Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

Posts Tagged "Holidays"

Disneyland Dazzles for the Holidays

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Holidays |

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Celebrate Today

Posted on Nov 14, 2010 in Featured |

Celebrate Today

My children are sleeping deeply tonight — three days of magic will do that to a 7-year-old.

We are home now, back in Silicon Valley where neighbors are milling around on a Sunday afternoon; there’s homework to be done and nothing seems to have changed in 72 hours. Funny. It has for us.

I watched my kids, exhausted, full and happy walking off the airplane after the weekend filled with the kind of emotion that only Disneyland can offer. They seem so carefree now, my boy’s blue Micky Mouse wizard hat casting a shadow on the jetway; my girl’s hair still perfectly in-tact after two days since being coifed by the Bippity-Boppety-Boutique maidens. Even I felt free. Disneyland will never know how much their “Celebrate Today” theme moved me to tears, and how it has  left me inspired to live in the moment — today, and more than ever, tomorrow.

As I type, clothes are in the dryer. In the morning, I will re-board a different flight, this time to The Mayo Clinic in a Hail-Mary type pass to see if the doctors there can help my mom. By now you know the story of my mom…

All through the Disneyland park, you feel the passion of  Celebrate Today. Anything, anyone is worth celebrating. It’s hard to remember that life itself is worth celebrating, especially when life isn’t playing nice. But, inside Disneyland, there is a celebration for everything! A celebration at the extraordinarily lit “it’s a small world,” every 15 minutes when the clock strikes and children of the world dance. Did you ever notice that at Disneyland? The children of the world are dancing, just because.

I watched celebrations of children’s first visit to the Magic Kingdom, an old man’s birthday, an informal family reunion, a marriage, a life beginning, and in one special case we saw this weekend, a life ending. We saw the Make-a-Wish Foundation in action with a massive group of people boarding the Toy Story ride, partying like there was no tomorrow. Why? Because they were Celebrating Today for a child in their family that won’t have many more tomorrows. I asked a cast member on the ride what the impromptu FastPass was about and he told me, “They are Celebrating Today.” Yeah, baby. They are.

Celebration is Disney. My mom celebrated her high school graduation in 1962 with my step-dad at an all-night fete at Disneyland. I celebrated many birthdays here, my grandmother brought my cousins and me here. My mom brought us here just because. My aunt performed here, my father was one of the original Mouseketeers (shhh, don’t tell!). I’ve celebrated summers and winters and random school breaks here at Disneyland. One day, my mom and teenage brother went to Disneyland on a whim, ditching life and celebrating their day. There are so many celebrations of my family life on the streets of Disneyland over the past 50 years.

Disney is celebrating holidays today and every day for the next six weeks. Celebration  is different than decoration. Decoration are designs and wreaths and bulbs. Celebration is the understanding that there is something in the air that enlightens people. We celebrated this weekend — and for us, where the holidays will be uncertain with my mom’s health — it might be the single greatest holiday celebration of our year.

I was not paid for this post, however, my children and I were treated to an extraordinary weekend of holiday magic at Disneyland, courtesy of #Disneylandmoms.

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Well, Hello Autumn

Posted on Oct 1, 2010 in Food |

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup

1 large butternut squash

3 red bell peppers

1 yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 c. orange juice

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 c. white wine

2 T. olive oil

1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Roasting the squash and red peppers is the key to the entire recipe — the yummy roasting flavor rocks. Cut and salt a whole butternut squash, put skin-up in a shallow baking pan with about an inch of water. Roast in 350 degree oven for about an hour. Slice red peppers lengthwise and roast directly on fire until blackened. Remove red peppers and place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 20-30 minutes. When cool, remove skin and puree peppers in blender with orange juice and its zest.

While squash is cooking, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add white wine and scrape sides of pan. Add red peppers, salt and pepper. When squash is ready, peel squash and puree in blender or Cuisinart. Slowly add stock and pepper/onion mixture. Strain into stockpot. Cook on low heat and season to taste.

Serve and season with chopped fresh basil and lowfat sour cream.

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If I… Was a GroupOn Freak-o-Matic

Posted on Sep 20, 2010 in Featured, If I... |

If I… Was a GroupOn Freak-o-Matic

I am not a coupon whore. Not even close. And although the economy has knocked us all on our butts, I still only participate in coupons if the stars align just right and I happen to see a coupon, happen to have time to save it, cut it, not lose it, not smoosh it to bits  in my handbag, take it to the grocery store, need the item, buy the item and remember to redeem coupon. For 25 cents off, this seems like a lot of brain power.  Nope, not a coupon type person.

