Monday, December 31, 2012

Mom Blogger and Social Media Mom Trends

typography via
The Stephanies (Schwab and Azzarone) have posited that we're reaching the end of the reign of the mommyblogger. I agree. And disagree. Although defining oneself as a social media mom is a dubious career move even in the best of times, I see exciting opportunities on the horizon even as others fading away.

When I look into my 2013 crystal ball I see the Wordle up above.

But before I go all rainbows and unicorns on you, I’m going to share the most disturbing trend of 2012: moms vlogging while driving, VWD, AKA making videos while driving. It’s unsafe, unnecessary and irresponsible. Imagine that the last video clip your child sees of you is the one left on the phone that survived your fatal crash. I’ve seen distracted driving campaigns get a lot of traction on momblogs, so this trend is especially odd. Mamas, stop endangering your life and the lives of others on the road.

And now on the unicorn and rainbows.

The Stephanies rightly report that the generic momblogger isn’t quite the PR darling she used to be. In part it's because smart PR and marketing folks are better targeting and measuring their outreach efforts. Smart bloggers, however, are defining and reaching specific niches.

Many established “mommy bloggers” are re-inventing themselves online. As their children and their blogs age, leading moms are following new or rediscovering old passions creating a niche blogs in the process. Kimberly Coleman did it with Foodie City Mom, Jennifer James did this with Mom Bloggers for Social Good, Meagan Francis launched The Kitchen Hour blog and podcast and I created The Maker Mom and #STEMchat.

Aside from Jennifer’s network, other bloggers continue to use their networks and contacts for social good whether writing about a cause to educate readers or raise funds or, in this case, diapers.

Brands are not only looking for niche, they are looking for quality, too.
Can you find us a blogger who posts nothing but reviews?” asked no client of mine. Ever. 
Brands look for providers of quality content-compelling stories, engaging stories, funny stories- told in an authentic voice when it comes to the more visible and higher paying campaigns.

That doesn’t mean only the A-listers with brilliant prose, high quality photos and ready-for-TV videos, not to mention thousands of eager fans on every social channel will get all the opportunities. Sure, they will get many, but there’s room for the rest of us, too. As Neil Gaiman mentioned in this inspirational commencement speech- if you’re a good writer who meets deadlines and is pleasant work with, you can go far.

Speaking of stories, if you doubt the importance of narrative, look at the success of Listen to Your Mother. (Side note: the LTYM Chicago application deadline is rapidly approaching.)

For the serious social media mom, exploring new platforms, whether it's a blog with a side of Tumblr or Google+ community--Kimberley Blaine launched the first parent community over there-- or G+ On-Air Hangouts (something I'm itching to launch in The Maker Mom G+ community), branching out is key.

Mom bloggers who haven't started growing their YouTube presence should get their cameras rolling. A network like Mom Pulse might help. My channel is independent, so if you’re part of a network, please share your experiences below.

Homemade videos are good practice for TV segments. A typical TV segment will hit many more eyeballs than a blog post and more bloggers are hitting the airwaves. In 2012, I did two morning news segments in conjunction with The Maker Mom, Rebecca and Nancy, my peeps from KidzVuz, did a holiday TV segment on hot gifts for tweens, and Angela England showed off educational gifts for kids.

Angela is also key to another trend, blog to book. Her Backyard Farming book recently launched, Beth Blecherman's and Amy Allen Clark's books are sitting on my desk and fab foodie and home cook Jennifer Perillo's book will be out soon.

Phew, that's a lot of ground to cover. Experienced bloggers know they can only stretch so far before they snap, so they'll make choices about what works for their blogs and their readers, not to mention their families.

That said, I think YouTube and Google+ are good bets. I'm not sure if 2013 will be the downfall of Facebook, but I see social media moms leading the way on G+. Will our friends and readers follow?

Where do you think this crazy business is leading us and what are you doing to stay ahead of the crowd?

Edited to add- according Wall Street Journal here's one trend I'm looking forward to in 2013 (sponsored video content at the click).  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Best Vacation I Never Took

It's been quiet around here recently, both on the blog and at home. My in-laws took the boys on vacation, leaving DH and I home alone. As it turned out, DH finished a fabulous contract position on the 21st and starts what promises to be an equally wonderful permanent position at a new company after the start of the year. Which means we had a week to play!

And play we did.

We went to the Art Institute of Chicago, The Shedd Aquarium, The Hellenic Museum, lunch in Greek Town, a first-run movie in a theater, installed a closet system in our upstairs hall closet, spent a few trippy, but relaxing, hours at King Spa (seriously, click that link), took our first (and likely last) trip to a local casino, and hosted an adults-only party for which we made too many homemade goodies. We also each provided hours of practice for our Science Olympiad teams, cleaned the house (mostly) and bought a couch.

It was a great week with hubs, but I'm looking forward to seeing the kids (mostly). Anyone want to place a bet as to how long they are home before the whining and fighting begins?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Coca-Cola Balanced Living: Lessons Learned in Chicago

I was compensated for my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop, but my thoughts and views are my own.

