Thursday, April 28, 2011

Disney Engineering and Imagineering Ungeeked

Whoever came up with the title Imagineer was a genius. Who wouldn't want to be one of those clever men and women who imagine and then engineer Disney's technological delights, the fantastic rides and imaginary yet lifelike creatures?

Just days after our returning from the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, we happened upon a special episode of History Channel's Modern Marvels show devoted to all things Disney.

The show provides a lot of great behind-the-scenes glimpses of what puts the magic in the Magic Kingdom and other Disney Parks. Interviews with imagineers abound as they share anecdotes, insights and the science behind the rides and audioanimatronic figures. As tired as I am from our trip, this made me want to hop back down to Orlando and experience everything with a more enlightened mindset.

History Channel even has a free teacher's guide to go with the show, including vocabulary words, thought-provoking questions and suggested reading materials. It's much higher quality than the one I received many years ago from the Popcorn Institute or some such organization that suggested a teacher make a bowl of popcorn and have kids do "popcorn math." Jane has 6 pieces of popcorn. Ramesh has three pieces. How many total pieces of popcorn do they have?

My family and I loved this show; it's worth a watch! Google tells me you can buy this episode on Amazon or rent it on Netflix.

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received many perks including park admission, but not a copy of this show. I am neither an Amazon affiliate nor a Netflix one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: The Thing My Son Put Up His Nose

Yep, I needed some permanent record of this seeing as how I finally threw the damn thing out.

When Thing 2 was about four years old, we were headed on a two week trip to Arizona but it seemed like he might be coming down with strep. I didn't want to travel with a sick child, so we headed to the doctor, who paused oddly during midway through examining my boy.

He had noticed a bump inside my son's nose. Apparently the epithelial cells that line the nose tend to grow very quickly over implanted objects and the doctor had to dig out this unexpected little find.

And that's the good news. If we had not had this hastily planned doctor visit when we did, the little gem would have needed to be surgically removed.

But that's also the good news because after taking a deep breath, the doctor told me that when he first spotted the lump in my son's nose, he feared it was a rare type of cancer. He was worried he was going to be breaking some really bad news to me. But no, it was just a fuzzy little craft ball that my son shoved up his nose.

The thing is, even as a very young toddler my son was not the type of kid who stuck things in his nose or any other orifice for that matter. He didn't mouth his toys and was generally pretty obedient.

He didn't, doesn't, have any reasonable explanation for why he shoved that thing up his nose.

I found the plastic vial containing the fuzzball when we were emptying out our house. It's now in a landfill.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Share Your Family Travel Tips and Win a $16K Luxury Family Trip

When I saw Wendy Perrin's tweet about winning a luxury family vacation by sharing a few travel tips, I immediately got to work and created an entry for the Conde Nast Traveler A-to-Z Family Travel Contest. Then I got to thinking about time and budgetary constraints in the year ahead and decided not to enter.

But then DH convinced me to enter because he doesn't think I'll win. Nice, right?

Anyhoo, here's a copy of my A-Z list of family travel tips. Note there is also a 200 word limit, so I doubled up on letters:

Always Bring snacks: hungry kids are crabby kids (same goes for adults).
Check Departure times: no one needs to get to get to the airport too early and you certainly don't want to arrive too late.
Eat Frequently (see item 1).
Give Hugs, especially after a tantrum or meltdown.
Install Just as many apps as you need to keep the kids occupied during slow times.
Know Limits for yourself and your children and don't push too far beyond them.
Many Nights you will wind up sleeping with your kids instead of your spouse. It's inevitable.
Occupy Personal space between your kids so they can’t poke/annoy/fight with each other.
Quiet Rest time each day renews body and spirit, especially when followed by a snack.
SomeTimes you need a break; that’s what kids clubs and babysitters are for.
Unnecessary Valuables should be left at home, but priceless “lovies” must come with and should be accounted for often.
With Xylitol, your teeth get protection; stick to sugarless gum while on the road.
Yaks, Zebras, koalas, squirrels, deer, naked mole rats—learn about the local fauna and flora wherever you go.

What are your favorite family travel tips?

