Saturday, March 31, 2007

Regurgitating my plans

Even the best-laid plans can by thrown off by a kid with a nasty stomach bug. Our first indication that something was wrong came when we were four blocks away from a Ravenswood pizza place we'd been meaning to try. We heard a gagging sound coming from the backseat, and Z had her fist in her mouth. Seconds later, the first stream of vomit arched over her pink jacket. Then the second wave.

We don't pack spare clothes anymore, so Josh turned the car around and headed toward a more commercial strip to look for a place to pick up a new outfit. I immediately spotted an upscale kiddie boutique and we pulled into a parking space nearby. Baby wipes and coat removal got rid of the biggest chunks, and I carried Z into the chi-chi clothing store where I made a beeline to the sale rack. Forty-seven dollars later (gulp!) Z was freshly dressed in a brown corduroy dress and cream-colored tights and we made it to Spacca Napoli, where one of Josh's freelance friends was waiting for us. Z didn't want to eat the unfamiliar-looking pizza, but she happily munched on cheese and animal crackers.

My lovely green couch and I got the chance to wear said snacks, plus a full sippy cup of milk a couple of hours later.

Then, after one hour and two sippy cups full of watered-down apple juice, my loveseat got the upchuck treatment.

Two hours after that, Z demanded a peanut butter and honey sandwich and milk, which I reluctantly gave her. Then, when my doula stopped by to say hello and drop off a book and CD, Z blew chunks all over the front porch.

Needless to say, we sent Josh to the Chavurah party alone. My evening was a dance of laundry, paper towels, rags and cuddles. And the Peter Pan DVD.

Friday, March 30, 2007

On tap for this weekend

We've got a babysitter lined up and date night reservations at Sweets and Savories. Then there's the Mexican Food and Pinball Fiesta with our Chavurah. Add in my yoga class, a free prenatal massage (I'm going to be a "model" for a certification program downtown) and prep work that needs to be done for my friend Julie's Passover seder, and I'm not sure I'll have time for two other hoped-for activities: Baby Loves Disco and a trip to a garden center for some landscaping advice and inspiration.

I've never been to a BLD event (it is inexplicably held at naptime), but I've heard good things. And this is the last one at the Park West, one of my favorite concert venues.

What are your weekend plans?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The kid can talk

Over the past month or so, I've stopped asking Z leading questions. No more "Did you go to Adriana's house today? Did you have lunch? Was it beans and rice?"

Instead, I can ask her an open-ended question like, "How as your day at Adriana's house?" I might hear about yesterday's lunch or get a fanciful answer that involves her buddies, zoo animals and "Daddy Monsters," but we're having genuine conversations. And we can finish library books with reading comprehension questions like "What did Angelina do to her china dancer? Why was she so mad?"

Adriana tells me Z is similarly fluent in Spanish, asking to watch Jorge el Curiouso (Curious George) and requesting for a Kleenex for her mocos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pet food's "dirty little secret"

Last week I asked if the Menu Foods and Peter Pan recalls would lead to consumer mistrust of brands. I hadn't seen any mainstream media outlets reporting on how suspicious it seemed that premium dog and cat food brands were rolling off the same production lines as store brand pet food.

I still haven't found any good articles in newspapers or on TV, but Ad Age ran a story (subscription required) that's been recounted in other outlets. Here's a choice little excerpt from Monsters & Critics.

The scandal has revealed the shameful secret of pet food manufacturers. The same stuff is repackaged and sold at a higher price.

"Branded companies for years when they used co-packing arrangements have tried to keep that their little shoppers' secret," said Burt Flickinger to AdAge, principal with the consulting firm Strategic Resource Group. "But now this whole scandal can dismantle the pricing architecture for branded products when consumers can see that branded is essentially the same stuff with a higher price point."

"Most consumers will give them the benefit of the doubt that they must have separate formulas for expensive Eukanuba," said Laura Ries to AdAge, president of marketing consultancy Ries & Ries. "In many cases you know with private labels that those products are coming off the same belts as the branded products, and in some cases there is very little difference. ... But most people want to believe in brands, buy brands and trust brands."