So, I went on the treadmill this morning. This means I've been on it twice since we've owned it. Both uses were prompted by my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop. I was recently invited along with other leading Chicago mombloggers to spend two days learning about healthy lifestyles from the people of Coke. Yeah, I know, my husband raised his eyebrows at that, too. Sure, the company may be best known for sweet bubbly drinks, but they go well beyond that. 

Of course, the event was branded and we did not lack for Coke or Diet Coke, but the plentiful variety of drinks also included Minute Maid Orange Juice, Honest-Tea, Illy issimo canned coffee, and smartwater-- all part of the Coca-Cola family of beverages. 

Highlights of the event included talks and a personal consultation from dietitians and nutritionists, a fun exercise session with Harley Pasternak and a lovely lunch our group prepared from scratch at the Chopping Block. One of the thoughts I walked away with was "mothers are the largest healthcare system in the world." We are often the first responders of our families, from cleaning up skinned knees to making (or providing) meals. We are a powerful lot. 

I'm fairly versed in healthy eating and exercise habits, so this event largely served as a reminder to put that knowledge into practice. That said, I picked up a few helpful tips. 

To make quick work of label reading, use the 5/20 rule. Focus on the right side of the nutrition label in the column labeled "% Daily Value." In general, healthier items are 5% or less in total fat, sat fat, cholesterol and sodium. Healthier items have 20% or more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

Stay active all day. While Harley didn't knock the importance of a good workout at one's target heart rate, he stressed that simply leading a more active lifestyle will go a long way toward improving health and staying in shape. 

Also, both Harley and the exercise consultant I met with noted that stretching before exercise is no longer a thing. I was glad to hear that because I never did it, anyway. 

One of the big surprises of the workshop was running into Kathy from Bereaved and Blessed (in pink).  I knew her when she was a teen and here we were 20 years later!
If you want your front to look good, focus on your backside. On a related note, try this: pinch your shoulder blades back, attempting to get them to "kiss." When you do this, your entire body straightens up (and your breasts, however saggy, perk up at least a little). Since returning from the Workshop, I find myself pinching my shoulder blades often now as I go about my day. 

Kris Cain gets schooled on form during her 1:1 fitness consult.

I'm at a medically acceptable weight and BMI right now, so when I met with a nutritionist for a 1:1 consult and saw a listed goal of 100-110 pounds (I'm only 5 feet tall), I gave her the look. I have no desire to look like my teenage son who's two inches taller and 20 pounds lighter than me. She agreed that I'm fine as is, but gave me suggestions for trimming back just a bit. 

She probably would not support the bag of chocolates I've stress-eaten since the Sandy Hook incident, so maybe I'll need to implement her calorie-saving tips by the time I ring in 2013. Nonetheless, I'm going to try to keep a bowl of tangerine Cuties nearby and make fresh popcorn (it gets me up from my chair, right?) or maybe even (gasp) go on the treadmill to counter stress and anxiety, no matter the cause.

Overall, it was an excellent program. The one part that I found awkward was a presentation on Nutrition in the News led by Joan Koelemay and Robin Flipse. Their session on the facts behind controversial ingredients like gluten, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and caffeine needed more time and a better structure. I'm down with the message that we all need to think about how we fuel our bodies. I'm cool with understanding that we all make choices and some of those choices may be less healthy, but if we focus on the big picture, we're probably going to be fine. And I believe in science. 

But I also know that research evolves over time and that some conclusions drawn in the short term do play out in the long term. I understand that science is not apolitical and I'm aware that government guidelines not only take into account what is healthiest (or deemed so at the time), but who is presenting the information on what's healthiest and who is lobbying for that. Parts of this presentation felt a bit patronizing. I wish there had been time for dialogue. Joan, a registered dietitian with chef training and an MBA in Agribusiness, would have been a fascinating person to talk to on a deeper level. She clearly knows her stuff, and yet, hearing her talk about HFCS as a "sustainable, local alternative to cane sugar" and then passing on to the next topic left me with the kind of bitter aftertaste I get from NutraSweet.

I suspect I was not the only one with eyebrows raised during the talk, but time was tight and if you're not well-read on the issues, it's hard to speak up or raise a question to someone like Joan. But I eventually did because as she talked about how organic and conventionally-grown food are nutritionally identical I felt the need to point out that it's not just about nutrition and personal choices, it's about "making the personal political" and understanding how those choices scale. And then the conversation dropped off. Are organic farms the cause of more E. coli outbreaks than conventional? Is caffeine not addictive? Okay, but can we take a minute to define addictive versus dependent? And can we return to the part about that ingredient you said was government-approved and can we see if it's approved in Europe as well?

Like I said, the rest of the program was fabulous. I learned that the brand has a lot of offer beyond the product in the bottle and those cute little 90-calorie portion-controlled cans. I appreciate BlogHer and Coca-Cola including me in the inaugural Balanced Living Workshop. Now excuse me; I'm off to exercise.

