Saturday, November 24, 2007

Have you clicked yet?

Please stop by BabyCenter, where I recently started writing at the Momformation Blog. I'm blogging about behavioral issues in children up to 8 years old.

Right now, I'm talking about the over-excitabilities often found in gifted children and which of my boys I love best. Check it out.

GM loves me!

Cross-posted at Chicago Moms Blog

So does Dodge! And Chrysler, too! Sorry Amy, I don’t know what's with me and cars lately. A month ago, I was just another mommyblogger. Now, I’m AskPatty’s Mom.

You see, shortly after I agreed to participate in the Chevy Malibu test drive in Memphis in early November, a marketing group asked me to drive the new Dodge Grand Caravan for a week. Next Friday I’m going to get a souped-up Chrysler Town and Country minivan to test out for two weeks. I don’t know why the the stars have aligned this way, but I sure am enjoying the rides.

I wrote about the Caravan on my blog as I was expected to do as part of a word-of-mouth campaign, but I’ve yet to share the details of my Malibu experience. In fact, I’m not obligated to do so. The Malibu drive was different; I was flown down to Memphis as part of a traditional campaign launch. I was rubbing shoulders with real car writers like John from Edmunds, and Marc from The Torque Report. The only thing required of me was to mention that GM paid for my trip, should I decide to write about it.

So there I was hobnobbing with car guys, many of whose faces lit up like little boys when they talked about new vehicles. It was touching. And reassuring, in the sense that yes, two decades from now there just might be a decent job out there for your Hot Wheels obsessed six year-old.

I was also in the company of some great mom-bloggers: Table for Five, Mommy Needs a Cocktail, Not Just a Working Mom, Mocha Momma, It’s All Fun and Games and The Mummy Chronicles.

The evening before we stepped into the redesigned 2008 Chevy Malibu, GM treated us to a tour of the Gibson Guitar factory. I love watching things get made! And I was surprised by some of the similarities between the guitar-making process and that of making violins. (Do you know our area is home to one of only three violin-making schools in the USA?)

But the connection Chevy was trying to reinforce was one between the care and quality that goes into crafting a Gibson Guitar (and there’s a lot) and the craftsmanship that goes into building a Chevy Malibu. After the tour, representatives of the Malibu’s design and engineering teams introduced the car’s many features. I was impressed by the passion these men have for their work.

It seems every week there’s another massive round of toy recalls, usually centering around imported toys. But when it comes to cars, most moms and dads I know are all about the imports. In fact, plenty of people were impressed by the luxe Dodge Caravan I drove about town, but they told me that they’ll stick with Honda or Toyota for their minivan needs. The Malibu team is up against the same wall in the sedan category. And they know it.

The Malibu team isn’t crossing their corporate fingers waiting for the tide to change; they are working hard to give consumers a reason to buy American cars. DH and I used to do that until we had an unfortunate problem with a Saturn. And when I say unfortunate, I mean a problem that was found in many cars within our model year (mid 1990s) that the company would not resolve to our satisfaction. DH still refers to this as the time that "Saturn broke his heart." He replaced it with a Honda and his rebound affair with foreign cars continues to this day.

So GM wants my love again. And DH's. They want your love, too. Are they worthy of it?

Well, the “car guys” in Memphis were impressed by the design and handling. I was pleased with it, especially the smooth, quiet ride of the hybrid, but what do I know? I drive a 2000 Subaru with a steering wheel that vibrates so much I’m afraid it’s going to come right off in my hands one of these days. Even so, I left Memphis confident that the new Malibu is worth considering if you’re in the market for a sedan.

I think for us, and many of our peers, it's going to take more than a sleek design, good price point and better fuel efficiency to get us to go domestic. We want see an established track record- something that indicates a high level of reliability.

So, GM, it's possible that I might love you enough to bring you into my home again someday. For now, all I can do is promise to visit you at the Auto Show.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two t-shirt winners because 'tis better to give than to receive

Although I had the lowest response rate ever for a bloggy giveaway, the two who tossed their names in the ring are quite earnest about cleaning up the current toxic toy overload. So, I gave away DH's (unworn) Get the Lead out Shirt in addition to the one that was initially put aside for the giveaway.