Whole Foods crosses the pond

My expat sister-in-law Bethany sent me this article from The Guardian on Whole Foods' arrival in Britain. Apparently the golden aisles, mini cafes and abundant fruit displays are seducing the English as well as they have affluent Americans. Much of the article is dedicated to the company's now familiar back story, but it touches on the current backlash and the impact the store has had on more mainstream grocery store offerings. Nothing new, but it is interesting to hear it from an outsider's point of view.

Speaking of backlash, a copy of Michael Pollan's expose of Big Organic, The Omnivore's Dilemma, is on hold for me at the library. I'll report back soon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Are you an Alpha Mom?

Even though I know they're mostly marketing shorthand, labels like "Alpha Mom" rub me the wrong way. I was irritated by the Soccer Mom and NASCAR Dad names applied to previously "hot" target markets in years past, but there is something even more offensive about the term "Alpha Mom."

According the this USA Today story, "Alpha Moms are educated, tech-savvy, Type A moms with a common goal: mommy excellence. She is a multitasker. She is kidcentric. She is hands-on. She may or may not work outside the home, but at home, she views motherhood as a job that can be mastered with diligent research."

The article goes on to say that Alpha Moms are influencers, driving the tastes and purchases of other mothers. I don't dispute this. There have always been connectors and mavens and plenty of marketing books describe them in great detail. So why do we need to describe these plugged-in Gen Xers as Alpha Moms? Are you a Beta Mom if you haven't got a blog? If you trust your instincts or your in-laws instead of the experts? Can we arrest the Gamma Moms for hiring a neighborhood teen instead of buying a SitterCity membership?

The media has already tried pitting working moms against stay-at-home-mothers. The last thing we need is another label that separates and elevates one group of moms above the rest. What do you think? Am I being too sensitive?

Monday, March 26, 2007


Mom and Z on CTA
I almost forgot to report back on our Saturday adventure at the Expo. We eco-consciously took the Blue Line into the city and walked the four or five blocks from stroller-unfriendly (no elevator) station to the Chicago Cultural Center. There, we got to sample lots of delicious local cheeses and yogurts as well as a smattering of honey, granola, baked goods and organic chocolate.

Z got her face painted by a seven year old girl and gamely ate everything offered on a toothpick, surprising us as she asked for more salsa and a second cayenne dark chocolate. Chipotle was there as a major sponsor, and even after many samples of cheese, Z put away an entire bowl of black beans and rice. Most impressively, she carried it through two rooms and up a ramp while eating it with a fork. We eventually found a spot of carpet where she could sit down and finish it.

Josh and I also grazed our way through the show, picking up brochures, product samples, coupons and CSA sign-up sheets along the way. We're weighing the benefits of joining a CSA this summer.

In favor: lots of fresh, organic produce delivered to our neighborhood weekly might inspire us to try new vegetables and eat more healthfully. It is an economic and social model we really believe in. We want our daughter(s) to feel connected to the food they eat and the farms where it is produced.
Against: Each delivery is enough for two vegetarian adults or four non-vegetarian adults. Unless our next-door neighbors want to split a share with us, there's no way we can put away that much kale. Most of the farms offering CSA shares also sell at the Oak Park Farmers' Market. Aside from salads, I have to admit I'm not the best vegetable-eater. I'd much rather subscribe to a fruit CSA, but they are not all 100% local and organic.

Saturday night we watched The Real Dirt on Farmer John, which said next-door neighbors loaned to us. It's a very well done documentary about the eccentric farmer/artist/hippie founder of southern Wisconsin's Angelic Organics, one of the more popular local CSAs.

If you missed the Expo, be sure to mark your calendar for the much bigger Chicago Green Festival, scheduled to take place at McCormick Place over Earth Day weekend.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Best day ever

Soft serve


Naomi and Z
75 degrees and sunny. Brunch with playgroup. Two park outings. And dinner ruined by soft serve custard from the Hole in the Wall. Pretty much perfect for a two-year-old. And I loved it too.

The power of onesie

The Power of Onesie
It's not my state, but it's a start. Washington is thisclose to passing a paid family leave law, and is inviting members to help create a chain of onesies designed to convince officials that paid family is for real children, real mothers and real families. It was easy enough to decorate an old onesie with the message. This week I will mail it to MomsRising in Washington, where it will join hundreds of others in a chain that can be displayed--clothesline style I'm guessing--in Olympia and elsewhere.

