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

Posts Tagged "san jose"

Mowing in the Target Trough

Posted on Jan 2, 2011 in Featured, Seasons |

Mowing in the Target Trough

“Valentine’s Day is coming!,” La Gringa said yesterday. “Shut the hell up”, I thought, as we were herded toward the Christmas blowout sale aisle with another three dozen bargain shoppers. If the post-holiday season wasn’t depressing enough, try perusing through the 75% off racks at Target with once-carefully thought-out gift options, now chucked on the ground, grinding under my shopping cart. The Target message was clear: the holidays are over sucker, move on the Valentine’s Day! MLK Day Commemorative Plates! SuperBowl Sunday Chip’n’Dip Bowls!

It suddenly hit me: Target is ruling my spending, my holidays and my calendar.

Now, like all good neighborhood residents, I try hard to shop locally, but Target is Target and we all eat from the same trough of discount deals, readily available everythings and decent selections. If you’ve got a lunch break, you go to Target, if you’ve got a bunch of errands, you go to Target, if you need uniforms, kids underwear, bananas, a birthday card and a new scale all at once, you go to Target (For the record, you don’t ever buy your wife a new wardrobe at Target for her birthday, trust me.). The problem is, Target is leading loyal customers into truly believing that it’s the benchmark for all things commerce. That’s where I draw the line.

There things to be mindful of when shopping at Target as a regular source of purchasing:

1. Emotion Marketing. Because Target says it’s time to start buying Easter baskets in February, doesn’t mean you should. Or that it should be on your mind, or in your current budget. It’s hard to resist, right? This year I saw Back to School clothes for sale at Target in June. By August when I went to buy the uniforms, they were sold out. You’re kidding me, right? I used to get my school uniforms the weekend before school started and supplies, the day after school started. Target has me thinking about — and buying — items on their marketing schedule, not mine.

2. Selection and Variety. We need a new scale. Target has four kinds of scales. Good variety, right? If Target doesn’t have it, then it doesn’t exist, or costs too much or is too much of a pain to get in the car and go across town to the shop that specializes in such things. There are four types to choose from, just pick one, right? The same goes for toys, kids clothes and seasonal tsotchke. I couldn’t find a silver cardigan for my daughter at Target, so I just didn’t buy it. The developmental kids toys are the same everywhere and I should just pick one of them in the “developmental” toys aisle at Target — well, at least that’s my thinking. Yesterday I staged a rebellion: I’m going to (a) research scales  (b) determine what kinds of features I want (c) read the reviews. Then, I’ll go to Target and if they have it, great, I’ll stick it in my cart next to the deodorant and Intro to Yoga DVD, but if they don’t, I won’t be a slave to the Target machine, I will buy the scale I want to buy. Maybe. That is, er, f I have time and I don’t have to stop by Target anyway on my way to pick up my kid from ballet.

3. Setting the bar. I am often reminded when I question authority, process and procedures that most things are geared toward marketing toward, or communicating with, the lowest common denominator. Everything from public school to airport security screenings are designed for Bozo the Clown, so it’s no surprise that even my son calls out the low bar of marketing messaging. “What does ‘MORE SWEAT FOR LESS’ mean, Mommy?,” my 7-year-old asks. “It means you can pay less money for sweat pants,” I replied. “Why do I want to sweat more for less?”  he answered. Indeed son, why? For the love of all that is good: My kid is calling out the low level communication strategies. But you know what I did, huh? Huh? I turned around to see if they had the same sale for women’s sweat pants.

And so it goes. I love me my “Tar-jay”  I know that I’m part of a marketing machine and I expect the bar to be set low. I’m never disappointed nor impressed. I won’t be deterred from the big red circle and cheap popcorn at the front door. I won’t either be impressed by quality, selection or price. But here’s the kicker, see… I don’t have to like it, but it’s hard not to.

