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

Posts Tagged "motherboard"

Pink Ribbons Are Boring. Do More.

Posted on Oct 12, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

Pink Ribbons Are Boring. Do More.

Oh man. Here it comes the month when every fricking thing is pink or perfectly normal with a little pink ribbon on it. Blah. Ick. Puke. Here comes the pink ribbon month. Marketing blah blah. Pink ribbons mean nothing to me. Green dollars mean something to me.

I’ve seen the debate on the Facebook ‘like’ promotion for Breast Cancer Awareness. I’ve heard the breast cancer fighters pushing back. I’ve watched friends recover from breast cancer surgeries ranging from proud little tiny scars to wonking radical mastectomies. My paternal grandmother did not survive breast cancer; my aunt has barely scathed by. That said, this is not my pet project, my “I’m going to wear an unflattering t-shirt” level of passion (leave that for the Myelin Repair Foundation and ProMujer). To be honest, pink ribbons turn me off — it seems so marketing-y. The only way I knew it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year was when I saw hardcore NFL defenseman Jared Allen, wearing a pink sweatband, tackling a QB who was donning a pink chin strap on live TV.

It took NFL Sunday for me to notice awareness month, but I’m no fool. Breast cancer is a deadly bitch. The breast cancer numbers are staggering. Shocking, really. I’m always so moved by the women I’ve seen walking for days on-end with pink bras and ta-ta jokes hugging and laughing and talking with their flat-chested, bald-headed friends. That is some serious courage. Sometimes the subject of breast cancer makes me feel uncomfortable because I happily had my breasts reduced. I don’t like boobs. But I don’t want to have to lose them because of cancer, either.

Supporting Breast Cancer Awareness month used to be a stretch:  I just couldn’t give money to a “Precious Moments” figurine and make the connection between that stupid trinket and the balls-out-hair-on-fire research that this disease requires. But all that’s changed. Women and marketers have gotten keen to the mutually beneficial attention to the Breast Cancer cause. For goodness sake, wineries are busting out massive donation campaigns this year. Now there’s a donation I can get behind.  And that’s not all.

Did you know you could donate a mammogram by just clicking once? I thought it was total B.S. so I looked it up on Snopes and validated it. Yup, just a click donates a mammogram to a woman who cannot pay for one. Um. DUH. Before reading on, do that.

I met two incredible designers when I was at SocialLuxe this year — if you attended, you saw their cool greeting cards too. My favorite is featured on the top of this post: “Thinking of you as you Bitch Slap cancer” made me smile and gave me a shot of anger too. Both worthwhile feelings, if you ask me. Buy these cards and 50% of all proceeds go to Young Survivors Coalition.

Into cupcakes — and good cupcakes? Sprinkles Cupcakes, arguably the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten, gives 100% of proceeds of their pink cupcake to Breast Cancer research. Okay, that’s cool. I can do that. And after I eat a dozen of those puppies (at $4 a pop), I’ll have to use my Yummie Tummie to squeeze into my clothes. This company has one of my favorite products ever — the Survivor Tank which is designed for slip-in cups for mastectomy needs. Oh, and 100% of the proceeds go to the City of Hope Research Foundation. Even if you do have your boobs, it’s a great product. I own one, I should know.

Then there’s every other product under the sun from Purina Cat Chow to Donna Karan perfume that give proceeds to Breast Cancer research during the month of October. But do me a favor, don’t bother buying any product just for the donation element. It’s only a drop in the bucket. Ten percent of profits on your cat chow purchase is less than 25 cents. For goshsake, if you’re going to donate to Breast Cancer research then save yourself some time and a crappy pink ribbon product and just donate directly to the Susan G.Komen fund by TEXTING the word: “KOMEN” to 90099 to donate $10. That’s a lot more efficient than 10% off some pink water bottle you didn’t want anyway.

