Does Google Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?

Does Google Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?

When you’re a mom you’re bound to have a pretty wide variety of personalized recommendations displayed for you when you log into Amazon, or Google, or Facebook.

Chances are you don’t just shop for yourself online, you shop for the whole family, you buy gifts for friends and family, you also probably do your fair share of internet research for family too. And while you’re clicking away from site to site that information is being tracked, stored, sold and parsed a million different ways through ad networks, cookies, and other data collection services. I know the first time I looked at a dress on Nordstrom.com and then clicked away to Facebook only to see that same dress pop up in the ad feed I was completely freaked out. Now, for better or worse, I just expect it.

But, what does it mean? And what have we given up in return for that “personalized” ad experience?

I spend a lot of time talking to my kids and to other parents about online privacy, but these invisible mechanisms of data collection, those terms of service we never read and just impatiently scroll through in order to get to the “accept” button, they mean something. I was inspired by Domain.me, the provider of the personal URLs that end in .ME (like Despicable.me) to think more about the true cost of personalization and “free” services.

Facebook is not free. Google is not free.  They are making money off of our data, but most of us don’t want to really think about what that means. Or maybe we’d rather have ads that are targeted to us, or recommendations that show us products that make our shopping and simpler. However, you don’t have to sacrifice all of your privacy in exchange for personalization.

Google has some simple tools for keeping more of your data private across their properties, including YouTube, Gmail and Chrome. And if you’re spending the bulk of your time and sharing on Facebook – especially if you’re sharing pictures of your kids – you should definitely get to know the various privacy settings for your account, check them often, and make sure that you understand how your data is being used on Facebook.

Finally, there’s a simple way to keep sharing your data across websites – don’t use your social network credentials as your log in credentials. Once you connect third party sites and apps to your social networks they can pull all sorts of data about you and your friends. Create unique sign on passwords for those sites and keep those accounts separate. At the very least you should check your social network settings to see which apps you have given permission to and disconnect those that you no longer use or don’t use regularly.

Using the web shouldn’t mean giving up your privacy and your data. Taking a few precautions and doing a regular audit of your accounts should help you control your data. It’s your data and you should have a say in how it’s used and what it’s used for.  And be sure to teach your kids how to protect their data too!

This post is sponsored by Domain.ME.  All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always.

Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

StrangeMagic movie poster

I’ve written before about my childhood obsession with Star Wars.  And of course, as a Gen Xer, I am not alone in the cultural impact that film had on me. And while my 5 year-old self would have been most eager to meet Carrie Fisher, My grown up was incredibly excited to meet George Lucas and hear about his creative process and sources of inspiration for his new film Strange Magic. (I’d still be THRILLED to meet Carrie Fisher, by the way, and even more so for her work as a fantastically witty and bold writer.)

George Lucas

Strange Magic is a a fairy tale (really, it’s all about fairies) that gets to the heart of true love that comes from seeing someone for who they truly are, and not just what is on the surface.  One of the things George Lucas discussed was his own long quest to find someone after his first marriage ended in divorce.  He said he and his current wife seemingly have nothing in common, and yet in the most important ways they have everything in common – their outlook on life, their beliefs, their morals, the way they think about things in the same way at their core. And that is the thread that runs throughout Strange Magic.  Plus, I loved that he talked about how having daughters influenced him to tell a different kind of story from the female point of view.

Strange Magic is above all about the music. In a very throw back, American Graffiti kind of way, music fills very second of the movie, and is central to how the characters tell the story. The entire cast, director and musical director joined us for the second half of the press conference, and I couldn’t have been thrilled to see Sam Palladio as one of the main characters since I’m a nutty Nashville fan. And of course, Alan Cumming can do no wrong.

cast and director of strange magic

Gary Rydstrom (Director), Meredith Anne Bull (voice of “Dawn”), Sam Palladio (voice of “Roland”), Evan Rachel Wood (voice of “Marianne”), Alan Cumming (voice of “Bog King”), Elijah Kelly (voice of “Sunny”), Marius De Vries (Musical Director)

Watch this wonderful featurette of the cast talking about their characters:

The cast reiterated much of what George Lucas talked about – that sometimes you find love where you least expect it, or in the words of Elijah Kelly, “No matter how weird and strange you are, there is someone else out there just as weird and strange as you,” And if that’s not a great message for kids I don’t know what is.

