I felt very emotional seeing those ambulances pass us – thinking about all of the care, attention and love had gone into today, ensuring those precious children got the best care they can. I’m grateful for that honor of life and all of the resources we have to protect it.

Later in the day, we would find ourselves walking outside the old hospital, as it’s near our friends’ house we were visiting for an afternoon party. I struck up conversation with one of the police officers directing traffic around the hospital, and she good-naturedly griped that she had volunteered to do this work. I thanked her for doing this important work and she told me to enjoy the day for her while she toiled in the hot sun.

And we did. You know me – the Green City Market is my favorite and complete with a walk around the Lincoln Park Zoo’s nature boardwalk – well, I’m in heaven.

We came home with semolina bread, a handful of peonies, two quarts of strawberries and lettuce.

I then took Jack to another volunteer opportunity with Openlands – to help clean up a school garden on Chicago’s west side – we were literally a stone’s throw from the United Center. I’m continually re-adjusting my expectations of what Jack will get out of an experience – I think he was pretty good today. He enjoying digging in the dirt and kept the complaining to a minimum.

As his cheeks got flushed from the warm weather, we took off for home to clean up for a birthday party at our friends’ house.

My children clung to me all day. Jossie is becoming a willful toddler, and Jack never stops talking. Roscoe the cat peed in a clean basket of clothes today. Altogether, this was exhausting. It’s this fine balance. Sometimes I want to throw up my hands in frustration or fall down in exhaustion from the daily care of my kids, our house and my work. But they’re healthy, and I know to appreciate that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Good weather and happiness continues

Openlands participated in another school garden dedication this morning for a school in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood. What have I learned over the past two days? There are still good kids out there and school principals are charged with a lot of responsibility. 

Great few days out in the sunshine and now looking forward to another summer weekend in the city.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My day

My days are filled with lots of have-to's. I have to do a load of whites before I go to bed. I have to clean up the counter after dinner. I have to participate on that conference call. I have to finish a grant proposal before the day is done.

But isn't it nice when we have one day that is filled with want-to's?

I had one of those days - a day of running around Chicago, a city I love, working, learning and living. The day started for me with an Openlands' tree-planting with corporate volunteers in Grandmother's Garden in Lincoln Park. I brought Jack along, and, yes, he complained mightily since the only job he could do was put dirt around the newly planted trees. But it was still nice to have my son by my side and to have him see people working together to make things better.

Lunch was time with one of my mentors and my fellow fundraising colleagues and a reminder of what I've learned so far in my little career. And the food was excellent.

And the end of the day, after literally running into our office and then back out again, was a school garden dedication at Lincoln Park High School. So proud to see the work of my colleagues and the students celebrated.

The weather was beautiful, and I'm happily exhausted.