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

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Skinny Mickey

Posted on Jan 3, 2011 in Featured, Food |

Skinny Mickey

On Christmas Day, one of my dear friends gave his (skinny witch) wife a trip to Disneyland for the first time with their daughter. She cried; heck, I cried. It was strangely romantic and sweet. Immediately we went into planning mode — where to stay, what to do that’s perfect for a 3 1/2 year-old girlie girl, what time of year to go and, like all California mommies do, plan on  how to conquer Disneyland without gaining an ounce. As you all know by now, food is my obsession.

Here’s our quick list of food friendly sneaks, snacks and killer meals at Disneyland for those of us who count every bite. Oh, and a hint: for fun, bring a pedometer — we averaged walking about four miles, and about 1800 calories per day.

1. Fresh food carts are your go-to. On Main Street, and in the back of the park near Dumbo, you’ll find a fresh fruit and veggie cart. Kids are so overwhelmed when they first arrive, it’s great to hit-up this cart on Main Street. Get a pineapple spear, some watermelon or fresh mango and sit on the curb to take in your first minutes. Another tip: don’t stock up on the fruits and veggies here. Instead use it as a resting opportunity. See a fresh fruit cart? Grab an apple and rest your legs. It’s a great way to keep on top of low blood sugar too…

2. Bengal Barbecue. Right outside of  the Indiana Jones ride is the Bengal Barbecue. They’ve got three or four different types of skewers (chicken, beef, shrimp, veggie). This is an awesome heavier snack/late lunch. Just the protein, low fat and food that is made for being on-the-go or on in line. Pass on the pretzels, chips, etc. and just get the skewer. Save the calories for something more fun.

3. World of Color picnic. You have to think ahead for this one, but you’ll be glad you did. The picnic comes when you reserve seats for World of Color (a really good idea with small kids). Munch on your picnic while overlooking all of California Adventure. There are two great options: the European and the Vegetarian. The meals are smallish, but that’s fine, since there are always opportunities to stop and snack on something fun elsewhere.

4. Sweets are a must. I grew up on Disneyland food, and the Carnation ice cream parlor was one of my favorite memories. But my metabolism is not 10-years-old anymore. I always pass the ice cream carts and head to Toon Town where I go to Clarabelle’s frozen yogurt shop. It’s in the little food court toward the back and it’s worth the trek to the back of the park. 20+ fat grams saved — voila.

5. Breakfast is hard at Disneyland. You might have early entry or have a character breakfast booked. Hear the phrase “Character Breakfast’ and know it’s going to be hard to get a super healthy meal, and even harder to pass up  Mickey pancakes. Do ones of these three solid options instead (a) Call Hearthstone restaurant at the Grand Californian and have them pack you a breakfast on the run, or stop in there early for an egg white omelete. (b) Go to LaBrea Bakery at the entrance to the parks. Get a coffee and a yogurt parfait. (c) If you’re going into California Adventure early in the morning, go to Schmoozies, a smoothie bar. They’ve got good selections and it’s a better use of time if you’re racing to get things done before the general public arrives.

6. Refuel at the hearth in the Grand Californian. We found this haven when the kids were about 2-years-old and we still do it every time we go to Disneyland. Go into the lobby of the Grand, park your stroller or your kids next to the giant hearth and tell the kids it’s quiet time. Order a glass of wine from the lovely lobby bar and ask to see the bar menu.

7. Slow down before going to the fireworks. At some point you’re going to crack and need to have a meal that is not on the side of the curb on Main Street and you’ll crave a napkin on your lap. When you do, the Napa Rose is where you’ll find your healthy peace. This is the best find for grownups at Disneyland, bar none. The menu changes seasonally, the service is rad and they are shockingly tolerant  with kidlets considering the high quality environment.

Now all good trips to Disneyland have to come with a splurge. I used my big calorie ticket on the pineapple slushie outside of the Tiki Room, the carnitas burrito at Tortilla Joe’s taqueria in Downtown Disney and on the last day, a piece of fudge on Main Street. It is Disneyland, afterall.

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If I… (Still) Had a Yellow Pages Ad

Posted on Dec 15, 2010 in Featured, If I... |

If I… (Still) Had a Yellow Pages Ad

If I… still had a Yellow Pages ad running, I’d, well, stop immediately. Like, now. Unless you are a tow truck service or a locksmith, stop reading this post and cancel any kind of ad running.

Now.

