Thursday, March 31, 2011

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

It's time to get your science geek on-and quickly- because there's only two weeks left to enter.
Discovery Education and 3M are once again holding their Young Scientist Challenge.

To enter, students must create a one- to two-minute video communicating the science behind a possible solution for an everyday problem related to one of the following categories:
1) the way we move
2) the way we keep ourselves healthy
3) the way we make a difference.

Video entries must be submitted online no later than April 15, 2011.

Click for full details on how to win the $25,000 prize along with the right to be called “America’s Top Young Scientist.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Milestones in Zombie Mothering

Originally posted at The Chicago Moms.

I not only observed their first words, their first steps, even a first petition drive, I helped my children prepare for those moments. I felt those moments.

But I don't feel quite as special for having coached my boys through their most recent milestone: harvesting brains.

Yes, I have become one of those mothers, a new breed of helicopter mom- a virtual farmhand. I am helping the boys tend to their Zombie Farm while they attend school.

I've learned that carrots need to be harvested right away, therefore onions, which can last longer in the ground, are a safer crop. I've come to realize that garden gnome zombies, while good for their fertilization skills, lack the chops to beat the farmer. More importantly, I now know that zombies wilt fast as carrots if they aren't plucked from the digitized soil shortly after they pop up.

I have somehow been sucked into the game alongside my boys. They leave for school with an innocent request, "Mom, can you invade at 10 this morning?"

I work from home, I have a flexible schedule, how can I turn them down?

So here I am harvesting onions, tilling the soil, planting a few more seeds and preparing this undead army for their next invasion.

And so it goes. For each brain they acquire in the game, I can't help but wonder if I'm losing a little bit of my own.

(Photo: No worries, my son is picking strawberries, not tiny zombie brains!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

6 Things Bloggers can Learn from Disney

My recent trip to Orlando as part of the Social Media Moms Celebration got me thinking about what bloggers can learn from Disney.

1. Provide memorable content.
Provide a memorable experience for your readers- make them laugh, make them cry, make them think. Even if all you do is post product reviews- make them yours, don't merely copy the company's press releases. Your personality and insights, your sense of humor is what makes your blog memorable.
2. When you share your skills and help people discover their own, they will be grateful.
My family's experience in the Disney animation class, where we all learned to draw a Disney character in just 20 minutes, will stand out in our minds for a long time. On a blog level, I've never forgotten how helpful Susan Getgood, marketer extraordinaire, was to me at my first BlogHer conference in 2007.

Think about the leaders in the social media space, they share their knowledge.

3. Never underestimate the value of a great logo.

You know ParentHacks? Their logo is brilliant and it's backed up by useful, well-written content. No wonder it's a classic.

4. Plus it.
Decades before the word supersizing came along, Walk Disney understood the concept. He is famous for asking his staff to take an idea and "plus it." That is, make it bigger and better. Take ShePosts, a site that shares out the latest buzz in the mom-space. The site was good when Esther Crawford started it, but it's even better now that she has a sharp staff of writers adding fresh, relevant daily content for mombloggers and those who watch them.

5. Never be done.
Walt envisioned the Disney Parks as a place of continual growth and change. On our recent Disney trip, I couldn't believe how many things were new and how much had changed since our last trip in 2003. We should look at our blogs and social media projects the same way in order to keep them fresh and exciting--and that applies for us and our readers. Julie Marsh just did it. Jennifer James and Wendy Piersall are masters of reinvention.

6. Take Risks.
Be innovative, be bold, be daring. We think of Snow White, the first color animated film with sound, as a classic, but it was a huge risk for Walt Disney and his company. A cartoon musical for adults? Preposterous! But who among us can't name at least a few of those adorable seven dwarfs?

Colleen Padilla of Classy Mommy recently branched out from her blog with a playdate app and fashion mom Audrey McClellan has branched out with events. Together, they wrote the Digital Mom Handbook, which will be out this summer. They are role models for what is possible in our virtual and real professional lives.

What has Disney taught you about your career?

Disclosure: I was recent participant in the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. I received park tickets for my family, three nights at the Grand Floridian, some meals and other perks including a conference with informative speakers like Chris Brogan. I was not asked to post about the event and all opinions are my own.

I was also a participant in the Disney College program in 1989, through which I received my Ducktorate in Management, Disney Style (yes, I have a diploma that states as much), as well as insight into Disney culture.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vonage Visual Voicemail

We have Vonage for our phone system because we wanted a house line, but get so few calls on it we couldn't justify paying for the high cost of AT&T service. Vonage comes with "visual voicemail" meaning that in addition to accessing messages through the phone, we can also read a transcription of the message via email.