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm on the List of the Top 25 Sexiest Mom Bloggers and Other Thoughts from Backpacking Dad

One day I'm talking about bras and the next day I find I've made a new link-bait list. Check it out. You're probably on it too, you sexy momblogger, you.

A couple of things about Shawn, author of Backpacking Dad:
He is funny.
He is Canadian.
He is not to be confused with another Canadian man who is well-known in the social space (at least not according to that other man).
He is rethinking the way he does and is compensated for product reviews and giveaways, and he's started an interesting conversation about it.

It caught my attention because I have been toying around with some new ideas and compensation models for product reviews and giveaways.

Do I giveaway to readers one of everything I receive? And then do I charge for those giveaways? Do I need to write reviews or can I do product stories? What should be sponsored and what should be a strict review? And what does my accountant make of all this?

I'm all about the value exchange between bloggers and brands, but I think it's hard to serve up a blanket definition for that term.

For his part, Shawn is clear that once compensation enters the picture he's no longer offering unbiased reviews, but can offer other things in the name of promotion (like perhaps his graphic skills as displayed above?).

Inspired by Shawn's thinking, I'm motivated to define what I'm prepared to offer brands at different levels of compensation. And, of course, on the flip side, there are things I would not do for any level of compensation.

What is your policy on product reviews or promotions? How has it changed over time? Any tips as I reflect on mine?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Good Enough is the New Perfect

Good Enough is the New Perfect is not just the title of a new book by my friend Hollee Schwartz Temple and Chicagoan Becky Beaupre Gillespie, it's long been my own modus operandi. As proof, I offer up the fact that my first draft of this post was written on April 11 to time out with the book's official release.

So I'm a little late. Sorry.

GEITNP is, coincidentally, also the theme of my son's upcoming bar mitzvah, though I'm happy to report we now have enough table seating to accommodate all of our guests (don't even ask).

Hollee passed along a copy of her book. As the mom of a teen, I'm a veteran parent (AKA old mom) and have had years to make peace with my imperfect ways (mostly), but it's always interesting to get an insider's view of how other moms balance work, self, and family, especially ones who seem so successful.

I think in the first five or so years of motherhood, this balancing act is especially tough. Or maybe it's the first five years after leaving work that are tricky, not to mention the first five years after returning to work.

Or maybe the specific issues change, but those nagging feelings that we moms can and should be doing more (at home, at work or both) never quite go away.

So this well-researched book is like a talk with a good friend, a circle of them, really, who have been there and done that.

I was thrilled to see Chicago's "most twisted" mom, Kim Oster Holstein of Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels, profiled in the book. Not profiled, exactly, it's more that Kim and the other moms in the book share their successes along with their challenges and frustrations throughout the book.

We're all in this together and this book might just offer the clues to help readers define and seek their own "new perfect."

Chicago mamas!

Local readings will take place at an April 29 Kickoff Event at Book Cellar in Lincoln Square at 7 PM and you'll have another chance to see Becky and Hollee (and, hopefully, me) on Sunday, May 1 at a reading at Andersonville's famed bookstore, Women and Children First at 4:30.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wacoal, the Large Breasted Women of Chicago Thank You

By and large, I've been hibernating since last fall. Between school, Hebrew school, bar mitzvah tutoring, multiple Science Olympiad practices each week and other family duties, it's been hard to get out at night and frankly, I haven't been motivated to get up and go. That is, until I got an invitation from the Wacoal, manufacturer of supportive bras, lacy lingerie and caffeinated shapewear.

One of the reasons marketers loves moms is that they talk about brands in their daily conversations. One of the reasons the Wacoal invite caught my eye was that it's a brand that has come up in IRL conversations. I also had a vague recollection of it as Oprah's favorite bra at some point. And they not only offered attending bloggers a free bra, but a fitting as well.

I welcomed both.

(Also, I needed help for one last section of Property Sluts: The Musical and I knew I could beg, plead or otherwise cajole a few gals into helping me out.)

Eve, a seasoned pro, did my fitting and we had quite a chat. I sent a few live tweets and reflected on the fact that it was the longest conversation I've ever had with a stranger while topless. I think there are lots of rich stories about women and bra fitting/shopping experiences. The event was not designed to capture these in a formal, or even informal way, but that's something the brand should consider for future events.

