21 Years of Love in a Banker Box

 BirthdayBoxTHIS is a photo of our daughter’s 21-year-old birthday present. She LOVED it. Even better? I loved giving it to her!

Total cost: 21 years of love + $18.99 for the box and file folders.

For 21 years I have been diligent about keeping file folders with notes, photos, mementos, etc. One file each year for each child. If it sounds fancy or complicated, it is not.  Basically, I keep a folder under my bed into which I place “memories”: perhaps a concert program, a block party invite, a golf scorecard of a child’s best round, a cute letter received from a teacher, a class photo, etc. I’ll also jot down funny stories as they occur  – the kind that you say to yourself as a parent: “oh my gosh – I must remember how hilarious this is so that some day I can use it in a wedding toast!” [Like the time my then 4-year-old saw a tour group from India in the airport and without missing a beat opened his backpack and took out a red circle-shaped file folder sticker and stuck it on his forehead so he could be like the Indians and use a bindi!]

Every few months I  take a few hours and sit near my banker boxes and sort out the memories and photos per child and place them into  manila folders. After reviewing all of the little tidbits in the manila envelope, I’ll jot down a list of other day-to-day details in that child’s life (e.g.who his friends are, favorite foods, basketball teammates, sibling rivalries, family vacations, etc.) as well as activities the child has done or passions he may have  (e.g.choir, drawing, sports teams). For the child(ren) who has most recently had a birthday I write a “birthday letter” incorporating details from the year.

Here’s an idea of an item I might save (that would be a note from my 21-year-old when she was 7 stating in her beautiful cursive, “Mom, I wanted to tell you I think I’m not being paid enough attention right now. So maybe we could work that out”!! )

Letter from Grace age 7

WHY I decided to write a letter to my daughter 21 years ago I’ll never know. HOW I decided to keep files on each child every year and write a heartfelt letter incorporating funny, sad, truthful parts of his or her life I’ll never know. But I do know one thing: my 21-year-old LOVED her gift. I loved giving it. I had dreamed about giving the gift when my child turned 21 and the hours we spent going through the various folders was priceless. We laughed. We cried. We were amazed at how some of her  traits from  youth  developed  and really formed who she is now as a 21-year-old [read above – what child asks her mom with such respect?! She still is that way!] It was a joy to share a review of the past 21 years with her.  My banker boxes and birthday letter files are the ONE thing as a parent about which I can honestly say I am proud.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery: copy this and give the gift of a banker box birthday!!

Grace reading birthday letter

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WHAT is KNAAC?! It is NOT Greek to Me.

My daughter took four years of Ancient Greek in high school. We often had a phrase around our house if we had no idea of the answer to a question, we would chuckle and say “I don’t know, it’s Greek to me!” Today, one can no longer pull the “it’s Greek-to-me” card.

If you are not aware of a MOOC you need to be. Same with SEO, SEM, “Big Data”, Social media tools Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and lastly but most importantly: coding. A recent WSJ article by Kirk McDonald entitled “Sorry College Grad, I Probably Won’t Hire You” encourages college grads to take ownership  of their continued knowledge base. I couldn’t agree with him more! “Teach yourself just enough of the grammar and the computer logic of computer languages to be able to see the big picture.”

I am obsessed with “staying current”. Always have been. And now, with the speed of technology the race is getting faster and faster. So what to do?

Do. That’s the answer. Do.

Learnbydoing

Make a pact with yourself. Do NOT let technology be something to watch from the sidelines. TRY. Engage. Learn. Make a pact with yourself. I am. This summer I hope to learn some coding from Codecademy. Or maybe I’ll take another Coursera class. Free online. If I am a really good mom (or bad?) I will require the same of my five children, regardless of age. WHY? Because today it’s no longer college; it’s knowledge. It’s what you know, not where you go. Knowledge is your currency.

Knowledge As A Currency = KNAAC.

Don’t let it be Greek to you.