But the transcription is often inaccurate, sometimes amusingly so, like this recent message.

Hey Brett, I saw that's what's it's Eric. Hey I am getting back to you late Mike I know you left a message early this morning but just wanted to make sure that Becky today. Yeah Rich, are very good. Of course I'm right now we are offering a 3.875 $.36 for the first year after that is Justin 48754 or you can take in a box like said before 75. That's all through your text you know it is either 45. Your tape deck but I know you and Kimberly.

Fortunately, I was able to hear the actual message via my computer and believe or not, it all made sense.

You ever get messages like this?

Disclosure: This was not a sponsored post. I pay my own Vonage bills, yo.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Disney World's Top 10 Hits and (Free) Surprises

We encountered a few surprises and new favorite attractions during our recent trip to The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.

Surprise 1: My 12-year-old is a roller coaster fiend

Who knew? And thanks to those mid-ride photos, we have an absolutely priceless pic of him on his first biggie--Space Mountain. I was behind him on the ride, cursing myself for forgetting how dark and noisy it is, and also getting a bit dizzy from all the sudden twists and fast turns. He later took on Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and (gulp) Expedition Everest (twice in one day).

Surprise 1.5: Expedition Everest goes backward down the mountain

Thankfully, the girls in line behind my son and I clued us in, so I had some sense of what was ahead. Or behind, as it were. When our coaster-loving son returned to the ride with DH, my boy only told his dad that he was in for a surprise. Yes, careening down a mountain at high speeds in the dark was quite a surprise. I think it took him a few hours to recover.

Surprise 2: The food

I figured we'd be eating burgers, hot dogs and fries all week. Wrong! The food was outstanding at the family dinners that were part of our event. At the two buffet dinners, they provided a variety of tasty vegetarian dishes, as well as equally delicious ones with fish, chicken and beef. They provided special buffet tables sized for the kids with kid friendly foods like grilled cheese, but still offered veggies to complete the meal.

The third family dinner was a fixed meal held in conjunction with the Magic of Healthy Living Weekend. While DH and I enjoyed the unique and healthy menu items like "heirloom tomato water with basil essence" and "fregola, lentils, quinoa and burgundy amaranth" and our kids found enough to eat, not every family at the event fared as well.

As far as the parks go, healthy options abound, even at the quick service spots (there is no fast food at Disney); it was easy to find a salad.

Even better, kids meals at the Disney parks automatically come with sides like carrot sticks and grapes, though parents can default to a less healthy option like fries if they choose. Kudos to Disney!

Surprise 3: The free animation class at Hollywood Studios

Would you like to escape the crowds, the noise and hot sun for a little quiet time with your family in a dark, air-conditioned room? Join this class! We learned about it while waiting in line for The Magic of Disney Animation. After the feature attraction, you have a chance to queue off in another area for this class.

In the space of 20 calm, focused minutes, you will learn to draw a famous Disney character. Even if you're not an artist, the results will amaze you, I promise.

Surprise 4: Epcot is full of free activities for young children

Back in the day, Epcot was a more adult park, but they've made it more kid friendly with a couple of playgrounds, Kidcot activities, and for slightly older children the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventures (best not attempted during peak heat/crowds of the day as we did).

Surprise 5: Star Tours- The Adventure Continues

Alas, this new 3D thrill experience at Hollywood Studios will not open until May 20, 2011, but I'm sure it's going to be stupendous. We were so close to seeing the new ride, yet so far. That said, the Jedi training classes are still running.

Surprise 6: The animals go home to sleep

All those cool wild animals you see on the Kilimanjaro Safari? They are gathered up each night to sleep in pens and dens as you will see if you take the Wildlife Express Train.

The park now offers Wild Africa Trek, a pricey VIP experience that some will argue is priceless. Sadly, I was not among the handful of the bloggers from our the Social Media Moms Celebration invited to participate. But I heard enough exciting details about it to add the Trek to my Life List. (That is, when I finally get around to writing it down.)

A few nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is also on my big List, as it's increasingly unlikely I will make it to Africa for a more authentic safari.

Surprise 7: Blizzard Beach was closed

My boys were really looking forward to experiencing the fun at this super cool water park, but it's closed for maintenance. They settled for a fun morning at Typhoon Lagoon.

Surprise 8: Fantasyland is growing

A major expansion of Fantasyland is underway. It's going to double in size and Dumbo rides and there will be a new family roller coaster to replace Goofy's Barnstormer, which was my boys' first thrill ride. The newer elements of Fantasyland wont open until 2012, so we didn't actually get to see anything new. Maybe next year?

