My holiday gift picks featured on Groupon Chicago Guide!

Oh my poor neglected blog. Can you tell it was a busy fall? It was indeed because I haven’t posted here since September. I can tell you since my last post I’ve racked up 5 new clients for work, attended two bat/ bar mitzvahs, have been to 20+ hockey practices, swim lessons, soccer classes and Chanukah parties/ holiday dinners/ friend and family obligations.

We’ve all been busy and such is this freaky holiday fall life. But I did get to do something cool. Get interviewed by Groupon Chicago on my picks for kids’ gifts (and a couple for the parents) this holiday season. Still on the hunt for something cool, unique and useful? Here are my thoughts. Would love to hear what’s on your list, too! You can see the original article here.

Kids Hate Cheese Boards. Gift Them These Toys Instead.

 

Determined to buy the best holiday gifts of their lives, Groupon’s Style & Beauty writers sought shopping advice from local experts. Click here for guides to buying presents for the fitness lover, foodie, or coffee addict in your life.

For many people, being a parent is a full-time job with no paid overtime. But for Sara Fisher, co-founder of 2 Moms Media, parenthood has become a fruitful career. She shares the challenges and triumphs of raising kids on her blog, Self-Made Mom, and as a contributing writer for Chicago Parent magazine.

Naturally, when pressed for holiday gift advice, the busy mom was quick to recommend items that would benefit overworked parents. To be sure everyone’s getting enough sleep, she suggests this stoplight alarm clock with red, yellow, and green lights that let kids know when it’s an appropriate time to get out of bed. To spare parents hectic trips to the grocery store, she likes gift cards for Artizone, a grocery delivery service that specializes in artisanal and organic foods.

My own family has grown exponentially each year, and this holiday season I was staring down a list that included more than 30 children. Luckily, Sara wasn’t short on gift recommendations for the pickiest of all giftees.

Where to Shop

If you prefer small businesses to chains: One of Sara’s favorite kids’ boutiques is Twinkle Twinkle Little One (2007 W. Belmont), which she likes for its extensive selection of furniture, gifts, and accessories for children and babies. For toys (and great customer service—a bonus for frazzled shoppers) she recommends Building Blocks Toy Store (3306 N. Lincoln) “hands down,” and she swears by the boys’ clothing at Little Threads (2033 W. Roscoe), where parents will find cute graphic tees and sturdy playwear.

If you don’t have time to canvass the whole city: Sara likes the mix of stores in the Gold Coast, which is convenient for when you’re shopping for an entire family. “I can get toys from Galt, baby gifts at Preggers (both at 900 N. Michigan), and lots of shopping for the adults in my family around Oak Street and beyond.”

For great consignment pieces: If you need to buy practical items like winter coats and holiday outfits, but want to reserve most of your budget for toy shopping, Sara recommends hitting up secondhand stores such as The Second Child (954 W. Armitage) and Moxie Jean, an Arlington, Illinois–based company whose online shop has been featured on Today.

Once you realize a pony doesn’t fit in a stocking: Sara finds Matchbox cars and rubber-band bracelets to be classic stocking stuffers, and also likes the s’mores flavor of Jolly Oak Granola(available throughout the city) as “a fun treat for kids to open up in the morning and snack on while opening gifts.”

What to Buy for…

Family game night: A gift centered on an activity is a great way to cross a whole brood off the list in one fell swoop. Puzzle games such as Korner’D entertain different ages and, in Sara’s experience, “are good for special needs kids, too.” Sara’s kids love the magnet-based gameAttrAction, and she loves the Xbox with Kinect “because it gets the whole family playing and moving at the same time.”

Tots who are more interested in the wrapping than the gift: Sara suggests Baby Paper, a toy that looks and feels like a piece of cloth but sounds like paper. Babies are fascinated by the sound, and when they invariably put it in their mouth, parents can relax—it’s machine washable.

Kids too old for toys but too young to be into clothes: “I’m still a fan of Legos for any age kid,” Sara says, particularly the new Chima Lego sets for their alternative worlds and buildable figures. For a more action-packed gift, she recommends the battery-powered Ground Force go-cart by Razor.

Future Picassos, J.K. Rowlings, and Katy Perrys: When it comes to artsy kids, Sara says she loves giving experiences such as classes at the Art Institute. For something more tangible, she recommends the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and says “you can’t beat those coolheadphones by Pottery Barn Kids.”

Those days it’s too cold to play outside: To help kids burn off some energy, Sara likes indoor Nerf hoops and these football action-figure toys by Kaskey Kids.