Check out Coca-Cola's Live Positively site.  
Help Coke Help Polar Bears through the World Wildlife Fund.
Learning about Coca-Cola initiatives like Troops for Fitness  

Lunch at The Chopping Block.
I made two big batches of protein and fiber-packed hummus within a week of the Workshop.
Images courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company and Bruce Powell Photography.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kids, Cell Phones and Smart Phones- What is Your Child Ready For? (And what about you?)

The folks from Location Labs, maker of SafelyGo asked me to share a few thoughts about kids and cell phones. I wrote out the following post last Friday, an hour or two before I learned about the horrific events unfolding in Connecticut. Back in the day, I rarely carried in a cell phone. In fact, I was known for misplacing my phone for days at a time, much to my husband's frustration. "Meh, I don't need to be reachable every second of every day regardless of where I am," I'd tell him. And then the Twin Towers fell and everything changed. I did want to be available 24/7. Once my kids started becoming more independent, I wanted them to be available, too. While I don't think last week's tragedy will affect our cell phone habits, I couldn't just jump into the post I'd written. The world changed again. Do you feel it, too?

We first started my boys on their own phones when I was offered a "kids' phone" for a blog review many years ago, but really, somewhere around 5th or 6th grade is where we found it made sense for each boy to get a cell phone of his own. Around that age, the boys started getting dropped off at activities and heading out the park and other places without us, or sometimes any adults, following along.

In our view, a phone was, and is, a safety tool, a useful device to facilitate parent-child communication, a way to keep in touch when they are out of sight. For my kids, their phones are important communication devices, though primarily ones used to text (and listen to music), not talk. Over the years, we've heard the pleas for a smartphone, but have patiently reiterated that the reason they have any phone is so that they can reach us when they need to and vice versa. In addition, my son who is prone to distraction does not need the distractions a smartphone makes available, but your child may vary

My smart teen's not-so-smart phone landed in a toilet last week. And he broke his previous phone doing an "experiment" with it. (Don't ask.) So, regardless of what kind of phone you get for your tween, consider shelling out an extra few bucks on an insurance policy for your kid's cell phone.

What else should parents think about when giving their child a new or upgraded phone?

Besides basic care information (i.e., don't keep it in your pockets when you head to the bathroom), it's important to discuss rules of use and consequences for abuse. Over the years, we've found written contracts to be helpful when laying out guidelines for The Important Stuff. In this case, we talked about proper use, who to include in their contacts and times of use. We also stressed that they need to notify us about anything unusual.

We discussed that they shouldn't text anything they wouldn't say in front of their parents, grandparents, teachers, or a police officer. And we've made them aware that the cell phone company can provide us with a transcript of their texts should we need to see it, driving home the point that a person can't truly undo or delete a message.

We instructed them not to forward texts that bully another person or have any hint of sexting, explaining that unless they put a stop to the chain of messages, they become part of the problem. As boys, they could wind up with a criminal record as a sexual predator for having inappropriate photos of an underage girl on their phones.

When the boys were first starting out with phones we used parental controls to set limits on their times of use and contact lists. As they've gotten older, they've become more accountable for their cell phone behavior (and maybe we've gotten more lax?). But we haven't thrown all caution to the wind. Their cell phones charge overnight in our bedroom, with a curfew of about 10 PM.

We also toe the "my house, my stuff, my rules" line. If I read their texts, I don't consider it sneaking, because we've warned them that it might happen at any time. For junior high boys, it seems a sample conversation goes like this.


Not much. Sup w u?

Maybe add in a mention of MineCraft and that's the convo.

High school students have more to say (actually, the difference might be including girls in the convo, not age), but I've only looked in here and there. I haven't seen anything alarming and the one time there was something alarming, my son came to me with it.

It started out with a text exchange from an unknown number. With teens and tweens an surprising number of texts can go back and forth without the people on either end knowing quite who the other is. It sounds stupid until I remember the goofy prank calls my friends and I when we were in junior high. Anyway, after a meaningless few exchanges with an unknown person, things got weird, inappropriately so. My son blocked that number on his phone and then showed me the conversation when he got home from school.

(Sidenote: teach your kids how to block phone numbers. I'm embarrassed to say my son showed ME how to do that.)

My initial reaction was, eww! delete! but then I calmed down, used *67 to block our caller ID and call the phone of origin. Of course, I didn't know what to do when the guy answered, so I just hung up and turned to my Facebook friends for advice.

In the end, we went to the police station to make a report. Fortunately, I had not deleted all of the evidence. We did not file charges, but made sure that the texts and the man's phone number were on file in case anyone else reported him. We captured screen shots of the offending texts and then deleted them. It seemed more like a weird incident than some pervert who was stalking my child. Though I might have felt differently if I had a daughter. Would you?

So yeah, don't just hand your kid a phone and set them free in the world. Make sure they understand why they have the phone, how to treat it, and what the rules are, and don't be shy about using parental controls to monitor and reinforce the limits you set.

This post was sponsored by Location Labs, the makers of Safely apps for families and publishers of Safely Times, a monthly newsletter offering tips and resources for parenting in a digital age. All opinions are my own.

