Best Books for Preschoolers According to Follett’s at Opening Minds Conference

swimLast week I got the chance to attend the Opening Minds Conference in Chicago. Opening Minds is the largest early-education conference in the U.S. that brings together the latest in trends and innovation in early childhood education. They had some amazing workshops and education seminars and I wish I could have attended them all, but one that I wanted to share with you all was Follett’s List of recommended books for preschoolers. Here’s what they are recommending – let me know if you have your favorites for your young ones!


Leaning In and Loving It; Or, WWSD?

pirat-games-3I just wrapped up reading Sheryl Sandberg’s hotly contested book, Lean In Lean In is the latest book about working motherhood to hit the shelves and it’s causing quite a stir. If you haven’t heard of it by now, well, let’s just leave it at that. You probably have heard of it by now.

And it seems like everyone has an opinion or take on the book, or maybe worse, Sandberg herself. I don’t really want to re-hash all the opinions or arguments the book has caused. I’m not being cowardly, (maybe lazy and tired), but really I just am not sure I’m going to add too much insight to the discussion of the biggest book on women working that’s come out since, well, I’m not sure when.

What I’d rather focus on is the positive I gained by reading the book. Because I gained a lot. Really and truly! Sandberg has an informative and pretty inspirational point of view. She was extremely lucky in her career, but also, clearly, she was very hardworking. She didn’t just get there because of favors that were called in. And hey, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably had a favor called in for you once along the way — is that such a bad thing?

Anyway, I digress. I’m thinking about this book a lot lately. It’s like “What Would Sheryl Do” in my head every time I’m on a call, in a meeting, trying to write a new business proposal. I sort of know WWSD, but here are some changes and observations about myself that I’ve made in just the short time since I’ve read the book. My own WWSD (See we even have the same initials!):

  • I don’t aspire to move all the way up the corporate ladder; I just want to be on one of the rungs. Even though Sandberg clearly speaks to women in executive positions, I was empowered by her message to continually go after your goals and to not settle.
  • I also have decided to speak up more. I used to constantly just keep my mouth shut because I was afraid I was being impolite or talking out of turn or because I was just nervous. So I loved the part of the book where Sandberg talks about how women never interrupt in meetings as compared with men. Now, I’m not advocating interrupting, but I am advocating being honest and speaking your mind appropriately and assertively. You cannot go wrong being true to yourself.
  • I’m not as nervous or resistant to asking my husband to pitch in and help when I need it for work. He’s most definitely the breadwinner, but I’ve been pulling in my share of the pie lately and if I need to work, he needs to adjust his schedule if he can. My kids generally like him better anyway.
  • I also know it was one of the lightest parts of her book, but I appreciated Sandberg’s examples of forgetting to dress her kids for school theme days, leaving work at 5:30 and logging on after bed, and generally feeling torn about where to be and when. Part of me knows that it is very anecdotal and meant to appeal to more of the masses, but that even someone with more help and resources than I can ever imagine still f’s up once in awhile with her kids.
  • The part that really resonated with me was how Sandberg identifies so many examples of how women screw over other women trying to get ahead in careers. It happened to me, I’m sure it happened to you, and I really want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone I manage, work with, or other. Easily implementable for me as my own business owner.


Did you read it? What was your key takeaway?

My busy week… Cookbook party and children’s theater!

Sometimes having this blog has its perks. As much as I complain about blogging at times, this blog is part of me, and something that feels like an extension of my personality. So I chug along, blogging when I can. Somehow I still stay on people’s radars and they continue to invite me to some neat events. This week I got to go to two different blogging events which were right up my alley.

homemade-with-loveThe first was a luncheon for the launch of Jennifer Perillo’s new cookbook, “Homemade with Love,” about her devotion to food and family. I’ve been following Jennie’s blog for a little while and find her writing to be powerful and inspiring. She was the same in person. What a beautiful soul! So sweet and energized, and truly devoted to her craft. The food we tasted was delicious (I could sample a few of the items), and I really enjoyed listening to how the book came to be. I can’t wait to look through and hopefully try some of her work.