Until Groupon. And SavvySource. And Fresh somethingruther, Daily Deals, Juice, Mamapedia, Group Swoop, Yipit Do it buy it fry it try it. Oy.

Unexpectedly, I have become a complete Groupon junkie. And likely, so have you. There is going to have to be some consolidation in the space. And if I were the czar of all things group buying I would focus on the following four things:

1. Think Vertical. It makes no sense to use similar technologies to accomplish the same tasks. There are even a zillion white label group buying softwares to start your own knockoff.  Rather than reinvent the invented, I’d encourage companies that have a niche group buying model like App Sumo (a group buying site for software) to build out their niches. If GroupOn is local, verticals can go deep with the same customer’s targeted needs (without the local spin).  App Sumo could, for example, use their audience to leverage new niche buying: Software, Hardware, Apps, and IT. There you go. Own the vertical space.Forget about local if you’ve got niche.  From there, go category specific. Vertical consolidation has got to be one of the first changes in group buying.

2. Think Consumer. The downfall of many daily deals is that they are hyper local but broad. Although GroupOn went heavy into hitting every major world city (nearly 40) and close to 100 US cities, they haven’t yet leveraged their database to highly target user purchasing. There’s room in a rapidly saturating market to hit customers with what they want and be able to repeatedly deliver for them. Quality has to count. Be sure to vett out your customers well. At some point, Mamapedia is going to run out of Moms in San Jose who want deals on spa treatments at every place on El Camino Real Blvd. There’s only so much spa a girl can take. But, however, if Mamapedia refocused to go completely postal on offering me things that are (a) in my spending range for instant gratification/POS purchases  (b) hit me with variety (I’m not just a mom!)  (c) was both local and virtual and (d) only offered the good stuff and weeds out the crappy deals for me, then you’d have me as a loyal customer. So loyal, in fact, that I might just unsubscribe from Living Social. Make me a rockstar purchaser and I’ll return the favor.

3. Put real money into editorial. Voice is one of the most important things to look for in what we see next from group buying. This isn’t for marketing 101. Targeting isn’t enough. If you’re going to go vertical and focus on customer retention (even if the price point is lower), then you’ve got to speak to me. This is a relationship, afterall. You have my credit card, my attention, my inbox, my loyalty. You speak with me every single day. That’s more than I speak to my mother. Many of the leaders in daily deals use generic communication tactics. Boo! Take cues from sites like BuyWithMe who write unique copy and not PR submitted blahblah.  It’s all in the positioning, the communication and the delicate yet direct call to act.

4. Think customer. So the bad news in group buying is that it might be a deal for you, but in general, it’s no bargain for  the company (usually small business) offering the deal. The marketing dollars are well-spent and putting companies on the map is important. Once qualified, think about how to help the customer. How are they going to make real money here? What’s the package you offer them to help with user retention?  What should they be prepared for? You are likely taking a small business’ Yellow Pages marketing dollars. It better be worth it. Be a customer care advocate. Help set expectations. My friends at The Grapevine Wine and Bistro lost money on their absolutely smashing Groupon deal from last year. There were over 1000 people who bought-in on the deal. It was a financial hit for them and wasn’t a new customer acquisition play either. They’ve learned and now are part of Groupon “G” points, ofering an ongoing discount rather than a one-off daily deal. Ace Hardware also  took a hit too when they learned their computer systems couldn’t handle the Groupon couponing. They spent more money in getting their cash registers able to accept the Groupons without fraud than they did in income for the deal. What can you to to be fully customer focused to help customers become evangelists?

Consolidation in the group buying space is certain. Watch for key players to swoop in — eBay is running a good, but simple daily deals site that’s getting some traction. I’d expect Yelp to develop something here soon. I was surprised they went with the Foursquare direction before the daily deals, especially considering the controversy with their sales teams. Keep an eye on Merchant Circle, the online small business tool (advertising, ratings, blogs, community) for merchants to reach local customers. An acquisition for MC would be likely and beneficial to their model.

