Inside the KidzVuz Holiday House Party (Video)

photo credit: Josh Strauss Studios

photo credit: Josh Strauss Studios

100 mom and dad bloggers from all over the Northeast  – and their awesome kids, about 140 of them! – came ready to party with KidzVuz in NYC on November 24th, 2013.  We had amazing large sponsors like Homewood Suites by Hilton, Dermalogica, Samsung, Nintendo, Hasbro, Spinmaster and Audible.com along with smaller NY based brands we love like Downtown Bookworks, IScream NY,  Battery Pop, Green Mustache, Fairway Market and Chloe’s Soft Fruit.  Plus incredible non-profits like The Broadway League, ESRB and The Lamp NYC.

With hands-on activities throughout the room, and video stations where kids could talk about the fantastic products and sponsors that they really loved, the KidzVuz Holiday House Party kicked off the holiday season with joy, fun and plenty of candy to go around!

Watch the video and you’ll instantly see why KidzVuz is the only company that truly brings kids, families and awesome brands and experiences together in a really engaging and unique way!

Bake it Happen for Breast Cancer Research

bananas for boobies logo

I recently had a discussion with my daughters about friendship.  It’s hard to explain to an 11 year-old that friendships ebb and flow, and more importantly, that if you keep your heart open you will continue to make new friends throughout your life.

Some of your friends will stick.  Some won’t.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t diminish the power of the friendship you had in that time of your life.

If you’re lucky you will have one or two great friends.  If you’re really lucky you will continue to stumble upon those rare people with whom you immediately click – the ones that maybe make you believe in past lives – in all phases of your life.  The ones that feel like family.

I have been that lucky, and I know how special and rare it is.

When my daughters were born I was the only one of my friends to have a baby (babies!).  My cousin, with whom I am extremely close, also had a baby, just a few week before me, but she lived in Michigan.  So aside from talking on the phone all the time, I didn’t have “mom” friends.  And, because I had twins, the thought of schlepping to baby groups between pumping, and feeding, and changing, and wrapping them up to take naps – while also being social in some carpeted basement of the Y, was really more than I could bear.

So, I was nervous when my girls finally started preschool and there were all of these other MOMs.  And, most of the time, it was just me and the nannies.  I seemed to be the only stay at home mom on the Upper West Side – but really it was just the blur of drop off and separation that made it seem so.  Eventually, I met the other moms – at the school auction, at the endless school parties, at playdates.  And I don’t know how it happened, but I met some of the best women I will ever know.  I am still amazed that we were all randomly put into this 2 morning a week class together.

One of these women was Shari Brooks.  And while there are a lot of things I could list about Shari that make her, well, her – there is one that tops the list – Shari is a Do-er, not because she wants recognition, and not because she’s keeping a mental tab in her mind of what someone now owes her, but because she really, really has a heart and mind that just go there.  She is continually thinking about what is the right thing to do, the best way to do it, and then just doing it.  It’s not Type A, it’s Type A to Z.  She’s got it covered.

Knowing Shari like I do, it was not surprising to me that she turned her energy towards creating something positive out of the loss of her mom Judy from metastatic breast cancer five years ago.  I feel incredibly lucky that Shari entered my life at a time when I could get to know her mom, even though her mom was sick from almost the moment I met her.  I have never wondered where Shari gets her energy and love of life from because I saw it firsthand in her mom.  Even at her frailest, after years of ongoing chemo and radiation, Judy would come up on the train from Baltimore – by herself! – to spend time with her grandkids, just be with her family and share more experiences.

A while after Judy passed, Shari started an amazing blog called My Judy the Foodie, where she has kept her mom’s memory alive through her mom’s recipes and special meals.  When I met Shari she literally couldn’t boil water.  I once watched her throw pasta into a pot of cold water and then turn it on.  No joke.  So to watch Shari teach herself to cook through doing, and then through sharing, all the while keeping her mom’s memory alive for her kids, and really everyone, has been a real revelation.

Now Shari has teamed up with her equally awesome sister to create another endeavor that will honor Judy and advance the cause of breast cancer research, Bake it Happen (aka Bananas for Boobies, which if you know Shari makes perfect sense, but Facebook doesn’t know Shari that well so they didn’t like it).

This is no 26 mile marathon where you must exhaust yourself to prove you care.  This is not pinkwashing to make companies look like they care.  This is a very basic way to share purpose and care.

  1. Bake a loaf, or two or three, of Judy’s amazing banana chocolate chip loaf.
  2. Take a pic of your fabulous creation.
  3. Then share it on Facebook or email it to bananasforboobies@gmail.com
  4. Then share a loaf in real life.   Take a pic of that too!
  5. You could win an iPad!