Location Labs has a variety of apps that can help you safely navigate parenting in the digital age. I'm sure we'll be looking into their Safely Family Locator (available through AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) and  Drive Safe (available through Sprint), once the teen starts to drive. Safety that feature age-appropriate tips, or Common Sense Media has useful, age-appropriate tips for parents on integrating cell phones and other tech into family life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Finding the Helpers

Friday morning I was writing at Starbucks when two unlikely missionaries sat down at a nearby table. They were a pair of men of Romanian descent, one of whom was a war vet. The other apparently spent time behind bars before "walking with the Lord," and they were both dressed for a hard day of work at a place like Home Depot in jeans and flannel shirts, though it sounds like they may have been headed off on a mission. Their talk of dented cars, past girlfriends and sneaking the holy book (written in Pashtun) into Afghanistan was sprinkled liberally with "Praise the Lord"s and more than a few comments about the Lord's mysterious ways.

At one point, a patron unwittingly dropped his Starbucks card and left coffee in hand, but cardless. One of the missionary men picked up the card and rushed to follow the rightful owner of the card into the parking lot to return it.

Around the time I peeked over my screen to catch a glimpse of the man's act of kindness, twenty young children were horrifically murdered along with six dedicated professionals from the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Of course, none of us knew this at the time. It was a day like any other until I arrived home about an hour later and settled in at my desk. It tuned out to be one of the darkest days since September 11, 2001.

As always, Mr. Rogers has reassuring advice, even for adults. In fact, you may have seen this quote from Fred Rogers pop up in your Facebook stream:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
When I read this, I thought of the missionary man and his actions earlier that day. I'm glad I had seen a helper earlier in the day, even if his action was relatively minor. No doubt there were many helpers in Newtown on Friday, but I can't bear to think of the emergency first responders and what they witnessed. Or what it would be like to support a friend whose child had been murdered.

My heart goes out to and grieves with the affected families. I borrow these words from President Obama:

"I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depth of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope that it helps for you to know that you are not alone in your grief."
Please consider making a donation to a special fund to help the Newtown/Sandy Hook community via United Way of Western Connecticut.

Please also consider giving Noah's Ark of Hope fundraiser which was set up in memory of a blogging colleague's nephew who was killed in the senseless shooting. The funds will be used used to provide counseling and services to his siblings, two of whom were at school that day, including his twin sister.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dear PR Firms- Do Not Use The Connecticut School Shooting Tragedy to Market Your Product

Right now, like my peers around the country, I'm glued to the screen for news about the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. WTF, who goes into an elementary school and shoots innocent children?!

Besides Laurie Dann, I mean. Surely everyone who grew up in Chicago in the late 1980s recognizes that name. She's the reason schools started locking their doors and visitors were required to register in the office. after they were buzzed in to the building. Lock downs didn't come until much later.

After watching a clip on CNN that ended with a mom noting that she' was going to activate a cell phone for her 3rd grader* (implied: to bring to school for the child's safety), I wondered aloud on Facebook how long it would take PR firms to start referencing this in their pitches.

Jill replied that she hopes this won't happen, noting that the Sandy-related pitches were tough enough to swallow and that prompted me to write say this out loud. PR folks, leave us alone.

We feel this tragedy. Deeply. Unless you're with the NRA or advocating for better identification and support for the mentally ill (both for the uninsured and the crappy mental health benefits many private insurers provide) leave us alone.

Postpone those pitches you planned to send out this afternoon.

Cancel those scheduled Tweets.

And that Twitter party? Reschedule.

Everyone is looking for news, sharing their thoughts and prayers and processing this senseless tragedy. You look like a$$holes spreading cheery tweets about your brand, even if you have a great product and an awesome holiday giveaway.

*As it happens, I have a post in the hopper regarding cell phones and kids, but that was written hours before I heard about the shooting.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chanukah Hacks on Hold...for a Good Reason

I'm out at the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop and had to make choices about what I wanted to accomplish before I left home, so instead of finishing up my Chanukah hack series, I made sure I had posts in the hopper for The Maker Mom's Great Chanukah Giveawaaaaaays (proclaimed in my best Oprah voice). I'm giving away some of my favorite items all week; click for details.

How Much Sleep does a Teenager Need?

Serta Sheep
The Serta Sheep
This post stems from my work as a Serta Blogger Ambassador, but the struggles are my own. It's hard to make sure our high schooler gets enough sleep. Between swim practices that require him to be in the pool at 6 AM two school days each week and his tendency to stay up later than he should, combined with the fact that he's still growing and often appears tired, I fear we're fighting a losing battle. And yet, we can't give up.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9.25 hours of sleep each night for teens, noting that some can get by with about 8.5 (I don't think he's one of them). So if he gets up around 5 AM for swim practice, he should be in bed at 8 PM? That is so not going to happen. What's a parent to do?

We make sure the computer is put away by 9:45 or so and his cell phone gets hooked up to the charger in my bedroom by ten. I know. By teen standards, this is cruel and unusual punishment, but screen time before bedtime is bad for a body. Last year at 8th grade parent night one of the teachers implored parents to take cell phones away from their kids each night. "Nothing good or productive happens with teens between 10 and 6 AM," she advised. Amen.