Wacoal will be shipping out my chosen bra, I forgot the style name, but I'm really hoping it arrives prior to my son's bar mitzvah because, wow, what a difference the right bra makes.

Like most of the women at the event, I've apparently been stuffing my girls into smaller cups than they deserve. They told us that 80% of women are walking around with the wrong size bra.

Ouch.

Then again, when's the last time you had a proper fitting?

Okay, here's a mini-commercial that I was neither asked nor required to post:

Wacoal sends their fit specialists to fine stores around the country providing complimentary fittings as part of their Fi(GH)t for the Cure* program. Just for being measured and trying on a Wacoal bra, they will donate $2 to Susan B. Komen for the Cure for breast cancer research and community health programs. For every Wacoal-related purchase you make that day, the brand will donate an additional $2 per piece.

Note: they will be in Chicago April 28 and 29 at several area Carson's Stores. Search for details or see when they are holding an event in your area.

* Oh, like Fit for the Cure. At first I thought GH represented bra sizes because everyone at the event seemed to leave they event shocked at what large bra cups they were supposed to be wearing. I'm slow like that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Blogger Butt can be Deadly

I only warn you because I love you. A new study indicates that having a desk job for ten or more years can double your chances of getting a certain type of colon cancer and increases your risk of getting rectal cancer by a whopping 44%.

And exercising in the off-time doesn't help stave off the risks.

Holy crap! (No pun intended.)

I am also not kidding when I wonder aloud if this investigation inquired about time spent reading a la commode (on the pot, so to speak), as I've heard that can be a damaging habit.

I'm not making this up. Read more at The Telegraph or look for the full report, which does not yet appear to have been published online, at least for the masses, at the American Journal of Epidemiology.

While I had previously been coveting Stow Company's desk that converts to a bed for our guest room in our theoretical new house, maybe I should keep my eye on the treadmill desk, instead.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

NCLB, High Stakes Tests and the Education-Industrial Complex

None of this came as a surprise to me, but this piece on NCLB and high stakes testing is worth a read. You may have wondered how those tests are graded, but the explanation may shock and disappoint you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Illinois Science Olympiad - I survived to tell about it

Last weekend, after a send-off worthy of elite dignitaries, my son's Science Olympiad team made its way down to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for the state finals.

DH and I followed that night with another team parent along for the ride. I was the first driver, eventually handing over the wheel to DH. While the dads sat in the front seat talking, I nodded off in the back only to wake during a horrible storm with these thoughts, "If I'm going to die, I should be awake to experience it."

Does your mind work like this?

The rain was coming down hard and winds threatened to sweep the minivan off the road. Occasional lightning strikes lit up the otherwise impossibly dark sky.

It was scary, but I lived to tell about it.

The championship event (a series of events, really) was fun overall. Like any competition, the day had its ups and downs. For every handful of delighted squeals from children experiencing the thrill of victory, there was a student fighting back tears feeling the crushing agony of defeat.

In the end, my son received a medal in one of his events and the team met their goal, though did not exceed it, which was sad to some.

My boys' former school, a private school for gifted kids, made quite a good showing at State. No surprise there, their team likely has an average IQ of about 145. But our school has something they don't- my boys!

I jest. But, truly, I'm already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remembering to Breath

The ongoing house hunt plus planning a bar mitzvah (seriously, I am the last person you want planning a 175 person luncheon).... 175 people?! Yeah, I'm not sure how that happened either, other than the fact that we decided to go low-key with food and such and, uh, invite every person we've ever met.

I'm kidding. But between family, our friends, the bar mitzvah boy's friends, about 20 of my parents' longtime friends and another 20 or so on my in-law's side, it all adds up and while we are truly honored by the presence of each guest and did I mention it's a low-key event, I'm definitely in the freak-out zone.

Even if I do throw the tackiest luncheon ever, there will be good food and plenty of chairs (albeit a possible lack of table space) and the important thing is having special people with us to share a most special day.

Right?

Oh, and housing stuff, there is always housing stuff.

And a client project (stay tuned for news if you live near Chicago).

And breathing. I can't forget to do that.