STRANGE MAGIC opens in theatres everywhere on January 23rd!

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Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

There are dream casts, and then there are DREAM casts.  Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine star in the new film adaptation of Into the Woods, and all of them bring exceptionally unique and wonderful performances to the movie.

into the woods press junketinto the woods press junket

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the press junket with all of these actors, plus the director, Rob Marshall, the brilliant writer, James Lapine and the producers. It was apparent from the interviews how much everyone enjoyed working with each other, and how having a real rehearsal period resulted in an extraordinary adaptation from stage to screen. Often times musicals don’t make the transition well, but Into the Woods transforms magically on the screen – with the lush sets and art direction and fantastically clever songs.

Rob Marshall talked about this balance and risk when directing a musical at the press conference in this exchange:

MODERATOR: …Rob, musicals being so different from all other genres, are they more difficult to direct?

ROB MARSHALL: They’re very fragile. I mean, I feel like you’re always this far away from like a Saturday Night Live sketch, because if the song doesn’t come out of the story in an organic way, in a seamless way, and you feel the number beginning, it’s dangerous, because of the fact that somebody’s singing. What’s so beautiful about this amazing piece that James wrote and Steve Sondheim wrote is that the material is so organic. I mean, you said this the other day, James, which I loved, which is if you pull the songs out of the piece, the piece falls apart. You know, there are musicals you can take the songs out and it doesn’t affect it at all.

ROB MARSHALL: …But what’s fantastic about this piece is it’s so interwoven. I mean, you can see that in the first [SOUNDS LIKE] 16 minutes, that opening prologue. It’s so beautifully created and written because it moves in and out of dialogue so seamlessly, but it’s very delicate, creating a musical. I mean, I feel like it’s two movies in one when I’m working on it because you have the whole side of the music, etc., and you have the rehearsals and all of that. That’s almost its own thing. Then you have the filming of it and the piece and so it’s a balancing act, and the only way you can do it well is if you have great material and brilliant actors.

Which, of course leads back to the exquisite cast. One of the aspects of Into the Woods that makes it so powerful and successful is the strength of the acting, and the singing seems to organically spring out of those performances.

Since Into the Woods is based on such well known fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel – it was even more important that the actors find something true and universal at the core of their characters that resonates with a modern audience.

Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine talked about this specifically, especially since Cinderella and Prince Charming are two of the most iconic fairy tale characters.

PRESS: …You know, a bunch of us grew up on Disney fairytales, but how do you guys think that these stories apply, or maybe they don’t apply, to the craziness of modern day dating?

ANNA KENDRICK: I think that this has something very mature and modern to say about separation. When Cinderella and the prince, they have this conversation and a lot of people, you know, they’re like, this isn’t your everyday Cinderella and she kicks him to the curb and while that’s sort of true, the fact that it’s done with so much civility and compassion, I think, you know, my parents set an amazing example for me because they divorced when I was 15 and I mean, we’re having Thanksgiving dinner together in a couple of days. And I know that that’s not always the case, but I think that that scene meant so much to me because I feel love for people that I have loved, and I think that’s so beautiful, and I think that’s such an important lesson for children that, you know, people can have disagreements but it doesn’t mean one is bad and one is good. And I feel so grateful to my family for setting this amazing example within separation, and I hope that that scene is a reflection of that.

CHRIS PINE: You know, I think obviously we tell each other stories in life and as storytellers that’s what we do. We tell each other stories so we can understand the world better and there’s catharsis and we understand the models of what a hero could be and what the hero’s journey as a human being is all about. But unfortunately I think sometimes those stories too can be very prohibitive and confining, and this idea that we, especially in Western culture, Western literature, [PH] Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet, that there’s some kind of all-encompassing burning passionate love that will never die out unless you both die, is so depressing and not real. And that these two people, the prince living out this storybook life all the time, in a completely non-relational manner, with a woman that he’s apparently in love with, I think it’s very telling that this relationship, there’s not one conversation until the last moment where they break up. I mean, if you look at the film [OVERLAPPING] it’s just these little eighth page things of looking up gazingly, fervently at one another, and it doesn’t mean anything. And I think the beautiful thing about it is that here’s a woman that chooses to get out of the story of Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde, it’s like, check it out, I don’t want you, ‘cause you’re lame, and you don’t listen to me. But actually in that final moment he does listen and I think it’s very telling for the prince that he says, “Is this what you want?” He’s actually, [Yeah.] he’s being very respectful and the boundaries are very clear.

