Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dining room art show

Z's been enthusiastically creating works of art with stickers, markers, crayons and paint, and I've been looking for a tidy way of displaying a rotating collection of her work (you know, one that doesn't involve gobs of Scotch tape on my dining room walls). I think I may have found it with this solution from Pottery Barn Kids. I wonder if it's an online exclusive or whether it might be available in store (so I can save on shipping).

Link of the day

If you aren't already familiar with it, click on over to Thingamababy, a delightful toddler product review blog. The daddy in charge writes great toy reviews (largely based on his 2 1/2 year old daughter's interactions) and has recommended some of the better toys and books I've seen out there. In fact, he's responsible for Z's first magazine subscription (to the National Wildlife Foundation's Wild Animal Baby)! His blog is popular and influential enough that manufacturers are sending him free samples of their toys to review, but he seems to be maintaining his critical distance and isn't afraid to mock the stupid, the dangerous and those toys that limit imaginative play.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Even more on word of mouth

The NY Times profiles word of mouth research firm Keller Fay (the principals of which I met at a WOMMA conference) and offers some interesting tidbits on exactly how much each of us talk about brands in our regular, face-to-face conversations.

I'm going to be on Oprah!

Al Gore will be on the show discussing An Inconvenient Truth, and it will be broadcast live in Chicago at 9am next Tuesday. I found about about the show at, and I wrote in about my passion for the movie and the global warming cause as well as the questions I'd like to ask of Al Gore. They called me today to invite me to participate. Which means Gloria and I will be at Harpo Studios at 7am in less than a week. Gulp!

P.S. Anyone remember this post? I guess it pays to write down your goals.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Word of mouth at work

Anyone who works with me knows I've got a bit of passion for word of mouth marketing. I've learned a lot about the field from the WOMMA conferences I've attended, and just last week I presented an overview to interested folks at the agency.

So it's a happy coincidence that I've got a personal plug for the power of word of mouth today. You see, I recently signed up to be an Angie's List member, and I used the recommendations of other members to select a contractor to up the insulation in our 1910 frame house. I picked the top two companies and both came out to do estimates. Their prices were close, but I went with the more expensive company because I thought they were slightly more thorough and they suggested bringing our attic R-number up the recommended level for our region. I mailed in my 25% deposit on Friday and they called on Monday to ask if they could install at 12:30 Tuesday. They arrived at 12. I haven't seen the work myself since Josh is at home, but all signs point to an efficient operation. I'll do my duty and add my feedback to the Angie's List site.

Wouldn't it be great if there were word of mouth forums for everything we ask our friends, neighbors and co-workers about? A convenient, comprehensive resource for researching preschools, day care providers, doctors, hospitals, retirement communities and more? I suppose it's just a matter of time. We can access product reviews on most e-commerce sites and peruse vacations from heaven and hell at TripAdvisor, but I'm more emotionally and physically invested in the quality of a medical specialist than I am in an digital camera.

Thanksgiving photos are up

I've posted a handful of pictures from Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Furry bedfellows

I was putting Z to bed tonight, and I asked if she needed any animals. She said no. I asked if she wanted her blanket. "Yes, please."
I opened the door to leave and she whimpered, "I need an animal." So I offered her a dog. "No, I don't want a dog!" A sheep? "No! No sheep!" A different dog? "No!" Stumpy giraffe? Musical giraffe? Other sheep? "No, no, no!" Her dragon, like Ben from It's Bedtime?
"No! Take him away! I want my teddy. My small teddy."
Uh-oh. I'd emptied out her toy basket looking for acceptable animals, and I hadn't seen her favorite teddy. "I don't know, Z. I don't see your small teddy here," I said.
"It's downstairs," she replied.
I raced down the stairs and saw her small white teddy on the living room floor. Crisis averted.

Four under three

One of Josh's oldest friends and his wife have a little boy Z's age. We just found out last night they're expecting again. Only this time it's triplets. And no fertility treatments, spontaneous triplets. I can't even imagine.