Life is good.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gifted Chat with Me Today on Skype

I do a weekly(ish) #OfficeHour Chat (that's really only 30 minutes or so) on Thursdays for MomImpact members (or anyone else who wants to join in--I'm nice that way).

Anyhoo, I'm mixing it up a bit and instead of discussing brand-blogger relationships or how to grow a career in social media, I'm talking about parenting gifted children.

I thought this would be a way for me to connect with readers (dare I call you my readers?) who drop me notes asking about such things.

If you want to join in, find me on Skype and ping me at Noon, Central Time, on April 14, 2011.

Interview with Meagan Francis, Author of The Happiest Mom

I'm thrilled to be a part of the blog book tour for The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood by Meagan Francis. I've known, read and respected Meagan for years (even naming her as one of my top influencers circa 2009), so it's especially exciting to see her latest printed work.

Just like her blog of the same name, The Happiest Mom book is full of common sense tips ("Five ways to -nicely- blow off busybodies") and food for thought without sounding condescending--just what I expect from Meagan.

It's perfect for moms who are pressed for time because it's engaging, yet easy to read in small chunks. As you read through it, you'll feel like you're getting advice from a trusted friend. You might even be motivated to make a few changes so that you, and your family, can be happier.

Also, I'm coveting an "Aim low, go slow" poster (see Secret 2).

I had a chance to talk with Meagan about the book and the process and thoughts behind it.

Kim Moldofsky: I remember when you first started your blog, The Happiest Mom, a few years ago. It was a time when a lot of the books and blogs out there seemed to be venting about the hardship and previously untold negative aspects of motherhood, what was your thinking?

Meagan Francis: I think that the ability to "get real" about motherhood via the internet--at first, it was parenting bulletin boards, then mom blogs--was intoxicating for a while. I mean, finally you could actually say that you found your kids boring sometimes, or express all those frustrations about motherhood, and other mothers would read it and say "Yes! Me, too!"

But after a while it started to feel like I was just reading the same vent over and over. After reading maybe the hundredth post that week about tantrums and losing your identity as a mother and not getting any sleep for years I took a look at my life and thought, gosh, is motherhood really that bad? In the mid- to late-2000s, there were also numerous much-talked-about titles out about how hard motherhood is. And while I think it's great that we were all being honest with each other about the hard side, it seemed like it was no longer okay to talk about the other side anymore. If you wrote about a good day with your kids or said you were trying to be a better mom or even just admitted to being pretty satisfied with your life, you weren't being "real" or "authentic." Or worse, you were bragging.

I had definitely been guilty of doing the whole shtick--writing about my failures as a mother to get laughs, writing about the millions of ways my kids annoy me in order to get the nods and validation. But I was only being half-real. There is that, but there is so much more. I wanted to elevate the conversation a little, to inspire moms to be happier, because I know from experience that you can screw up and still be a good mom; that you can be annoyed by your kids, but still be happy they're there.
KM: You've always stuck me as a very grounded, organized and practical person. Still, with five kids how to you manage to write books, articles, a blog and other freelance projects and still be a happy mom?

MF: I lean heavily on my husband, and have confidence in his competence as a parent. I try to use every minute as wisely as I can. I have gotten used to taking advantage of all those small snippets of time that life offers--five minutes here, fifteen minutes there, they all count. I'm not perfect at it, but one thing I'm always trying to do is be a better gatekeeper of the way I spend my time.

If I'm "working" but not actually doing anything productive, it doesn't count as work and makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I try to recognize when that's happening and redirect myself. If I'm watching TV for "entertainment" but am not actually feeling entertained, what's the point? I'm convinced we all have a lot more time than we like to tell ourselves, but we use so much of it distracting ourselves from life, engaging in numbing activities like flipping around the TV or sitting there on Twitter hitting "refresh" over and over. Even brain candy should do something for you--inspire, entertain, inform, relax you--it's not really play if you aren't having any fun; it's just zoning out.

KM: I envision you sitting down and churning out thoughtful posts, fingers flying over the keyboard in no time at all. What is the writing process like for you? (maybe also note difference b/w blog, book and freelance articles?)