Whew, now that I think I’ve stopped sweating from the sheer thought of all that wasted money, I can tell you, if you have a Yellow Pages ad, you need to make a change now. Small businesses can fall victim to the lowest common denominator of advertising, but is it effective? Not really anymore. What used to be the single most effective way to showcase your business (and its legitimacy), is now the least efficient. Small business marketing is no longer confined to, limited by or even led by Yellow Pages advertising. When two giant reams Yellow Pages books arrived on my doorstep last week, I couldn’t quite believe it — “People still do this?,” I thought.

Small businesses need marketing budgets, spending that money wisely is vital to survival now more than ever.  This isn’t a plea to stop advertising, it’s a plea to stop advertising in Yellow Pages books. Oh, don’t pocket that money so fast; I’ve already got it spent for you.

1. Cancel your Yellow Pages display ad. If you’re in New York or any major city, it’s likely anywhere from $2500- $100,000. I’m guessing it’s more in the $3500 range. If you’re in a smaller city, your display ad is probably running you between $500-$5000. Make sure when you cancel the ad that you ensure that your free listing is still there (you can even do that online at the Ad Solutions site from ATT). This will list your business in the YP directory online and in the book.

2. Run a Google search on your business. What comes up? You’re a small business owner not an SEO or web expert. You are not a marketer and you’ve got zero time to worry about this junk. I know, I know. But watch what happens when I Google my friend’s B&B, The Madison Street Inn,  then see what happens when I run a search on Bed & Breakfast in Santa Clara. This should give you a few pieces of information. Where is your small business listed? Who is listing it? Is the information correct? What needs to move to the top of search results? With a little poking around, you can make leaps in your presence online (and in mobile search, of course), by just knowing what your customers are seeing.

3. Get a Yelp account for your business. This is important stuff, I’m telling you. Yelp can do many things for free for your business and some paid things that are great too. The very basics: Get a business account, this part is free and easy to do. Populate your profile well. This means make sure you’ve done your hours of business, photos, contact information, etc. Now, write a special offer or an announcement. I click on the little orange flag all the time when I’m searching for something on Yelp. It means that the small business cares and is actively engaged with me. I like little things like “20 Years in Business and Going Strong!” but I’ll also pick something that says “Mention this Ad and…” These things are free of charge. This is a must-do.  Yelp also offers sponsored listings. I am not a fan because I don’t like the way the Yelp sales team bullies clients, but that aside, it’s a smart option for your Yellow Pages dollars.

4. Get a Merchant Circle account. MC is like a CVB and business association all wrapped into one. MC can be big and scary feeling, but try to find pieces of it that work for your business. What can it do for you? It can act as your small business website, if you don’t have one, it’s got a good, solid couponing tool and it’s a good network for reaching out with other small business owners. But, what I like from Merchant Circle is their low cost tools. For the cost of your out-dated Yellow Pages display ad, you can have MC do a lot of the small business marketing for you. They are the master of search results (see tip #1) and even do your Google ads for you.

It is such a shame to take those big yellow bricks and throw them in the trash unopened. It makes me feel for small businesses who are not marketing experts and who have a history of using their limited marketing funds on Yellow Pages ads that cannot yield the targeting, quality and results that can be obtained through using these basic tools. If I… was a Yellow Pages customer I’d know that now is the time to graduate to better marketing opportunities.

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Tee Hee Hee

Posted on Dec 13, 2010 in Featured |

Tee Hee Hee

I couldn’t make myself laugh out loud today. I just couldn’t do it. I tried. Oh man, I tried. I watched the David at the Dentist video today to make myself laugh — but alas, despite the fact that the video always makes me giggle, I barely mustered a smirk. I made myself remember the time that my cousin told my mom and I the story of her not-so-romantic wedding night where we were laughing so hard that I thought I was going to be sick. I was literally hitting my head on the car window with laughter. And although the memory is funny, it didn’t make me laugh today.

Today was the day I was supposed to laugh.

I was charged with the topic of Laugher for Me You Health‘s Daily Challenge for today’s challenge. But truth be told, when I made myself focus on laughing, I just couldn’t. Hee-hee, haa! or even a measly LOL text were more than I could muster. I’m not sure why, since I spend most days laughing from my gut. Maybe it was the flashing neon sign today saying “LAUGH” that made me unable to deliver. Call it performance anxiety, but today was the first day in a long time that I didn’t laugh at something. And, now, I think I know why:

I believe in laughter. I find things funny all the time. I have a running commentary racing through my mind that is always somewhat inappropriate, almost always racy and to me, really funny. I live to laugh. I love to laugh. The darker the situation, the better fodder for my humor. But ask me to find something funny and I can’t. Leave me to my own devices and I’ll bust-up at something silly. A funky doctor at The Mayo Clinic? Hysterical. An tongue-in-cheek work email to a senior executive? Drew roars of laughter. A random sign on the side of the road? Got it! Singing on top of the bar? Done it with belly laughs and cheers.