Unschooling in the news

The NY Times profiles proponents of unschooling, a child-led homeschooling movement that's catching on in the Midwest, particularly in Chicago. I first heard of unschooling a little less than a year ago when I sold a Japanese-style baby carrier on Craigslist. It was a beautiful piece of baby gear, but one Z refused to be carried in and which was, frankly, a pain to use anyway.

The woman who answered my ad asked if I was, by any chance, the same Alma who once worked at Newcity. Turns out she was someone I'd hired to be Newcity's receptionist six years prior. She was three months pregnant with her new boyfriend's baby at the time, and she never came back to work after giving birth.

Fast forward to the present and she was living in Oak Park with her husband (same guy), their six year old and a one year old girl in need of a new carrier. We hung out in my living room for about an hour catching up, and it came out that she belonged to a group of parents who believe letting kids follow their interests beats the structure and pressure of regular schools.

Sounds nice in the abstract, but if I only studied what I wanted to, I might have spent my elementary school years doing nothing but reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books and learning the names of poisonous snakes. I might have figured out fractions while baking, but I definitely wouldn't have learned my multiplication tables or long division.

What's more, for the most part I loved school. And I'm pretty sure Z will too. She's already started asking to go.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Holiday weekend update

This may be the longest I've gone without updating my blog, but I've been pretty much offline since Wednesday morning. Thanksgiving dinner was delicious, and Z loved having her "Gamangampa" here. In addition to showering her with attention, they bought her a fabulous farm from Geppetto's Toybox in Downtown Oak Park. It's from a company called Danny First Toys. Their playsets are a refreshing alternative to Dora and Little People--no hard plastic pieces to step on in the night and no battery powered sound effects.
I did my American consumerist duty and hit two stores mid-Black Friday morning with my M-I-L. I scored some deals, including a bunch of Z-friendly arts and craft supplies and a $10 pair of comfy pajamas for myself. Today we enjoyed the balmy weather at the Morton Arboretum Children's Garden, where Z partook in a children's nature walk that involved searching for stuffed animals in nature and determining if they survived winter by "snacking, napping, sleeping or flapping," and ended with free hot cocoa for the kids.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hell hath no fury like a nursing mom scorned

I'm seeing a fair about of media coverage for Tuesday's nationwide "nurse-in" in support of Emily Gillette, who was removed from a Delta Airlines flight when she refused to cover her 1-year-old child with a blanket. Check out the articles in USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.

UPDATE: If you haven't already, please join me in signing this petition is favor of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act before Congress. Over 20,000 women have already signed on.

This makes me mad

Our dumb president has appointed right-wing idiot Eric Keroack to lead the nation's family-planning program. The Title X family-planning program has a federal mandate to provide information and access to birth control, pregnancy tests and counseling (but no abortions). Yet Keroack doesn't believe in birth control. The abstinence-only nutcase has previously served in organizations that spread misinformation about condom reliability and abortions, and he claims that premarital sex disrupts brain chemistry, creating a physiological barrier to happy marriage.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Will Times Square smell like piss again?

Hardly. Charmin's coming to the rescue of grande latte-drinking tourists by offering spotless bathrooms. I swear I pitched this very idea to a certain bathroom cleaner brand years ago. Anyway, they're getting lots of media pick up on it.


This post is for Eleanor, my once vegan-but-now-omnivorous sister. Slashfood has a fascinating review of the frequently (and apparently fairly) derided vegetarian Thanksgiving staple Tofurky. Seems Tofurky is pretty Tofunky.

I seem to recall Eleanor saying she made or ate Tofurky once or twice, but I also remember the more famous family story of the Thanksgiving she spent with Grandma Lorraine in Orange County. It seems the two of them decided Turkey Day would be a good day for craft shopping just over the border in Mexico. They'd packed sandwiches for the trip and a concerned woman took pity on them when she saw the two eating PBJs at a bus station on Thanksgiving. I think they were offered a turkey dinner at a local church.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Countdown to Turkey Day

This was the last shopping weekend before Thanksgiving, and we are 80 percent prepared for our small feast. We'll be joined by my in-laws and hopefully new parents Stacie and Bob will let us bring over some food and pie. Here's the menu: Roast Turkey with Herb Butter (we're using an 11 pound organic bird), Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Cranberry and Dried Cherry Sauce, a tossed green salad, fresh-baked rolls or corn bread, and a stuffing recipe I adapted from a newspaper article a few years ago. Dessert will be Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake and Pear Cherry Pie.