A good mattress is important, too. Thanks to my involvement as a Serta Ambassador, he got a new mattress earlier this year, a Serta Perfect Sleeper. Sitting atop a captain's bed frame, the mattress is so luxuriously thick, I can barely climb up there without a step stool. The new mattress has helped him sleep better. When we moved into our house earlier this year he was sleeping on what was supposed to be a temporary mattress that my parents bought when we moved in with them. Who knew we'd be living there an unthinkable three years?

Serta Perfect Sleeper
You can get a kid a great mattress, but you can't make him sleep.

So we've got a few things going for us: no computer or phone, and a cushy, but supportive, mattress. Yeah us! But we still have the issue of old-skool books and late night reading. You can bring a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink. And, honestly, books aren't the only things we're fighting. We're fighting biology itself. During the teen years, their biological clocks shift. Mother Nature wants them up until 11:00 PM or so, sleeping until about 8 AM. The Swim Coach wants them sleeping until 5 in the morning. And even when that's not an issue, normal morning bus pick-up is at 7:25.

So what's a teen to do? On more than one occasion, my son has come home from after-school activities exhausted and fallen asleep only to wake up after midnight* for dinner and homework, getting back to bed around 3 AM to catch a few more zzzs before waking up for school. And, of course, like teens everywhere, he sleeps in on the weekends.

But irregular sleep habits are a band-aid, not a cure for the restoration growing bodies need. Hormone release and other important bodily maintenance tends to run on a regular schedule, so it's best to keep our bodies on schedule, too. Still, I'll choose a midnight dinner over complete sleep deprivation.

What happens when my kids don't get enough sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation has quite a bit of information about teens, sleep and school schedules. Interestingly, it's been about 20 years since the first cries toward aligning high school start times with the biological needs of adolescents, but it seems to me there's been very little movement on this. Our local high schools have been mulling over a calendar change, but there hasn't been any talk about changing start times, something that might do more to improve grades and test scores than starting the school year two weeks earlier.

I hear parents talking about their kids staying up until midnight--or later--doing homework on school nights (after school events like theater, sports or even math competitions mean they don't get home around 9:00 and they still need to eat and hit the books) and I don't know how they do it. By they, I don't just mean the kids, but the parents who have to cope with their zombied out teens.

Any tips?

*I've always hard a hard time waking up my kids. They sleep because their body needs it, right?

I'm a Serta blog ambassador and received mattresses and other compensation through my involvement in this program. All opinions are my own. Check out these tips for a good night's sleep from my friends and a few from Serta. See my Serta iComfort Motion Perfect mattress system in action.

It's in the Bag: Chanukah Hack #3

re-useable hanukkah gift bagIt's in the bag. Or maybe I should say it's a wrap. Regardless this Hanukkah Hack is about going green with a reusable gift bag or sack. not only will you save Mother Earth's resources with a bag you can use year after year, but you'll save mother's sanity because she (you?) (I?) won't have to obsess over gift wrap.

This bag was (wait for the irony) a gift from my mother-in-law last year and this year we used it to temporarily house her present.

Thankful for my blog-as-memory book, I know that in 2008, my boys decorated pillow cases and a laundry bag to use for Chanukah gifts. This store bought sack, which my son is modeling in the photo survived our move the best. I'll have to dig around for the others.

What are your eco gift-wrapping tips and tricks?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Ditch the Sour Cream for Yogurt: Chanuka Hack #2

Given that we're celebrating a holiday during which it's a mitzvah (good deed) to eat fried foods, we can agree it's a delicious time to be a Jew. Still, surrounded by Christmas cookie and other holiday treats at every turn, it's good to save calories where we can. One way to do this is by substituting lowfat plain yogurt for sour cream this Hanukkah. Sure, the move will piss off your parents, but you'll all benefit in the end.

We stopped buying sour cream years ago. We simply use lowfat plain yogurt in its place. Because yogurt can be a bit runny, we sometimes drain it first to thicken it up. One way to drain it is to line a colander with paper towels or cheese cloth, fill to the desired level with yogurt and place it over the sink for a quick drain or place the colander over a bowl or plate and place it in the fridge for a few hours until the remaining yogurt has reach a consistency that pleases your palate.

If you do this, you'll not only save calories, but you'll be adding what is likely the healthiest item on your dinner table. Bonus: people who suffer from lactose intolerance can usually digest yogurt without consequence. That said, there's no saying what havoc all that greasy food will do to anyone's digestive tract.

DH and I have been swapping out yogurt for sour cream for so long that sour cream, even in "lite" form, tastes heavy. And really, "lite" dairy products are usually poor substitutes for the full-fat variety anyway.

Don't miss yesterday's hack: marshmallow dreidels.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

How to Make Edible Marshmallow Dreidels for Chanuka

I had this great idea about posting 8 Days of Hanukkah Hacks but I'm not certain my schedule will allow for that. Instead I'm likely hosting 6 Days of Chanukah Giveaways (what? who can afford 8?) starting soon on The Maker Mom. For now, I leave you with a link to Ciaran Blumenfeld's 8 Crazy nights of DIY Menorahs and my own tutorial on how to make a yummy marshamllow dreidel treats. Kids love these!