Every time a photo is shared a dollar is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Here’s how we baked it happen last weekend:

See?  Simple, delicious, and meaningful.   Just like good friends.

Head on over now to Bananas For Boobies and Bake it Happen!!!

Using Virtual Piggy to Raise Money Smart Kids

virtual piggy logo

My girls are now officially tweens.  Along with the usual angst about middle school and friends there seems to be a new obsession – fashion.  One of my girls has morphed into a walking fashion encyclopedia over the last year, pouring over Lucky, Elle, Vogue and any other fashion mags she can get.

And then she goes online.

My daughter can build a Back to School wardrobe wish list that would shame the editors of Teen Vogue in about 10 minutes.  But, just because she can build it doesn’t mean the money to buy will follow.  And that’s where teaching her about value and need vs. want come in.  My daughters have generous grandparents and they have built up a nice little piggy bank of cash, but online shopping is something else.  It doesn’t have that sting of handing over carefully saved paper bills, and it requires mom and dad’s credit cards.  And I’m not alone – almost all parents surveyed have made an online purchase for their child, and over 70% of 6-15 year olds have asked their parents to make an online purchase for them, according to a PlayScience Survey.  Not exactly the best scenario for teaching the value of money.  That’s where Virtual Piggy comes in.

Last month KidzVuz co-hosted a brunch to introduce a group of select bloggers to Virtual Piggy, a site dedicated to teaching kids how to be financially literate – and give their parents the tools to help them achieve that goal. (Full Disclosure: we were compensated for co-hosting the brunch) I first met the Virtual Piggy team at the Digital Kids Summit last spring and was really intrigued with the idea that parents could have a site that would allow their kids to save, plan and purchase online, while learning about what it really means to be an active consumer.  I have found that teaching my own daughters the value of money when it’s just a simple click of a button is harder than ever.  So, I was genuinely interested in seeing how Virtual Piggy could make the now ethereal reality of online money seems real to kids.

This video explains Virtual Piggy and how it works:

And here’s the quick run down:

  1. Set up a Virtual Piggy account, with a payment source and mailing address.
  2. Add a profile for each child, setting a monthly allowance and spending controls.
  3. Your child can now checkout with Virtual Piggy at approved stores, using only their username and password.
  4. You get final approval on purchases, and can monitor their spending, requests and wish list.

So, for my daughters Claire’s is a HUGELY popular store.  And for my fashionista daughter accessories have become a go-to option to change-up outfits instead of purchasing more clothes.  I am constantly channeling Tim Gunn in the morning and telling her to “Make it Work!” instead of giving in to her request for another shirt or skirt or pair of shoes that would make her life complete.  Claire’s is one of the approved vendors for Virtual Piggy.  YAY!

CLAIRES

So, after setting up my daughter’s Virtual Piggy account – having her hand over her cold hard cash to me in return for my funding her VP account on my credit card – she can then shop at Claire’s within the limit we’ve agreed on.  She has freedom to shop and feel grown-up and responsible for her spending, and I don’t get nagged.  Even more importantly, now that it’s her own money she’s spending online she is MUCH more discriminating about what she buys.  Suddenly all of the things that she needed are mere wants after all.  And we’ve had many conversations about if something is worth it, if she should wait for a sale, or if maybe she and her sister will go in together and share items to make their money go farther.  There’s a sense of empowerment there that Virtual Piggy has given them and that’s been very freeing for me.

Having the money talk for many parents can be hard.  But, it’s better to have the talk in conjunction with tangible financial accounting and practice than to keep having it in the context of “no, you can’t have that” without explanation.  Virtual Piggy has some great tools to talk to your kids about money, and for kids to explore on their own.  I especially love the money quizzes for kids:  Money Tips.

Check out Virtual Piggy and let me know what you think!   And if you have any parenting money dilemmas or tips for raising money smart kids I’d love to hear them!

What a New Mom Should Know (But No One Tells Her)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger and photographer, Jess Levey.  Jess covers all thing baby almost every Monday on Beccarama.

week4ink'tan carrier_1Maternity Mondays is back with exciting news of our baby girl’s birth! Baby S was born on January 23, 2013 in Brooklyn, NY.  23 has been my favorite number my entire life, not just because my birthday falls on a 23 as well, but also because of its many auspicious meanings.  For example, there are 23 chromosomes in a human sperm or egg, the angle between the earth’s magnetic and rotational axis is 23, the number of flavors Dr. Pepper claims to be a blend of is 23, the number of distinct orientations of Tetris pieces is 23, and I could go on and on or you can just Google it instead.