It's easy to join the effort. Send your onesie to: MomsRising, P.O. Box 19596, Seattle, WA 98109 or make a donation online.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A scandal for branding?

It looks like rat poison contamination is behind the kidney failure and related pet deaths associated with wet food processed and packaged by Menu Foods. As an animal lover, I am shocked and saddened by this news story, but I think there is a bigger consumer marketing story that isn't being covered by any of the media organizations.

This recall, together with the E-coli peanut butter recall of a few weeks ago, has demonstrated to the American public that many of the brands they see as differentiated are actually prepared and packaged by one manufacturer. That wet pet food from Wal-Mart and Kroger private labels ("the cheap stuff") to more premium food like IAMS are essentially the same stuff should be shocking. After all, there are major price differences among the 100-odd brands listed on the Menu Foods recall list.

Will these recalls raise consumer questions about who actually makes their favorite consumer packaged goods? Will they start asking precisely who is manufacturing the detergent, body lotion, breakfast cereal or mascara they pay a premium for? Will they be shocked to learn a budget brand rolls off the same production line as a more expensive product? Are the ingredient lists that different? How will we feel about ourselves if we learn that the upscale brands with which we associate ourselves are little different from their private label cousins?

How are you reacting to these recalls? Do they change how you think about brands, or have you always been a skeptic?

UPDATE 3/26/07: P&G sent this message to their Pet Care email list on March 21, "You may wonder why some 'wet' food was produced at Menu Foods. In fact, virtually every pet food company commonly uses outside partners for special or small volume items. Nonetheless, the different branded products made by Menu are not "the same". Our Iams and Eukanuba pet foods have unique recipes and important ingredient differences that distinguish them from other pet food brands."

The sailor dress

Z models her sailor dress
I bought Z this sailor dress at the Parenthesis Consignment Sale last weekend ($9 for a beautifully knit dress, made in England), and she has been clamoring to wear it every day since. The weather has warmed up slightly and her white tights were clean, so I let her put it on today. And you know what she said?

"I'm wearing my new sailor dress! I'm Captain Hook!"

My mother has a well-documented weakness for sailor dresses (even on adult women--yikes!), so this should be a big hit with her.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Downtown on the farm

We'll be at the Expo 2007 Saturday morning. The event is at the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center and it promises to be a feast of information and organic food. On the schedule are presentations on healthy eating for families and urban agriculture, exhibits from local family farms and CSAs and demonstrations from top area chefs like Rick Bayless, raw foodie Karyn Calabrese and Bruce Sherman from North Pond. Plus, I'm hoping to graze/shop my way through food samples at the farmer's market. It's too early for a ton of fresh produce, but there will meats, cheeses, breads, honey, nuts and handmade soaps, I'm sure.

Not sure what it is, but they're also promising an "Organic Kids Activity Corner." Kids under 12 are free and adult tickets are two-for-one if you purchase them in advance on their website.

"I'm a mommy"

This morning as we were enjoying our breakfast, Z demanded "hot chocolate" and further requested I serve it to her in my ceramic coffee mug. I told her that we were all out of chocolate, but I would be happy to warm up her milk. She settled for warm milk ("just like Mommy's coffee"), but insisted I serve it to her in a grown-up mug. What the heck, I thought, grabbing a stained promotional mug from the cabinet and dumping the contents of her sippy cup into it. I warmed the milk in the microwave for a 20 seconds and served it to her, letting her stir in two teaspoons worth of my coffee.

The kid was as pleased as punch, sipping with grace and saying, "I'm a Mommy. I need to finish my coffee and go to work! I work on the computer and go meetings! I'm a Mommy. I have a coffee mustache!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A gutsy move for P&G

Now this is a brilliant move. P&G is going after a much younger audience for its fiber product by pitching it like a beauty brand. With colonics on the verge of going mainstream, I suppose its only natural for a mainstream supplement to try making an entrance through the exit door. The tagline, if you can't read it here, is "Beautify your inside."

Doing it all

I was listening to NPR this morning and heard a story about how working moms today are spending the same amount of time with their kids that stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. How is that possible? Two main reasons: One, moms in the 1970s were more comfortable with letting their kids play independently; they could run down the street, entertain themselves in the backyard or head to the playground without direct parental supervision. Also, these 1970s moms were doing a lot more cooking and cleaning than working moms are doing today. We've outsourced dusting and mopping to cleaning services and cut back on the time spent preparing meals with take-out, convenience foods and simpler dinners.

