If You Give a Monkey a Passport….

niagara falls

This little monkey named Marlin has been with my daughter since she was born – 11 years.

He’s traveled on road trips up New England and through the Midwest, to Mexico, Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, overnight camp, France, Italy, Disneyland (where he actually rode on rides tucked safely in my daughter’s jacket), and Disney World, and a few weeks ago to Canada where he enjoyed Niagara Falls.

It’s strange how a little stuffed animal can become a member of the family.  But, there he is, stuffing sagging, a bit deflated, his fur matted down and his sewn-on mouth long gone.  And yet no family journey would be complete without him.

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!


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!

A Very Chocolatey Halloween with Jacques Torres

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This week we were seriously delighted to go to Jacques Torres in Tribeca and create chocolate Halloween confections with Jacques and his amazing team.  If you follow me on twitter you already know that I documented my first Wicked Hot Chocolate of the season on the first chilly day in October.

I love Jacques Torres chocolates, so when he opened a store near my daughters’ school it was a mixed blessing – for my dark chocolate tooth.  I sort of hid how awesome it was from my daughters, because the last thing I need are girls who love lobster AND high quality chocolate.  If a 50 cent Kit Kat makes them happy who am I to tell them otherwise?

But, I was super excited to bring my girls to have this incredible experience of both meeting Jacques and getting to work with his delicious chocolate to create really fabulous Halloween chocolate treats.  I had no idea how awesome it was going to be, but it was one of the experiences that surpassed my expectations.

First, the girls were given chef hats and smocks and I was given a hair net (this is why there are no pictures of me!)  Then they were led into the back of the store to the actual chocolate factory.  Vats of chocolate were stirring, racks of finished products were stacked to the ceiling, and the tables were laid out with jars of candy, sheets of molds, containers of fruits.

colored chocolate for decorating

All the fixings for candy chocolate making

They immediately dove in and started making Halloween lollipops and giant tombstones.  After filling in the details with colored chocolate they used a huge pastry bag full of dark, milk or white chocolate to fill the molds to the top, and then they were whisked off to the refrigerators to set.

Filling the tombstone mold

That would have been fabulous enough, but then wax lined baking sheets appeared with huge dollops of chocolate waiting to be decorated and candy covered.

Then, a giant Jack o’lantern (Jacques o’lantern) puzzle mold.  And finally, the huge haunted house molds.   Before I knew it my girls had created 40 pieces of chocolate Halloween goodness.  40!!!

Entire Halloween chocolate creation haul!

On top of all that, Jacques Torres couldn’t have been more wonderful with the kids.  He obviously loves what he does, and loves sharing it.  His team was incredibly gracious, patient and encouraging even though they were over run with sugared up kids (and parents.)   They even packaged everything up professionally to take home.

40 chocolate Halloween creations!

And now, I think that little Jacques Torres store near my daughters’ school will never be just my place ever again.  Also, I’m totally ordering the chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving!

Get ready for Thanksgiving next!

Turn Vegetables into Edible Art Kids Will Love with Clare Crespo and Country Crock

This is another guest post by the fabulous culinary blogger, Shari Brooks of My Judy the Foodie.  I guess I should just admit that she has become the food columnist for Beccarama.com, and I love it! So grab some celery sticks and a tub of Country Crock and enjoy the post!

Let’s face it, getting our kids to eat their veggies is an uphill battle. What could possibly be appealing about eating broccoli or spinach when there are so many tastier food choices?  I definitely resisted eating anything green as a child and I was denied many desserts in the process.  But, this week I attended a very exciting event sponsored by Country Crock and culinary artist Clare Crespo to promote the launch of a whimsical online recipe book, A Very Veggie World,  that features 25 imaginative veggie recipe creations from “Veggie Volcanoes” to “Green Bean Campfires.”

As a mom with young kids, I know first-hand the challenges of providing well-balanced meals where they’ll elect to eat their vegetables. Finally some fun solutions! Clare’s book arms us with ammunition in the form of beautiful full-page imagery with recipes turning basic veggies into celebrated, fun objects for kids enjoy and eat.  And we all know, when our children are involved in meal prep, they’re more invested in sampling the actual dishes.

Forget about eating Brussels Sprouts.  Try designing “Molecular Model Brussels Sprouts” where kids get to turn their kitchen into a chemistry lab.  Don’t fret about zucchini.  Try building “Zucchini Boats” with carrots sails.  Freaked out by broccoli?  You won’t be after you get a chance to make “Broccoli Swamp” complete with bubbly Swiss cheese to creatively recreate murky water.  Or how about an explosive sweet potato volcano?

In the test kitchen I created two of the 25 featured dishes while Clare explained the very basic steps. I must say, I’m not sure who had more fun making the “Pizza Flag” or the “Eggplant Car,” me, or my adorable 6-year old partner.  While he scooped and designed, I sautéed and chopped.  In that kitchen we were a team, working together on our veggie-based masterpieces.  Across the room, every single person experienced the same sense of satisfaction, and quite honestly, sheer delight as we witnessed an oblong eggplant transform into a quirky wagon with zucchini wheels–all in a matter of minutes.

All of the recipes are paired with gorgeous pictures, easy-to-digest nutrition tips, as well as quick shortcuts and links to other favorite recipes.  While Clare places the veggies front and center, she also accents them with Country Crock– a much healthier alternative to butter with 70% less saturated fat, zero trans fat and 30% fewer calories (apparently 8-10 kids surveyed said their veggies tasted better with Country Crock).