MF: Well, I am a fast writer, and that definitely helps. I think that's partly because I spend so much time thinking about the things I write about. Let's face it, moms spend a lot of time doing things that don't require a ton of brain activity--sweeping the floor, wiping noses. I do some of my best thinking in those moments and that means less time staring at the screen waiting to figure out what to write about.

Generally speaking I sit down and just start writing. Sometimes I outline, particularly if the story or post or chapter hasn't taken shape in my head yet. Other times I just start spouting off and then edit heavily later. If I can't get moving on a project in five minutes, I move on to a different part of it, or a different project, or go for a walk or take a bath. There's absolutely no point staring at a blank screen, and just makes you feel more "stuck."

Freelance articles are a bit different, especially if I have to talk to experts or sources to get their take on a topic. In that case I always start with the experts and let them help me shape the story.

My process is always different because I'm always working on many different kinds of things at once, and because my life is unpredictable. If I know I have six hours stretching out in front of me I may take more time getting into the topic. If I know I have just 30 minutes to work I'm more likely to attack the keyboard with a vengeance. But one thing is always constant--I think through topics while not sitting at the computer, and work out what I'm trying to say while going about my life. Then I apply my butt to the chair and write.

KM: Congratulations on successfully turning a blog into a book! Can you share a bit about that process? Was it simply a matter of reworking old posts?

MF: That would have been a lot easier, but no! The content in the book is definitely inspired by the blog, but it's all new stuff. On my blog I tend to dig into micro topics and am quite wordy. The book is much more easily digestible and packed with tips and advice--not as much analysis and reflection. Kind of like Meagan Lite...which makes it a great gift, because it'll be easy for a mom to read. Of course, it's not easy for somebody like me to write short, so there was a lot of back and forth between the editing team and I, trying to get the tone (light, funny) just right and to keep the book short enough that it wouldn't feel overwhelming to busy moms who gave it a quick glance at the book store.

KM: What advice do you have for bloggers who are trying to make the leap from blog to book?

MF: Blogging is great because we can really embrace a small niche and be completely ourselves, but because of the cost and resources involved in publishing a print book, a publisher is going to want to know that you can appeal to a wider audience. They are probably also going to want to know that you can reach some of that large audience via your blog and social media efforts, so demonstrating that you have a solid, loyal readership that comes to your blog because you offer something unique is definitely helpful.

Set yourself apart from the crowd by creating great content, and by being consistent, professional, and likable (or, if being unlikeable is your thing, stick to it!) Of course you should be yourself, but any time you're publishing on a wider scale you have to produce something a lot of people will want to read, so "packaging" yourself in a crowd-friendly way matters.

Also, professionalism is key. Unless you happen to have hit on the hook that brought in a million readers overnight, you need to demonstrate that you aren't a fly-by-night blogger who will be gone tomorrow. Publishers will be much more inclined to work with you if you show staying power. Also, if you're working with brands, I think it helps to participate in quality campaigns that demonstrate you are desirable but also allow you to keep your authenticity.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book. I'm also working with Meagan on some book-related publicity, but not this blog tour. This is her doing. See? She really is on top of things!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brainy Vacations

When you're looking inspiration for your next vacation, Popular Science probably doesn't come to mind, but the May 2011 issue is chock full of ideas. Their "Mind trips article" (not online yet) has some great ideas for, uh, geekcations.

If theme parks don't float your boat and trees aren't your friends, you might like:

Digging for dinos

Witnessing a car crash

Learning about robots* or

visiting a lab- they suggested Brookhaven, but I'm understandably partial to Argonne.

If you're looking for other unique getaway opportunities, check our Jennifer Miner's post on volunteer vacations over at The Vacation Gals.

Do you have a suggestion for a unique vacation?


* We hope to make a stop in the 'Burgh this summer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

There is no house


Just to be clear, we did not purchase the house on which we had a contract. Unlike Property Virgins, Property Sluts are experienced. Sure, we know the joys home ownership can bring, but we know all too well, the expenses and headaches that come along with it.

In the end, the numbers didn't work out (see me for details; DH read an article about how blogs and social media are affecting real estate deals and he's all nervous. For example, if I posted somewhere that I found the house of my dreams and the seller's agent sees it, I've killed our ability to bargain because they know the Property Slut wants it. On a related note, you don't see pics and video of the houses because I don't want to get sued, yo!)