The good news: today's working mothers are getting in the same amount of quality time they enjoyed from their moms (about 11 hours a week). The bad news: we're doing it by sacrificing our own sleep and leisure time. And we're probably eating way too much fast food. But that's a different story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More free coffee

On the heels of Starbucks' national coffee giveaway, Dunkin Donuts is offering up free iced coffees all day tomorrow. Starbucks only gave away a cuppa joe from 10am-12 noon. Advantage: Dunkin. Now if they'd only let me customize my drink myself...

Stranger than Fiction

Josh and I watched Stranger than Fiction on DVD this weekend, and while I enjoyed the movie, I was distracted by all of the setting inconsistencies. I think I was driving Josh nuts with my observations since he was much more irritated by the film's supposed plot holes, but heck, what's my blog for if I can't air a few grievances?

So here we go. The movie was obviously shot in Chicago, but no references are made to Chicago...just "this city." Will Ferrell catches a CTA bus every day, but he says to a fellow rider, "Don't you just love the MTA?" He uses a pay phone in the "6th street station," which appears to be under Daley Plaza. I'm pretty sure it was the Jackson tunnel; there's definitely no 6th street downtown. And I'm pretty sure the IRS doesn't have a major office in Chicago anyway. We send our returns to St. Louis.

What else? Ferrell takes the bus to Euclid Avenue, which is west of the city--a very long bus ride from what looked to be Michigan Avenue. Emma Thompson's character, the author who is narrating Farrell's life, appears to have a studio overlooking the State Street Sears store (not likely), and Farrell's hospital room has a magnificent view of the Wrigley Building--something you can't see from Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Maybe he was recovering at Swissotel?

Amped, the guitar shop where Ferrell buys a Stratocaster appeared to be located in the financial district (um, maybe Wicker Park or Lincoln Square would be more likely). And then there's the professor played by Dustin Hoffman. I'm quite confident his scenes were shot at the modernist concrete creation that is University of Illinois Chicago, but no signs or flags identified the school.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Nissan embraces nontraditional marketing

Here's an example of a great, very inexpensive word-of-mouth marketing campaign Nissan launched to promote its keyless ignitions to African-American consumers. Not sure why this is an "ethnic" campaign since it seems like it would build buzz in any community, but I'm guessing that the most ethnic element is the locations where the keys are dropped.

Taco triumph

Last night we watched Z build, wrap and eat an entire taco. First she spooned the taco meat from a small bowl onto her soft corn tortilla. Then she sprinkled on some shredded cheddar. Finally, she folded it into a shape not entirely unlike a burrito, crammed it securely in her tiny fist, and ate the entire thing. Not a speck of meat fell out. I was couldn't take my eyes off of her. And needless to say, everything fell out of my tortilla.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Potty update!

It was a perfect storm. New Tinkerbell underpants that I picked up at a rummage sale this morning. Add a week's worth of viewings of a new potty movie (which I will be reviewing here in the next couple of weeks) and an afternoon visit with her best friend Lia, who is potty trained. The result? A bona-fide tinkle in the potty chair. Z actually hopped out of the tub during bathtime and said, "I need to go potty."

Sitting on the pot and talking the talk is nothing new. Actual production of pee? Now that's worth blogging about!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dinner in the nude

I considered not posting this story since it is more than a little embarrassing, but I just can't help myself. Why blog if not to expose myself and my family to national ridicule?

You see, Z was a bit of a pistol last night. From the minute I walked in the door, she was all over the place, showing me her Cinderella underpants...then insisting I change her into a diaper in the middle of the kitchen floor...while Daddy was cooking. And then heading upstairs unsupervised while I was washing vegetables so that she could fetch a clean diaper for her doll.

In any case, when she found out we were having salmon and potatoes for dinner, she pitched a royal fit for macaroni and cheese. It went on and on, but I wasn't budging. I told her she could try the fish and mashed potatoes, and if she didn't like them, she could have cereal. Under no circumstances would there be mac and cheese tonight!

She cried in the corner. She cried in my arms. She snuffled tears and snot onto my shoulder as I sat down to my dinner. And then, realizing that her crocodile tears weren't moving us, the crying stopped. She said, "I need to get down. My pants are wrong. I need to take them off."