Surprise 9: Sunburn

I've long been aware that my arthritis meds make me very sun-sensitive, but I didn't realize just how much until this trip. I got burned through my denim capris; I didn't even know such a thing was possible. Ouch.

Surprise 10: A well-behaved teen

When Maria Bailey, one of the women behind the SM Moms event, introduced me to her teen son, he immediately extended his hand to shake mine and looked me in the eye to greet me properly. How long have I been working on that with my kids? Maybe some day my guys will get it down. If Disney teaches us anything, it's that dreams really do come true. Right?

What are your family's tops hits and favorite Disney surprises?

Disclosure: As a participants in the 2011 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration I was given park passes for my family as well as other perks, including the chance to hear great speakers, attend special parties and I received several gift items.

Prior trips to Disney were subsidized by my parents (1982, 2001, 2003). As a participant in the College Program and employee of the Walt Disney Company, I was able to visit Disney Parks at no cost (Jan - May 1989).

DH and I took a trip to Disney World circa 1991, during which I actually bought my own park pass.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Illinois Association of Gifted Children Call for Speakers

It feels like the annual conference of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children just took place and they're already hard at work planning for 2012. If you've got something to say about gifted children, apply to be a speaker.

Mama always said if you don't have anything nice to say, it's best not to say anything at all, so maybe I should sit on the sidelines for one more year.

On the other hand, I'm certain many parents could relate to the following topics on which I am well-qualified to speak:

  • Advocating for your gifted child: I don't know what I'm doing either

  • Advocating for your gifted child: Learn from my mistakes

  • Advocating for your gifted child: How to be THAT mom

  • Holy Sh*t, I've totally screwed up my kid!

  • Budgeting for gifted education: How to turn mothballs into money

  • Budgeting for gifted education: How to guilt grandma into paying for enrichment classes

  • Budgeting for gifted education: Private school, specialists, enrichment programs or geek camp? How to prioritize your spending.

  • You did what?! When smart kids do stupid things

What do you think? Should I pitch one of these? Anyone want to propose a panel with me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dressing for Disney with Lands End and Quagmire Kids

Thanks to two well-timed product review opportunities my boys were actually sporting unstained clothes Thursday evening at the family dinner during Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. Given that they were wearing brand new items, it's no surprise that they started out clean. The miracle is that my two boys also ended the night without a mess.

On top they wore cool ColorFusion shirts by Quagmire Kids that change from green to yellow with heat (click to see in action).

On the bottom they wore Lands End Boys' Utility Cargo Shorts.

These 100% cotton shorts with "ripstop" fabric appear to be as durable as any Lands End item we've owned over the years, which is to say, very durable. The shorts have lots of pockets which makes them great for carrying rocks and coins, the two items most often found in my young boys' pockets.

I also like that even the big kid sizes come with an adjustable waist band, something we typically need, even in the slim sizes I ordered. The shorts are also available in husky and toddler sizes. Check the size chart before ordering. I thought they ran a bit large, but based on reviews on the site, I'm in the minority.

These sturdy shorts retail for $26.50.

Pocket details.

Disclosure: I was sent two pairs of shorts to review. All opinions are my own. My boys wished I had picked a different color.

Disney Mama Drama

Scene: A hot and sunny day at Animal Magic Kingdom Studios.

Mom: "You'd better lose that attitude right now."

Child: "I don't have an attitude."

Mom: "Then why are you speaking to me with that tone?"

This wasn't an actual encounter between adults and children in my family, it's something I overhead. Okay, there might have been a similar exchange or two during our six days at Disney, but I really did overhear this.

When temperatures and teen (or toddler) attitudes soar, it can be easy to lose sight of what a family vacation is all about- time together, new experiences, family fun, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

It can take a bit of planning to be a happy family at the Happiest Place on Earth, but it also takes a willingness to abandon the plan. For example, we were wilting in the heat waiting to be called for our restaurant reservation at Animal Kingdom, but my younger son really wanted to go see the Flights of Wonder, a bird show that conflicted with our meal time. In the end, we gave up our reservation, grabbed a few egg rolls from a nearby stand and headed to watch the show. We can get great Asian food close to home, but we don't often get to see owls, parrots, hornbills and condors flying within a few feet us of. I'm glad we made the switch.

Take A Break
Pass up the temptation to "do it all" in one day from park opening to park closing and consider returning to your hotel for a mid-day swim or siesta. You'll miss the peak heat and well as the peak crowds, and return to the park refreshed. When the boys were younger, they needed the naps. Now that we're all older, DH and I napped while the boys did their homework

Hop Around
Purchasing the Park Hopper ticket option permits you to visit multiple parks in one day and is a worthwhile expense. You can start your day at the park with the earliest opening hours, take your mid-day break and end it at the park with the latest closing (or best fireworks).