This post is inspired by my purple pals at Yahoo! who donated $50,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation this month.
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Rock Star Kid Eaters

Posted on Sep 30, 2010 in Featured, Food, Motherboard |

Rock Star Kid Eaters

You all are going to hate me. I’m going to sound cocky and rude and full of myself. And maybe it’s got nothing to do with me, but I think it might: My Kids are Rockstar Eaters. They always have been. I’ve never had to hide a vegetable. I’ve never pretended like Charlie and Lola that tomatoes were moon squishers and broccoli was magic trees. In fact, I don’t really get all the hoopla on the food issue. See, I sound like a total bitchy snob.

I never fed my kids separately from the food we were eating. Of course we chopped it up and for awhile, Thing 2 liked his food deconstructed — so Arroz con Pollo would be on his plate: asparagus separate from saffron rice separate from chicken separate from grilled onion. But they ate it. Always. I started serving salad to my kids for meals when they were about 2-years-old. They figured out the magic of salad bars by the time they were 3 and were begging for the salad bar at Whole Foods as a treat. Sushi is the family favorite, but I’ve limited their sashimi intake — not for fear of kids eating raw fish (the doctor said it was fine), but because it was costing us a fricking fortune. Those little kids can put away sushi like nobody’s business. I didn’t eat like that in the 70s!

I have a treat drawer. I’ve always had one. I didn’t really know how to tackle the sweets and treats challenge, so I just ditched the whole thing and put a drawer, nice and low and accessible with no child safety locks on it filled with candy and cookies. I’m not kidding. I told the kids they could have one treat per day from that drawer. They are 7-years-old now and still ask if they can have a treat from the treat drawer and will self-regulate (Oh! I had a cupcake today, so no treat drawer tonight!). They get whatever candy they want. But they don’t want it very often.

When the kids were 4, we started taking them to Farmer’s Market in Campbell with their own bags. They were allowed to fill it up with anything they chose — veggies, fruits of all different kinds went into their bags. That damn experiment was expensive too!  But it worked. My kids eat colorful, bright veggies and fruits of all kinds — and better than that, they crave them. Don’t try to pass off a plain ‘ol apple on them; if it’s not HoneyCrisp then it’s not worth eating. Snobs.

I’ve written before that I was never really good with reading kiddie books to my kids — I always, instead, read them cookbooks. But that helped with eating too because kids wanted to cook everything I read to them. Soon they learned about meats and fish and herbs and seasonings and they were able to decipher which was which. This year, I taught them to tuck their fingers and use a real chef’s knife. Although I’m standing right there to help, I think trusting them with the knife, learning about the way food feels to cut and slice and, most of all, how to respect food, has helped them with their adventurous culinary spirits.

There are of course the days when the kids sigh at the sight of something totally foreign on their plates. We remind them of Andrew Zimmerman from the awesome show, Bizarre Foods and how Andrew says you have to try every food at least twice before saying you don’t like it. Other shows help us out too — we are huge, huge fans of Iron Chef America (Cat Cora for Thing 2, Bobby Flay for Thing 1). ICA helps my kids learn that the same food can be prepared many, many ways. That opens the door to trying foods that might be new, but with familiar ingredients. Makes things a bit less scary, I think.

We tell the kids frequently that in order to travel the world, they’ll have to appreciate foods from all cultures. This was great until the kids heard of cultures that eat bugs, spiders, fried crickets and tarantulas. They didn’t like that at all.

This post is inspired by the awesome, fun team of The Yahoo! MotherBoard.

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Scheduling Freak

Posted on Aug 16, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

Scheduling Freak

Some people call me the Sleep Nazi. Others call me the Schedule Freak. Call me what you want, I’ve got the magic trick to getting kids (well, at least mine), to adapt to school easily.

