Finish your homework and get thee to Winthrop!

Finish your homework and get thee to Winthrop!

Diana Brement JTNews Columnist

1 “It’s just a magical spot… [and] so hard to leave” explains Hannah Cordes about moving her family from Seattle to Winthrop this past fall. Having spent weekends and vacations in their “tiny cabin” (500 square feet!), they found themselves “falling in love with the whole valley.”

The decision was made suddenly last summer. Their older son Sam was about to start a new adventure as a University of Oregon freshman, so Hannah, husband Bob, and younger son Isaac wanted to have an adventure, too.

With Isaac about to be a junior at Roosevelt High, it became his decision. He agreed, so they packed up their chickens and set off to spend a year east of the mountains. A month after starting at Liberty High School in Winthrop, Isaac decided to graduate from there, so they’ll stay at least another year.

It’s been “such a warm, welcoming community, both to Isaac and us,” says his mom. They’ve found “everyone just has open arms.”

Isaac joined the football team, helping him make friends before school began, and was even voted homecoming prince. He’s impressed his parents with his ability to easily adapt.

Although some Jewish families live in the area, Isaac may be the only Jewish student at the school, something “he’s really embraced,” his mom says. Even when he declined to play football on Yom Kippur, students and coaches were supportive, and there is always a veggie pizza for Isaac at get-togethers.

Now Hannah has begun another adventure. The former head chef at UW Hillel and food blogger at, has taken over a kitchen store in downtown Winthrop. Aspen Grove Home (, right across from the local brewpub, was already a housewares store, but Hannah is taking it more “in a kitchen direction,” with cookware and local gourmet food items.

“Life is full of chapters,” observes Hannah who started her working life as a social worker. “We’re very happy,” she adds, and “we still love our life in Seattle…it’s important we maintain that as well.”

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Marcus Schiller with his Brain Bands invention, a homework reminder tool that will be available this August at Kmart, Office Max and on

Marcus Schiller with his Brain Bands invention, a homework reminder tool that will be available this August at Kmart, Office Max and on

With school, BBYO, volunteering for Friendship Circle, playing basketball on two teams, and attending Camp Solomon Schechter every summer, you might think that Mercer Island High School freshman Marcus Schiller has enough to do.

Add to that being an inventor and an entrepreneur.

Encouraged and inspired by his dad Michael, who has brought many different products to market, Marcus has been trying to come up with the next big thing for years. Marcus feels “we’ve been in business together my whole life,” he says. “My dad’s been a mentor and a coach,” and they try “to come up with different ideas all the time.”

Michael taught Marcus that a good product requires a need. And Marcus may have made that connection with Brain Bands.

A set of five different-colored wrist bands on a clip, Marcus created the product to help elementary and middle school students remember homework assignments. It came from his observation that even good students forget their homework.

“It wasn’t all of [it] or because they were bad students,” he says, adding that computer or phone calendars didn’t help as much as a physical reminder on the wrist.

The bands clip to a backpack and with each class assignment the student slips a band on his or her wrist. Michael calls it “old school…like tying a string around your finger.” Launching in August, and marketed to students, they’ve found that adults and seniors citizens are interested in the product as well.

Taking an idea from concept to product is complex. The item and market must be imagined, and a prototype designed, including packaging. There are meetings with manufacturers and the all-important name selection. Prototypes are made and tested and Marcus’ mom Dawn and sister Carly “were instrumental in testing and trying out this product.”

It really helps to get a major retailer on board early, and Michael made Marcus make those pitches. It was “nerve wracking,” says Marcus, but he found all his school presentations provided training.  They were fortunate to get Kmart involved.

Brain Bands won’t solve everyone’s homework problems. “It’s still a tool,” Mike says, that requires “an agreement between the kids and parents.”

“Our target audience are [students] who want to get better grades…and relieve the stress of time management,” adds Marcus.

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Short Takes: Okay, get out your rabbinical scorecard and add this. Temple B’nai Torah has appointed Rabbi David Lipper, D.D., as interim rabbi for the coming year, starting July 1. (I thought the Talmud required rabbis to take July off?) Lipper will “maintain the normal rhythm of congregational life,” and help TBT in hiring a permanent senior rabbi.