And of course, the highlight of the press junket for me was being about ten feet away from Meryl Streep. She, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman were incredibly funny, smart and really gave a brief master class in acting and an actress’s thought process and methodology during this brief Q&A.

Christine Baranski also talked about fleshing out what can normally be a very stereotypical character: The Evil Stepmother:

PRESS: …Christine, the role of the wicked stepmother is such an iconic character type in stories. What was your take on the role of Lapine and Sondheim’s stepmother and what did you end up bringing to the role?

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Well, you know I worked with Rob. We talked about what is this particular nature of, you know, she’s always described as the evil stepmother and the evil stepsister. So what exactly does that mean and how is that kind of activated? And actually I found that Cinderella is somebody who just is at the house and she just does thing for us. And a lot of the evil of the character — no really. And then when she suggests that she come to the ball, it’s like are you kidding? Look at your nails, look at your dress and it’s like laughable. They’re very — I think, you know, we wanted to figure out how to make these characters kind of resonant in the contemporary world and this particular trio of women just seem right for presenting a kind of narcissism and fashion absorption and from the brilliant clothes of Colleen (Atwood) are like a little too many ruffles and the hair is just a little too high. And they look like they’re trying so hard and this is their one shot and it’s like they’re getting ready for the Oscars. They’re obsessed. And, you know, they’re just comparing. There’s even a little ad lib in the carriage after we come back from the first night and obviously Cinderella’s girl — some girl was at the ball and I did an ad lib and said, “Who is that skinny girl at the ball?” You just know that these women are just, you know, they gossip. And I think they’re benow. They’re venal characters. They’re narcissistic and opportunistic and we see this. We see this when we kind of watch television or media. It’s very interesting. It’s like, “Mmm, these are women that, you know, it’s part of our culture.” So I’m really happy that we did it this way. It was interesting. It was good.

And lastly, the brilliant Meryl Streep talking about the multidimensional motivations of The Witch – and how it relates to all parents and raising children. This is the very soul of the film.

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day – be sure to get your tickets in advance!

Follow Into The Woods on Facebook and Twitter.

Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

I attended a very large NYC public high school.  And by large I don’t mean the physical building – though that was a pretty big WPA era monolith – I mean that 2400 hundred kids were shoved into a building probably built to accommodate a population half that size.  So we did what so many other NYC public schools did, and still do, we started in shifts.  By my senior year, I began the school day at 7:45 and ended at around 1:00.  I left the house at around 6:45 for the subway, usually in the dark, and always tired.

I think about this more and more as my daughters approach high school and will inevitably have a commute to school adding an hour or so to their morning timeline.  Recently, a slew of reports have come out confirming what most parents of teens already knew – teens have different body clocks, they stay up later and need to sleep in longer.  Finally, studies have proven that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep and that schools that push start times to 8:30 or later see an increase in student performance and decrease in behavior issues.  But, most school districts have not heeded the message.

So, I was really interested in learning about a new special on National Geographic Channel on November 30th at 8pm, “Sleepless in America.”  The special explores the importance of sleep on many facets of American Life, education being just one.

I really believe that true change in education can only come when parents band together to act on behalf of their kids and use their voting leverage and voices to affect change.  Since many school districts site budget concerns as a reason for not changing the school start time it may take legislation (and support) to make districts move their start times and take this issue seriously. I’m not always sure if blanket legislation is the answer since schools have a myriad of different factions with which they must contend, and different populations that might need earlier start times to benefit parents’ situations, but it certainly seems like the reasons for making school start later far outweigh the reasons to keep too early start times.  The American Association of Pediatrics is recommending no start times before 8:30 am.

Tune in to Sleepless in America on November 30th on National Geographic Channel and think about how sleep, or lack thereof, affects you and your family in ways you may never have considered, but really should.

Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

7th Jazz Brunch Birthday

Once upon a time my girls were happy, crooked smile, super cute, very confident little girls.  As my daughters approach their teen years the questions and conversations around their bodies, female celebrities’ bodies, models’ bodies in magazines and ads, has picked up considerably.  Middle school is a grand experiment in social dynamics and insecurity as 100s of kids enter (or don’t) puberty.

How could you not have bodies on the brain when change is happening all around you every day?

I have thought a lot about how to talk to my girls about their bodies, and how to answer their questions. The one thing I know for sure is that like most of parenting it’s about modeling the behavior you hope to see in your kid.  What that means is that I eat healthy in front of my kids, and have the occasional treat too.  I don’t talk about regretting something I ate, and I cook – a lot.  We talk about balance rather than labeling foods as off limits, and in the end, just try not to make such a big deal about it in the first place.

And I never, ever use the word diet.

EVER.

And then there is reality.  No matter what, tweenage angst is inevitable.  Frizzy hair?  Breakouts?  Crooked teeth?  Yup.  And we’re dealing with all of that too.  And wow, have products gotten better for all of those things since I was a tween!  Where was no-frizz cream when I was 13?

I also talk a lot about the value of a smile.  It really can light up your face, make you more approachable, and even change your mood – not an easy thing for a moody tween to believe.  And of course, if you’re self-conscious about your teeth a smile is the last thing you want to show off.

I never had braces.  The orthodontist said it was “optional,” which my 12 year old self heard as “not necessary at all.”  My parents heard it that way too.  But, I’ve never liked my teeth. They always seemed too big, and not quite straight, and, guess what?  My teeth have completely moved as I’ve gotten older, and not for the better! As I’ve watched my daughters teeth become perfectly straight and aligned over the last 2 years I have to admit I’d like to to follow their lead.

Every time I walk into the orthodontist’s office with my girls I have the same conversation with her – basically picking her brain about Invisalign since she’s a preferred provider.  I’m more than a little obsessed.

I’ve also now had two friends go through the process and I can’t quite believe how well it worked.  But it really did – without the metal mouth that there is no way I would endure at my age.

You can take the Invisalign Smile Assessment to see if you would be a good candidate for Invisalign – and to see the Invisalign results.  Plus it’s really cool to play around with the Smile Assessment tool and get an idea of what your teeth could look like!  I had a little too much fun trying it out.

I know there are a lot of moms out there who would love to be able to give this to themselves.  Or to their teen.  Who needs to have another thing to make the teen years awkward?  And who wants to be 40 with a mouth full of braces?  No one.

So, I’m really excited about this Invisalign Countdown to Confidence Sweepstakes.  They are awarding one winner $100 each day for 60 days plus a chance to win the grand prize: free Invisalign treatment and $1,000! 

1-WIN-INVISALIGN

You can enter every day at: http://bit.ly/1r4IkSH  But hurry because the sweepstakes ends November 13th!

And for more info you should follow Invisalign on Social Media:

Invisalign on Twitter

Invisalign on Facebook

Invisalign on Pinterest

I have a feeling that when my daughters finish their orthodontic treatment in the next few months I will be taking their place in the orthodontist’s chair!

This post was sponsored by Invisalign.  I was compensated for my writing, but as always the opinions and words are very much my own.

Bake It Happen: Pink Pumpkins, Sweet Treats and Raising Money for Breast Cancer Awareness

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It’s October – there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to change, pumpkin flavored everything has invaded every food establishment and grocery aisle – and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Last year, my friend Shari Brooks and her sister, launched a brand new campaign that took a very different approach to raising money for Breast Cancer research  – Bake it Happen.  Due to the tremendous success of that first year, Bake it Happen is happening once again – with the same premise, only bigger, better, and sweeter.

The idea is the same – bake it, share it, win it (and trigger donations and awareness at the same time.)  This year you can choose from 3 of the recipes from bakeithappen.net:

Simply bake the MyJudytheFoodie treat of your choice, and share it with the people in your life – and on social media with the hashtag #BakeitHappen.  Every time you share a pic of your Bake it Happen moment a $2 donation will be made to the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.  (yes, pink pumpkins really exist – naturally!)

pink pumpkin

And, you will be entered to win an iPad Mini and 3 months of Baked by Melissa Mini of the Month Club.  