Z slid off my lap and proceeded to remove her pants. And her socks. And her shirt. And her diaper.

"Why are you getting undressed?" Josh asked.
"Because I want to to take my clothes off," she replied.
"Why do you want to take your clothes off?"
"Because...I want to be naked!"

And then she climbed, naked as a jaybird, back onto my lap. Now I'm no prude and I'm glad my daughter is comfortable with her own body, but there is something just a little disturbing about eating a green salad while a 2 year old girl walks her hands over herself and says, "Look, my 'gina, my legs. I got all kinds of parts of my body!"

The good news is that Josh and I were able to suppress our giggles as we shot looks across the table at one another. And the table dance ended as quickly as it began. Yes, she did spend the rest of the evening in the nude, but I'm happy to report she ended up in her own chair. She tried 3 bites of mashed potatoes, declared she didn't like it, and polished off a bowl of Grape-Nuts instead.

I know the naked toddler is a cliche, but I'm not sure how other parents deal with it. Is any inside nudity okay, but outside nudity discouraged? Am I a complete freak for letting my daughter eat dinner in her birthday suit?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Free coffee

Get your free cup of joe Thursday at any Starbucks location. Just choose a less-trafficked location (unless you like waiting in long lines) and show up between 10 and 12am.

Fun on the front porch

It's likely it won't be 73 degrees when I arrive home from work today, but yesterday was simply glorious. Z had lots of fun telling me that I was the baby and I "needed to go to sleep and stay in my bed." She would head for the door and say, "I'm going downstairs!" Then, seconds later she'd say, "What's wrong? You thirsty? You want some water?"

Froggy boots
Z opens the front door
Z looks at Mama
Z sweeps the front porch

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I guess I'm really pregnant now

I've gained 15 lbs, my belly's out to here, and this week I started feeling pregnancy symptoms for the first time. I'm one of the lucky ones who never felt suffered from morning sickness, and I couldn't feel the baby move until just last month. I consider myself one of the lucky ones for whom pregnancy is pretty "easy." I'm youngish, low-risk and healthy.

So while I'm still answering my co-workers' "How are you feeling?" questions with a "Just great, thanks," it's more because I don't want to regale them with my tales of below the belt suffering. The acrobatic backflips baby's performing in my belly. The way she's pushing down on my bladder so that I find myself running to the bathroom only to squeeze out the tiniest tinkle. The, er, extra fiber my diet requires. And the waking up with my leg completely immobilized by calf cramps. The next 17 weeks should be fun.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I need your help

Once in a great while my work life coincides with my personal interest in blogging, and this is just such a time. I know I've stumbled across a couple of mommy bloggers famous for their crafting-with-kids ideas, and I am sure there are other moms out there who are great resources for coming up with activities and projects appropriate for grade school kids. Can anyone point me to some great sites/blogs?

Two Dystopian Futures

I guess I'm a sucker for movies and literature set in the future. I loved The Handmaid's Tale and I couldn't even bring myself to hit pause on our DVD copy of Children of Men--I sat through the whole film simultaneously thirsty and having to pee. So I was delighted by Speak Up's clever entry on Idiocracy, the movie nobody saw (excepting me and Josh, perhaps). What I love is all of the screen shots of all of brand names, (d)evolved as they have in a society where the lowest common denominator dominates. Yes, in this bleak future our country is governed by a porn star, our crops are dying because we're watering them with a Gatorade-like sports drink and Costco stretches on for city block after city block.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Weekend highlights

In no particular order...

1. Seeing Jon Brion with Josh at the Steppenwolf Theatre Friday night
2. Seeing Z's face light up when the babysitter arrived
3. Sharing a mess of barbecue from Robinson's Ribs with our friends Julie and Steve and their kids Saturday night
4. Watching their daughter Ania and Z play nicely on their own while we licked BBQ sauce off our fingers
5. Finding Josh a pair of snazzy pants and a shirt and sweater to match at Banana Republic
6. Discovering that BR has a bathroom with a changing table
7. Breaking out Z's red wagon
8. Hitting the playground for the first time in 4 months
9. Taking advantage of the extra hour of daylight by staying there until dinnertime
10. Having breakfast cereal and toast for dinner


It's a cliche, so I knew it was inevitable that we'd hear the question sooner or later, but the whys have hit our household full force.