Congratulations to Pickel over at My Two Boys, who lists loads of lead-free toys on her blog, and Diane over at The Mommy Spot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Get the Lead Out Giveaway

Sure, I considered giving you a chance to win all my kids lead-laden skull rings and such, but that didn't seem nice. Um, what are we supposed to do with all those recalled toys we own?

The family and I went to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair yesterday. Highlights included me getting all fancy with some spinning disk toy. In the process of showing the boys a cool move I dreamt up, I knocked my glasses out of whack and got chided by the booth supervisor. Needless to say, I've repressed the name of that toy. I also played a Wheel of Fortune type game where players guess the brand name products rather than something in a wee bit more thoughtful like the name of a landmark or a proverb. I beat the pants off of DH, oh and some 12 year-old girl, by guessing that the hidden words were Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion. What is this country coming to?

We also got to dip our hands into this fake snow stuff which felt amazingly like the real thing. I guess it's for touch tables in preschools. As I was dipping my hands in it, I said to know one in particular, "This stuff has got to be totally toxic."
"What does toxic mean?" Asked an innocent 8 year-old little girl beside me.
"Um, poisonous. It means you need to wash your hands really well after you play with this."

The best part was meeting with Morgan from the Consumer's Union Not in My Cart Campaign.

You can learn more and even pick a up a cool widget for your blog here. Even better, you can enter to win a festive Get the Lead Out t-shirt (size XL), stickers and supporting campaign material by leaving a comment below. The giveaway is open to US residents only. Entries will be accepted through midnight Wednesday, Nov. 21. Winner will be chosen at random and notified later this week.

Thanks to The Motherhood and ParentHacks for helping spread the word about CU's Not in my Cart Campaign.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Gifted Academy

Sure, it doesn't really exist, but we want to show a friend of ours the new playground at this imaginary institution of precocius learning.

The 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan: what's not to love?

It's impossible not to love a brand-new, fully accessorized car that you get to drive for a week without filling the tank.* This car has everything. Not only does the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan have more windows and more electrical outlets than my first apartment, it's bigger, too. Grrlfriend Jess is right to call this the ultimate milfvan. It not only has a Sirius navigation system and a gazillion or so radio channels, it's also got three kid-friendly satellite TV feeds- Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. I was craving a little PBS or something less mind-numbing, but perhaps if I'd taken a moment to figure out how to work the wireless headphones, it wouldn't have been an issue. The kids sure didn't mind.I loved the heated seats on our crisp fall mornings. Nothing like starting the day with fresh warm buns. Ahhhhh. And the self-stowing seats. And the middle row swivel seats. And the tailgate seats feature, the built-in flashlight, the table, the great internal LED lights- there is so much to love about this car!

One night while waiting for waiting for Smartypants and friend to finish up Hebrew school I set up mobile dining room/office in the back. What the car lacks in fuel-efficiency it makes up for in personal efficiency!
This van was definitely a head-turner. Everyone wanted a peek inside, though most declined my offers to drive it around the block. The only two negative comments I heard about it, and I heard these consistently, were about the lack of fuel efficiency and the fact that it's American made. Too many of us have been burned by American-made lemons. I know the Chevy folks are aware of this and I'm guessing the Dodge folks have a clue, too. Maybe that's why Dodge is offering a lifetime power train warranty?

This car has all the bells and whistles a parent could want, except the on-board mini-hand vac that I mentioned previously. It's definitely worth a look. Be careful if you take the kids car shopping with you. Once they step inside this van, nothing else will be good enough for them!

*Oops, apparently I was supposed to leave more than gas fumes in the tank, but I'm afraid that pouring $75 into car, might have affected my rosy outlook just a tad.
Edited an hour or two later to add: I just received a Border's gift certificate in the mail from the company that sponsored the promotion, Matchstick. Obviously, it was sent to me before my post was actually up. And I seriously had no idea it was coming. I'll pass it on to DH for tolerating my blogging habits.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So much to post, so little time

I still have to write about my fabulous Chevy Malibu test drive down in Memphis as well as the amazing, fully-loaded brand-new 2008 Dodge Caravan (yes, with the swivel seats) that I was driving about town in this past week. Not to mention the fact that I just started my newest (and paid!) blogging gig at's Momformation Blog and one of my Momformation posts was hacked--in the best possible way!