My Fruited Thanksgiving Stuffing

1/4 to 1/2 cup each prunes, raisins, dried peaches and dried cranberries, chopped
1 loaf sourdough bread, stale and cubed
1 cup chicken broth
dried onion (you could use fresh, but I'm not an onion lover)
2 stalks celery
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup butter
garlic powder
salt and pepper

Saute onions and celery in butter 5 minutes. Add all fruit and cook until soft. Pour broth over bread, toss with fruit mixture and pour into a greased pan. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper and bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Potty training update

Z had been resisting our suggestions to try using the potty, so we decided to give the whole issue a rest for a while. And low and behold, that (or possibly the Mr. Rogers Potty Book from the library) immediately reignited her interest in the subject. For the last two days, she's been asking both of us to take her to the potty and she's been pulling her pants down and helping us unfasten her diaper. She talks the talk and flushes with glee, but no production of numbers one or two. Yet.

Anyway, she amused herself (and me) for about 45 minutes this afternoon pottying her teddy bear. With Z's help, Teddy "used" the potty about 15 times, which was cute enough after I convinced her she could "pretend flush for pretend pee." But what really cracked me up was when she announced that "Teddy had a accident on the floor!" She'd grab a Kleenex and scrub the carpet with it while exclaiming over "Teddy's accident! I wipe up the mess! It's okay, Teddy!"

Welcome Charlie

My friends Stacie and Bob welcomed baby Charlie early Friday morning, making Z's buddy Annelise into a big sister. I had the pleasure of visiting the new addition this afternoon at West Sub, and both he and mom looked great.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Squeezing in a baby

The NY Times Home section includes a profile of a couple who modified their very compact 265 square foot apartment to make room for a new baby. The article includes some fabulously inventive design ideas, but no mention of what might happen when the newborn outgrows the basket bassinet, much less starts running around.

Peace, love and Gap

No red and green. No mistletoe or Christmas trees. Just Chicago native Common rapping about the spirit of the season...and doing a decent job of selling Gap hoodies. Nicely done commercial.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Flags of the world, with client comments

A consulting group came up with this funny slideshow that shows what might happen to various national flags if "client comments" were part of the equation.

I'm famous!

My day is made! A well-known business writer has blogged about my Equal packets (my idea AND my slogans for the Equal Campaign for Flavor) as the coolest sugar packets he's ever seen. What's more, I found his piece on my hero Seth Godin's blog!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I just finished The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape, and I feel cheap and used. Did Robyn Waters write this easy-peasy book of off-the-cuff anecdotes on her BlackBerry while sitting through tedious marketing meetings?

Because she certainly didn't bother getting an editor or fact-checker to read over her work. In addition to an embarrassing number of typos, Ms. Waters claims the "technological revolution" that was The Polar Express took "an express ride to profits at the box office" (um, I think it had disappointing ticket sales and press). She also raves about how "consumers are flocking...[to] oxygen bars" (oxygen bars are the day before yesterday's news). And my favorite oopsie: saying McDonald's was "practically shamed into offering salads on their menu and removing the Big Gulp from their drink lineup by media attention on the childhood obesity epidemic and the fallout from the movie Supersize Me." Here's the deal Robyn: Big Gulp is a 7-11 trademark; McDonald's quit offering to supersize--get it, supersize me? It's in the movie's title!)

But as if her lazy fact-checking weren't bad enough, Robyn Waters has a grating habit of ending every one and a half page chapter with a cutesy zinger that "sells in" the brand innovation or trend. About a company that offers custom lip color: "The options have customers smacking their lips in satisfaction." About Cold Stone Creamery: "If you don't want to be left out in the cold, figure out how to give your customers what they want, their way."