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Girl, You Got it All Wrong

Posted on Oct 22, 2010 in Featured, Politics and Rants |

Girl, You Got it All Wrong

I sat staring at the TV in complete shock last week as Deleware  Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell made a wicked, sad fool of herself. I wanted to leap through the television and shut her up — not for her clear lack of knowledge of law and current events or even for her politics — but moreover, for her gross embarrassment to me as a woman. For that dishonor alone,  I’m sure my high school Women’s Studies professor is cringing with distain.

I am a woman with a bias. I vote for women if I can. It’s just the way I roll. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s my history attending an extraordinarily feminist school; maybe it is me in the footsteps of my entrepreneur mother; maybe for my love of the underdog or the passion I have to raise my daughter with an equal balance of femininity and balls-out strength. My first inclination during election season is to seek out the female candidates and support them if I can. It might not be right, but it’s what I do. The only problem is, it’s hard to stand behind female candidates that are neither feminine nor brilliant. Christine, Meg, Carly, even you, Barbara: you are letting me down.

Somehow I expect that women will conduct themselves better in business and politics than men. I expect to see issues discussed cleanly, clearly and honestly. I expect a strong debate, filled with valid inflammatory topics and solid political banter. I want a good battle, an honest fight and die-hard representation of the things that make each candidate passionate about their role in the political theater. With the exception of being pro choice, I am willing to accept almost every political view, but I am not willing to accept unladylike conduct.

Meg Whitman, one of our local female CEOs has a wildly different position on politics than I do, but that’s not why I’m disappointed. It’s the wretched thievery of content, the nasty, dirty advertising smears, the red-faced head-shaking fury of a woman on the brink of leadership.  A leader doesn’t mistreat employees, whether they are execs at eBay or illegal house keepers. Leadership for women is the opposite of that — using the cortisol in our brains to our distinct advantage, not disadvantage to others. I don’t want PollyAnna for a politician, but at the same I’ve known insiders who say Whitman is a true witch — and not the good corporate kind that all of us female entrepreneurs secretly want to be. Oh Meg, you leave me no choice but to vote for the liberal, bald-headed Jerry Garcia wanna be. You let me down.

The national political stage for women has been set for this year’s election and it’s ugly. Our women in leadership seem to have lost their ability to woo an audience as women. Even Sarah Palin has lost her ladylike manner, replacing it with texting lingo “Pls” for “please”, making up words like ‘refudiate’ and finishing everything with an exclamation point or two!! Fading to the background are ladies in politics including the formidable Condoleezza Rice  whose grace never, ever tarnished, despite the trepidatious environment of international unrest, war and the endless hinting at being gay. I am not a fan of Rice’s politics, but female politicians can take note: Dress appropriately, behave like a lady, speak intelligently or do not speak, fight like hell for what you believe in.

What is a woman wanting to support women in politics to do? I will not spend my vote or even so much as slow down my Tivo fastforward on women who play dirty politics. I expect more from women. I expect civility, respect and, most of all, I expect you to represent me as both a woman, an executive and a voter with dignity.

I am left, sadly, candidateless this election term, reminded again of the great importance of The WhiteHouse Project and Girls Rock the House.

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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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A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

Posted on Sep 20, 2010 in Featured, School |

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

If I could send my kids to The Waldorf of the Peninsula school, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I believe with my whole parenting self, that giving my children the freedom to find joy in their learning, the power of overcoming their fears and the strength of education is one of the greatest things I’ll do with my life. But education philosophy and budgets rarely match up. At $12,000 – $20,000 per year, per child, my hopes of my children being educated in the  Montessori philosophy are all but gone.

As the public school system in San Jose continues to decline to dangerously low funding, I find our school’s programs being cut — science, art, athletics — key cornerstones to a well-rounded childhood education. And, thanks to the not-even-remotely-helpful No Child Left Behind Act, our public school teachers are trapped by having to teach to test, not teach to learn. Even the greatest teachers around (ours included), can’t fight off an economy in peril and a broken school system. Teachers find themselves sneaking in art and music, wiggling around systems to find some creativity in their teaching and eek out moments of 1:1 time with kids.