And I recently won one of these cool, little HP photobooks from this wonderful mama, but HP surprised me by sending a photoprinter along with it. That's just so you'll start buying their special papers and inks, DH says. It's true, but I don't mind. We haven't printed more than two dozen photos since we went digital a few years back. I miss photo albums; staring at a video slide show just ain't the same.
Edited to add: you can try one of these book at a 20% discount by licking here. Make that clicking here.

Just to keep things in check I will make it clear that the Universe is pissing on me just a little, too. Smartypants finally returned to school full-time after two weeks home sick followed by two weeks of only attending half days. And tonight 7 year-old Pikachu came down with a fever over 100+, so he'll be home with me tomorrow. Please, don't let it be Mono!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I did it!

I just ordered one, make that two, of these!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Oops, I did it again

It starts as an innocent bit of tossing and turning around 3:00 am. I take a deep breath and then before I know it, a thought has sneaked into my brain. About school. And what we should do next year.

Though I don't get many comments on this blog, I've had a few readers e-mail me lately to say how wonderful it is that my boys are at the expensive and logistically challenging gifted school. Another friend, a former teacher at a tony North Shore public school, reminded me of the grim realities of public ed and how unlikely my boys, who are are the far leading edge of the bell curve, are to have their needs met.

Is it all that bleak? Am I just speaking to the wrong choir?

I shared our concerns about the limited social options (no sports or clubs) in the GA's Upper School and the challenge of going from a junior high graduation class of 10 to a high school class of 800 with a dad who kept his oldest son at the Gifted Academy through 8th grade and is doing the same with his younger son. He told me that he thinks that most public junior highs are like minimum security prisons. He thinks letting one's children mature emotionally and grow academically during the awkward junior high years is a Very Good Thing.

Our public school has finally hired some gifted coordinators. I've played phone tag with one. Quite frankly, I'm avoiding a conversation. I remember all to well the false assurances the public school administrators gave me four years ago. Don't worry. He'll be fine. We can meet his needs. While the school psychologist whispered in my ear, Your son is rather exceptional. We only see a child like him every couple of years.

Oh yeah, and this district failed to make their No Child Left Behind Annual Yearly Progress for the first time this past year. How could I even dip my toes in that water?

Which leaves more years of private school. DH is set against this.

Or moving in with my parents because their public school has more gifted services. A) I'm not sure we're welcome, B) Does this sound like a good idea to you?

Or moving into an expensive house with high taxes in a wealthier, whiter suburb with "better" schools (see this related comment).

I think I'll just go back upstairs and cry myself to sleep.

The Gifted Academy? There is no Gifted Academy.

It's like the Fight Club; I cannot confirm its existence.

I recently reposted my essay, Giving up on Public Education, over at Chicago Moms Blog for our cross-site Education Day. The day was a success and I can see by the number of readers that clicked over to my blog, my essay struck a chord.

My stat counter also tells me that many readers have also searched the term "gifted academy, Chicago," the name of the school I used in my essay. I must tell you curious people that no such school exists; I simply used that name to maintain some thin veil of privacy for my kids. There are, I think, four private gifted academies within a 30ish mile radius. You can read about them at the Genius Denied site.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wherein this Mom takes on the Illinois State Board of Ed.

This will be crossposted over at the Chicago Moms Blog, where tomorrow is education day across our sites: Silicon Valley, DC Metro and NYC Moms Blogs.

For my latest attempt at playing citizen-journalist, I attended FY2009 budget hearing sponsored by the Illinois State Board of Education. About two dozen other parents and school administrators gathered for the hearing in a small high school auditorium in Des Plaines this past Monday evening. I whipped out my notebook- the kind with a wire binding and lined pages. *sigh* I searched my purse for a good pen, but all I found were ones that dragged on the paper. *ugh* And I brought my camera with me, but forgot to take any pictures. *oops* Plus I didn't get all the names, and many facts and figures flew by me before I could record them.