And if I count those as two hacks, I'm 25% of the way there. Maybe I can pull this off after all.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Physically Pfffft, But Headed to a Balanced Living Workshop with Coca-Cola, So Maybe There's Hope

I was compensated for my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop, but my thoughts and views are my own.

The downhill slide starts at Halloween when candy is literally behind every door. The descent continues through the end of the year when cookies, cakes, pies and other treats are everywhere I turn. Or so it seems. Because we recently bought a treadmill instead of a new couch, you'd think I'd be working to burn off all those sweets, but you'd be wrong.
I've yet to go on the treadmill.

Why? I don't know. I go through periods of exercising and eating healthy (with a few extra bits of chocolate thrown in because, well, chocolate) and periods of not exercising and living on the "see food" diet (I see it, I eat it). I'm currently in the latter phase. When I incorporate the healthier habits in my life, I feel good. I believe that exercise is as good for the soul as it is for the body, especially when it involves walks like this:

When I'm in that zone, I feel more balanced, take better care of myself and, frankly, when I'm in my active phase, I can't believe I ever go without exercise.

But then stuff happens, someone gets sick, schedules change, my work load picks up. Something happens to throw off the routine and once it's gone, it's so hard to get back in the groove. Even though I work from home. Even though I know how bad it is to sit at my desk for hours on end. Even though I have a flexible schedule and a treadmill in my basement.
Gah, just typing this out makes me feel like the lamest, laziest person ever. I'm totally going on the treadmill today.

Next week, I'm attending the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop in partnership with BlogHer. See? It's already getting me up and going. While I'm there I'll get to meet with a dietitian, exercise with my friends (I sweat buckets; I should warn them to give me space), and develop a road map to a healthy 2013. In addition to my personal wellness, we'll be talking about family wellness as well as taking a trip to the grocery store and cooking up healthy eats.

I hope to end the year on track (or treadmill) and start the new one with a burst of energy. I know that a healthier me is a happier me even if I need a swift kick in the butt to get to that happy place.

Excuse me, I've got to go. I have a date with the treadmill.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Winter Container Gardens at the Chalet

winter container garden
Resting atop a piece of the old living room carpet.
I never knew there was such a thing as a winter container garden until I was invited to a blogger workshop on the topic at Chalet Nursery and Garden Center in Wilmette. Now I've got a lovely one sitting on my front stoop. And I made it myself!

I participated in a terrarium class at Chalet earlier this year and my plants are still alive, so I figured this was worth trying, too.

winter container garden
the raw materials: about 6 types of evergreens
Guided by the always vibrant Jennifer Brennan, a fount of knowledge and a creative muse with a background in both botany and ornamental horticulture, I snipped several types of evergreens, added a few pine cones and winter berries, placing them just so and created a display that will last through March.

It was fun, if a bit intimidating at first. Working alongside Melisa, Cindy, Michelle and Susan made for a relaxed atmosphere, though. Each of our creations was unique, but they were all fabulous.

We took the took the class at no cost. It normally runs about $55 and includes all supplies. Best of all, the Chalet staff cleans up after you and delivers your arrangement directly to your car.

If you're looking for a unique holiday gift, the Chalet can also help with that. Their offerings go way beyond what you might buy for a friend with a green thumb (though they have plenty in that category) to include housewares, accessories and pet items.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Joy of Live TV

The other day I confessed that while I was excited to be a doing a segment on Chicago TV, I was a little concerned that I made my segment overly complicated by involving too many things with two many moving parts. I was right. I choked! On live TV.

When it came to showing off the LEGO Mindstorms robot, I only needed to press a couple of buttons to make my son's simple program run. But after turning the robot on, I pressed a wrong button and wound up in a loop of unfamiliar options and couldn't click my way out of it.


I recovered okay, but ugh. It's not fun to flub on-air or watch myself do it. What gets me most in reviewing this is the dead air time. I should have at least been chatting it up. Nobody likes silence on TV.

I'm going to have to organize a Tosh2.0 style web redemption. Which is fine, I figured we'd make more robots, anyway. There are loads of options with the Mindstorms kit and my tween seems to inherently understand all of them.

You can watch for yourself here.

Disclosure: was provided with the Mindstorms set for the segment and further review at my discretion. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Look for Me on TV Monday 11/26

The Maker Mom is going live Monday morning on WGN Morning News. I'm showing off award winning science/tech gifts for tweens, that is kids 8 -12. This is actually my fourth segment at WGN, but I learned something important this time around. I'm thrilled with the cool products I'm presenting, indeed I hand picked them, but I've got a lot of moving parts- batteries, lights, things that require a bit of on-site prep-- or in some cases assembly, and it's a bit stressful.