We might rent. Or not. Or by the time we decide, the rental we might sort of want could already be rented.

We are in limbo.

So that's the housing update.

The bar mitzvah update? Ugh, don't even ask. No, really. It's all good.

Life is good. (Repeat as necessary.)

The photo above? It's filler from Disney. I have a lovely Boos Block that was gifted to me that I can't wait to use in my (hopefully) lovely kitchen one day.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Naked Truth About Swimming in PE Class

Originally published at Chicago Moms Blog in November 2009.

Back in the 1950s when my dad was a student in a Chicago Public School, the naked truth was that the boys went swimming in the buff during PE class. As Mark Brown described in a recent column in the Chicago Sun-Times, "This was an organized school activity where gym teachers would order their students to take off their clothes and get in the pool for swimming instruction."

I remember my father telling my brother and I such things every time we drove past Lane Tech on the North Side. As a modest child, skinny dipping sounded odd enough, but swimming naked alongside your classmates? Unthinkable.

Now that I'm a wizened adult the whole idea sounds completely whacked. Eventually others must have agreed; the practice was abolished. According to Brown it faded away during the mid-1970s. It's still hard for me to fathom how it remained in place for so long.

I realize that moms back then weren't searching the Internet for convicted pedophiles in their neighborhood, background checks were unheard of and they likely never gave their children the good touch/bad touch talk, but still something about a pool full of naked teenage boys just seems weird. I'd think it would take less than two decades for someone to speak up.

Then again, I attended school in an era when anyone and everyone had free and open access to our buildings and the students within. My gosh, we'd never even heard the term lockdown, let alone practice one. And (hold onto your chair) my brother and I slept over at a teacher's house.

I suppose that at some point we'll look back at today's standards and shake our heads in amazement. A national education policy that ignored our most competent and highest performing students? What were we thinking? Now that I'm reflecting on it, that may cause even more embarrassment than boys without bathing suits.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Fun Finds from the 2011 Housewares Show: Property Sluts Episode 17

I really thought we'd have a house by now. I mean, maybe we do. But, we're still waiting to hear from the contractor who was out there last week and if the numbers seem do-able then we've got to get an inspection and if that works out, we need to see if the house appraises for the value we said we'd pay. Oh, and the attorney review period might be up before we even get very far down the above mentioned list. The review period was already extended once for our trip to Disney and again because our attorney went on vacation last week.

So I'm putting all of that mess aside to share some of the cool things I found at this year's International Home and Housewares Show. There will be more to come as I'm expecting a review item and a giveaway or two in the coming weeks. Sadly, no, not the "ultimate boy toilet seat" you'll see in the video.

I'm also going to be giving away a pass to the Type-A Parent Conference through MomImpact, so if you're not a member yet, become one!

On to the housewares:



Easy links to a few of the brands mentioned in the video:
Bottles Up, Grid It by Cocoon, Tip N Spray, Pomegranate de-seeder, Scrunchie Wrap, Dsolv compostable lawn bags, and the product that I was seriously geeked out about, the Thricer bagel slicer.

Do you think the Once-ler would use a Thricer?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Working for Free Can Pay. Sometimes.

Can I pick your brain? Many of my momblogging and social media colleagues field this request on a regular basis. Among my peers, this innocent (and admittedly not always so innocent) question has a variety of answers:

  • Sure, let's set up a call.
  • The first 15 minutes are free!
  • Okay, please note my fee is $ an hour; let me know when you'd like to talk.
In my experience, a friendly exchange or two often (but not always) leads to a deeper and more meaningful (i.e. paid) client engagement. Jessica Smith wrote a smart piece about the potential pay off for letting people tap into your wisdom for free.

Sometimes, a potential client merely wants to explain their project and assess your fit; they want to give you the background and feel you out.

Which is not to say that some potential clients aren't fishing around for ideas on the cheap. It happens.

In recent weeks I've been thinking about this as it relates to our house hunt. We've looked at many older houses that need serious, costly renovations. On more than one occasion, we've asked a contractor to stop in while we check out the house to share some thoughts on potential improvements and related costs.