The buzz on a new brew

I signed up with BzzAgent, a word of mouth marketing organization, a few months ago, largely because I was impressed with the presentations they'd made at the two WOMMA conferences I'd attended, but also because I like trying new products and I'm not shy about sharing my opinions.

Anyway, I didn't qualify for any campaigns for quite a while, but yesterday I received a free 1/2 pound of Storyville Coffee in the mail. Josh ground and brewed it in the Chemex this morning, and we found it to be a very good basic cup of coffee. A nutty and mild blend of beans from around the world, but not as interesting as the single origin coffees we've been enjoying from Intelligentsia. The beans were very fresh since it had only been days since they were roasted, and I think that most consumers will be impressed with the difference fresh roasted beans can make. But we're jaded. We've been using fresh coffee beans from the Intelligentsia roasting plant in Chicago for a year. And the price for Storyville is $16 a pound, $20 if you include shipping. A little too rich, if you ask me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

From the mouth of a babe

We were in the car driving to last night's Chavurah potluck when Z piped up with "Look at me! I'm a snowman! I'm a snowman!" And, indeed she was. Despite being strapped into her carseat, she'd placed her hat on her head and stuck her arms straight out to the sides in an irresistable ode to the season.

My 2-year-old on current events

Z saw this issue of the New Yorker and pointed to the man on the right, saying "He's mad." Then she pointed to George W. and said, "He made a mess. He's getting a time out."

Friday, November 10, 2006


Apparently somebody finally got the message. One week after I posted about the cell phone store with Verizon spelled "Varizon" on the front window sign, the sign came down. Now the sign is back up, with black tape not-so-artfully covering up the offending typo.

UPDATE on 11/15/06: The sign is down again!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

What I did on my lunch break

It is a stunningly beautiful day in Chicago. Temps in the 60s and unlimited sunshine. And since I didn't pack a lunch for the first time in weeks, I had the perfect excuse to get out of the office. I walked south on Wells to Hannah's Bretzel, which has been receiving raves since in opened. The line was short, and I had my Bretzel Sandwich with Bousin Herb Cheese and homemade black pepper and salt potato chips in no time. Hannah's is Chicago's first organic carry-out eatery, and reading the menu you can't help but notice that every meat and cheese is prefaced with the place where it was grown or produced. I'll be back for one of their more elaborate sandwiches in the future.

Interestingly enough, on the way to and from Hannah's, I passed two Subways (the sandwich shop, not the CTA) and two Dress Barns! Obviously Loop office workers have a pressing need for cheap rayon dresses and Jared's favorite food.

I also passed by a Lavazza coffee shop, and I was tempted to try the Espesso, a mousselike espresso sprayed straight from a can. It was just nominated by TIME magazine as one of the best inventions of 2006. I resisted the temptation, for now.

Hello 1979!

Not only does my little girl get handmade sweaters from her one and only Mommy, she gets to model sweaters hand-knit by her Grandma for her Aunt Bethany about 27 years ago!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doctor says what?

We took Z to see Dr. Hutton last night for her 2 year physical. She passed with flying colors, naturally. She's up to 24.7 pounds, putting her in the 25th percentile for weight and the 10th percentile for height. Dr. Hutton praised her verbal skills and dropped a bombshell on us.

"I think she's ready for potty-training."

The good doctor advised picking a long weekend and putting the girl in cotton training pants (as opposed to the diaper-like Pull-Ups). She recommended feeding her bran muffins so she "can't hold back her stool" and lots of liquids ("Buy twistie straws, fun cups, whatever it takes."). She also said we could plan to spend "a lot of time in the kitchen" and that we should "make a really, really big deal if she can produce a few drops in the potty chair."

I'm thinking Thanksgiving weekend might be a good time to try, but Josh thinks that might be a damper--so to speak--on his parents' visit. I say that, with two doting grandparents in the house--grandparents who also happen to be pediatricians--the timing couldn't be better.

In the meantime, I let Adriana know this morning, and she's promised me Z will be accompanying the almost-3-year-old Lily to the potty all day. Plus, there will be a showing of "the potty video."