Every Other Day
When our children were preschoolers, we managed our Disney vacations by spending a day in the parks followed by a day swimming at the hotel along with a low-key excursion to Downtown Disney or Disney's fun mini-golf courses. Neither the children nor the adults in our group could handle six straight days of theme park fun.

Go With The Flow
If your agenda reads too much like a checklist and is full of must-do items, you might want to scale back. You also need to be aware that your child might not be the right age or have the right temperament for some of your favorite activities. The families that are most driven to do it all regardless are usually the ones that are the most stressed out.

Remember to Eat and Drink
Whether you pack your own or buy at the parks, full tummies and hydrated kids (and adults) are key. Theme park snacks and drinks can be expensive, but a $10 or even $20 snack is well worth it if it keeps attitudes in check. You simply cannot ignore basic physical needs (hunger, thirst, tiredness) (your child's or your own) and expect to have a good time.

I didn't see any Mama Drama at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration beyond my own crabbiness when I failed to follow my own advice. D0 you have tips for happy times on them park vacations?

Disclosure: As a participants in the 2011 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration I was given park passes for my family as well as other perks, including the chance to hear great speakers, attend special parties and I received several gift items.

Prior trips to Disney were subsidized by my parents (1982, 2001, 2003). As a participant in the College Program and employee of the Walt Disney Company, I was able to visit Disney Parks at no cost Jan - May 1989). And boy did I witness a lot of mama drama in my role as an attractions hostess.

DH and I took a trip to Disney World circa 1991, during which I actually bought my own park pass.

Edited 3/23 to add a photo.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pins on a Map: Book Review

While we're getting a little culture at Epcot Center, I can't help but think of the section of the book Pins on a Map when author and father David Boesch told his own dad about plans to take his children on a trip around the world. David's dad suggested a trip to visit many countries in just a day or two at Epcot instead.

But David and his wife wanted something more.

I gave up that dream quite a while ago, so here we are in Orlando.

The Boesches, on the other hand, embarked on a most ambitious trip-17 countries in less than a year with their family of five.

That said, we only planned our itinerary last week while they planned over a period of years. If you're not a strong planner, there's something to be said for grabbing the low-hanging fruit.
Pins on a Map is much more a memoir than a how-to manual, still, reading about their ups and downs, the reader can glean more than a few tips about how to pull off such a feat. For example, David shares how to make the most of a family visit to an art museum and, more importantly, how to negotiate daily snacks and allowances for the kids.

Even though my family's faux international trip at Epcot does not require us to use a GPS, I related to Boesch's tales of wanting to throw his TomTom unit out the window. We had a similar encounter with that same brand years ago on a (four-day) road trip.

There are many anecdotes in the book that left me longing for a deeper, richer recounting of their experiences. For instance, I wanted more about the time David knocked his son off of a mountainside during a sort of go-karting experience and two pages was not enough to recall the fear and concern David felt when he thought he lost his family, and possibly a child, at Thailand's 15,000 stall maze-like Chatuchak Market .

That said, with such a large trip, I'm sure it was hard paring down nearly a year's worth of travel stories.

In the end, this is a good and quick read that is sure to ignite your wanderlust.

Well, at least until you get to the end and he discusses the challenges of easing everyone back into daily life in the United States. After a year of intense family bonding (and some fighting) and unstructured days full of physical, intellectual and culinary adventures, coming home, being home, was quite a shock.

At least my big shock is only going to be going from 85 degrees and sunny to gray skies and 40-degree temperatures.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Easy Bar Mitzvah Invitations

My goal was to get my son's bar mitzvah invitations in the mail prior to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. With the help of Tiny Prints, we did it!

We were pleasantly surprised to learn they would address our envelopes for free; they even mail to US residents them for nothing more than the cost of a first class stamp. However, we had some inserts, therefore opted to mail them ourselves.

To be clear, I am not working with the company and though I did have a coupon, I shelled out hundreds of dollars for these invites and related thank-you notes. This was my first experience as a TinyPrints customer and I have to say it was excellent one. I made several revisions after submitting our original text (hello-I left off our names!) and the designer was quick to get back to me for with changes. (Pay for a digital proof, people. Always.)

A few suggestions for the folks at TinyPrints and, frankly, others who make bar mitzvah invitations:

1) Accept Discover Card for payment. That's how I roll. I get a better return on my Discover purchases than I do from my money that's sitting in the bank. What's not to love?

2) We wanted to let our guests know about my son's mitzvah project, so we printed out a brief description and included it with the invite. We also printed out an invitation to a small kids' party taking place the next day.