I didn't realize how much extra work I was creating. I *think* I've got a handle on everything and I'll be sure to pack extra batteries. Let's hope everything goes as planned because my tech support guy is staying behind. That would be my 12 y.o. who begged to come on-air, but that would be one more moving part to handle, one that truly has a mind of its own.

At any rate, tune in or watch online between about 8:40 and 8:50 AM on Monday, November 26. I'll be sure to post a clip if the station does. If you miss the live preso, click over to The Maker Mom for an overview of this season's coolest STEM gifts.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Call This a Holiday Break?

A virtual page from our Cozi online calendar.
The tween is off from school all week, but will have some Science Olympiad practices, robotics practices and an orthodontist appointment. The teen has school Monday and Tuesday and swim practices every day of the week except for Thursday. Today he needed to be at school at 5:45 for the first swim practice.

I've got doctor's appointments, business calls, my Science Olympiad and robotics events, not to mention a lot of prep for an upcoming (and super fun) STEM/tech holiday gift segment I'll be doing for WGN Morning News on Cyber Monday, November 26.

Needless to say, I don't think it's going to be a very restful break. I'm hoping it will be a lot of fun, though!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dads, Win a Free Trip to the 2013 Dad 2.0 Summit

win a trip to dad 2.0 sponsored by conagra foods
My client, ConAgra Foods, is sponsoring the 2013 Dad 2.0 Summit and they're footing the bill for four dads who like to cook via The Great Dad Cook-Off.

At the Summit, those winning dads will compete for the title of MVP in a live cook-off. The MVP will win bragging rights in addition to a pretty sweet prize.

Head over to The Dish to learn more. Hurry; entries are due at midnight November 19

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Woot, we did it again!

I forgot to mention #STEMchat here, but if you're a faithful reader of the MomImpact Memo or The Maker Mom, you might know I held the fourth Twitter chat last night. #STEMchat brings together parents, educators and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals to encourage STEM-loving kids.
We trended on Twitter! No, it's not your glasses, it's a fuzzy screen shot. Click the pic below to see my trending little hashtag in all its glory.

If you have a background, interest in or passion for a STEM topic, or coach your child's robotics or Science Olympiad team, you might make a great panelist. Submit your information to the #STEMchat Brain Trust. Please note, this is a resource list, not a mailing list, so I won't be crowding your inbox.

Typically held the second Tuesday evening of the month on Twitter, in 2013 we'll explore additional options like Google+ on-air hangouts and #STEMchat Live events. If you'd like to suggest a topic or sponsor for an upcoming chat, please email your suggestion to TheMakerMom (at)

And if you relish the thoughts of #STEMchat goodness filling your inbox, sign up to receive a monthly reminder of the upcoming chat along with a summary of the previous chat and hot posts from The Maker Mom blog.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Threadless + MakeDo Team up for Creative Fun

Baby's first Threadless t-shirt.
When my teen hit middle school, he suddenly developed a sense of fashion. Well, it's more like he developed an aversion to t-shirts from Target and Kohls and turned to the niche mass retailers that pump out the icons of tween pop culture- Hollister, American Eagle, and other mall standards.


Now that he's hit high school, he raised his standards of cool (hooray!) and has become a devoted Threadless fan. Threadless is an online store, but it's also a community of artists and creative types, people who submit and vote on designs. And buy them.

My son is just a buyer. He told me I should be, too, but I said I'd look like an aging hipster in Threadless tees. Still, he advised me to go for it.

I have not gone for it, but my younger guy just got his first Threadless shirt, so there's that.

At any rate, I think it's cool that my teens sees value in walking away from the iconic teen brands in favor of supporting independent artists and forging his own fashion path, even if it does consist of t-shirts.

Right now, Threadless is running a fun contest along with MakeDo, a neat product I learned about when we participated in the Global Cardboard Challenge. Enter today to win great prizes, including weekly Threadless discount codes!

This post was not sponsored. However, it may seem rather random to my regular readers, so I will share that it's the result of a PR pitch from a helpful person. Karma is not always a b*tch.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Kaufman's Deli in Skokie is Open Again

Kaufman's Deli in Skokie reopened in 2012 after a fire in 2011
It's been quite a journey for Bette and Judy Dworkin, the mother-daughter team behind Kaufman's Deli, since their fire in 2011, but the deli is back and better than ever. At the same time, it hasn't changed much. Sure the digs are nicer and more accessible (hooray for public restrooms!) and they've added tables for casual dining noshing, but the classic deli food is still the same.

And that's a good thing.

Corned beef just hasn't been the same without Kaufman's. I've made a couple of my own (meh) and my mom bought a holiday tray or two from another deli when Kaufman's was rebuilding, but the texture, the flavor, the thickness of the slices, the love--something just wasn't right.

My tween has been asking for corned beef in recent months and my answer has remained the same, "Wait until Kaufman's is open."

It's not just the corned beef, but a the salami sticks, the chopped liver, the handmade gefilte fish, the frozen soups and side salads, not to mention breads, the classic challah and BAGELS! Yum!

Kaufman's also has plenty of baked goods, including pastries, cookiesnd cakes.

I'm envisioning filling the place with my boys and their cousins over Thanksgiving break.