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the recipe book, A Very Veggie World is available online for FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE.

So, if you’re looking for fun, imaginative ways to get your kids invested and excited about eating their veggies, download  A Very Veggie World now.

Now, who says eating your vegetables can’t be fun?

The 5 Scariest Things About Being a Mom

In honor of Halloween and all the horrors that await I thought I’d throw in some scary truths about being a mom – on Halloween and beyond..

  1. Your child is the same person they were at two weeks old.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.
  2. Your child will roll their eyes at you one day, and you will know they are right: you are embarrassing.
  3. You can’t protect them forever or everywhere, but you will never stop trying – your gray hair and worry lines will be your reward.
  4. By the time you figure out what you’re doing your child will move on to a new terrifying phase.
  5. And…No matter what you accomplish people will judge you by how your children turn out.  Or at least all the other moms of the world will.

Feel free to add your scary mom truism in the comments!

What’s for Dinner? Hellmann’s Chicken Challenge

This is a guest post written by Shari Brooks of My Judy the Foodie.  Since I’m a vegetarian (or pescetarian really), and swamped with preparations for the KidzVuz redesign launch in two weeks,  I sent my fellow blogger and fab writer Shari Brooks to cover the Hellmann’s Chicken Challenge for Beccarama.  And I love Hellmann’s – no other mayo tastes right to me – so I was thrilled that she agreed to go and write about it here and on her own blog.  YUM!

Yesterday morning I took part in the Hellmann’s Chicken Challenge.  I was right at home as My Judy the Foodie uses mayonnaise in many of Judy’s celebrated recipes, most importantly the critically acclaimed Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney which boasts some nice heaping spoonfuls of the mayo-ey goodness!

So, what happens at a Hellmann’s Chicken Challenge you rightfully ask?  Well, Hellmann’s Parmesan-Crusted Chicken is one of the most downloaded recipes from the Hellmann’s website.  Our friends at Hellmann’s are on a mission to see if any other mayonnaise-based chicken dishes can compete with the long-time chick champ. The Hellmann’s Chicken Challenge gives everyone a chance to vote. Each week, two other Hellmann’s® chicken recipes will challenge Parmesan Crusted Chicken for your vote.  You can even vote as many times as you’d like for a chance to win prizes.

At the first-ever event, which streamed live on Hellmann’s Facebook page, three well-known hosts took to the kitchen to cook their favorite chicken recipes, taste test the audience with samples of each, and have the audience vote for our fave.   I have to say that each recipe, while different from one another, is very simple to make.  The prep time is minimal and the flavor is bountiful.  That’s one of the many benefits of cooking with mayonnaise, it helps preserve the rich chicken flavor without the use of salt and pepper or keeping on the skin.

Ok.  Enter Mark Conseulos, celebrated actor, producer, dad-of-three.  While an avid griller, he admitted he’s never cooked chicken indoors!  He also mentioned one of the many challenges parents face at mealtime: picky eaters!  It’s important to change up our children’s meals to give them variety.  Naturally, he prepared and cooked the reigning recipe: Parmesan-Crusted Chicken.   There is no degree of difficulty in the meal prep.  It’s too easy to pass up! There are only four (4) ingredients to the recipe and chances are, you have all of them in your pantry and fridge right now:  Parmesan cheese, Italian-flavored bread crumbs, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and chicken (breasts or cutlets).  For someone who’s never cooked inside, Mark seemed at ease and quite honestly, surprised by the recipe’s simplicity, let alone, taste.  Not to mention the entire audience seemed to ooh and ah when we were served our bite-sized samples.  We guesstimated that we could eat at least 5-6 of the sample pieces without feeling guilty.

Next up in the kitchen, Tim Love, celebrated Fort Worth, Texas chef, author and lover of all foods-foods-with-a-kick.  Tim challenged the Parmesan Chicken with a Chipotle Lime Chicken.  He enjoys this recipe and is a proponent of involving family in meal prep citing there are always teachable moments and it keeps kids vested in their meals (I’ve recently learned this too). Since this recipe calls for chipotles (smoked jalepenos) and Tim grows them his backyard garden, the kids get to witness farm-to-table in action.   As samples were being passed,  there’s no doubt in my mind that the crowd still longed for the juicy parmesan version (can you tell where I cast my vote)?

Last up, Sissy Biggers, the nationally-recognized television host and lifestyle expert, full of inspiring advice on a variety of topics. Sissy’s also a momma to two grown girls so she feels like she’s been on the front line in the kitchen and knows how challenging it can be for busy moms to break find the time and patience to break meal monotony.  However, when a recipe calls for only four (4) ingredients and one is Hellmann’s, it’s guaranteed to be bursting with taste. She defends that the BBQ Cheddar Crusted Chicken appeals to the kids because of the clever combination of the sweet BBQ flavor and the sharp cheddar flavor.  And of course the mayonnaise helps seal in that great taste.

Besides getting an awesome swag bag (MyJudytheFoodie loves any free/practical cooking-related baubles), and a signed cookbook from Tim, the event certainly accomplished its mission. I walked back into my apartment no longer a frustrated meal-challenged mom but rather, a mom-on-a–chicken-mission. I whipped up some Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breasts in under 20 minutes flat. No joke.  The kids gave the new tasty meal a very rare two thumbs up approval rating.

We were all happy to have a new dish added to our dinner rotation!

Wordless Wednesday – NYC Snowpocalypse Redux

Blizzard of 2004

Blizzard of 2010