Kids who have nailed the whole sharing thing: Sara’s crazy about Magna-Tiles, which she says “are hands down my favorite gift for the 6-and-under set…really durable. Plus so many come in one set it’s easy to share.” The specially engineered design of Citiblocs makes it easy to build tall, sturdy designs, even if there’s a clumsy kid in the group.

Groupon’s Gift Shop has toys and other gift ideas for kids.

Photo: left, Heather Kingensmith; right,  courtesy of Twinkle Twinkle Little One.

Pride (In the Name of Love) (Or, Neuroses?)

I pride myself on being pretty relaxed when it comes to most parenting decisions. I’ve written in the past about those feisty “helicopter moms” and, while I’m not “hands-off” by any stretch, I like to think that I’m more of a sweet little sparrow rather than a massive Blackhawk.

These ideas I pride myself on, however, always get slapped with a dash of reality when I read a story like this one, that was passed around my social circle no less than 5 times. Written for The Atlantic, the title of the post alone is enough to make any parent, even those really relaxed ones, open their mouths in fear.

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” title notwithstanding, is actually one of the more balanced parenting articles I’ve read in a long time. It actually should be required reading for parents. Written by a therapist and mother, Lori Gottleib, it points out key things we, as parents, do to ensure our kids have happy childhoods, but may make them be unhappy adults. An example:

Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA who came to speak at my clinic, says the answer may be yes. Based on what he sees in his practice, Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.

This kind of example actually came up in my previous article – we want to protect our children to the extent of ensuring that we can avoid every scrape, nick, bump or bruise. It’s just not realistic.

After reading these types of articles, I always reflect on myself – what do I do that maybe won’t land my kid on the therapist’s couch, but that might undermine is independence?

I was caught in that moment this week.

It started earlier this week when I discovered something unsettling happening at my son’s camp: they were using spray sunscreen on him. If you know me, you know the lengths I’ve gone to to eradicate the bad bad sunscreen there is out there on the market. I’ve researched and procured perhaps not the easiest-to-apply products, but what I think are the safest and best choices for our family. So that’s what, of course, I pack in my son’s bag for him to take to camp.

When the lotion I packed kept its contents steady and as my son got darker and darker from the sun, I wondered… was the sunscreen even getting on him? The answer was mixed.

“We don’t use my sunscreen, mom,” I was told earlier this week. “The counselors say it’s too hard to apply so they spray us every day with spray sunscreen which I know you don’t like.”

I love my kid.

I went into a semi-panic. Here I am, BPA, paraben, nano-particle free while my son is inhaling oxybenzone every morning in the swim locker room.

“They didn’t put it on my face,” he said proudly. But it wasn’t that much of a relief. I don’t give a lick if he eats Popsicle and chips almost every day while at camp. I can’t worry about packing him his own snacks – that’s crazy, right?

But, the chemicals in the sunscreen are ones I’ve vowed to avoid. So I did what any mother trying to protect her son from the evils of the world would do. I called the camp and complained. (It was the first time this whole summer.) And I was promptly told that the sunscreen sticks are impossible to apply, the spray is easier and if I want my son to have his own private sunscreen application I need to send lotion, not a sunscreen stick, and that she’d have to tell the UNIT HEAD of the camp that we have special rules for him.

OMG.

“You must think I’m totally crazy,” I told the camp director. “You must think I’m insane, but I hate spray sunscreen.”

OMG.

After there wasn’t much more that I could do or say. I found an old tube of California Baby and threw it in the bag. But there was more to that. What kind of ramifications would my neuroses about sunscreen chemicals have on my child, who, in wanting to protect what I think might be harmful for his health, may put him in a position of ridiculousness at camp? It’s only 8 weeks of his life, right?

At the end of the day what did I reflect on about this? That I acted bat-sh** crazy about zinc. Freaking goopy icky white zinc sunscreen.

Here’s to hoping the only couch he ends up on is the one in my basement.

I’m a Totsy Mom!

As if I haven’t committed myself to enough already (new business, new Chicago Parent blog ((details forthcoming)), I was asked this past Fall to be a “Totsy Mom.” If you don’t know, Totsy is one of the hottest deal sites on the web for clothing, products, goods for moms and kids. They have daily sales, much like Gilt Groupe and the brands they have deals on are ridiculous — Schoenhut, Melissa and Doug, Kidorable, American Apparel — just to name a few.