I'm also preparing a Target shopping list for Potty Weekend, whenever it should happen. I'm thinking plenty of training pants, a new cup or two, flushable wipes and a bag of M&Ms. If things go well I may have to add a travel potty since we'll have to leave the house eventually.


I woke up this morning to find my faith in the political process and the American people partially restored. The Democrats swept Illinois and didn't do too shabby elsewhere. We've regained control of the House and Democratic control of the Senate isn't out of the question yet.

Now I can only hope our elected representatives take action on the issues I care about most: limiting greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy; repealing the No Child Left Behind Act; and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. I'd also like to see the leadership take real, intelligent steps against terrorism rather than reactionary, pointless ones (e.g. banning water bottles and hand cream from airplanes).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I voted

None of the candidates I voted for were in much danger of losing since I live in a strongly Democratic district in a strongly Democratic state, but I felt good about voting in the referendums to pull out of Iraq, raise the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour and ban the assault weapons.

Also had a pleasant lunch with Josh today. He's reviewing coffee shops around the city for Time Out Chicago, and I got to weigh in on two of the top contenders in Pilsen. We shared a tasty chicken tamale and beef flautas as well as a mug of cafe con leche at the socialist/activist Cafe Mestizo, and followed that up with Mexican hot chocolate and an enormous peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at more traditional, welcoming Cafe Jumping Bean.

Work is quiet after the craziness of the last few days. Hopefully I'll be able to sneak out a few minutes early since Z's got her 2-year doctor's visit scheduled for this evening.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Birthday party report

Everyone in Z's playgroup came to her birthday party, and she had a wonderful time surrounded by her favorite people. I lined up all 8 kids on the couch for a photo only to misplace my camera at the crucial moment. I'm waiting for a friend to forward the snapshot, but in the meantime, here's a picture of Z "tending" to Julie's four month old son, Reid. Julie, knowing Z's reputation as the paci police, brought her a baby doll that cries until you pop in its pacifier. But Z preferred the real thing.

And as a side note, that's the green and yellow sweater I just finished in time for her birthday. It fits!
Importance of a 5-Point Harness Carseat

Wow. I'm working on a cause marketing plan for a major food company, and one of ideas I sold in was a contest inviting consumers to create their own PSA (public service announcement). And only days later I come across the most moving user-created PSA I've ever seen. Get the Kleenex ready.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Happy 2nd Birthday!

Dear Z,
You turn two tomorrow. You're not a baby. Well, you'll always be my baby, but you're barely a toddler anymore! You're a little girl. A running, dancing, galloping, hopping little girl who can speak in full sentences, sing a dozen nursery rhymes and count past 10. You can say your ABC's, drink out of a big girl cup and help take your clothes off. You can build a Lego tower 15 pieces high and help assemble a wooden train track. You're mastering more each day, "reading" me stories from your favorite library books and putting together puzzles. You can help in the kitchen and you love to play pretend, taking me on adventures "to the grocery store" and "to the library."

When you want something, you have an engaging way of asking for it. You cock your head to the right, raise your voice an octave and say, with rising intonation, "You wanna go to the park with me?" "You wanna a drink of my apple juice?" or "You want me brush your hair, make it pretty?" When you want other children to bend to your will, you'll occasionally treat them to the cocked-head question, more more likely you'll turn to the closest adult and say something like, "Leo wants water, Mommy. He wants me feed him water from his cup."

You still don't have lovey, instead giving affection to a rotating cast of dolls and stuffed animals. You play with all of your toys, but your vintage Little People house, Aquadoodle, markers and Play-Doh dominated this year.

Your Daddy's daughter, you absolutely love music, and you can identify "rock 'n roll," "pop," "lullaby," and "reggae" accurately. Today we took you to see Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players at a concert at FitzGerald's, and you've refused to listen to your nursery rhymes CD before today's nap or bedtime, instead demanding "Justin Roberts," which we don't yet own. I'll download some songs from iTunes tonight, I promise.

You're a social butterfly. You remember names better than either of your parents and you ask after your friends frequently. You like it when we tell you a story about one of your friends before bed.

Speaking of're a decent sleeper, going to bed between 7:35 and 8pm and rising between 6 and 6:30am. You've only missed two or three afternoon naps this whole year. Usually you're down for two hours in the early afternoon.