It worked for us and was very cost effective, but I'm a function over form person. Some would shudder at the thought of sticking a piece of paper in an envelope alongside a pretty invitation. As I was stuffing envelopes, it dawned on me that I could have printed the party invite or the mitzvah project info on the thank-you note cards that match the invitation. Or I might have been able to repurpose the matching response cards to meet this need. If only TinyPrints had given me that idea, I might have increased my order.

3) Like a growing number of our peers, we did not order response cards. We asked our guests to either call or email us. It's a greener option as well as a more economical one. We set up a Hotmail account for this purpose because goodness knows my regular email inbox is a hot mess. It might be nice for the brand to offer a free or very low cost option for people to respond to (name) This would give the brand one more way to get their name out. And actually, if a person agreed to let TinyPrints contact every guest who sends in an RSVP with a special coupon or offer, the host family could earn a nice credit or discount. (Admittedly, I wouldn't do this, but your mileage might vary.)

The invitations are out, now it's time to get back with the caterer.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cool New Travel Gear for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration and Beyond

After attending the International Home and Housewares Show and the Travel Goods Show which was held at the same location, I was granted a few review samples of some of my most exciting finds. And I have the perfect opportunity to put them to the test this week given this my family/working vacation to Orlando for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.

Take a peek at the video.

Extra coolness:
The Train Reaction luggage stabilizer is made in the USA. While the TuGo cup holder and the Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow are mom-invented products and made in the USA.

The Cocoon Grid-It folks have an impressive line of products for every day use as well as travel. It's all fun yet practical. I want to buy their iPad bag...after I get an iPad.

On a cautionary note, do not have a child sit on the Walkin Bag seat while his brother attaches it to a larger suitcase using the Train Reaction piece and proceed to pull it widely around the house. This is dangerous. Save me the embarrassment and don't ask how I know this.

Check out my guest post over at The Vacation Gals for more of my family-friendly travel finds from the Housewares and Travel Shows. It's good stuff; it got picked up by the folks at's Travel Tips section.

What is your must-have piece of travel gear?

Disclosure: some items were given to me for review, but I was not paid to write this post or the one at The Vacation Gals. All opinions are my own.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It Gets Better: Property Sluts Episode 16

I've definitely been losing hope on the housing front. While prices have dropped significantly on several of the overpriced houses we toured last summer, the influx of new houses we expected as part of the Spring Market has not materialized. I'm depressed.

Lucky for me I have friends like Holly, Sara, Laura, Michelle and Amy to remind me that once my family makes it through this awkward and disheartening house hunting stage, it gets better. Life gets better.


Our team is headed to State!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Summer Camps for Gifted Kids: Are They Worth the Cost?

The snow has almost melted which means it's time to register for summer camp*. Things can get tricky when it comes to geeky gifted kids and summer camps. Do you send your kid to an academic leaning program (geek camp) or let a kid be a kid at good old summer camp?

Certainly for some high achieving kids, summer is a chance to blow off steam and fit in with the regular crowd sweating in the outdoors, swimming and singing 'round the campfire.

And then there are the others. The ones who want nothing more than to build robots, explore international politics, compose a symphony, play chess and program computers. Okay, and maybe blow things up.

Speaking of which, last August I wrote: 2010 will go down as the best summer of geek camp ever. Now, these often pricey science, chess, math and arts camps don't always provide their value in content, or even in instructors, but they do typically provide a positive social setting for the child who is, say, more mathlete than athlete or who cares more about Bach than baseball.

And that's pretty much it in a nutshell. Each year, parents ask me if these camps are Worth It because, dang! they cost a bundle of money.

For example, one week of the TechID Camp costs as much as one month of our park district camp. The former involves lots of time sitting at computers learning programming languages and skills; that latter involves weekly cookouts, trips to the pool and two overnight camp outs at state parks, not to mention a variety of outdoor skills.

On some level, the money thing kills me. It's an outrage.

And yet....

As I said above, geek camps don't always have the best of everything, but they do attract like-minded, passionate, deep thinking and maybe quirky children (just like yours).

And that is priceless.

In my mind these camps are not about building academic prowess as much as they are about helping your child explore his passions. But even more so, geek camps offer a chance for your child to connect with an aged based peer group that is also an intellectual peer group-- something he might never have experienced before.

Like I said- priceless.

*Actually, we had to commit to overnight camps for the boys back in November!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Color Changing Shirts from Quagmire Kids

Remember those heat sensitive color changing shirts from the late 1980s? They're back only with more fashion and flair, thanks to Quagmire Kids. The Canadian firm's new color fusion line features a variety of styles with orange/yellow, green/yellow, blue/white and purple/pink combos.

