Some internet tips…

What did parents do before the Internet??!  When I was pregnant, I began researching what I was going to experience and anticipate some of the early days of parenthood.  I looked at all sorts of baby supplies and furniture and clothes.  I looked up doctors and day care centers.  I shopped for maternity clothes.  I had lots of time to do this: I had insomnia every night!

Some of the things I found: if you find a favorite brand of clothes, search for it on ebay and amazon.com.  Both sites seem to serve as a way for retailers to sell off merchandise at a discount.  I always looked for “NWT” (new with tag) and was able to get items from all sorts of stores across the U.S. at a sale price.

Similarly, once I had a recommendation for products for our child, I would look for the manufacturer to locate retailers.  In doing this, I found some independent retailers nearby.  But, I also found that some of the companies would sell directly to consumers.  Vincent shoes is one good example, and so is Boden.  The other trick one mom taught me was to check out sales as stores cleared out a season—to stock up on clothes for the next year.  Now, this will only work as long as your child is average in size and/or growth rate.  So far, so good!

Unfortunately, some sites are already gone just four years later.  Babystyle was a cool site that combined maternity clothes with infants and toddlers clothing and toys.  I had so much fun there!  Babycenter.com was both packed full of information, as well as offering an interesting inventory.  Now, it links to diapers.com.

This site was not around when I could have used it: Rookie Moms.

Consumer reviews have been a huge help to me.  I did not have to rely on a single writer’s perspective but could see which items had really been tested by other parents and then look for patterns in feedback.  I tried to take the time to add mine to the mix, too.  I think you’ll find me mostly on www.toysrus.com.

I love sharing and ordering photos via snapfish.com.  They have tons of gift items that can be personalized, including photo books.

Well, this is my first chance to offer some tips for new parents.  I’m sure I’ll offer up more again in the future.  One word of warning: the very thing that makes the web enticing is also a potential problem and we can get information overload.  This is especially true in the area of medical advice.

I’ll tie this back to my life and trying to strike a work/life balance.  I’m all about finding ways to be more efficient.  If spending some time online saves me trips to the mall, I’m all for it.  I figure it will maximize my time at home with my son.  So please post more tips in the comments so we can all find new sites or ways to save time.  In a perfect world it means saving money but ultimately I think time is a more scarce commodity.

The Council of Dads (Moms)

Dealing with death is not easy and it seems to pop up in our lives when we least expect it.  Seldom are we ready for death but it does often provide a moment to contemplate our lives.  At least, I do.  Since I began my relationship with my husband, he has lost his grandparents, an aunt and an uncle.  I have lost an aunt and an uncle.  I just learned another aunt has been diagnosed with cancer.  This is her third battle with the disease in ten years.  I cannot imagine how tired that must make her.  Her brother, my father, passed away 14 years ago.  Her sickness reminds me of him, my childhood, and the dynamics of our family.

Ironically, I recently read a story about a man who was diagnosed with cancer and it prompted him to create a “Council of Dads” to help raise his daughters.  It was a terrific concept: he selected friends from different times in his life to instill various lessons in his girls.  Realizing that one’s hometown might have been a factor in his foundation, that’s where he started.  Then he moved onto college, picked a co-worker, found a fellow traveler, etc.  We all have different facets, so identifying those traits is really smart.  It makes me think how I might do the same.  I intend to give this some thought.

I joke that if I were to die suddenly, my husband would not have to shop for clothes because I constantly buy ahead.  Half of my son’s closet is filled with things a size or two bigger than what he wears today.  I find it fun to do but one aspect of it is imagining my son as he grows and develops a sense of himself.  Part of that process is to have a sense of style and I also really like to cultivate his uniqueness.  Copying others drives me crazy.  I like to think I am contributing to him finding his own identity.  So what would happen if I was gone?  Obviously clothes are very superficial and passing.  It is more important to develop morals and knowledge, etc.  I hope he has my love of books and learns to give to those who are less fortunate.  I think his closet is just one example of how I try to plan for the future.

So now I have a new project for me for my son.

Worlds Colliding

When I think of Facebook and my collection of friends there, one phrase comes to mind: “Worlds Colliding.”  Over the course of my life, I have moved multiple times.  So there is the simple issue of geography keeping groups separated in my real life.  Jobs came and went and now I am able to reconnect with former co-workers.  But there are deeper divides that exist.

I attended a private, Christian school during grades 5 through 12.  If you can remember the setting for the movie “Footloose,” you have a close approximation of that environment.  There were no school dances.  There was a strict dress code (read: dresses for girls) and demerits were given out in an effort to manage our conduct.  In science courses we were taught how evolution was wrong.  Bible was a required course and there was a weekly chapel service.  Now, I should mention I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Who would expect such a conservative group mere miles from Berkeley?