The second event I ended up at was Friday night at the Chicago Children’s Theatre to see the world premiere of the original play “The Elephant and the Whale.”  Written and created in association with Redmoon Theater, The Elephant and the Whale aptly tells a story of friendship between two proposed circus animals caught adrift in a 1900’s-era sideshow. The show, which differed greatly from other children’s theater experiences I’ve ever been too (no silly looking costumes, minimal slapstick humor), captured my kids’ attention from start to one hour finish. And mind you, my youngest is three. The visuals were stirring and creative and the story told not literally, but so imaginatively that you could feel the rush of water around the whale and the elephants footsteps. The water scenes were brilliant. I loved it and would highly recommend it.

What a week! What did you all do?


Photo courtesy of Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Surviving my life, or, surviving spring break in Chicago – as seen on CBS 2 Chicago!

This year so far has been no short of hectic, intense and exhausting. All in a good way. Being busy is a good problem in my household. But being busy means finding a way to survive as well – not to be too dramatic, but I haven’t cooked a fresh meal in over a week in my house. In our first world reality here, how do we survive being so busy? I want tips.

I’m also here to give tips. (Can you believe people actually ask me to give tips on things??) I was shocked and flattered CBS asked me to appear on their morning show today to talk about how to survive Spring Break in Chicago if you aren’t going away. Many spring breaks are over the Easter and/ or Passover holiday this year and so some folks might choose to stay home. Also: it’s a pain in the butt to travel with little kids.

So, here are some tips to surviving spring break in Chicago! I’d love to hear your ideas as well.

Say you’re not lucky enough to jet out of town this month during spring break, Sara Fisher from Chicago Parent magazine and 2 Moms Media has lots of ideas to keep the kids and yourself busy and having fun during what can be an iffy month weather wise…
1) Indulge in a Staycation
If the budget doesn’t allow for a full on vacation somewhere out of town, there are plenty of options in the city to have a staycation – enjoy luxe accommodations and explore the sites of our very own lovely Chicago. You’d be shocked to know there is a lot to do here!
Pen. Kids 1Peninsula Hotel 
The Peninsula hotel, one of my favorites, and past winner of best 100 hotels in the United States by Travel and Leisure Magazine last year has really family friendly options and discounts for those who want to live in the lap of luxury and indulge, even for just a night! Their Peninsula family moments package includes:
* Daily American Breakfast for two persons served in The Lobby or Room Service
* Eligible to a 50% off the second room’s rate on respective connecting/adjoining room type.
*  Children (12 and under) dining together with parents can enjoy the complimentary kid’s menu, and enjoy an array of amenities and programs tailored for junior guests. Please contact the hotel for full details.
Pricing for a Deluxe King/Double starts at $445. Valid until 12/31/13
  • These other two luxurious bellwethers  have a lot to share for families. There’s third night free at the Ritz and Winter Escape which features 25 percent off the room rate and complimentary parking.
  • Also we have fun children’s amenities at the different hotels. At the Ritz, they have daily cookie baking with the pastry chef and The Candy Man is on call to roll up his cart of sweet treats to guest rooms. Both of these services are complimentary.
  • At Four Seasons, we have a complimentary Bedtimes Stories Butler, daily treats through room service, a new Kids Club Room
  • All these packages are good through the end of March.
2) Send your kids to camp! Yes, camp!
There are many options for you to maintain your “me” schedule during spring break, even if the kids are off. YMCAs around the Chicagoland area have a variety of kids’ camps for the spring, and I found two more that are fun and different than the typical school day to get your kid thinking and creating during the time off. My kids spring break is almost 10 days and I definitely want to make sure they’re using that brain a bit!
  • Wishcraft Workshop in Roscoe Village has a terrific spring break camp series March 25- April 4 – FUNOrdinary camp is a customized daily craft camp IMG_7861 - Version 2that takes the campers’ wishes into mind when they create the curriculum – each day features a craft, snack, outdoor play time and all materials included – $65 a day. They also offer another one called “Let’s Make Something” for the budding seamstress or embroiderer. That’s $75/ day. 
  • Kids Clayroom – Kids Clay Room is a clay studio for children where they teach our students how to create a ceramic piece from start to finish. During the Kids Clayroom’s Workshops, Camps and Birthday Parties, children get to work (and play) with squishy, wet clay and use a variety of techniques and tools to mold and sculpt clay into unique ceramic pieces.
    They have Spring Break Camps scheduled over a period of 2 weeks to accommodate CPS and non-CPS students. The Camps are 3 hours long-from 10 am to 1 pm. We will work on 2 clay handbuilding projects and take a lunch break before painting the pieces. Children are required to bring a nut-free lunch. Registration is required. The cost for the Camps are $40 per child and $35 per sibling. Call or e-mail to register.
3) Keep them home, but keep them busy with these brainy toys and games: 