They sent me two shirts to test out with my boys and I jumped at the chance to have two brand new (read: stain-free) shirts for them to wear to the upcoming Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.

The color fusion line for boys includes crew neck t-shirts, but it also comes in collared versions meaning my boys have a "nice casual" shirt that's still fun. Year ago, I had one of those way too drawn out arguments with my then-preschooler who insisted that my definition of a "fancy" shirt was all wrong because while I said a fancy shirt needed a collar, he was certain that a t-shirts with a glow-in-the-dark Batman logo* fit the bill.

My boys like the color fusion shirts and the trendy feel that comes along with them. And of course, it's fun to figure out fun ways to make the color change beyond one's own body heat.

And, the "made in Canada" label is also a plus. I mean, don't we trust our nice neighbors to the north?

The "wicked" style we reviewed sells for around $40 USD. Widely available in Canada, these shirts will soon be available in the USA at Dick's Sporting Goods and select Golf Galaxy stores. Of course, they are available now at the Quagmire Kids website, which will also point you to other retail locations.

*For the record we compromised and he wore a collared golf shirt with the Batman shirt underneath it to the "fancy" dinner at grandma's house.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bloggers and Trade Shows: The Inside Scoop

Today I'm headed to the International Home + Housewares Show. It's a hot ticket and I'm delighted to be attending as a blogger and member of the media. Err, make that a guest of the trade. Confused? I was after learning about my change in badge status.

Did you catch this article last week at ShePosts about the Toy Fair tightening reigns on press credentials? Clearly I'm not the only blogger unclear on the ins, outs and expectations of trade shows. That said, I pride myself on always learning, and now I can share an insider's view.

With less than two weeks to go before the massive trade expo (we're talking 13 miles of aisles at Chicago's McCormick Place) Debbie Teschke, Public Relations & Marketing Communications Manager of the International Housewares Show, generously shared a few thoughts with me via an email interview.

I appreciate Debbie taking a few minutes to share her views, especially during such a busy time. It's always enlightening to get glimpse of the blogging world from those who like to work with us, but are not part of the community. That said, I've already asked her if we can talk later this month, so I can share some insights from my mom's eye view of the online social space.

And I hope you'll add your two cents in the comment section.

I'm breaking up this dense text with images from some of the exhibitors I've been tweeting or emailing in recent weeks. I have no material relationship with these firms nor am I angling for freebies. Remember, I don't even own a house right now.

Kim Moldofsky: Typically trade shows have several types of badges and designations for different attendees. How do you typically classify bloggers and why?

Debbie Teschke: Because of the increase in Internet media, including bloggers and Internet-only based publications, we added an "Internet Media" registration classification. Bloggers and editors/reporters who write/blog/video strictly for the Internet have this badge type. We feel it helps the exhibitors better identify the news media that visit them at the Show.

KM: As the number of bloggers has exploded, how has this affected your show?

DT: It has increased the exposure of our exhibitors to the consumer and it also has increased the number of people requesting media badges for the Show. To handle the increase of bloggers and Internet media attending the Show, we have added an additional person to our Show PR Team and now have two dedicated team members who work with the bloggers and Internet media before and during the Show. They provide them with Show information and background and assist with any stories or lifestyle trends or products they are interested in.

KM: Do you vet bloggers? Tell me a bit about that process.

DT: Yes, when a blogger registers for a News Media badge or contacts me about registering for the Show we research them first before approving them as news media. Two members of our Show PR team will vet them for me.

They check out their website to determine number of readers/website visitors, how often they post items, topics they write about, whether their focus is relevant to the housewares industry and if they fit our media criteria.

If they are on Twitter and/or Facebook, they will check how many followers and/or fans they have and their scope. If we determine that the blogger has relevance to the Show, we will approve his or her registration.

A blogger that is searching just for sponsors, advertisers or paying partners for their website is not considered news media for our Show. Our News Media badges are for editorial media only; we do not allow publishers, sales representatives or account managers to have News Media badges.

We try to police it as best possible, and if we hear of someone who was trying to sell something to an exhibitor while wearing a media badge, they will not be allowed to register as News Media for future International Home + Housewares Shows. For example, last year I allowed an Internet editor a Media badge. After the Show, an exhibitor emailed me to say this woman was more interested in selling her advertising than writing about her products. This year we changed her to a Trade Guest when she registered as News Media.

Trade Guests are allowed free access to the entire Show. However, Trade Guests are not allowed to take photographs on the Show floor. Only attendees with News Media and Internet Media badges with a white photographer ribbon attached may take photos on the Show floor and should ask the exhibitor’s permission first.