The thing I missed most (after the corned beef and bagels), was the old-fashioned pickle barrels. I'm so glad these are back. Kaufman's is the best placed for new pickles--ones with a delicate flavor because they haven't been chillaxing in the brine for so long. You pick 'em right of the barrel yourself. (Please use tongs.)

I think the paper signs are temporary, but they had them in the old place, so who knows? What I tried to capture below was the fresher, more modern aspects of the deli menu- things like couscous salad and other lighter, fresher, not to mention vegetarian sides.

As I mentioned above, they still offer the classic deli items like large, overstuffed sandwiches. I need to loosen my belt just to write about Bubbie's Kitchen Sink, a number that contains five(!) types of meat and runs almost $15. Sounds pricey, but you might be able to feed half your family with it.

The new Kaufman's isn't quite as bold and new as I expected, and yet, it's just right. During my visit, I felt like I was visiting with old friends--and I don't mean the staff, though some of the old crew have returned--I mean the bagels and chopped liver.

I probably should get out more often. At any rate, corned beef for dinner tonight!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Realm of the Mad God: Halloween 2012

Realm of the Mad God pumpkin, HalloweenRealm of the Mad God is the new MineCraft. It seems to be in this house, anyway. The Maker Tween dedicated our 2012 pumpkin to ROTMG with a nod to the old, annoying classic Nyan Cat.

If you've never heard of ROTMG, MineCraft or Nyan Cat, you probably don't have teen boys in your house.

realm of the mad god halloween pumpkin
added 11/2 It looked pretty sweet outside at night on our porch.
 Oh, you may have noticed things are pretty quiet on this blog. I've been dedicating most of my blogging energy toward my newer blog, The Maker Mom, as well as building up the monthly Twitter discussion I started, #STEMchat.

Speaking of The Maker Mom, click over to learn more about the alien egg below.
Alien Egg for  Halloween or Easter from The Maker Mom

Monday, October 15, 2012

To Safely Go Where I've Never Gone Before P.S. I have a smartphone

Safely Go Android app

(Updated 10/19) I’ve recently been talking with the folks at Location Labs, who make Safely services, a family of apps that make life easier for digital families. They’ve asked me to take a look at their new app, Safely Go, and share a few thoughts on it. At the risk of losing all my social media cred, I will admit that I got my first smartphone just a few weeks ago. "How can you not have a smart phone?" my techy friends ask. Heck, even some of my non-tech friends have asked.

For me, avoiding a smart phone was one of my digital wellness habits. At home, I'm so connected to my computer- tied to the holy trinity of email, Facebook and Twitter (okay and G+ and my other email account and my other blog, etc.), that it's been a relief to go out and know that I'm in touch with real life, not the virtual one.

And then I sat on my backpack while at my son's cross country meet and cracked the screen on my phone. It was unusable for anything other than receiving calls. I had upgrade credits with my provider and knew if I got a "dumb" phone, I'd be stuck with it long after I wanted to go smart.

So here I am with a smartphone. Gah! I haven't completely lost control of my ability to unplug when out, but at a recent event with my tween, I snapped a shot (he was so cute!) and as I attempted to Tweet it he got annoyed and told me to put the phone away.

I did.

Without Tweeting.

The folks at Safely have a free app called Safely Go, that can help you draw the line in the virtual sand as part of your digital wellness plan. It's designed to keep distractions down when driving, to keep all but your most important people from reaching you.

Safely Go stops distracted driving by, well, keeping distractions at bay. It blocks calls and texts when it's activated. The app allows up to 3 VIP callers (I'd like to see users have the option to up it to maybe 5 or 6) to get through, while others go straight to voicemail.

Safely Go ANdroid App 3 VIP callers
Image via Safely Go

As for texts, it can send an autoreply that users can customize. My teen is in the habit of texting rather than calling, and he seems to have a knack for contacting me when I'm driving and then gets annoyed when I don't respond right away. Now he'll know to call me instead of texting. Or simply wait for me.

Safely Go also lets users have access to three "driving apps." For me, it chose Google Maps, navigation and "play music," but I could select whatever I thought best--I just haven't loaded many apps yet.

I've been testing it out for several days now, and I'm thinking that it's just as handy for meetings--or anytime I don't want to be disturbed-- as it is for driving.

My teen doesn't yet have a smart phone or a driver's license, but both are on the horizon and I'm thinking this is going to be one of the first apps he downloads when the time comes.

Safely makes a variety of products to help digital families including phone controls and a family locator. Stay in touch with Safely on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fun Mom Fail

So I took another crack at being a fun mom and slept on the outdoor deck with my tween last night. I wasn't worried about mosquito bites this time because with the cooler weather, nearly every part of my body was covered. I wore two pairs of leggings, socks and a long sleeve t-shirt topped off by a sweatshirt. I tucked myself into a sleeping bag snug as a bug in a rug with only my face exposed.

Which is where I received four mosquito bites. Including one that nearly swelled my right eye shut.

Next time the boy wants to sleep out there it's dear husband's turn to play along.