If you can’t quite motivate with the pocketbook or the driving to get your kids to a camp, then invest in a few toys that will be sure to keep them busy if our March weather doesn’t cooperate. Our friends at Marbles the Brain Store have just the perfect things to make you survive the madness of having the kids home!

Big week

Last week was one of those weeks where I over-committed a bit. It’s been awhile since that has happened. A quick re-cap, because we all know how often I blog. Ha!

  • I introduced our new client, Artizone (launching in February and you will be glad when it does!) to my BFF moms in business friends at the quarterly Neighborhood Parents Network networking event. If you are a small business member of NPN, it’s totally worth it to attend one of these get-togethers!
  • I co-hosted a great blogger breakfast for my friend Hope and her Social Media Masters Summit with my other friend Alison.  We got to meet representatives from two amazing companies, Jockey and Calumet Photo.  Just so happened the Jockey PR rep was my friend from grad school, so, in addition to all the amazing blogger friends I got to see there, I had a little IMC reunion! Holla!
  • I got to attend the Social Media Masters Summit. I don’t get to go to conferences out of town that often so when I can do something local I get so excited to learn from my peers. Especially good was the panel on brand and bloggers (clearly my interest) with Foiled Cupcakes Mari, Gabi Tompkins from Crain’s and Gina Judge a PR pro from PepsiCo and also a new Chicago mama. I’m hoping after this panel and the resulting changes made to Klout, we can all agree, influence is social media is all relative! You have to decide for yourself and not only pay attention to just the numbers.
  • I went to the opening of the new baby store behemoth in the suburbs, WONDER! WONDER! Is CRAZY COOL!! I mean, look at this wall of strollers below. That’s right. Strollers. And that’s just a start. They offer classes, every baby product competitively priced under the sun, customized birthday parties, healthy food (cafe coming soon), and also soon enough, an online store.
  • All the while, I was able to shop on Totsy all week (I’m a compensated Totsy mom but all opinions about the site are true!) for some awesome stuff for the kids for the holidays and a few awesome pieces of jewelry, for, well, ME! Not everything on the site is a great fit for me, but this week I scored! I totally recommend you registering and of course, buying!

Thankfully, this week is a bit slower…

So, what did you do last week? What are you up to this week?

    Wherein I discuss my mom 2.0 sponsorship by Microsoft Windows Phone – yay!

    As I mentioned before, I rarely get asked to do stuff through my blog, and when I do, it usually is to review paper clips, or something really exciting like that. But because I’m having a week of awesome (except for the start of today, which was decidedly NOT awesome, therefore I’m not writing about it), I’m writing this post from the terrific-ly interesting city of New Orleans because someone way on high at Microsoft Windows Phone thought I was worth enough of a sponsorship. Which brings me back to seriously awesome.

    So, I’m living it up.

    Me + Rice Krispie treats = Heaven

    I spent the afternoon lunching and wandering around with friends in the awesome French Quarter testing out that fabulous phone o’mine. I’m pretty obsessed with the way it is so easy to upload photos to email. It’s so freaking fast! See? I got this one uploaded of mah friends in under .00233 seconds. Good stuff.