KM: Bloggers are members of the media and yet they are not the same as journalists. What do you expect of bloggers? Are there unwritten rules or are these expectations communicated?

DT: Bloggers want to be considered media, yet some don’t want to follow the same rules as editorial journalists. For example, some bloggers just want to review products on their blogs and solicit companies for products to review. They then keep the products or ask for samples to "giveaway" to their readers.

Newspaper or magazine reporters who review products do so either after purchasing the products themselves or returning the products to the company after they have been reviewed. They don’t keep them.

Also journalists don't ask a company to pay their way to attend a trade show, nor would they accept any offers from companies offering to do so. And many journalists cannot even accept a free meal from a company.

The Show is not open to the public and we allow a blogger entrance to help consumers know about the new products. I know that many bloggers are stay-at-home moms who want to write about their shared experiences or are people with an interest in something and want to write about it for the pleasure of writing and do it in their free time, not as a full-time job. And some do it as a part of their job. If a blogger wants to come to the International Home + Housewares Show as news media, we expect that they will view the Show as a marketplace of new product introductions and the place where retailers come to find the products they will sell to their customers to meet their lifestyle needs.

Walking the Show floor, you can feel like a kid in a candy store, but it is not a place to come ask for as much free product you can.

We expect a blogger to write about the products, mentioning their favorites and even ones they don’t like, just as a reporter might. Or talk about the trends they see in various products. But we do not expect them to walk the Show floor asking exhibitors for product samples on the pretext that they will "review" them. They also should not brag to their readers and other blogger friends about all the freebies they received and then proceed to tell them that they need to go to the Show next year to get what they can. (Note from KM: They have had issues with this in the past.)

KM: How have you seen bloggers make a positive impact on the show? I definitely noticed an uptick in chatter last year once some mombloggers were invited to attend the show!

DT: Yes, bloggers can have a positive effect on the Show and the industry. Bloggers who write about the trends and the industry help the suppliers and retailers because they can help create awareness and a demand/desire for a product. They also offer consumers insight into a marketplace not open to them. The bloggers who were brought to the Show by an exhibitor created chatter for that company and an awareness of the Show.

(KM: Here are examples of content I created as a result of 2010 Housewares Show.)

KM: What advice to you have for bloggers who want to attend a trade show?

DT: Read the Show's rules on attendance, including any codes of conduct. (We have a Code of Conduct for exhibitors and for attendees). In walking the Show floor and visiting booths, be respectful of the exhibitors. Their primary reason for being at the show is to do business with their customers.

Believe it or not, some do not want to interact with the media and aren't interested in publicity.

Do not ask exhibitors for products. And if they offer to give you a product, whether for review or just to be nice, be judicious in what you accept. Wearing a media badge and toting bags full of product around the Show floor can give the impression that you aren't there to cover the show for your blog or website, but to acquire as much product as possible.


Edited to add: I'm thrilled to see that there have been so many Facebook likes and retweets of this post. Because it's struck such a nerve, I'm going to continue the conversation at this week's Office Hour chat; click for details. The call will take place Thursday, 3/10 at 1:00 PM Central.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Bookshelf: Geeky Fun

I recently received review copies of My Name is Not Alexander and Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred.

My Name is Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry is a follow up to My Name is Not Isabella. This colorful picture book follows the title character as he works his way through an identity crisis. Oh, wait, it's just called pretending when little kids do it.

As Alexander goes about his day, he takes on the persona of a number of well-known and influential men. Only many kids won't know those figures until reading this book, which touches on Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Jackie Robinson to name a few. When my boys were younger, I always had a soft spot for fun books with simple stories that opened the door to broader learning. This book does that and provides a detailed bio of each historic figure in the back section to help make parents look very knowledgeable.

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred by David Erik Nelson is a great book for the child who's grown up a bit and likely thinks he's now smarter than his parents. Though ideally, per the book's subtitle "seriously geeky stuff to make with your kids," this is a book for parent and child. It's suitable for an eager (but supervised) eight-year-old or more likely ages 10 and up.

Published by No Starch Press, a publisher with a very unique geek niche, this book makes me long for a home of our own with a proper workshop in the basement (ahem) where my boys can destroy, build and explore to their hearts' content. Honestly, I thought we'd have that space by now, but that's another story.

Nelson's book contains at least a few projects I could lead the boys through, like screen printing, some we could explore together, such as the Go board, and some I'd hand off to DH to complete with them (most of the electronics projects). That said, the book, which was designed with beginners in mind and includes an overview on electronics components which is handy for folks like me who don't (yet) know their potentiometers from their resistors.