Clearly, I am a much better citizen than a journalist. And that's okay. I spoke from the heart about the need for increased state funding for gifted education. And by spoke from the heart, I mean spoke extemporaneously, which is typically a bad thing, especially for me. But I think I did okay. Here's how the night went.

Joyce Karon, Dean Clark Linda Riley Mitchell, whose bio I have searched for and not found, presided over the hearing. Which seemed more like a meeting. I expected a gavel pounding here or there. "Order! Order! Stop these moms from whining about their precocious, under-served children!" No such thing. Although there were several moms and one dad who spoke up about the need for increased funding for gifted education in Illinois.

Janet requested money for the blind and dyslexic of our state and how they can be helped with assistive technology. She talked about a planned rollout using MP3 technology to assist such students. I only joined the MP3 party about two weeks ago and find it to be a very helpful way to separate myself from the world. But I can see how MP3s help these populations be a part of a larger world. And they make sooo much more sense than clunky old books on CD/tape.

Jane represented the School Library Media Association. They'd like all the children of Illinois to have access to "authoritative, trustworthy, search able, safe online databases." This would allow them to use sources other than Google or Yahoo! Search to increase their knowledge. She practically tasered the board and audience alike with this stunning fact: Alabama provides their students with better database access than we do. Ouch!

Then Daniel's mom spoke about the challenges of raising and finding a school for her gifted child. She said that as a family that is not independently wealthy, it was hard to fund a private education, but at a private school for gifted school her son, who is a bit different than many of his age mates, found friends and acceptance for the first time. He was also, for the most part, happily challenged. She spoke of the need for teacher training as well as programs for children at the far end of the bell curve.

Next up. Dr. Dan from District 59 spoke on behalf of the Illinois Association of Superintendents Anonymous (See? I'm not a journalist. All I know think is that he said he was representing the IASA). He advocated for funding for a superintendent mentoring program that would pair retired supers with new ones. My take: Okay by me as long as it's a volunteer program. Our retired school teachers and officials have generous pension packages that would leave most of us drooling and, by the way are draining state coffers.

Lori, another mom for gifted education followed. She gave a lovely prepared speech about her gifted children. Even with some accommodations at public school she noted, "The majority of the day my boys are working at a depth and pace that is far inadequate to challenge them -- the majority of the day! We have had to make a conscious effort not to follow their natural intellectual curiosities at home – because they’re getting way too far ahead! How sad! Picture the analogy of a classroom with all severely learning disabled children except for one child of average intelligence. Would we ever see that as an appropriate, fair, right education for that child?

Julie followed on her heels representing the Illinois Association of Gifted Children and talked about gifted kids from low-income homes and how likely these children are to fall through the proverbial cracks in our system. (Hello? NCLB!) She noted the need for increased funding for teacher training and to better identify and serve the gifted children of our state.

Have I put you to sleep yet? In reality, the meeting was pretty interesting. Others spoke about the need for equity in school funding, preschool for all, reading improvement programs, and there was much talk about the changing demographics of the state- increasing number of low-income and immigrant families. Some women from the Organization of the NorthEast (NE Chicago) spoke about some really interesting programs they are running. (Just click.)

Finally, I signed up at the last possible moment to share my two cents. "With all these compelling needs," I said (I'm paraphrasing; I couldn't take notes from my soapbox!), I can see how it's hard to find sympathy for my white, middle-class boys who've benefited from a variety of enrichment activities and a house full of books. But my boys are not simply enriched. They are wired differently." I spoke of the challenges of educating my boys, who currently attend a private school for gifted kids. And the challenge of saving for their college educations or my own retirement while funding their elementary educations. I talked about how their quick, quirky brains are more often sources of stress and anxiety (because of limited education options) than a source of pride.

I also mentioned that I know when we do send the boys back to public school, I'll be able to quit one of the many part-time jobs I currently hold, but will surely need to take on another- advocate for my kids. And while people assure me I'm doing right by my gifted kids, what about the students whose parents have limited resources (transportation, English language skills, or other barriers that make it difficult for them to speak up for their special children)?