Since you turned one, you quit eating fresh fruit. You'll only stand for dried fruit or applesauce. Bananas are the only exception to the rule. You like vegetables, particularly corn and french fries. For breakfast, you'll have milk, diluted OJ and frozen waffles or most any breakfast cereal, but Cracklin' Oat Bran and Weetabix are your favorites. You love spaghetti, mac and cheese, quesadillas, hot dogs, chicken, ketchup and lasagna. For snacks, you like yellow cheddar cheese, peanut butter off a spoon, cereal bars, animal crackers, dehydrated strawberries and dry cereal. Juice boxes have not ceased to thrill you with their unadulterated sweetness. And you'll never forget a business that hands you a lollipop.

You're not toilet trained, not even a little bit, but you can tell us what you're doing and when. And watching Mommy use the toilet, heck, that's even better than "Caillou!"

Z, you're the cat's pajamas. The cherry on my sundae. The reason I go to work every weekday and wake up early every weekend morning.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Yes, it really is like that

AdVerbatims, a new website I came across thanks to AdFreak, is collecting actual moronic quotes from real agency life. It's kind of like Overheard in the Office, only it hits so much closer to home. My favorites:

#143- "Quit asking smart questions and just do what the client says."
(Agency, Account Executive to Copywriter, discussing idiotic changes to an ad)

#196- "We should not aim to be conceptual or creative."
(Agency, Account Executive on the brief)

#145- "We are a small company. If we were a big company we would worry about what is best for the brand. Since we are small, we need to worry about the budget."
(Client, Marketing Manager)

#153- "I like it, but I just don't think a multinational company should be doing ads in felt tip."
(Client, on first presentation of a line drawing concept scamp)

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I wish my Dad was still around to see Borat.

The former DCM to Uzbekistan, he was very familiar with the swarthy, leather jacketed, mustachioed men of Central Asia in the late 1990s. And his diplomatic side was tempered with a healthy respect for the politically incorrect. He'd appreciate the cheap shots at Kazakhstan as well as the statement Sasha Baron Cohen is ultimately making about globally-ignorant Americans.

I can't wait to see the movie myself.

This is scary

Scientists are predicting that, in just 50 years, there will be virtually nothing left to fish in our oceans. And what are we doing about it? Not a damn thing.

Slate Green Challenge

My family's annual carbon emissions are 24,705 lbs, the equivalent of 2.43 passenger cars. That's a little over half of the U.S. average of 44,312 lbs. What's yours? Find out at Slate Green Challenge and see what you can do to lower your output. (Thanks Eleanor for sending. I expect you to be the first to comment!)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Seeing pink and blue

Mazel tov to my little sister Eleanor and her husband Simon -- they're expecting a baby in June! I'm going to be an aunt! Yipee!

Eleanor and Simon will make great parents. But I wouldn't be a big sister if I didn't start in with a few pieces of advice--for her and any first-time mother.

1. Buy an electric breast pump and plenty of disposable milk bags. Lansinoh makes the best ones. If you're going to pump a lot, get a hands-free halter.
2. Accept any and all offers of help for the first month. You'll want to hold your baby at all times, so let someone else cook, clean and shop.
3. Don't worry about putting baby on a schedule for the first two months. Take him with you everywhere and let him nap in the carrier, car seat or stroller. But after that, hold sacred the naps!
4. Take a lot of pictures and write down memories and milestones every month for as long as you can. The first year is a blur.

But most importantly, lay off the Internet (the new Book of Fear) and enjoy your pregnancy! Your hair will never again be as thick, your skin as radiant, or your boobs as voluptous.

That's my girl

Franny took this photo of Z when she was in town a month ago. It so perfectly capture's my almost 2-year-old's blossoming personality!
And here's the Pepto spot

Nothing reinforces your street cred like rapping about stomach ailments.
I'm not dialing Domino's

I think this ranks as the most repulsive ad I've seen in a long time. Even more icky than the Pepto-Bismol spot where the dancers point to their butts and sing "Diarrhea!"