We baked up pumpkin brownies, with a slight variation – making them more like pumpkin blondies with chocolate chips – but super delicious just the same!

Check out the campaign at bakeithappen.net and start sharing and raising money now!  (and isn’t it so much better than dumping a bucket of ice on your head?)

A Real Doctor at Your Virtual Fingertips

People always ask what they should get a new parent. And when I think about the things that we really used, and continued to use for years, it was pretty basic stuff.

Baby bathtub? Good for about 1 year.

Playmat? 5 months.

Double stroller? 4 years. (and I was SOOO happy the day we sold it to an expecting twin mom!)

All of those items were on my checklist of things I needed, that I knew about.

The things I didn’t know about but someone was smart enough to buy us before my girls arrived? Digital thermometer, medicine spoons, infant Tylenol and one of those booger sucker-outer gizmos. I STILL use that thermometer 12 years later – and the medicine spoons since one of my daughters can’t swallow pills yet. Thankfully, they learned how to blow their noses.

But the bottom line is that kids get sick – A LOT.

One of the most frustrating things as a new parent is when your child gets sick on the weekend, or the middle of the night, or when you’re traveling, and your own pediatrician is not readily available. There are urgent care centers popping up all over the place, but I hate waiting in those waiting rooms full of sick people, and there is rarely a separate pediatric care center. So, I was interested in learning about the LiveHealth Online app where parents can talk securely and privately by two­-way video chat with a U.S.-­based, primary care doctor 24/7.  If needed, the doctors who treat patients through LiveHealth Online can even electronically send prescriptions directly to a local pharmacy. It seems like an option that parents have been waiting for, especially for those unexpected illnesses, which always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.

When your baby gets sick it is truly terrifying. As they get older it really doesn’t get much easier except that they can tell you what hurts and entertain themselves on the computer or TV while they convalesce. And honestly, there is no call I dread more than the school nurse. So I’m pretty big on prevention, especially for flu. One summer my daughter and I both had swine flu, and it had lasting effects on our breathing for a long, long time. My daughters also HATE shots. Hate is not even a strong enough word for it – so I make sure to get an early appointment at the doctor’s office for the flu mist because those appointments book up fast.

I also follow most of these tips from Dr. Mia Finkelston, a family doctor who treats patients through LiveHealth Online:

  • Rest up: Make sure your kids get between 9.5 – 12 hours of sleep each night to restore their bodies, improve their ability to help fight off germs, and reduce their stress levels. (Though my daughters are now fighting me on this since it’s not cool to go to bed before 10pm apparently!)
  • Hands off: Germs are lurking everywhere during the school year and are transported mostly through our hands. Since my girls take the bus to school and have to switch classrooms for all of their classes they are exposed to a gazillion germs every day. Teach your kids to keep their hands away from their face, and make sure they wash hands often, especially before eating.
  • Eat for wellness: Stock up on nutritious foods to help kids and parents function at optimum levels. Kids love to snack. Pack nuts, whole grain crackers, and fruit in their school bag so they don’t head to the vending machine.

I know my daughters are going to get sick. That’s a given. But I also know that my husband and I will get sick, and we are not so great about going to the doctor. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be getting an actual medical opinion (instead of just chugging Nyquil.) There are times where a video chat with a trusted doctor would be ideal since I can’t really take time out of my workday and mom-day. To be able to schedule that virtual doctor visit around my schedule instead of the other way around is perfect. Plus, if you’re a PPO or EPO member of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, a LiveHealth Online visit is covered at the same or lower out-of-pocket cost than a typical office visit, and claims are automatically filed for a fast and easy experience.

Registering for LiveHealth Online is fast and easy and free — just download the app from iTunes or the App Store or Google Play store and sign-up in one quick step. Or, you can visit www.livehealthonline.com/moms and register.  Dr. Finkelston suggests moms download the app when your family is healthy so that when someone does get sick, a doctor is available at mom’s convenience.

You can use try LiveHealth Online by using this special code to get one free virtual visit valued at $49:

LHOBeccarama    (Expires Dec 31st.)

This post was sponsored by LiveHealth Online, but as always, the opinions are my own