When I went away to college, just across the bay, I lived in a co-ed dorm.  My next door neighbor that freshman year was an atheist.  Imagine the culture shock!  So then there was an entirely different set of friendships cultivated during those four years.  Another dorm experience: the emergence of gay students.  I obviously had been exposed to that lifestyle by virtue of my proximity to SF but now I was meeting and living with guys and had a more personal knowledge.  Learning about the religious differences was also really interesting to me.  I started to develop friendships with Jewish students, too.

I have lived in Los Angeles, New York and returned to the Bay Area, but now I live in Chicago.  My friends have dispersed across the country and are scattered across the U.S.  When I look at my news stream on Facebook, I read updates by Democrats and Republicans, parents and singles, issues of faith, the desire for gay marriage or protection of Christian values, all mixing in a way that does not seem like it should be part of one person’s life but this is the quilt of friends and family that I have collected over the years.  It gives me pause when I think of how some friends might not accept others.  I wonder who might be offended by another.  But I also believe that some would have a sense of humor and laugh off the rest.  It makes me wonder where I fit in the mix.

One newer group is the virtual friends I am making in social networks.  On Twitter, in particular, there are people who I follow and who I engage in conversations with but I may never meet them in real life.  I managed to attend a social media conference recently and I did meet a handful of people there who I ‘knew’ online.  It was rather surreal.  You realize how limited your perspective is when you only know what they say in 140-character messages.  Of course, most of these people also post to blogs, etc., so there is more to learn.

Worlds colliding: I am connected to pals from grade school and then I correspond with these new friends online.  It makes life much more interesting.  So, do you keep your various ‘lives’ separate or let them mingle?  How’s that working for you?

That’s me in the picture with my childhood friend who I have reconnected with on Facebook decades later.

UnGeeked Elite (in review)

Published on HMA Public Relations Blog on May 26, 2010

First, I should set the stage: The UnGeeked Elite conference in Milwaukee was three days in a room with more than 100 people, mostly from Milwaukee but a few outsiders like me attended, too.  The days were filled with back-to-back sessions that spanned from agency folks to consultants with technologies and marketing services and keynote presentations by nationally-recognized names in social media.  It began with Jason Falls discussing social media policies.  You gotta love a guy who takes on such an unsexy topic to kick off a new event.  I’ve followed him for a while (@jasonfalls) on Twitter and he did not disappoint.  He even provided his presentation for us on his website so we did not need to take notes.  That being said, I did take some notes.  Primarily, he emphasized being clear and establishing an expectation—both with employees and with visitors to your facebook page or website.  He has had experience in dealing with lawyers and executives who he described as “curmudgeons” and offered ways to bridge the gap between them and the PR or marketing staff that wants to embrace social media.  He shared some common sense advice and it boiled down to very basic principles such as: “If you have to ask, don’t do it.” (if you are unsure about a post/comment) and “Don’t be that guy.”

Jamey Shiels (@jameyshiels), the director of social media and digital communication for Aurora Health Care was another gem.  He shared how his team had developed its strategies and tactics.  The organization employs 29,000 people, including 3,000 physicians.  Imagine trying to keep track of all those participants in social networks??  Interestingly, Jason Falls had made reference to this company because it opened access to the web last year to all its employees and when the management checked web traffic, Facebook was not even in the top-ten sites visited.  Shiels talked about seeking opportunities where consumer needs align with brand wants as part of how he develops the strategy for their outreach.  They blog, do web video casts, social networking and they use Twitter.  The team was allowed a year to do a ‘live beta experimentation’ and then rolled out a more formal process.  Great person to meet!

Joe Sorge, owner of the AJ Bombers (@ajbombers) restaurant was a dynamic, passionate man who tells great stories.  He told of a grill that broke down for lunch and how he handled it.  His explained his use of Foursquare and how he created a badge (it involved a boat) that generated terrific traffic.  He is open to trying out various types of social media to see what works best for his customers and he’s having a good time doing it.  Read more about him in the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703787304575076001164243926.html

Scott Stratten, @unmarketing to those of you on twitter, stayed true to his recent post and did not bore us with Powerpoint.  A few, fun phrases from his presentation: we connect on silly things; social media isn’t a new way to push crap; and your job isn’t to be the Jackass Whisperer.  I enjoyed sitting in with 19 other attendees for a more personal discussion with Scott.  I could only pick one keynote and I’m glad I chose him because it allowed us to hear more about his experiences.  He gets hundreds of notes and followers a day, so the release of his book in September has him a little anxious about the pending traffic.

Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) swears like a sailor.  How’s that for an insight?  I enjoyed his candor.  A few key points: think like a media company, build your network and remember it is a human business.  He suggests breaking out time spent in social media as: 30% listening, 60% connecting and 30% publishing.  I liked his comment: “Listening is the secret driver of serendipity.”

We got to hear from journalists!  Both tv and print reporters sat on a panel to share how social media impacts their jobs.  Sara Santiago was another new person to me who has tremendous energy and shared some great insights into mobile marketing.  Dan Schawbel (@danschawbel) talked about building your personal brand and an interesting point people were getting stuck on: the difference between full disclosure and authenticity.  We each need to decide for ourselves how much we put out there.