    This is before Julie saw the heels she will covet for the whole entire conference.

    And so while I’m telling you about the phone, I’ve got to mention the customized home screen, which consists of “tiles” that you can move around and about your phone in the order you want your information to appear. Some people “pin” (that’s what you do to get a tile locked into the home screen of the phone) their husband’s contact information to their home screen. Me?

    Is it bad that I “pinned” myself to my own start screen? It’s so I don’t forget who I am. Or something.

    The phone has an impressive camera, if you couldn’t tell the one above was by my lowly Blackberry. It does look subpar, doesn’t it? It’s one of the most impressive options of the phone. Also, the video camera pretty much kicks ass too. But I haven’t taken any video yet. That’s for later. I did use the camera to take a photo of my most-awesome room on the “Club Level” (hence, the Rice Krispie treats — there were no regular rooms left!).

    Room: almost as good as the Rice Krispie Treats

    This won’t be the last you’ll hear about my awesome new Windows Phone, as the kind folks at Microsoft have allowed me to try it for THIRTY DAYS!! Which should give me just enough time to install all those cool apps from the Marketplace, upload my songs to Zune, and of course, take that darned video.

    DISCLOSURE: Microsoft Windows Phone offered to cover up to $2000 of my expenses towards Mom 2.0 and I’ve kindly accepted their gracious offer. In exchange, I will be tweeting and writing two posts about my experience with the phone. Thank you #windowsphone!

    Brand and blogger magic

    This never happens to me. I’m a very very fortunate person, but I never win anything or get offered much. Unless you count the time I won a mountain bike my senior year of high school when my mom was on the raffle committee. I swear to g-d it wasn’t rigged.

    But this week it feels like I won the blogger lottery. Literally. First, the amazing folks at GM offered me a vehicle to test drive for the past week. My vehicle of choice? The GM Acadia Denali – with chrome wheels. Because every grocery-getting mom in the city needs some chrome.

    Man, I really loved looking at this car. Parking it in a tight city spot? Not so much.

    GM has been so kind to me loaning me cars to take about and I’m so appreciative. It’s so smart of them to let bloggers and others test drive their cars – we are in the market for a car with a third row – and now I will definitely consider the Acadia when it comes time to switch out. And I’m not just saying that! I told my husband I wish we could test drive every car we like for a weekend instead of a five minute drive up and down the Kennedy. So, thank you GM.

    And yet, my week just got better. Because on Tuesday, I got an email from the folks at Waggener Edstrom and so I opened it up right away. I know how good that PR firm is. (It didn’t have anything to do with the subject line which read: “Mom 2.0 Sponsorship”). And sure enough, when I opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

    Waggener Edstrom, in conjunction with their client, Microsoft Windows Phone (yes, that Microsoft!) was offering me a full ride to the Mom 2.0 Summit + a 30-day trial of the phone. I almost spit water all over my Mac Book. (I told them I use a Mac – it’s compatible. Yay!)

    Whenever something like this happens on a smaller scale (much smaller scale), I like to ask how folks from on high find my little, unpublicized, topsy-turvy-on-topics blog. They said they looked at working mom blogs, and there I was.

    How ironic is that? I just started working again!

    Sometimes brands and bloggers just f*** it up bad with asking too much, too often. And then there’s a week like I had. Where I received meaningful outreach that helped me in ways beyond the blog. It can happen.

    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.

    Tips for planning your one-year-old’s birthday party Chicago-style

    Earlier today, I got to put on some real clothes (they were trouser jeans, as Caitlin noticed, much to my happiness) and head out to a brunch put on by the ever-fabulous Bump Club and Beyond. I was on a panel of “the city’s leading mom bloggers” (HA! Don’t they know I’m a blogging slacker??) and my co-hosts Cindy, Linda and Caitlin and I had a ball giving some of our best tips around the city to Lindsay’s group of new moms.