We haven't paid these contractors any fees nor have we signed any contracts committing to work with them, but in the 30-60 minutes (they are often chattier than I expect) we spend together, I get a sense of their personalities, experience and professionalism, as well as their home improvement ideas. I feel out what it might be like to work together- does he listen to my ideas and needs, or is he trying to get us to build something that will look stunning on the front page of his website?

Once we find a home and decide what renovations are needed (kitchen and bath updates, raising the roof or ~gulp~ adding an entire level to the house), we'll seek a handful of competitive bids, meaning that several folks will spend a bit of time considering our project(s) and talking to us, but only one will actually receive a hefty payment.

It's the cost of doing business. For contractors as well as a variety of creative professionals and consultants it's a way of life. So yeah, sometimes I give it away for free.

That said, there are many factors that determine how much, if any time, I'm willing to put forth building a relationship with a potential client.

1. One is a simple gut check- is there going to be a worthwhile payoff? Sometimes the payoff might be a long-term thing (delving into a new niche, building your brand, or getting a foot in the door, for example) and sometimes it's in the here and now.

2. What is the ask? I've learned (well, am still learning) to provide enough information to demonstrate my competence and understanding of the client's needs without laying all my cards on the table.

This can be especially tricky and I know people who have been burned in the past by revealing a bit too much of their brilliance without a contract or non-disclosure to protect them. Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free, right?

I might have once promised a potential client that I'd make no bones about calling in the lawyers if I saw them implementing my very specific and unique campaign idea. But the reality is, I'd only say something like that if I was uneasy about the relationship to begin with. In that case, I was. And I ultimately wasted several hours with very little payoff.

3. What is the time commitment? I'm typically up for a few minutes on the phone, but much less likely to show up for an in-person meeting without a signed contract already in hand.

Are you willing to share your ideas for free? What questions do you seek to answer before you open up your brain for picking?

Just for fun: Should I work for Free?

Want to talk social media with me? Check out the MomImpact Office Hour. On a few Thursday afternoons each month, I make myself available for free brain picking on all things social media and mombloggers. See the MomImpact website or Facebook page for details.

This Thursday, 4/7/11, we'll be talking about contract basics with blogger/attorney Sara Hawkins.

Friday, April 01, 2011

We Bought a House!

This may sounds like an April Fool's Day joke, but it's not. The day before we left for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, our agent called to say that a bid we thought we had walked away from was going to work out. So amidst the packing and running around to prepare for a family trip, we fit in a quick meeting with our agent to sign the contract, which included an extra 10 days in the review period to allow for our being out of town for nearly a week.

We came back to learn the seller was trying to excuse themselves from typical seller obligations, like paying for a land survey and we had a small matter of something related to the house that needed to be resolved.

No biggie, except that this week our lawyer was on a spring break vacay with her family and we didn't hear back from the seller's lawyer before she left town, so we canceled our planned inspection and got an additional extension. We weren't going to pay $500-$600 for an inspection if we hadn't hammered out all the contract details, especially since the sellers seemed a bit, uh, wiggly.

Eventually, everything was signed off on, but we'd already canceled the inspection. We're headed to the house today with a contractor, in order to get a a better idea of whether we can afford to fix the place up to our liking. That's one of the things likely to make or break the sale.

Yes, just one of the things. If we like (or at least can deal with) the number the contractor gives us, we'll proceed to an inspection. We still have a few days left in the attorney review period and if we need an additional day or two to bring in our inspector of choice, so be it. We're intent on hiring a man known locally as Dr. Doom, the mere mention of his name causes many an agent to scowl...or roll their eyes.

We're not so worried about the inspection as we are the appraisal. We're not sure if it's going to appraise at our purchase price. Our Realtor assures us it will. Our lender assures us that even if it doesn't, we can pay the difference in cash. Um, no! In a sinking market why would we do something like that, even if it means we're out close to $1500 in attorney, inspection and loan application fees for this whole mess? We'll cut our losses and run.

At this point, I can take or leave the sale. I'm more anxious and nervous than excited, but once we get the contractor number, we'll have a better sense of whether the house will work for us out not.

Either way, I've got a lot of blog fodder in the months ahead.

Edited to add: In the meantime, do me a favor- watch an episode of Property Sluts. It makes me less anxious.