Maybe you’ve read all the how-to books. You’ve mastered The Happiest Baby in the Condo Complex or whatever. You’ve changed sleep habits and Tivo’d SuperNanny. Do what you want. I’ve got your ticket to kids being ripe for transition. How did I get so smart? Dora the Fricking Explorer. Seriously. And even today, five years after I have even laid my eyes on Dora,  my kids will go back to school with the same tricks I’ve used all these years. Watch me as I head back into my alter ego: The Schedule Freak.

Here is the Dora magic (and hellno, I am not a Dora representative, fan or even particularly fond of the show). Dora tells things in threes, Dora repeats the tasks, Dora has rewards at the end, Dora includes the children in the journey. Dora sets expectations. Dora is more of a scheduling freak then I am: “Big Tree. Wide River. Magic Forrest!” Not only does the character tell things in threes, she’s super clever in that she repeats what has been done, so there is accomplishment throughout the journey. “We’ve climbed the big tree — now we need to find the Wide River to get to the Magic Forrest!” This repetition is enough to drive a parent crazy. Until, you can use that chubby little four-year-old to your benefit.

I started with simple stuff when the kids were about 3-years-old:  “First we’re going to the post office to send mail! Then we’re going to the grocery store to find fresh fruit! Then we’ll come home and make dinner!” I realized an immediate difference. The kids were invested in the process and loved the idea of being included. There were no secrets, certain conclusions and full knowledge that they wouldn’t be sitting endlessly in their carseats. Their tasks had a purpose. Shazam!

As they grew a bit older,  I worked up to more complex rhythms: “First we’re going to get dressed, then we’re going to see grandma and then we’ll have lunch at the park.” The rhythms were more vague (get dressed means teeth brushing, clothes, hair, shoes) but the final task was always a reward (free time). The game still worked.

By school age, the kids craved the patterns: “We’re going to have breakfast, get dressed and go to school,” soon morphed into “We’re going to do our morning thing (breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, hair shoes, etc.), then we’re going to school (six hours of tasks), and then mommy will pick you up.” My children never spent one day afraid of school — they knew what came next. Call it kid empowerment, call it transparency. I call it Doraisms.

Today the Dora rhythm is still in-play at our home.  The key to Dora-esque scheduling of kids and grownups like them:

1. Use a wide angle lens. Let the kids know what is happening in the big picture. We have a dry erase calendar and as they eat breakfast and dinner, they look at the calendar to know what’s going on around them. They count down just like Dora does. “Five days until we sleep over at Aunty’s house.”

2. Give them a Daily Dose. I let my kids know the schedule as it unfolds each day. They can not only depend on their schedule, but also trust that their needs will be met. If it’s a school day it works like this:

7 a.m. Wake up, cuddle time (15 minutes), no TV or videos

7:30 a.m. To the kitchen for breakfast and morning chat about daily expectations

8 a.m. Brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair, find your way to the front door for shoes and backpacks.

8:30 a.m. Leave for school

2:50 p.m. Mommy, La Gringa, Grandma or Aunty/Uncle pick you up. No exceptions, no disappointment (Dora doesn’t say, “Oh, go with the Grumpy Old Troll because mommy has a conference call)

3:30 p.m. Home, wash hands, change clothes.

3:45 p.m. Snack, homework

4:30 p.m. Play

6 p.m. Shower, jammies, cuddles

6:30 p.m. Dinner

7 p.m. Read with @La_Gringa

7:30 p.m. Lights out

3. Give them some Wiggle Room. Adding in spontaneity is key to a highly scheduled kid. My kids live and breathe their schedule, but they know if I tell them, “Today we’re going to chill out,” they will get more creative. This third part is vital to the life of a scheduled child: NO SCHEDULE. The entire reason to schedule my kids is so that I can break the schedule. The ability for my kids to adapt is important to me. I am learning daily how to make sure there is enough wiggle room for the kids to drive their own Doraisms.

