Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lucky, lucky me (to be in Miami)

This--THIS--was the incredible view from my 14th floor corner unit hotel room at the very luxurious Fountainbleau in Miami Beach Tuesday. And yes, I sat by those inviting pools with two of my old colleagues, finishing Unbroken and wolfing down an Indian-spiced shrimp wrap.

What did I do to deserve this Cinderella-at-the-ball treatment? I said yes to participating in a panel discussion at a shopper marketing insights conference. And it turned out to be a really fun panel, filled as it was with lively, personable, funny representatives of each generation.

Baby boomers Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are professional speakers/retail snoops and hilariously self-deprecating. Apparently Boomers want large print labels and no-slip carpet floors in stores, but it's "not because they're old!" Marketer Isabel Villegas represented the Gen X Latina (dispelling the myth that Hispanics aren't heavy Internet users and reinforcing the stereotype that they like to shop in big family groups) and I offered the opinions and concerns of the Gen X mom ("It's a scary world in which to be raising small children. We're looking for brands that incorporate sustainable practices, reduce packaging, treat animals humanely, and give back to the community.") Our token Millennial was Sasha Halima, a quick-witted tell-it-like-it-is PR gal in NYC and avid blogger/tweeter who shared Millennials' close relationships with their moms ("I call my mom from the store and ask her what brand to buy").

Since the rehearsals and our actual panel took up only 3 or 4 hours of my time in Miami, I was able to take a bus to Lincoln Road mall in South Beach and soak up the atmosphere in the uber-cool lobby lounge Bleau, which is lit from below and features live music.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Catching the stinkeye to Miami

I got a robocall from American Airlines about an hour ago. My 7:45am flight to Miami was canceled and now I'm leaving O'Hare at the ungodly hour of 5:45 tomorrow. I've yet to count backwards to figure out for what time I should be setting my alarm clock so that I can be showered and in the O'Hare security line by 4:15.

Why am I flying to Miami during spring break? If you guessed it was to watch my children frolic in the pool at the Hotel Fountainbleau, guess again. I'm spending not quite 2 days in Miami Beach so that I can represent the Generation X shopper at SymphonyIRI Group's annual summit. I'm on a panel designed to give senior marketers a taste of the differences between shoppers of different generations. It's not entirely unlike the Mom Blogger panel I participated in 2 years ago in Las Vegas, but this time I'm even more professionally prepared. Not only as a shopper born in the mid-1970s and a mother, but because I work specifically in the shopper marketing discipline.

Since it's a panel discussion, I can't predict exactly where the conversation will go, but I'm hoping I will get a chance to talk about social shopping (everything from checking out product reviews to asking for opinions on Twitter on Facebook), category-specific paths to purchase and mobile-enabled shopping behaviors. I've also been asked to come up with Moms' Top 5 Fears. Using a pseudo-scientific blend of Leo Burnett BrandShelter research and my own survey of mom friends, I came up with the following.

1. Gas prices will go up
2. My town, city or state will raise sales, property or income taxes and fees
3. Feeling of powerlessness in the face of natural disasters, global warming, religious fundamentalism and corporate greed
4. Bullying/cyberbullying
5. Unable to save enough money for retirement and children's college educations

How do these fears align with yours? It's not too late to tell me!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The karma of sharing kids' stuff

The coat, dress, tights & shoes are "new"
While I'd donated money to the Red Cross to support those affected by the triple crises in Japan, I welcomed the opportunity to help in a more personal way last week. A friend I know from a private online mothers group was arriving in Chicago from Tokyo with her husband and two little girls. Due to the relief effort going on, their airfreight wasn't going to leave Japan any time soon. And while the weather here is still bone-chillingly cold, all the stores are selling spring and summer clothes. Exclusively.

So I ran around the house gathering up extra coats, hats, sweaters and mittens and brought them downtown to hand off to her husband. While I was at it, I rounded up some outgrown toddler shoes and boots for my coworker's daughter.

And karma came back to me in a big way. Saturday morning one of the mothers from Z's 1st grade class swung by with three bags full of hand-me-down clothes and shoes from her (slightly bigger) daughter. Not only did the clothing provide 2 hours of entertainment for a playdate (the girls matched outfits and put together a pajama fashion show), it has entirely relieved me from buying Z sneakers, leggings and pajamas for the next year! And Saturday afternoon another friend came by to return Z's 12" bike, which I'd loaned to their daughter late last summer. The sun might have faded the bike seat and handlebar cushion, but they'd added training wheels and a sassy/shill ladybug bell, making it a thrilling arrival for A, who's decided she's ready for a big girl bike this summer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What's wrong with a good, old-fashioned spelling bee?

Maybe it's my competitive side, but I was disappointed to find out that my daughter's elementary school has replaced the classic spelling bee with something called "The Great Lincoln Spell Check." Unlike a spelling bee, which rewards the very best spellers with fame and glory (and their parents with pride and joy), the Spell Check requires students to solicit pledges from friends and family for each word they spell correctly on a grade-wide spelling test. And it's a fundraiser, of course, with the monies benefiting the school PTO.