I liked that in addition to basic carpentry and electronics skills, some of the projects involve sewing. Frankly, I love the whole concept of the book. Even at down and dirty places like American Science and Surplus (a local treasure to be sure), there's a proliferation of prefab kits for this and that. Cutting and drilling and using real tools to truly build something from scratch provides a richer, albeit messier, experience.

As you see, the illustrations are of a very different type than found in Not Alexander.I'm looking forward to trying out these projects when we are settled in our new home.

Do you allow your kids to tool around with real tools? Any cool projects you recommend?

Friday, March 04, 2011

A Fun Mitzvah Project: Mighty Magnifiers

Yesterday we heard from DH, and today, a few words from my son who is working on his mitzvah project. We gave him a choice: volunteer or actively raise money or awareness for the cause of his choice or simply donate 10% of the monetary value of his bar mitzvah gifts to said cause. Not surprisingly, he chose a more active project.

Rather than simply solicit donations he is making and selling these very cool Mighty Magnifiers. 100% of his proceeds from sales will go to his project. But I'll let him tell you more.

As you might be aware, conditions in Africa are very bad for many people. To help make the situation better, I am raising money to buy solar cookers for a village in Kenya. Kerosene stoves can cause damaging fires and put harmful fumes in the air. They are also expensive, and kerosene itself costs money. Solar cookers (called Cookits) are inexpensive and just rely on the sun, which is very abundant and bright in Kenya. These provide the community with a safe, cheap, and easy way to cook/heat food.

I am making and selling different-colored magnifying lenses for $10 each. Each purchase includes sticker sheets, as shown here. All proceeds will go to the Solar Cookit Project.

I am open to accepting donations, but I would prefer that you to buy one of the magnifiers instead. They can be very fun and help you see the world differently!

Let us know if you donate $10 or more and we'll make arrangements to send you a Mighty Magnifier.

Thanks to Gayle Weiswasser for introducing us to Global Giving.

By the time Thing 2 is ready for his big day, I hope American Jewish World Service will have tweaked their fundraising just a bit to offer some kind at-a-glance project matching as GG does.

Oh. My. Just saw this AJWS video.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Would You Recommend Rolfing? DH Does.

A guest post from DH, who continues to be a glutton for punishment. Or seems to have turned a corner when it comes to rolfing.

In December, he described rolfing as an American-pioneered therapy that offers a sort of an uber-massage that delves past the skin and muscle to the fascia bags that hold muscles together and the tendon/ligament structures that anchor our skeletal-muscular systems. Some have likened rolfing to yoga, only instead of bending yourself into impossible contortions, someone else bends you.

I’ve returned several times to my rolfer (still sounds funny to say that word) and my opinion is shifting toward highly recommending the process. While the sessions are intense, the recent ones have not ached as badly as the first one did.

The short-term results have been impressive. A session that was devoted entirely to one arm and shoulder left me with a noticeably wider range of motion than in the other arm. A session devoted to my upper back made me conscious of how slumped my shoulders had been just prior. The rolfing isn’t relaxing, per se, but the one-hour sessions feel more productive than any massage I’ve had previously.

The recent pains in my lower back have gone away, although that may have been just from the passage of time.

I don’t get the sense that the changes from rolfing are long-lasting, and my therapist acknowledges that without maintenance, proper posture and a change in habits, my body will fall back into the same bad positions it’s grown accustomed to over the decades.

Only at the last session—my fifth—did he introduce me to exercises I can do at home or a gym. Balancing on a dreadfully shaky Bosu® ball to expose the weaknesses in my smaller muscles and an improper rotation of my hips was enlightening. He encouraged me to acquire one and perform squats on it.

Nintendo’s Wii Fit has an exercise similar to this, where you balance on the board and shift your weight to position a dot within a moving circle or keep it in the space between two closing doors. A Bosu ball, however, punishes you with the ever-present threat of falling over, and my leg muscles were quivering in an attempt to keep me upright. When I stepped off the rubbery half-sphere, my body was unstable as if I’d spent a week at sea. Instead of laying the flat part of the contraption on the ground, the rolfer lay the rounded side down and instructed me to stand on the flat bottom and steady myself.

While the rolfing therapy in itself has benefits, it’s the well-rounded focus on a variety of exercises (even though I don’t realistically have time to do them all) that has convinced me this is the real deal.

Kim's note: I think I need to dig up my copy of 168 Hours for DH.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Real Estate Price Fixing: Property Sluts Episode 15

I've long said my boys are too smart for their own good. Still, I was surprised to hear my ten-year-old son's idea to bring down housing prices in our neighborhood. Yep, watch this episode of my not ready for HGTV house hunting series to learn about his real estate price fixing scheme.

Also, the National Association of Realtors apparently has an unexpected revelation of its own.

Check it out.