Meanwhile, across town, for the cost of some family annual paychecks, children are learning by touch and feel and movement. Their worlds are filled with peace and balance and a basic belief that their brains are developing just as they should. It’s hard not to hate them. I want my kids to have that freedom to learn, despite our inability to pay $30,000 annually. I’ve thought about this a lot. If I cut our lifestyle down, could we afford Montessori? If I:

Gave up wine: $200/month or $2,400 a year. Nope, not even close.

Gave up organic food: $150/month or $1,800 a year. Why would I give up feeding my family organically?

Gave up both @la_gringa’s and my iPhones: $250/month or $3,000 a year. That won’t work.

If I went from full-time flexible consulting to completely full-time in-house, we’d be able to pull it off, but then, I’d need a nanny, aftercare and, most of all, wouldn’t be there to participate in the rearing of my own children’s lives. That might work for them, but what’s the trade off for having no mommy face-time?

After a year of jealousy, I’ve decided to bring a little Montessori to our home — if we can’t go to a developmental private school, the least I can do is bring a bit of it home to my kids. Although my plan is just coming into action, I’m finding Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be fully engaged in the new system. I’ve started with manipulatives: putting odd things in their art cart — a strange shaped item, a tool they don’t know how to use, a giant vacuum cleaner box. Next, I’ve planned time in their day to let them explore these things and others that they find interesting. When I take down barriers to activities, the kids seem to really respond. Answers that used to be no have turned to yes. Questions like “Can I make myself an Aztec warrior?” are answered with “Of course you can.” So far, I can’t believe how creative the kids have been, how receptive they are to failure, trial and error.

Next on the agenda is to loosen the physical restraints we put on our kids. A Montessori kid I know can climb trees all the way to the top. She has no fear. She’ll sit at the top of the tree, eat a snack and watch the world go by. I’ve seen other parents completely freak out at this kid (and her parents), but somehow I get it. This girl is in no more danger of falling out of a tree as others are from falling off a bike, or getting a concussion from a linebacker’s tackle. I want my children to reach for freedoms physically. Yesterday I told my daughter to go outside and climb a tree. She looked at me like I was nuts, and then, went and did it. A half-hour later she ran back inside, showing off her scraped hands and knees — “I was in the tree!,” she said, proudly.

Finances can keep us from attending private Montessori schools, but not from offering our kids the freedoms to explore the world the way they want and need to.  I’m working to get to the place where our home is full of  structured freedom — enough room to find their own way and enough structure to help them get there.

Three of my newbie tools:

Montessori for Everyone Blog

Children of the Universe book

Journey to Montessori Elementary video

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Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in Featured, School |

Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

The kids sang and celebrated, paper painted signs hung from the balcony and Colombian music played in the courtyard. From where I stood, this was one heck of a celebration — our teacher had been named the California Bilingual Educator of the Year! I couldn’t stop smiling and watching the Latino children playing and dancing with their white-faced buddies, completely unaware of the minefield around them. Overheard in the hum of the singing and dancing was a parent blurting out, “You’d think we were the minority here,” while another across the yard was heard saying, “It’s not Cinco de Mayo, is it?”

Well, Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Whites are the minority at our San Jose Unified school, just like other awesome schools in the area, including the renowned Cupertino school district where the Asian population far surpasses that of the white community. And, many of these children are learning in two languages like their European counterparts who master at least bilingualism by age 12. Having children who are bilingual statistically leads to all kind of rad stuff — from advanced math skills, music comprehension and higher AP scores. It leads children to be multi-cultural too. You can bet my half-Mexican butt that no parent with children enrolled in Two Way Bilingual Immersion would ever consider saying the derogatory kind of things parents are overheard saying. What is the problem?

I started my children in Spanish Immersion in Kindergarten. I expected a delay in language skills. Instead my children read at over 90 percent comprehension in both English and Spanish on advanced levels. I expected a lack of integration with schoolmates not enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program. Instead I found my children to be playground ambassadors. I expected my children to resent learning in Spanish when neighborhood buddies got off easy and learned in English only. Instead, my children tout their Spanish-language learning as an elite class.