I had secretly hoped that S would be born on 1-23, being that I am a bit into numerology, but that would mean she would be 11 days late so how could I ever hope for such a thing?! Well, I guess she heard me, if only her birth had been as easy as 1-2-3.  I don’t want to go into great lengths about my traumatic birth experience but in brief (if there is anyway to be brief about a 36 hour labor) everything that I had initially feared happened.  Well, that’s not fair to say since we have a beautiful healthy baby girl at the end of the horror story.  I just re-read a Maternity Monday post that I had written when I was 38 weeks pregnant about the unknown and letting go of control. In this post, I wrote,

“ I can practice my hypno-birthing meditations every night, do my squats, begrudgingly do perineal massages, walk and walk and walk, insert and ingest primrose oil, eat my greens and omega 3s, talk to baby, stay positive, drink my pregnancy tea, and visualize the ‘perfect’ birthing experience, but in the end, something major or minor can occur and I can end up with an emergency C-section, or maybe I won’t be able to breast feed, or maybe our baby will be jaundice for a few days. As much as we can try to prepare and control what is to come, I know deep down that placing too much attachment on this ideal labor is dangerous.”

Funny enough (but not HA HA funny) all three of these major and minor occurrences that I had mentioned happened to us, and now that we have gone through them (still dealing with the breast-feeding issue though) I am that much wiser about the ability to truly let go of expectations and move on without regrets.

Nobody tells you how difficult the first few weeks are, just like they don’t tell you that once you bring your baby home (and even in the hospital) you will cry at least twice an hour; that you may look back at the day your child was born as the worst day of your life due to the fact that you back labored for 36 hours followed by an emergency C-section; that the recovery from a C-section is almost as bad as labor itself and lasts for weeks; that you may not instantly bond with your baby mostly due to PTSD or Post-Partum anxiety/depression, or that breast-feeding can be frustrating beyond belief and that most babies, regardless of whether you had a C-section or not, need help latching on, that all nipples will get blisters, and maybe even blood blisters too, yuck. All anyone ever tells you is that you will be tired, but that’s the least of it!

Maybe we keep this all a secret to protect soon to be moms, but I am happy to tell everyone every minor and major detail if it means that they may be prepared just a little bit more for one of the most trying times in a woman’s life, or that they will ask for the help that they will need, even if it is just for someone to come over and bring them some food, or maybe even feed it to them while they feed their baby. The good news is that this difficult period passes rather quickly!  I am now entering week 5 and love each and every day with my new baby. She is already cooing and is more alert and attentive and I am pretty sure that her smiles are not just from gas anymore. Also, thanks to Tracy Hogg’s famous book, The Baby Whisperer we have her on a predictable feeding and sleeping schedule that helps us know her cues/cries so that we can give her what she wants immediately. This was not the case for the first couple of weeks when every time she was over-tired and screaming we figured it was gas and would give her gripe water or massage her tummy when really she just needed to be put down in her crib and shushed. The gripe water did seem to work though, I think mostly because fructose is a main ingredient, oh well; I will just add that to my list of “things I never thought I would give my child.” Speaking of, here is a helpful list for new moms that I wish I had been given when we first brought S home.

Things I could not live without during the first month (and after)

  • Kangaroo fleece sling for the cold winter days!
  • with kangarookorner fleece sling
  • Gripe water for gas
  • Ktan carrier
  • Medela hospital grade pump
  • Zip up footies (anyone who tells you to buy those damn gowns are wrong!)
  • week3withbrestfriend
  • Baby Whisperer book
  • Rectal thermometer (much easier to insert than I had thought_
  • Baby comfy nose nasal aspirator (seems kind of gross, but works very well)
  • Soothie pacifier (never too young!)
  • Baby poop, eat and sleep log
  • White Noise App (specifically “pouring rain”) 

Things I never thought I would use:

  • Formula
  • Pacifier
  • Baby poop, eat, and sleep log
  • Pharmacy bought gas reliever AKA gripe water- easy to make your own without fructose, but who has time?!
  • White Noise App

Every Day is Take Your Child to Work Day in My House

I woke up this morning to find endless articles, tweets and Facebook updates about people and companies talking about Take Your Child to Work Day.  I’m glad no one told my daughters about this special holiday, because then they’d be sitting right next to me at the kitchen table as I write this post.  And then they’d bother me to make them food at some point.  And then they’d interrupt my conference calls, and probably end up on a computer playing a game or watching Annoying Orange – which come to think of it is how many people spend their workday.  But, really it got me thinking about the fake Mommy Wars and how in the midst of all this Stay at Home Mom/Work Outside the Home Mom business there are so many of us who work at home, or at a coffee shop, or during nap time or until school pick up time or any combination thereof.