My existing group buying deals include: Zip lining, Kayak lessons for fun, Empire Tap Room, Edna Ray and Habana restaurants, Ace Hardware, A & I Books Online and A Work of Heart for creativity, One Month at Club One Fitness + 60 Min Massage and waxing services for body, The Gap and Bella James for clothes. My total savings to-date have been over a thousand dollars; my total purchases have been around $300.

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The Mall Police

Posted on Dec 30, 2009 in Family and Friends, Rants |

The Mall Police

My mom was in a wheelchair when I was a kid. She’s all good now, but a few childhood things remain. One, having a mom in a wheelchair gets you to the front of every line at Disneyland. Two, wheelchair races are not for sissies;  and three, the closer you get to the holidays, the harder it is to navigate stores. As you know, wheelchair-bound or not, shopping displays. life-size Santas and hoards of merchandise racks are a bitch to work around.

My Mall Police badge of honor started in 2003 when my twins were born. I’d gone to the mall and realized in horror that I couldn’t get through aisles in stores I normally could navigate with my double-wide Twin Savvy Stroller (or any of the other six strollers I had at the time). I walked into a store in San Jose and literally could not get to the items I wanted to see. As I pulled my stroller backwards to wiggle my way in, I noticed a wheelchair-bound woman trying to shop in the aisle. Eventually she gave up and left the store. In a rage, so did I.

That night I looked up the size of double-wide strollers online. It just happens to be the same width size as the American with Disabilities Act standards. So, in essence, my stroller was exactly the same size as a wheelchair. The wheels were turning. In theory, I thought, I could stalk every store in the mall and report the ones that were not compliant with wheelchair regulations. The more I thought about it, the more ticked-off I got: if it were my mother in a wheelchair and she couldn’t go Christmas shopping because she literally could not get down the aisle… the image outraged me. I decided that I would become the self-proclaimed Mall Police.

The next morning I headed out to Wesfield’s Valley Fair Mall in San Jose. I was armed with a notepad, a digital camera and my stroller (yes, the kids were in the stroller). I went up and down, traipsing myself through the mall, only stopping at Nordstrom (mild violations only) to breastfeed the kidlets. At every store where I could not get my stroller down the aisle, I would ask for a manager. I would tell them that my stroller was the exact width of a wheelchair and that they were in violation of the law (and of potentially buyers). Then I marched myself down to customer service where I reported each store. To Westfield’s credit, the mall management called me the following day. He had spoken to each store and warned them he’d call the County if they did not comply immediately. Got to give the guy credit for listening to a mom-on-the-warpath.

The following year, I noticed the same thing. And again, the Mall Police put on her badge and hit the mall with an agenda. This time I noticed retailers were more sensitive to the problem and more engaged in finding solutions. Leaving one store, I overheard the store manager tell a worker, “Move the rack, she’s right.” I smiled. Eat my stroller dust.

I am right. There are 2.1 million wheelchair users in the US and my mama was one of them. And every single one of them deserves 36 inches to get their chair around a store. In fact, there’s more. Many of our cute stores in San Jose are massive issues for people in a chair. Campbell, cute as can be, has multiple stores that are losing revenue every day from people who can’t get through the front door, muchless shop inside the stores.

Six years later, I’m still the Mall Police during the holidays. My children, long out of strollers, help me each year, pointing out the clearance violations. Indeed, it’s such a random, strange way to give to my community, but for me, it’s a passion. It’s a need. The holiday season is here and I plan to hit the stores tomorrow. Look out.

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My Gift

Posted on Dec 18, 2009 in Holidays |

I’ve been a part of online communities for so long, it’s hard to remember life without it. I can recall running to RadioShack in the early 90s to hook my then-smoking hot computer to the small but growing America Online in order to chat with a group of triathletes. Connecting with people of like-minds has always been one of my great passions. However, being a part of communities online means that our communities offline have to be balanced.  Over 15 years later, I’m still trying to work the balance of managing relationships online without it affecting my relationships offline. It’s not that I’m bad at it. Actually, I’m good at it! But it’s work. And my gift to my children this Christmas was going to be a work-free mommy.

Today is the last day I will Tweet until the kids go back to school on January 4. I won’t peek, lurk or wish-wash my way into Twitter. I’ll mostly avoid all other social media sites as well. I have already removed all social media apps from my iPhone. I’ll reinstall them in a couple weeks. And with few exceptions, I plan on being radio-silent in my online life. Being fully engaged with my children during their time off from school is the best present I can think of to give them.

Hey, Twitter: See you on the other side of the decade.

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