"We need to stop at the gas station to get gas."
"Because the gas light went on. The car needs gas."
"The car is hungry for gas. It's saying 'feed me.'"
"Because cars need gas to run."
"Because that's how they work. Without gas, they won't go."
"Because I said so."
"Oh. Because."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spring cleaning

Chicago's long, cold freeze finally broke and today it is absolutely glorious. And with spring on the way, my front porch will no longer be a mere pass-through on the way into our house.

So I decided to spend Z's naptime giving our more-two-than-three season room a thorough cleaning--no easy task considering it is all windows. Old-fashioned tiny paned windows covered by soot-filled screens and gritty storm windows. All so old and warped that nothing quite fits together. And since it is about 10 steps off the ground, I had to use a bucket of vinegar and water, a mop and a ladder to clean the outside.

Anyway, getting my porch cleaned would have been rewarding on its own, but I was doubly delighted to see all of my neighbors emerge from hibernation and take to the streets with their much-grown babies, toddlers and dogs. This area may suffer from some miserable winters, but the snow and ice is worth seeing the broad smiles as everyone heads back outside in the springtime. We do not take good weather for granted, that's for sure.

Speaking of folks out for a stroll, Josh walked to Walgreens and reported that I wasn't the only Oak Parker with a yen for spring cleaning. Apparently the entire block smells of cleaning supplies.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

No patience for being a patient

I'm home sick today, feeding a vicious cold with hourly trips into the kitchen. I think I would be a cow if I was home full-time.

Anyway, after finishing up a presentation deck and emailing it off to the office, I've been busying myself with the production and consumption of the hot water/lemon juice/honey mixture first prepared for me by the British nanny of some family friends when I was about twelve years old. My sister and I had been staying at their home in Islamabad, Pakistan while my dad was medivaced to Germany with acute pancreatitis (my mother accompanied him). I'm always impressed by how well this hot lemonade soothes a sore throat.

I'm less impressed with network television's daytime viewing options. Seriously, after Oprah and The View, there is nothing on but low-budget soaps and hour after hour of court shows. Cristina's Court, the People's Court, Divorce Court, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mills Lane...even the logos for these shows are virtually identical!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bookshelf: Ice cold winter reading

I just finished two completely different books, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home and Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle. The former is an OMG-I-can't-put-this-down first person account of a horrific plane crash and the suffering that followed as the survivors scraped out an existence high in the Andes, while the second is thoroughly middle-brow contemporary tale of family secrets and revenge. Yet both included very vivid descriptions of freezing nearly to death.

Now I'm reading Anita Diamant's The Last Days of Dogtown, which I chose because--like seemingly every woman I've ever met--I'm a big fan of The Red Tent. It's pretty good, but not so riveting I can't push it aside for a fresh issue of the The New Yorker.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red in the face?

I'm a big proponent of cause marketing. We live in a branded culture and most consumers don't mind one bit. I think big companies are uniquely positioned to champion causes that make sense for their brands and connect with their consumers. We spend all day with our favorite brands, so why not learn something from the back of a cereal box, save those soup can labels for our schools or reach for the coffee brand that invests in growers' communities? There is a real opportunity raise awareness and funds for worthy causes, and plenty of companies have done quite well doing good.

But what if a brand spends a whole lot more money talking about all the good they're doing? How will consumers react? Ad Age raises the possibility of a consumer backlash against the Red campaign, which is supposed to be raising money to battle AIDS in Africa. Powerhouse brands like the Gap, Motorola and Apple have spent over $100 million pushing Red, and it's not just Bono behind the effort: celebrities from Oprah to Chris Rock to Christy Turlington have promoted the cause.

You'd expect the cash raised to be pretty significant, right? Well, according to Ad Age, just $18 million has been raised worldwide. Kind of a drop in the bucket. Do consumers care? They're not going to stop consuming altogether, but will they become more cynical, losing respect for companies who treat cause marketing as more campaign than commitment?

I'm curious, do you shop for brands that claim to give back? Which brands do you believe have a real commitment to a cause? Is there a particular cause that connects with you?