Dear Women: Do What You Do and Do Not Ask for Permission, Ask for Forgiveness

Dear Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter and even Susan Patton:

Thank you.

Each of you is “right.” Whether it’s: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” (Slaughter, who returned to a manageable professor life at Princeton after a stint in foreign policy at the State Department); the importance of “leaning in” to your career and taking a seat at the table (Sandberg, COO of Facebook on the importance of speaking up); eliminating tele-commuters (Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and new mother, who recognized that innovation occurs at a central location; productivity works for telecommuting, but less so for innovation); or encouraging Princeton women students to find a husband while in college (Patton, professional, mother and Princeton grad). Perhaps each of you is trying to say something similar? Let me sum it up the way my mom does: YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. Yes. Just like that. YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. In other words, we all make choices.

Over the last few years I have really tried to grasp the whole working mom thing. Every mother – parent for that matter – is trying his or her best. Make your decisions and make them with confidence!  Perhaps I am an anomaly? I have played sports my entire life. I competed with boys and men at a time when many girls and women weren’t into sports..so perhaps I had a confidence that most women didn’t have? I have never felt slighted by men. I’ve always chosen to speak up when I thought it necessary, lean in at the table when I wanted to lean in, and request a promotion/raise when I deemed it earned. I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves to make cold calls, knock on doors to sell, or simply “put myself out there”..because I believe in myself. Moreover, I’ll do whatever it takes to go the extra mile.

I struggle with the same balance that every mother struggles with: what is the right blend of work and family? I’ve worked full-time, part-time, corporate HQ, telecommute, Fortune 1000, ecommerce Kleiner-Perkins funded digital-startup, WAHM, etc. I had my first child ten days after being graduated from business school, worked full-time until my fourth, left for a while and had a fifth. I returned a few years ago to a job that on paper was “below” my qualifications. Why? Because it was a fast growing company in ecommerce and the potential for personal and professional growth in a rapidly scaling industry and the company was amazing (my employer was competing against Groupon.) I chose not to worry about career level but rather focus  on potential experience to be gained and value to be added. As Eric Schmidt had told Sheryl before she took the Google job,”When companies grow quickly there are more things to do than there are people to do them.” Very true. And today? I’ve shifted, and  have founded my own small start-up which I’ll manage on my own schedule. I am on the “career jungle gym”, not the linear  corporate ladder (a reference to Fortune’s Patricia Sellers who said, “Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”);  With five kids (all athletes) in four schools – I am just like any other mom in the world: trying to figure it out.

Let’s take it one step further: How about we women DO WHAT WE DO and then take a line from  most men’s playbook: DO NOT ASK FOR PERMISSION rather ASK FOR FORGIVENESS. Perhaps that’s what each of the aforementioned formidable women is trying to say? DO WHAT YOU DO..WITH CONFIDENCE! It’s what Marissa Mayer did when she changed the option of a remote workforce for Yahoo: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence. She thinks it’s the right thing for Yahoo. (For what it’s worth, I must agree with her: she is trying to turn around a sinking ship and needs innovation.) It’s what Sheryl Sandberg is doing by speaking up and encouraging women to “lean in” to career advancement and not “leave before you leave.” She’s doing what she thinks is the right thing and using her power with confidence to remind women to speak up and lean into their careers. (For what it’s worth, I think it is brave of Sheryl to speak up; I reluctantly read her book and was pleasantly surprised by the nuggets of raw truths she was willing to share with the reader.) It’s what Anne-Marie Slaughter did by going back to Princeton as a professor of politics and international affairs: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence – doing it HER way. (For what it’s worth, I have two daughters, one of whom happens to be at Princeton; I found Anne-Marie’s article to be brave and spot-on: we make choices in life.) And lastly, Susan Patton is doing what she’s doing: speaking up to the young women at Princeton. Maybe I do not agree with her but I commend her for DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING and NOT ASKING FOR PERMISSION..but forgiveness. (For the record, I do not agree at all with Patton but commend her for speaking up.  With CONFIDENCE!)