Another lesson I learned was to keep blogs brief and this post is going long.  I’ve read other comments about the same event and it is interesting to see how different speakers or topics resonated for us but we all came away energized.   There are more UnGeeked Elite retreats planned for 2011 so you may be able to attend one close to you.

photo credits: Jason Falls image by Simon Salt, Incslingers; and Chris Brogan by Bryant Hill on flickr

Giving Back in 2010

As 2010 was starting, I decided to submit an article to the “Yummy Mummy Club” website.  The editorial calendar called for pieces about giving back (for January) and that topic sparked my writing very quickly.  It was the first time I was published somewhere and so I thought I’d continue with it.  I’m expanding that original work since they had a word limit, I can elaborate on a few things and thus begin my new blog…

I don’t recall what prompted me to visit the children’s hospital near my college, but I did and I found out that I could volunteer there in the recreation therapy room on a weekly basis.  The kids and their families were optimistic and strong in the face of chronic ailments.  I continued to do volunteer service as I started my career and I found that it helped me to better balance the stress of a job with the more important challenges of life.

When I relocated to Chicago in 2002, I looked up the Stanford University alumni association.  I found out that it had established a partnership with Chicago Public Schools and I ended up judging science fairs and history fairs at Curie Metro high school.  We all seem to be strapped for time, especially those of us who juggle motherhood with careers.  Finding extra hours (or minutes) in the day might be a tall order, but it is possible to make a difference in small ways.  As I met those young students, and interacted with the faculty at the school, I saw that a few hours really helped them and I enjoyed the time spent there, too.  It was not an on-going commitment but the one-day experience made an impact.

This past year I had the opportunity to help launch the corporate social responsibility program at our company.  I got to do research on non-profits across the U.S. as we sought a partner of national scope.  We decided to go with the Ronald McDonald House Charities (www.rmhc.org).  It has been very gratifying to see how the relationship has blossomed across the country.  On a personal level, I have enjoyed working with them and value my counterpart in the organization.  But before we made that decision, I discovered so many worthwhile organizations I want to promote to others.  A couple I’d like to share here:

DonorsChoose.org — Here’s how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit to violins for a school recital.  Then, you browse project requests and give any amount to the one that makes your eye twinkle. Once a project reaches its funding goal, they deliver the materials to the school. You’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students. You can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. They call it “citizen philanthropy.”

First Book – if you are reading this right now, I’m guessing that you enjoy reading in general.  The idea that children can be growing up without books to read made me sad.  It shocked me, really.  This organization’s mission is simple: First Book provides new books to children in need addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books.  Now, nearly 20 years since its start, First Book has delivered more than 65 million books to programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada.  Learn more at www.firstbook.org

Closer to home, I like Lamb’s Farm (http://www.lambsfarm.org/).  It is an organization that empowers an extraordinary group of more than 250 people with developmental disabilities to lead personally fulfilling lives.   As a result of the earthquake in Haiti, I also chose to personally support the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (www.clintonbushhaitifund.org).  Back in California, a long-time favorite of mine for the past decade has been Project Open Hand (www.openhand.org).  San-Francisco-based Project Open Hand provides home delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS.

As I look at the groups I gravitate toward, they typically cluster around helping people be self-sufficient and providing food or shelter.  I have less time to devote to volunteering so I tend to give money lately.  As my son gets bigger, I intend to have him join me in some activities.  More on that later.

What are some of your favorite non-profits?  Are there other unique ways you’ve found to give back in your community?

Hello world!

All moms are not created equal.  I’m not drawing a comparison of better or worse but am pointing out that while we share in the experience of child birth and the raising of children, our experiences differ widely.  That is a pretty obvious statement, right?  But I think we often get put into buckets that don’t quite fit.  I first saw this when I was pregnant and found a terrific resource in Baby Center.

When you initially go there for information, you enter your child’s due date and so you are encouraged to join the board for expectant mothers who also share the same month for their deliveries.  I went along with that and would check discussion topics but found that I felt like the mother of many of the girls who were there.  Was it self-selection that younger women tended to go online for their information?  I doubt it.  I just think that as a first-time mother in my 40s I was outside the norm.  This was reinforced during my doctor visits and nurses would marvel that it was my first pregnancy.

As time has progressed, and now there is a proliferation of “mommy bloggers,” I have gone to look for places where I can connect and have yet to find the right fit.  I am sure I have not done an exhaustive search but it seems that the women who gain attention are again not like me.  I’m not a stay-at-home mom.  I only have one child.  I’m over 40.

Here is where I am staking my claim.  I think I will write sometimes about the workplace and sometimes about home life.  How do I balance these two competing forces for my time and energy?  Where do I carve out time for me?  How do I maintain friendships with people across the country from me and some whose children are now in college while I am struggling with potty training?  Those are my challenges and I doubt I am alone.

Please let me know what brought you here.  Are you a working mom, too?  Looking for tips, opinions, or what else?