We were given the 50 words all the first graders will be tested on and, while Z stumbled on 3 or 4 of them the first run-through, she could spell them all correctly within about 15 minutes. Which means I need to figure out how much I'm willing to donate to the PTO and divide it by 50 to come up with my pledge per word.

It's a bummer because Z's a fantastic speller and I know she'd kick some major spelling bee butt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Purim

Two Queen Esthers
The Jewish religion isn't exactly brimming with happy, festive holidays, but we do have Purim. Imagine the costume parade and sweets of Halloween mixed with the retelling of a classic story and plenty of with noisy audience interaction (this year our temple did it in the vein of A Prairie Home Companion) -- all capped off with a kiddie penny carnival.

To say the kids had fun would be an understatement. Between the dressing up, the carnival games, the moon bounce, the cake walk (which A won!), the hot dog lunch and the prize table, it was pretty much a child's dream come true. And unlike previous years, when all of the entertainment was crammed into the social hall and it was all you could do to keep your under 4s from getting trampled, this time the games and entertainment were spread out throughout the building. It was, dare I say, fun.

Speaking of Purim, I've been recommending The Gilded Chamber for months. It--like The Red Tent--is a highly readable retelling of a famous Hebrew Bible story. In this case, it is a sexed-up story of the Megillah (the Purim story) from the perspective of Queen Esther, a Jewish woman who rises up from the harem to marry the king and save her people from the evil machinations of the king's advisor.

The Purim carnival wasn't our only entertainment this weekend. Friday night Z and I attended the First Grade Night Out at her elementary school, which consisted of an hour and a half of circle dancing in an 80 degree gymnasium. I had to strip off my sweater to avoid passing out, but it was a blast. And on Saturday Z and her dad accompanied some friends to see a community youth production of The Wizard of Oz while A and I enjoyed a rare day alone together. We hit up story time at the library and had a lunch date at Blue Max. Then she pretended to nap and I finished Mockingjay while we waited for her best buddy from preschool to come over for a playdate. Saturday night Josh and I left the girls with a sitter. We had wine and cheese at the Marion Street Cheese Market and then went to a local tennis club for a friend's 40th birthday party.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Share your breakfast

I had coffee and a bowl of cold rolled oats with milk and dried cherries for breakfast this morning. Before I dug in, I snapped this picture and uploaded it to Kellogg's Share Your Breakfast. For every breakfast "shared," they'll provide breakfast to a hungry child.

Just snap a picture with your camera phone and text the word SHARE with the photo or a description of your breakfast to 21534.

I think it's a great cause marketing program with a compelling social media component. And I'm not just saying that because it came out of my agency, Leo Burnett. (I didn't work on it personally.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Parent-Child Night

One of the joys of our Montessori preschool is the annual Parent-Child night, when parents join their children for one hour in the evening. We attended 3 years of Parent-Child nights with Z, but this was our first time with A as our personal tour guide to the Montessori materials. We watched her methodically clean a mirror, pour tiny beans into tiny cups and assemble the binomial cube. She carefully cut paper along the lines and showcased her proficiency with "number work." We'd arranged to have our 13 year old neighbor babysit for Z while we were out, but in a stroke of luck, she called in sick just as one of Z's classmates called to invite her over for what turned out to be an evening playdate.




Sunday, March 13, 2011

Small, small tragedies

It's been an expensive week.

Wednesday night I came home from roller derby practice and forgot to close the garage door. Our garage is not attached to our house, but I'm forever nagging Josh to close the door because bike thefts are rampant in Oak Park. This time it was I who forgot to double-check, and by Thursday morning our GPS and Josh's electric guitar, which he'd uncharacteristically left in the back seat, were gone. (Our bikes were still there.) Loss: approximately $1400.

Friday morning I tried to make a piece of toast for breakfast and discovered our 13 year old toaster oven wouldn't toast. Friday evening Josh heated it up to make chicken nuggets for the kids and the damn thing caught fire. Loss: approximately $25, although we're spending more than that to get the smaller version of the fancy toaster oven that Whitney and Cook's Illustrated recommended.

Then Sunday morning we were gathering in the kitchen for breakfast. As Josh made coffee and I opened a package of bacon, A was dancing in a circle with a Cinderella board book in her hand. She spun, let go of the book and sent it crashing through one of our kitchen windows, shattering it. Loss: we're getting an estimate tomorrow, but I'm guessing not cheap.

While I can't help but whine a bit about this week's almost comic series of misfortunes (there are advantages to having a personal blog), my complaints are being kept in check by the disaster in Japan. A broken window, a broken toaster oven--even a missing GPS unit--these are minor inconveniences compared to the mounting tragedies facing the Japanese people. I thank G-d for the comforts and conveniences I'm enjoying while their nation faces the triple threat of earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear radiation. Scary, scary stuff that's so much harder to watch now that I'm a parent.