I usually don’t sign up for things like this. I rarely attach myself to a brand, product. I have done some branded posts lately, but those were mainly for WORK…

However, something about Totsy felt right to me. For one, I like to shop. A lot. And I like to shop bargains. Totsy is bargain shopping for your kids (and some for yourself) at it’s finest. Alright, it helps that I’m getting some Totsy credits to use each month for posting deals about their brands and deals. I might even have some specials for you, my fine readers!

So, I’m here to try being a Totsy Mom for awhile. I hope you’re all cool with that and come along for a fine, shopping ride.

Yes, I am being compensated in Totsy credit for posting on my site a couple times a month about Totsy + hang out with them on Twitter and Facebook.

The Puffle

Forget Beanie Babies. For my kids, the new “it” cheap plush toy from China is The Puffle. I first saw The Puffle at my son’s school a few weeks ago. The exposure to The Puffle in the days before I actually saw it apparently put my son over the edge because before I could even say the word “NO” he started his campaign for one.

“A has one. L has one. J has one. I want a Puffle.”

“NO.”

However, because I majorly screwed up on Valentine’s Day (think, Jewish school, they don’t celebrate so neither do we at home), I went on a hunt earlier this week for the $8.99 loveable furry fuzzball.

Behold, The Puffle. You would have thought I brought home Moses or something. ‘Cept I bought blue.

I’ve never heard so many thank yous, I love you mommies in one afternoon. It was love at first Puffle.

Within hours minutes seconds, The Puffle became part of the family and I had to treat him as an equal to my children. So of course, I obliged.

The Puffle got to sleep with the toys on the first night in our house. I forgot to move the Menorah finger puppets. (FYI, The Puffle has no fingers.)

The Puffle got to go to school the next day. As you can imagine, he’s not happy being placed into the bowels of a four-year-old’s smelly backpack.

The Puffle got to play on his older “brother’s” computer.

Because I’m a softy (although not as soft as plush), I let him play on my computer.

The Puffle did not have a great time watching TV.

But, before I could prop The Puffle up so he could see the tube, it was time to get ready for bed.

Yes, I was scared The Puffle would fall into the toilet during this shot.

I don’t even let my own kids sleep in my bed. Damn Puffle.

On being centered of mind, and foot

I have two new items in my house geared towards making our lives more centered. I’m not known for my spirituality, but I am known for my love of cool products and yoga. You didn’t know that? I’ve been doing yoga before hipster moms in lululemon made it trendy. I first experienced yoga under the teachings of famed New York City instructor Elena Brower in a small, hot and very crowded yoga space on 3rd Avenue in New York City over 11 years ago. After I left New York, I had a hard time finding my Chicago “Elena,” a teacher who understood the physical and emotional needs of a young yogi. I had a hard time until I met Betsy, teacher extraordinaire of the physical side of yoga.

I’ve been taking her class religiously (well, with the pregnancies, on and off) for the last 4 years at East Bank Club on Monday and Wednesday mornings. I schedule work meetings around her class, I schedule sitters, day care appointments and drop-offs at my mom’s house to make the class. It’s that good. And apparently, I’m not that busy yet.

Well you can imagine how excited I was to hear that Betsy came out with a DVD of one of her classes this past week and I got a copy to review! I popped the 50-minute DVD in on a Thursday morning when I couldn’t make it into the gym and I was not disappointed with my solo yoga session in my basement. Of course there are downsides to practicing yoga in your home. The blackberry flashes, the phone rings, the baby cries on the monitor and your moment of Zen disappears into your kid’s toy basket like the latest issue of People magazine you haven’t read yet.

But, by the end I was sweaty, if not totally centered in my yoga zone. Which, is what just what I asked for on a day when I couldn’t be present in person to Betsy’s class. (P.S. you can buy the DVD on the Yogatude website!)

Which leads me to how else I’m centering my household – by foot. See, last May I re-did my kitchen and made a great new table that sits six people. As part of the re-do, I purchased some great, if not ergonomic for the kids chairs, from West Elm. The curved back, the sloped bottom of the seat was visually appealing to me, but not so comfortable for my eldest. He needed somewhere to rest his feet.

I’ve heard along the way in my son’s preschool that kids need to rest their feet in order to be comfortable sitting around a table. It was just a rumor, but I saw the truth to it many times when he’d be sitting calmly at a kiddie chair, but fidgeted like mad in an adult chair. I thought I had made a mistake selling away our Svan chair that we thought my son had grown out of. I never truly loved that chair, but it did have a foot rest.