Indeed, I was followed by V., a highly educated immigrant mother, who is desperately trying to figure out the US education system to find a place for her gifted child. In a private discussion later, another immigrant mom said that she came from a country with a standardized national curriculum and finds the US system very confusing. So do I.

I was glad I attended the hearing; glad I spoke up, but moving to Nevada looks more attractive than ever. Except for that whole moving part.

I also blog at Scrambled CAKE.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I've Been to Memphis

I just returned from my 24-hour GM sponsored press junket to Memphis, where I learned about and drove the new Chevy Malibu. I've been treated as a member of the press at other events, but never at anything of this caliber. It was cool.

Some of my non-blogger friends, which is to say all of my real-life friends and family, too, don't understand how or why I got invited to participate in a press junket. But market research confirms that growing numbers of consumers turn to the internet to learn about, well, everything. Savvy marketers recognize that blogs (and other social media like Facebook) are an important part of this research. New media plays a crucial role in educating consumers as well as creating product buzz.

For example, Google or Yahoo! search Rolf's Patisserie, a nearby purveyor of delectable pastries and baked goods, and look whose website is listed right below Rolf's. Yep, my very own Scrambled CAKE! My review of Rolf's gets around two dozen views each week. Lucky for them I'm a fan of their scrumptious treats.

In fact, you may notice that I'm a fan of most of what I review. That's because my time is limited and I'd rather write about something I like than something I don't. Someone recently suggested that a few dings here and there might make me more credible (does that mean I'm incredible right now?), so I’ll consider that as I forge ahead.

My luddite friends also want to know why a company would subject themselves to such scrutiny. It's all about buzz, baby. Any company that approaches a blogger or any type of "new media personality" likely thinks their product is great and hopes that the reviewer will, too. Industry insiders have told me that even a negative review can be helpful. First off, any mention of the product adds to the buzz. In addition, a negative review containing constructive criticism can help the company retool or reposition said product.

This week I'm all about the cars. I'm eager to share the highlights of my trip to Memphis, some of which actually involve the Chevy Malibu. And later this week I'm going to give my tired old Subaru a rest while I cruise around in a 2008 Dodge Caravan. I'll have the car for six days as part of a word-of-mouth campaign. I don't get paid for this; it just sounded fun. I don't often drive $40K cars (though the base price of the 2008 van starts in the low 20s) and my kids don't normally get to watch TV on the way to school, so it's something new for all of us. DH and I have long wondered if we could fit our family car and a minivan into our old garage and now we'll get a chance to see. I might even try to serve dinner on that cool little table in the van.

Fun times ahead.

I'll be back soon with an update on my Malibu experience.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I'm going to Graceland!

Never mind that I still confuse the terms make (as in Chevy) and model (Malibu) and my knowledge of all things automotive doesn't go beyond taking my car to the nearby Car-X (though I do enjoy Car Talk on NPR), I've been invited to Memphis to check out the retooled Chevy Malibu.

I'm part of their "new media" ad campaign. So tomorrow I'm headed to Memphis along with these fab mamas for the Ultimate Moms Night Out. GM promises wine and dine us. We'll meet with Chevy engineers and the Malibu marketing team. And we'll all have a chance to give the new Malibu a workout. It could be most fun I've had since the Test Track ride at Epcot. (Note to self: remember to bring driver's license.)

Apparently Chevy's director of marketing thinks women want affordability, safety and fuel economy in their cars. Actually, that's true for me. I also want enough room for sports/school gear. And a built in mini-hand vac to make it easy for me to clean all those little bits that make my backseat look like the crumb tray from a toaster oven.

I'd like my next car to be a fuel-efficient hybrid, so when I did my due diligence at the Malibu site, I was pleased to see they have a hybrid model with a base price of under $23K. Who knew?

We have a whirlwind junket, so the closest I'll get to Graceland is this virtual tour. At least I managed a photo op with the mom and pop Elvises (Elvii?) at yesterday's Halloween party.
And below is a snap of Smartypants as Calvin with his little Hobbes. Note my clever use of electric tape!