Of all the things I expected, the backlash from parents unhappy with the Spanish Immersion program at their school was not only unexpected, it was shocking. As a parent, I find myself between two worlds: that where my neighborhood mommies drink Starbucks and get their nails done, and, those neighborhood mommies who wipe the floors at night at the same shops in order to make rent. I find myself championing for a culture that seems as much a part of our community as the other. I live in Limbo between these two worlds.

I’m no fool. I understand that socio-economic status and ethnicity go hand-in-hand here in San Jose and that it’s the expendable-income families that truly make the school go-round. They offer intellectual wealth beyond their financial wealth. They are educated and value education. They contribute time, treasure and talent. Those things are the differentiators at our school that make it a great place to be. Here, in a state where public education is suffering exponentially, we rely incredibly heavily on the families that have something to spare. Our children’s futures rely on it.

But the truth is this: California has nearly as many Spanish-speakers as English-speakers. We are becoming a bilingual state. What else is true is that many Latino families in San Jose just can’t give to their schools in the same way we can. There are few gifts that English-learning families can offer to our local schools. They don’t have the time to give (two jobs!) or the treasure to give. But there is talent to give. And one of those things is helping our English-only children learn Spanish fluently. It’s a special and important way these families can give back to their community, their school, their classmates.

I truly do not understand why bilingual education in San Jose isn’t more embraced. What can be the downside? Better educated, more well-rounded, bilingual, biliterate, bicultured children? I’ll take that risk.

Original post to SV Moms Blog.

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The Creperie That Wasn’t

Posted on Sep 15, 2009 in Family, Friends, Rants and Raves, Food |

If you’ve wandered the streets of Paris, or heck, anywhere in Western Europe, you’ve seen — and hopefully tasted — the incredible street food at-the-ready. The cooks are unsung heroes of real food. I’ve had kebab in Cairo that I went back to eat three days in-a-row; Lucky’s Souvlaki made Gyros in the city of Fira, Greece that left me addicted, even with the parasite it gave me (and continued to give me for three months); I’ve had a pretzel in Manhattan near 5th Avenue on the south side of the street that was my good luck charm for years. Oh, and the churros con chocolate in Alacante, Spain where the smell still stays with me years later.

In the US, there are hot dog stands. That’s it. Some cities like Portland, Denver in the summer and of course, New York (screw weather, gimme a ‘dog), go beyond the basics, but still, our understanding and respect for street food is minimal, if not downright lame. In the hopes of bringing the spirit of Lucky and his comrades to the Bay Area, I’ve been investigating a crepe stand.

The idea was to draw in the already booming community with low-priced, healthy street food made with love. I envisioned a half-dozen people standing around waiting for their fresh crepe, wrapped  in savvy (kiss my ass Martha Stewart) parchment.  I had a mindset of catering to all the local crowds: the morning mamas, the teachers at Noon stopping by for a quick bite of culture, the post-dinner sweet teeth. As the idea developed, the game was to stay as basic as possible, stay true to basic ingredients (buckwheat a must, Bisquick a never), the basic concept (no, I don’t do sandwiches) and,  most importantly,  the basic philosophy that food made with care, one at a time is better than any grand concept I could conjure.

But the Creperie was not to be. In the end, street vendors are prohibited in San Jose towns. They’re not outlawed, per-se, but they are boxed out by pages and pages of regulations that prevent them from being a part of small towns like ours. I get it, really, I do. The businesses that pay hefty leases don’t need a street vendor outdoing them, the parking lots are sparse and, the taste of street vending is fulfilled already with the weekly Farmer’s Market. Leases are pointless, the number simply don’t work. I’ve run the numbers, talked to the health department, the police department and the (very cool and helpful) department of environmental health. Simply, there are not enough crepes to be eaten daily to justify a rent and all the crap that goes with rent and not enough room in town for a trolling vendor, even if it is cool, cultural and community oriented.

So another idea goes by. In four years, someone’s going to be incredibly popular with this. It’s how it rolls with me. A bit ahead of our time in a town that’s trying to just stay with the times in an economy that’s just trying to stay afloat. I’m disappointed. But I’m satisfied that we looked at the idea every which way and it just ain’t happenin’.

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