Like today’s Daily Challenge reminds me:  Laughter is good for my health! Oh, I must be healthy then, I’ve got the laugh lines to prove it.

Here’s my formula for giving yourself a daily boost of good ‘ol belly laughter:

1. Finding humor and irony in everything is key. Even if you don’t tell a soul, the smile inside is what matters.

2. Give yourself permission to laugh the kind of laugh that make you look really ugly. You know, the kind where your makeup runs, mascara rolling down your face with tears, some crazy sounds coming out of you (I’ve been known to snort from laughter). Tell yourself it’s okay to bust-out.

3. Laugher is contagious. I find myself laughing sometimes because someone else is laughing and I have no idea why. My son laughs sometimes and I just sit there laughing my head-off because he’s laughing. Most of the time, I never know what the hee-hee-hees were all about. Who cares?

4. Don’t bother with crap that you think is supposed to be funny but isn’t. I can’t do comediennes or any live comedy shows. I refuse to pay for a laugh. I don’t like emails with jokes or stupid lawyer or “two lesbians walk into a bar” type jokes. That stuff isn’t funny to me. Find what makes you laugh and let ‘er rip.

5. Surround yourself with people that make you smile. I have a friend that makes me smile when I see her. It’s like having an automatic surge of good juju. A smile leads to a laugh and a laugh to a giggle and a giggle to a roar. Be afraid of people without a sense of humor. It’s not worth it.

My life is so full of good and bad and ugly and beautiful. In all these things I find something to laugh about, or at least give a good chuckle at. I hope you will too.

This post is inspired by and solicited by Me You Health and their Daily Challenge on Facebook that I find pretty darn fun.

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Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

Posted on Dec 9, 2010 in Featured, Giving, Motherboard |

Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

We sat quietly in the corner of the parking lot — inconspicuous as we could be, staking out the Rotten Robbie gas station. We watched people come and go, and waited patiently to pounce. Who was the next target of the day going to be? We wanted unsuspecting citizens — unaware of our stealth plan.

Inside the car, the four of us whispered, sitting low in our seats and diverting our eyes from suspecting passersby. How we’d pull-off the job was thoroughly discussed. And then, our opportunity arrived: a white Ford Explorer, driven by a 50-something woman. As we gave the O-K sign, I crouched down low and ran from our car into the gas station and shoved $20 into the attendant’s hand:

“HER!,” I whispered, “We want to pay for her gas! Now! Pump 4! Go! Go!”

I put my cap down and walked unsuspectingly back to our car, quietly closed the door and started the car. Next it was time for LaGringa’s part of the job. The woman walked into the station to pay for her gas and we peeled out of the parking lot, whipping an illegal u-turn and zooming up to the woman’s car. La Gringa jumped out and put our calling card on her car door. Then we took off, finding shelter, parked stealthily across the street and waited.

The woman came out of the gas station looking around in both directions — she was clearly suspicious of our actions. She walked carefully to her car and picked up the card on her door looked at both sides of it before reading what it said:

You received this act as part of Yahoo!’s effort to spread joy around the world. We hope this inspires you to make the ripple grow by doing something good for someone else. That’s how good grows. Share it at kindness.yahoo.com

Our car exploded with excitement. We pulled-off the job! Slowly, we creeped our not-so-stealthy red SUV out of the parking lot in cheers.

Back at the lair, we surveyed our booty: we secretly had hit three gas stations paying fo gas for unsuspecting citizens, bought bagels for two senior citizens who’d just gone for a run, and given out Lottery tickets to strangers on the street throughout San Jose. We were high on the thrill of secret giving. The feeling of giving a random act of kindness was not only contagious, but addictive. We piled in the getaway car and headed south, casing out our next target.

As part of my role with the Yahoo! Motherboard, I was given $100 in cash to pass-on random acts of kindness during the holiday season. You can learn more at: How Good Grows, Start a ripple of kindness with one simple act. kindness.yahoo.com
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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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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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