And then enter my friend who introduced me to Charlotte of Stokke, who, after several conversations about marketing to moms (there was a business reason for the introduction!) told me about their “high chair” – the Tripp Trapp chair – which is so not a high chair, but more of a lifestyle chair. A chair that grows from birth (the newest addition to the Tripp Trapp family is a newborn set) to adult hood, I wish I had this chair when I was growing up!  And she was so kind to send me two for each of my kids to test out.

Design-wise I liked the structure of the Tripp Trapp better than the Svan, and my son felt that it was a big upgrade from what he thought was his “high chair.” Lifestyle chair, I say. And, just as I was starting to write this post last night, I saw a link to this post on the Stokke Facebook page about the importance of a child’s feet being centered on something when they sit. No more rumors!

Only happy minds and happy feet in my house now.

I was given a copy of the yoga DVD and two Stokke Tripp Trapp chairs for review.

Chicago Baby Gift Guide – Giveaways too!

The best baby boutiques and personalities in Chicago hand-picked some awesome holiday gifts for your baby (and you and your huz) for my first-ever holiday gift guide on my Chicago Parent Second City Baby blog.

You’ll have to go over there to see all the photos and descriptions, but I wanted to personally thank my friends at Twinkle Twinkle Little One, Piggy Toes Shoes, Little Threads, Little Green Baby, plus Amy Tara Koch and Belly Man for contributing! Hope it inspires some good gift ideas.

Are brands and bloggers just toying with each other?

Disclosure – this post has NOTHING to do with any other bloggers I know who attended #chitagall references are to bloggers in the abstract/ aggregate.

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the world’s largest toy fair open to the public this past Saturday at Navy Pier. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair (#chitag) had vendors ranging from small mom and pop stores like Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park to mom vendors like Little Sib, LLC which created a baby doll that helps older sibs get used to having a baby around. Good thing I’m over that hump already.

The fair was tailor-made for the kids. Mine loved the pile of CitiBlocs and riding the oversized, I mean, really freaking large horse pushed by some poor schmuck for $2 a pop. Family Time, couldn’t you have covered the cost? The thing wasn’t even motorized.

I’m the poor schmuck who paid for this thing.

The kids also loved the R.C. Color Bug, an ingenious remote controlled car with an attached marker that lets kids draw while driving (a new distraction?). I started chatting up the owner/ creator/ mom of the R.C. Color Bug, because well, that’s what I do and naturally our conversation turned to marketing and blogging. I mean this toy has grass-roots marketing written all over it. But my new friend said she’d gotten burned by bloggers in the past just emailing and asking for free stuff for almost nothing in return. She’s working hard for her business and takes marketing seriously. I don’t blame her. I felt bad that she had a bad taste for mom bloggers, but I moved on. Sometimes one bad apple can ruin the blunch. (We haven’t combined blog with anything good lately around here.)

Then I made my way to the Learning Curve booth where I could not possibly avoid the Thomas the Train huge mountain thing-y that had my eldest in a tizzy. Needless to say we weren’t going anywhere for awhile so I did what I do — I chatted up the lovely booth hostess/ PR associate for Learning Curve. When we got to the part of the conversation “well, what do you do” and I said the word mom blogger, she recounted some of her mom blogger tall tales as well. How she’s working with this controversial mom blogger conglomerate and yet is surprised when she gets emails from moms who want a free (or two) samples of a $300 car seat she’s promoting. She also was perfectly nice but did she quite understand the irony of her working relationship with bloggers?

Unfortunately, besides seeing my son go super-crazy-excited for a remote-controlled helicopter, my biggest takeaway from the fair was that real mompreneurs are turned off by mom bloggers approaching them for products (rightly so in many cases IMHO), but then so are PR firms who willingly give away product to some bloggers but wonder why others would be so bold to email for free stuff.

That’s the problem. We are not sending a consistent message on both sides of the equation. We all want to help the mompreneur, but some of us have an unfounded expectation that we’ll get something for free in return. I wonder if any of the bloggers out there know that Ms. R.C. Color Bug is a single mom working her can off to provide for her family and earn a living? That might change their want or need for that freebie. Conversely, does Ms. Booth Hostess/ PR Associate know that by aligning herself with a known PR bashing blog will just set herself up in the future for freebie hits down the road?

There seems to be little to no logic in this PR/ brand/ freebie dance. The only thing we seem to be able to do well is toy with each other for some free toys. There has to be a better way. I know – it’s already been done. Let’s just all Blog With Integrity, shall we?


Four Days of Giveaways from Grow Modern Organic Kids: Final Day!