It's off topic, but while you're writing your check to the earthquake relief agency of your choice, would you also consider sponsoring me in the American Cancer Society Walk and Roll? I'm committed to roller skating 10 miles with Derby Lite and I'm raising money in honor of my late grandfathers, Robert Silverman and Hollis Limprecht. If 15 people donate, I promise to post a photo of myself in full derby regalia.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A portrait of my young artist

Now 3 1/2, A is showing an incredible aptitude for most everything she's introduced to (sleeping until 6am is still a work in progress). She's thriving at Montessori school, learning the continents, memorizing songs and manipulating the practical life and sensorial materials in the classroom. She advanced into level 2 at swimming lessons in a single session and got top marks on her gymnastics report card.

But what impresses Josh and I the most about our second born is her blossoming artistic ability. From the scribbles and circles she was drawing just 6 months ago have emerged people and animals with recognizable heads, faces, hair, bodies and limbs. She's even adding necklaces, earrings and shoes to her princesses and sisters. And she's prolific; we're getting 5-10 pieces of self-directed, self-created art a day. She sits down at the kids table, helps herself to markers and paper and draws. And draws. And draws.

She asked me to show her how to draw a spider the other day, and then spent the next 30 minutes hunched over, drawing 10 of them, including a "mommy and baby spider," a "grandpa spider" with a beard/wrinkles, and spiders of various colors and sizes. She cut them all out into roughly evenly sized pages and asked me to staple them into a book. Then she wrote "captions" opposite each page consisting of clusters of the capital letters she feels comfortable writing: N, O, W, H and M.

It's getting increasingly tempting to hang onto her little illustrations, but I remain a ruthless recycler, snapping a pic and burying deep in the bin every last masterpiece.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

It's 32 degrees and sleeting: time to plan for summer camp!

IMG_9969The lottery for Oak Park Park District Summer Camps is Thursday, March 10th at noon. They supposedly send out their brochures the first week in March, leaving families a hair over one week to plan their children's summers. In actuality, we received the booklet on Friday and many of our friends haven't gotten it yet (although you can view it online in PDF form).

In preparation for registration, I printed out information about every camp under consideration for this summer, from the aforementioned park district day camps to sleepaway and local Jewish camps to arts camps, zoo camps, swimming camps and special learning enrichment camps. I sent our friends a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet where they could share their camp choices and set up my own personal planning camp at the dining room table with a pencil, blank calendar and checkbook in hand.

It's a dance, figuring out our summer plans. I have to factor in Z's interests, A's comfort level and nap schedule, our vacation plans and Josh's tolerance for driving all over the place. I ended up programming most weeks to my satisfaction and Josh's approval, giving Z 2 weeks of swimming lessons, 2-3 weeks at sports camp, 1-2 at a general day camp, 2 weeks at an eco-explorers camp and 2 weeks of art camp. There are a lot fewer options for the 3-turning-4-year old set, so A will spend most of the summer at her Montessori school's summer program. She will, however, get a taste of day camp and a week at art camp with her sister.

I can't imagine how frustrated I'd feel if I wasn't tuned into the summer camp early registration craze--if all these deadlines somehow slipped by me. Now I just need to set my calendar to remind me to register the minute swimming lesson registration goes live--two years ago Huskies filled its most desirable swimming sessions in the first 2 hours.

 Fellow Oak Parkers, while you're registering for summer camps, don't forget to buy your polar bear pool pass and sign up for the Spring sports lotteries--Z's hoping to play soccer!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lady Gaga, Virgin Mobile and me

Lady Gaga fans practicing their poses outside the Virgin booth
Thanks to a full time job and children who don't understand the allure of sleeping in after Mommy's had a late night, I don't go to as many concerts as you might expect of the wife of a rock critic.

But hell would freeze over before I'd turn down the opportunity to see Lady Gaga live. You can get Josh's professional opinion of the show from his Time Out Chicago review, but suffice it to say she delivered exactly the spectacle I expected. In fact, she went way beyond mere spectacle: she's not just outrageous costumes, hot gay dancers and glitter. The Lady seemed so down-to-earth—so committed forging a meaningful connection with her Chicago fans and making all her "little monsters" feel loved and free to fly their freak flag high.

And I think I deserve an honorary freak flag for being one of the only concert-goers still wearing the same outfit I'd worn to work. Only the cute Boden dress, bright purple tights and green mary janes that had garnered so many compliments back at the office looked positively tame lame next to the costumes surrounding me. Men and women paraded around the concourse dressed like every possible incarnation of the Lady, as 1980s flashbacks (think early Madonna), and as a cavalcade of Pride Parade and burlesque dancers.

Since I never quite take off my marketing hat, I have to salute the sponsor, Virgin Mobile, for its savvy on-site activation of their tour sponsorship. From a photo booth in the lobby to a mid-show call to a fan in the stands from Lady Gaga to the posting of text messages on the jumbotrons to a donation to the performer's favorite charity (LGBT homeless youth), they managed to be ubiquitous without being distracting.