My problem is not that my daughters need to have a Take Your Child to Work Day so they could get an appreciation of what I do.    No, my problem is that my daughters see me working way too much.  When you work from your home and for yourself like I do there is no office to leave behind at night.  There is no commute to clear your head, no downtime between working and seeing your kids, no demarcation of work and personal space in the home.  My “office” gets cleared away to set the table for dinner, or make room for homework, but it just moves into the living room instead.

My husband also brings home his work in the form of constant email and the occasional project.  But it’s not like my work, which revolves around social media and a website that constantly needs to be monitored.  My work colleagues live on Twitter and Facebook.  They are not people I see for a set time during the day – they are constantly flickering through my world.  And it’s harder and harder to shut it off when there is a Twitter party that needs joining, another pitch or email to get back to, an event to plan, a site upgrade to approve.  Everyone in my space is working round the clock, and it’s become the norm to expect an instant reply no matter the time of day.

So instead of taking my daughters to work today I will try and do the opposite and turn off my work at 5:00 like a 1950’s dad would do, and shut my laptop and maybe even stow it away.  The cell phone too.  And the tablet.  And – this is going to be harder than I thought…

The Phrase That Makes Me Cringe – And it Includes the Word “Mom”

super mom cartoonA few months back I wrote a post called Mommy Blogger is Not a Dirty Word about the term “mommy blogger” being derisive but needing to claim it in order to take the power back to the moms.  I had a huge response from that post both here, in real life and on Twitter.  Mostly women want to be recognized beyond the label of Mom and Mommy and as the writers, bloggers and savvy business women they are.  For brands and PR companies however they find the label useful because what they are after is the mom consumer demographic and what makes sense more than using mom bloggers to speak to real life moms?  That’s fine.  I get it.  What I can’t stand however is PR or Marketing people, or talk show hosts for that matter, trying to win me over and show me empathy by saying the most patronizing phrase in the world, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”    YUCK.

This is the topic I’m harping on this week on our Blogging Angels podcast.  But it goes even deeper than the condesension we talk about on the show.  What bothers me most of all is that sure some days being a mom is hard, some days it downright sucks, and some days it’s really not that difficult at all but the thing is I don’t need someone nodding their head at me and trying to sell me on something by paying lip service to work of motherhood.  What they’re trying to say of course is “I get you.”  When all I want to ask them is “Really, what about it makes it the hardest job in the world?  Is it because I don’t own your shiny new set of appliances?  Or your fabulous floor cleaner?”

Here’s why being a mom is hard:  You aren’t paid, you aren’t appreciated most of the time, you never know if you’re actually doing a good job, it can be physically and mentally exhausting especially in the beginning, your time is never your own again and it never, ever ends.  OK.  Some new iphone app or laundry detergent isn’t going to change any of that.  And you know what?  Women have been mothers forever.  Some people are good at it and some people suck at it but there it is. In the end it has an intangible reward that cannot be quantified.  I don’t need an outside person hyping it, promoting it or using it as a come-on – or god forbid a tagline.

You want to have a real discussion about motherhood being the hardest job in the world? Put away your swag and coupons and  show me healthcare, childcare, public education, universal Pre-K and after school on the topic agenda.  Then we’ll talk about how much you understand that being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  Until then, retire that tired empty phrase and talk to me like the businesswoman you need me to be to work with you and your brand.

How to Stretch a NYC Dollar (Hint: It Takes a lot of Financial Muscle)

Thank you to Turbo Tax for sponsoring my writing about household finances.  Learn more about how TurboTax can help you find every tax deduction you deserve.  I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

Image via Wikipedia

Last week my husband and I had brunch with some cousins visiting from Seattle.  One of them looked at me with pity and said “How can you live here – it’s so expensive!”  Now, she doesn’t live in some tiny town she lives in Seattle!  But still, there they were shaking their heads and thinking we were out of our minds for choosing to live in a city where the price of a 1,000 square foot apartment is the same as a 4 bedroom house in most other parts of the country.  Trust me there are days where I shake my head and think the same thing.  However, living in Manhattan is vital to my well-being – even though sometimes the trade offs can seem ridiculous.  I have 5 city mom tips for keeping up financially and realistically in a city that seems to have a hand in every pocket.

  1. Create a real budget.  Seems simple right?  It’s not.  Every year my husband creates an awesome spreadsheet with all of our income and expenses in detail, month by month.  Yes, it’s as anal and nutty as it sounds and it’s awesome.  We can predict and project every dollar and make choices accordingly.  For the last two years we’ve been using Mint.com to keep track of every expense and investment in every financial account we have and this has made it even easier to track all of our spending and goals.  If you’re a data geek like me (and my husband) this makes financial planning fun – I swear. Continue reading