    My quick talk was about tips and tricks to planning your child’s first birthday. Because, eventually, all those cute newborns grow up to be cake-smashing, drooling one-year-olds. Because I forgot, unlike my counterparts, to actually print up and hand out my tips, I told everyone I’d post them on my blog. So, here, in no particular order, are my thoughts:

    1) Make the party favor part of the party – if you have a musician, give each kid a maraca. The little babes don’t know what a goodie bag is – take advantage of that while it lasts!

    2) Kids this age don’t need much for entertainment – a place to crawl around, 30 minutes of activity and somewhere between 20-30 to eat. By then, they’re pretty much wiped and will hopefully nap all afternoon for you.

    3) I personally think a mid-morning, post first nap party usually works the best for you and for your friends – sometimes the afternoons are unpredictable! Well, at least they are in my house.

    4) Pack two shirts – one for photos and one for after the cake – and bring a good bib! (This one, I admit, is pretty self-explanatory.)

    5) My eldest got really freaky and nervous at his first birthday party. My youngster loved every minute of the party. Bottom line — don’t worry if you’re kid is nervous – it’s a lot of attention.

    And you were waiting for the Chicago-specific stuff, right?

    Best locations for a Chicago kiddie bday party:

    • Just about any pizza joint – remember my baby’s first birthday party last year? At Pequod’s pizza. It was relatively inexpensive, I bought one of those foam letter mats and threw it on the ground so the kiddos could crawl around and it was a blast. And the dads could swill beer too. Happy Birthday.
    • If you think a pizza dive isn’t quite for your family, there’s always the East Bank Club where I had my eldest’s party. Yeah, it was like a mini bar mitzvah. Best food I had at a first birthday! But notice, I didn’t repeat that one.
    • For a smaller get-together I love Musical Magic on Roscoe. So sweet and cozy inside and so easy to manage.
    • And then there’s the name-your-own-kiddie-gym-place like Bubbles, My Gym, Gymboree, Little Gym. All good choices.
    • The park district also has many rooms for rent – I am partial to the one at Sheil Park because it’s close to my house, and it’s clean and a good size for a party. I think that sort of stuff matters.

    Best entertainers to hire for your party (if you’re in to such a thing):

    I can’t say enough about these three very fine kiddie entertainers…

    • Miss Amiee Leigh. We took her class at the JCC for so many months and years I lost track along the way.
    • Little Miss Ann. She is the best of the best. Book her. If you can.
    • Mr. Singer. The kids adored him.

    Ideas for how to gift the birthday baby:

    • I recently got tuned into Echo Age by a friend of mine. Basically people donate a certain amount of money towards your gift which you can use to buy a few gifts of your choice, or to donate to charity. Really love this concept. Especially for a baby who doesn’t even really know what “cool Fisher Price toy” means yet.
    • Buy the babe some books. They never grow old.
    • Create a gift registry if you must. At least you’ll get what you want, right? Cuts down on those return errands and gift receipts.
    • One thing I always did was test out toys my friends had whose kids were older. If my kiddos loved playing with them at a friend’s house, well, I’d just invite myself back over to that friend’s house. No, I’d put it on a wish list.

    And with that, my favorite first bday toys:

    • Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Door. It’s expensive, but worth it. My five-year-old still plays with it. Have the grandparents buy it or something.
    • Any pre-walker push toy. Unless your kid is walking already. Good for my kiddos who were well over a year before they considered walking.
    • Any Little People toy. Those things are indestructible.
    • A set of wooden blocks. Basic but always good to have around the house.

    How to invite all those people to your shindig:

    • You may want an invite for your scrapbook, but those babies can’t open the mail, so save the money until they’re at least 2 – use evite, or, my new favorite online invitation store, Paperless Post.
    • I must also mention my go-to printed invitation source – Tiny Prints!! You can even save money on your kids’ birthday party invites by using the code from my blog: AFF1105.

    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.