Cool to a tee

Chicago-based Threadless is having a $10 "Spring Broke" tee shirt sale, making now the perfect time to stock up on tees you won't see anyone else wearing. I love the Threadless business model: let anyone who wants to design a tee shirt, ask the public to vote for their favorite, and print up limited runs of winning designs on high-quality tees.

Personally, I've got my eye on Nineteen Seventy Five.

21 weeks!

21 week belly

You'd think a belly like this would earn me a seat on the CTA this morning, but no such luck.

Z sits on my 21 week belly

One advantage of a growing a baby--I've got a built-in perch for the soon-to-be big sister. Can't get enough pregnancy photos? Check out Adventures in Babywearing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How to kill your brand

The LA Times has a great article on how once beloved brands expand too quickly, losing the very quirky uniqueness that attracted customers in the first place. First on the list companies that have overreached and lost their way is Starbucks. As most people know by now, an internal memo penned by CEO Howard Schultz went public after being anonymously posted to a Starbucks Gossip site. In the memo, Schultz admits that Starbucks has cut too many corners and become too sanitized, too corporate. It is in danger of losing its cultishly loyal devotees, in spite of their caffeine addition.

Of course, for every once-loved Krispy Kreme or Snapple, there are Chipotle and Trader Joe's, companies that have slavishly held tight to their brand personalities while expanding nationwide. How will other brands fare? Will Potbelly Sandwich Works still hire cheerful workers behind the line and tolerable singer-songwriters to serenade us from above the booths. Will their milkshakes get watered down into "shakes," a la Mickey D's?

In my experience, Cold Stone Creamery, Cosi, Jamba Juice and Maggiano's Little Italy/Corner Bakery seem to be doing a good job keeping their USP (unique selling proposition) in sight as they grow. Will Whole Foods Market?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Weekend highlights

The Saturday morning Ralph's World concert at HOB was a huge hit. Z seemed a tiny bit overwhelmed by the sell-out crowd on the floor and by our fairly crowded VIP balcony (we're spoiled by Josh's connections). However, she wasn't too shy to pipe up with this gem when asked her name by one of the other parents: "I have a baby sister. She's not here yet. She's in Mommy's tummy. She's coming later."

The woman looked up at me, her gaze shifting over my baggy maternity blouse. I nodded that yes, I was expecting. And yes, it was a girl.

After her afternoon nap, Z was delighted to have two of her best buddies over. And Josh entertained all three girls, treating us moms to an hour or so of virtually uninterrupted conversation.

Saturday evening I put Z in the bath with her "naked baby," a water-friendly plastic doll. She was giving her baby a bottle, when she looked up at me and announced, "I got to give baby a bottle. I put it in her mouth. It's got milk in it. It's not for you, Mommy. You can't have it. It's got hand prints on it. It's got blue hand prints."

Today Z again raided my closet for "Mommy dress-up clothes," settling on an apricot maternity tank top over a silky half slip. The whole ensemble was held up with hair clips and a pink sparkly belt.

Video chatting
We also used our webcam for the first time, "videoconferencing" with my in-laws on Skype. It was pretty cool to see Z performing for her grandparents as she looked at them on our computer. But since she's got the attention span of a flea, she kept asking us to "go to me check my e-mail." And no, my 2-year-old does not have an email account.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Come crash my party

The lovely ladies at 5 Minutes for Mom dreamed up a brilliant way for us time-pressed, pants-not-so-much mommy bloggers to socialize--The Ultimate Blog Party So help yourself to the half bottle of wine in your own fridge, grab a handful of broken animal crackers and pull up a...never mind.

Anyway, let's mix, mingle and meet a few fresh faces. If I'm new to you, feel free to pepper me with embarrassing questions. While you're thinking, here's a Q for you: who among your non-blogging friends knows about and reads your blog? How willingly do you pass out your address?

Itty bitty rock show

Tomorrow morning we're headed to the House of Blues for a Ralph's World concert. I've been to shows sponsored by beer brands, liquor companies, cigarettes and mobile phone makers, but I've never been to a concert "presented by Rice Krispies."

I know Z will have a blast, and I'll have a great time watching her dance around to "Dance Around."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Saints are Coming

I realize that by posting yet another video it looks like I'm being lazy. But I think this U2/Green Day collaboration is worth sharing. The end of the video brought tears to my eyes. Yeah, I'm hormonal. But still.

Robot has a bad day

Proof that great TV advertising still exists.