It’s the last day of our Four Days of Grow giveaways, and today’s giveaway gets to the heart of why we are all here in the first place: our kids. (Right? I mean, the products are pretty, but at the core…)

Our kids mean the most to us and, for me at least, the moment I became a mom I wanted to do only the best for my kids. It’s so cliche, right? But it goes beyond just the knowledge that you’d lay across a bed of hot coals for your lovelies. You’d also like to create the best environment for them to live. As Deree Kobets, owner of Grow Modern boutique and mom of two says,

I look at mine everyday with love and amazement.  By growing up in a non-toxic environment with modern, purposeful products that were produced locally with a sense of style, I know that I’ve done all that I can as a parent.

I don’t think I realized how important the products I put in my house were when I had my first son over four years ago. BPA wasn’t a “thing” and I was really into the noise and visual appeal and apparently I had a fascination with blue fish creatures as evidenced by the outgrown baby-seat graveyard in the basement.

But products with that sense of style that are non-toxic and “purposeful,” as Deree says, like the sparrow twin bed by Oeuf and mini-library by Oeuf make buying products for our kids more than just fun to play with at that moment. Products like these go the distance.

Which is why I’m so excited to offer a giveaway for some kiddie toys that go beyond flashing lights and annoying music. The Grow Modern “Kids” Day Gift Package includes:

Remember – you can enter four ways!

(1) Leave a comment on this post.

(2) Become a Follower of the Grow blog by clicking here and adding yourself as a follower. (Leave a separate comment telling me that you’ve done this).

(3) Become a fan of Grow’s Facebook Page. (Leave a separate comment telling me that you’ve done this.)

(4) If you use Twitter, retweet this giveaway for another entry. (Leave a separate comment to let me know you’ve done this).

And don’t forget to follow along tonight to hear some more great tips from Deree during our live tweeting of the “Grow an Organic Family” Event tonight. The hashtag is #growmodern.

With a little help from my friends…

Things are always better when they’re done with people you like. When teutonia asked if I wanted to test out their newest stroller, the t-linx travel system, and THEN, ask some friends and colleagues to stop by a little gathering so THEY could test it out as well, I happily accepted. I love luxury items almost as much as I love my friends. Just kidding, I like fancy things more. (Louis Vuitton diaper bag I want you, helloooo…) I’m just kidding! But me + fun products + party with friends = happy.

Happily, this past Tuesday, a few local bloggers and other friends who I thought might be interested (and who needed a new stroller because teutonia raffled off one of these beauties) came by Galt Baby to see what all the teutonia talk was about.

I’ve posted my review of the t-linx on my Chicago Parent blog. Here, you’ll just get my rambling commentary on the lovely get together we had with the folks from teutonia, Edelman at the fabulous new Galt Baby store in Lincoln Park. With food from Steve’s Deli. Need I say more?

We all brought our kiddos…

I’m not telling which one is mine… Did I mention awesome Aimee was the entertainment?

We ate a lot of food…


Course, I was too busy eating I forgot to take a photo of the spread…

We loved the removable and customize-able inserts that you can get with the t-linx system.

If he was a she, I’d be all over those flowers.

And gawked over ridiculously expensive baby gear that Galt has on display. I don’t think anyone’s bought these thus far…

Anyone in the market for a $1000 mohair Snoopy doll and $4000 impractical stroller? Didn’t think so. Good schtick, however.

And the t-linx, FWIW, got some good glances and buzz from the people who were there. It’s amazing how many strollers are on the market and yet, new, different and better ones come along all the time.

I can’t thank teutonia enough for their generosity!

**Yes, I was compensated for the review and “get together” with a new t-linx stroller. But all opinions of mohair snoopy dolls and strollers are my own.**

Where school art projects go to die

One of the bonuses of my son attending preschool is that he has a new appreciation for art. One major downside to this newfound love of drawing, painting, doodling and crafting is that I now have art littering decorating the house. What to do with all of the art projects we’re debating throwing away collecting is clearly beyond me.

Case(s) in point:

Go fish. Lots of crumpled paper, a little glue, and loads of “don’t throw that paper on the floor, please” can get you this masterpiece. It sure adds a lot of ambience to our ottoman, don’t you think?

At one point I tried to be organized and put all reject memorable art projects into a folder. Result? New meaning to junk drawer.

In theory, a bulletin board is a great place to showcase a child’s scribbles artwork.

Somehow the art projects migrated to my nightstand by mandate that I have artwork by my bed.

And when you just don’t know what to do with that paper bag costume your kid insists on bringing home, it ends up in a most unusual place. The floor, of course.

If you have any bright ideas of what I can do with at least the mildly appealing artwork, I’m all ears.