As the back-to-school frenzy begins, I find myself happier than much of the unscheduled summertime. The kids knew their patterns for today and followed them beautifully. They wiggled-in an hour of four square, I squeezed in a quick trip to the fish market. In watching my children’s growth, I have come to understand that the Dora scheduling philosophy might have set patterns for my family that are so much greater than I ever imaged. Setting the patterns clearly, the goals cleanly and the success certain are the keys to Dora’s trove of wisdom that I hold so dear.

This post is for the topic of Back to School from my dear friends at the Yahoo! MotherBoard.

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The Safety Dance

Posted on Jun 17, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

The Safety Dance

Yesterday a slew kids were playing on their teacher’s computer during summer camp — one of them called out “FACEBOOK!” To the poor teacher’s horror, her FB page had popped up, photos and Wall posts and all, simply as the result of a kid clicking around on her browser.  Ugh. The afternoon was filled with fits of laughter from kids screaming, “Maestra has a FACEBOOK PAGE!,” to the hum of nan-er-nan-er-nan-er.

Now, I’m not a super security freak when it comes to online safety for my kids. La Gringa and I have worked building, managing and monetizing online communities as long as they’ve been around. (She didn’t get the name Yahoo! Sheriff for nothing.) All along, we’ve had a simple philosophy: teach the kids to utilize the web properly and we won’t have to use security measures to block out content. We put rules in place: browse the web at-will, but you must (a) use your laptop in a public place in the house (b) you may not watch video of any kind (c) you may not click on an ad of any kind (d) you may not speak with someone online of any kind with the exception of sites like Club Penguin that we trust for kid-centric communication.

You are freaking out, aren’t you? I bet you are. And so did my friends at BitDefender. And so did some moms in Chicago who sat shocked as I told tales of not using parental controls on my kids’ computers. Just hear me out.

I want to teach my children to understand fully what the power of the Internet means. I want them to learn to scope out dangers, understand potential hazards and learn to manage risks online. I am convinced that my children are smarter than I, and will figure out any barriers to entry I put before them to keep them from online dangers. We as a family decided to face the fears, point out the dangers and teach our children to respond appropriately to them. I am right there with my children when they call out, “Mom, a pop-up ad! Mom, they are selling me something! Mom, look!” And I do, I look and show them the little X box at the top to remove the ad, and we discuss what they did to get to the place online where they’d be subjected to such things (Sports Illustrated is famous in our house, as you can imagine).

One major pitfall for us has been Search. I’m beginning to understand that Search is wildly imperfect and that despite Yahoo! Search being a default on my kids’ computers, it does have danger. They are old enough to spell and type in the search bar for terms; however, they are not mature enough to know what results pages can render. And 6-year-olds misspell often. So a search on  C3PO (Star Wars is an obsession in our home), can result in a kid typing just “C3” which results in Cleveland Communities for Christ. Fine, right? Not so fast, it actually links to a Facebook Fan page which in turn links to photos, people and more.  An easy search on my son’s version of spelling “Korea” came up with results for “Karreena,” a sultry, scantily dressed Bollywood actress. Clearly, my Learning Through Transparency model doesn’t work for search.

I continue to push back against over controlling my children’s presence online. I want them to learn rights, wrongs and potential dangers online. If I constrict their web so intensely, I worry that they’ll explode with obsession when they learn that their version of the web has been so small, so protected, so unrealistic. At the same time, I am learning, day by day, that there are pitfalls to this philosophy and as my children age, the needle will have to move on just how  wide I let them explore.

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Confessions of a Non-Reading Mom

Posted on Mar 4, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

Confessions of a Non-Reading Mom

Before I had children, I had a notion about what a mom should be — cuddly and kind, strict and forgiving, lenient and understanding. I visualized myself teaching my children to walk and talk and count and, of course, read. I saw myself working with pride in the children’s classrooms teaching other kids to read as well as my own were sure to. My children, of course, would be voracious readers, and I, at the helm, leading them through the aisles of Hicklebee’s famed children’s book store.

As we all know by now, all of our fantasies of parenthood don’t come true. I turned out to be a mom that didn’t read much with her kids. Sigh. Blame it on the exhaustion of being the mother of twins, push it off on being too worn down, cast the responsibility on the babysitter… Somehow, after all my visions of what kind of parent I’d be, I wasn’t the one to foster reading in my children.

Reading to my children somehow became a burden. It annoyed me that they pushed the pages to get to the next one, interrupted me with question after question, went on tangents unrelated to what I was reading. I tried in vain to imitate Mr Toad’s deep throaty voice and Ms. Spider’s high-pitched tone.   It flat-out annoyed me to read with my kids. I felt horrible about it. Awful, actually. I felt like a mommy failure. I needed help.

I went to the library and spoke with a woman at the Biblioteca Latinoamericana in San Jose, a library with one of the foremost bilingual collections in California. She told me to read the newspaper outloud to the kids. She told me to read Time magazine, read People magazine, read anything to the kids. She gave me permission to not read Dr. Seuss. I stood in front of this stranger and cried. Just read, she said. Read for my own joy and the kids will absorb the magic of words and reading. The angst I had over reading children’s books that were not enjoyable to me was coming through to my kids. What they needed, she taught me, was the feeling that mommy enjoyed reading — they needed to see me value reading and how reading envelops every part of society. That woman, that precious librarian, changed my life.

The first thing I did was start reading signs and headlines in the car to the kids. I read recipes outloud and my kids loved every second of it. I read the Yahoo! front page headlines outloud. And in Spanish, I read anything I could find. Most books were children’s books, but that’s about my reading level in Spanish. I started to see my children engage me in reading and from that I gained inspiration to read further.

Step two was to find children’s books that worked for the whole family.  The problem was that I had a slew of Disney-esque books or See Jane Run boardbooks (or rather: bored-books) — each of them less inspiring than the next.  I needed to fix this ASAP. My sister-in-law had bought books from a little company called Chinaberry and I thought I might be able to find interest in some of those books. I spent hours pouring through their website  finding alternative books that I found interesting. There were stories of native American children, of world cultures. There were books of children’s poetry that I found simply incredible and sweet. I found Goodnight Moon in Spanish, which was super fun for me to read with the kids. I bought Heather Has Two Mommies but it made me feel uncomfortable, so I ditched it. I found a book about Amelia Earheart and a wonderful book about buildings called Iggy Peck Architect. In finding books that interested me, I found that my kids were more interested in reading with me. That was a huge relief.

My third step was to acquiesce my mommy responsibilities in reading with the children. My partner @La_gringa took over the role of reading to the kids before bed. It turned out beautifully — the kids and @La_Gringa love this ritual.  My stepdad took it upon himself to buy a series of books he had enjoyed reading to his kids 30 years ago  (the great Ferdinand was one) and the kids know that Granddad will read to them whenever they visit. My mom sat with the kids while they learned to read in preschool and then kindergarten. Unlike me,  her patience for sounding out syllables was unwavering. The village had stepped in to raise up my children where I lacked.

The kids are now in first grade, are biliterate in Spanish and English, reading fluently in two languages above grade level. Most of their reading is non-fiction, which I find fascinating, and all of their exams are solely in Spanish. This week they both received  Accelerated Reader awards for earning over 90 percent on their tests — they were two of only 10 first-graders in their school honored. Despite me, these children have a passion for reading.

Teaching my children to read was so much harder than I ever dreamed. We had to adapt: Dr. Seuss was out,  Thomas the Tank was replaced with a how-to-build-a-train type books, written by people a lot less famous. I wasn’t the one that taught my children to read, but I did find a way to show them a respect and love for language. Last night my children listened as I read them a recipe — Sea Bass, olive oil, teaspoon of sea salt — while they retold a story from a Magic Treehouse book. The smells of the kitchen and conversation mutually engulfed us in the beauty of words.

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