Your Attention Please

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver

I have always noticed the small things in life. Ok – at least I would like to think so. Like poet Mary Oliver, I love nature. I notice the small things. I notice the red-breasted grosbeak in the Springtime if lucky enough to spot one. Further, I notice a child who seems sad and needs prodding to find out what unfortunate episode occurred in 5th grade that day; I notice the funereal beauty of a life well-lived; I notice the internal but silent satisfaction a child feels after a job well done on or off the field.

I also notice the ability to make someone smile at the checkout line at Jewel Food stores when buying groceries. Last Thursday Jewel-Osco parent company Supervalu announced it will sell the grocery store chain  in a $3.3 billion deal to a consortium of investors led by Cerberus Capital Management, according to the Minnesota-based Supervalu. How sad. I am a loyal Jewel shopper because the Jewel store is in my “traffic pattern” of life. It’s easy. I know where everything is. That being said, I paid attention to Jewel these last few years and sadly watched the decline in their ability to pay attention. I could have told Jewel  to pay attention. Mere location, location, location is no longer enough. As a mom of five, I could have told Jewel to watch out: moms can shop at Target; moms can grab high-quality prepared foods; moms like Whole Foods; moms want organic choices for their kids and will pay for it. More choices? How about Amazon, Peapod or Soap.com

Which brings me to the importance of paying attention in this crazy 24/7 attention-seeking and attention-getting world. Attention. It seems everyone is fighting for my attention: my family, my friends, brands, services, businesses, teachers, and so many more! There is SO MUCH NOISE!

So just how do we pay attention to the small things so that we can continue to enjoy that beautiful sense of wonder? How do we notice the glistening ice that clings to the dark tree branches the morning after an ice storm? How do we pay attention to our existing customers? How do we anticipate the sea change that is occurring before our very eyes? If you have ever heard Gary Vaynerchuk (author of The Thank You Economy) speak, he brings up a wonderful analogy: consumers today could learn a lesson from Grandma. She used to walk into the butcher shop and the butcher would say, “Hello Mrs X, how are you? Ready for your 1 lb of thinly sliced roast beef?” So there we are. Notice the small things. If only Jewel had trained their employees to try to ask and remember their customers’ names while Jewel tried to revamp their business model – maybe it would’ve helped them bide time while they figured out a new business model that works in this noisy world we not live in? Pay attention.

Oh. And don’t forget to say, “thank you.”

Kids Should Come Home From School.

I am SO sad about Newtown. The lives lost, innocence stolen… these kids. These parents.

What I cannot believe is that VERY little has happened in the gun control cause. As a child I watched my mom found in October, 1973 – literally at our kitchen table – the Committee for Handgun Control, Inc. The non-profit was to “bring to the attention of the public the information and statistics which prove that the villain in the pageant of crime and death in America is the hand gun – too easily obtained, too easily concealed, too easily used to coerce, maim, and kill.” Why was my mom involved?  The effort began when my mother (of five) had seen so many stories of kids getting killed in Chicago that she sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune. The gist of the letter: “what is being done to stop the gun violence in Chicago?” The response: nothing. That was her “aha” moment and the beginning of her effort to shed light on gun control.  She spent years at the kitchen table with her CFHC peers stuffing envelopes, working the phones, writing press releases, etc. anything to get some attention for (hand)gun control. It was moms working together for a grassroots cause – exactly what moms do best. Her efforts grew; the publicity grew. I remember going with Mom to NYC in 1975 when she was on the Today show; she was in Time magazine to fight for handgun control and often in the newspaper.  She flew to Washington DC in 1981 the day after John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan (but instead hit James Brady) to bring attention to the difficulty of solving the gun problem.
And here we are. It is the year 2012 and SO LITTLE has changed! Kids are shot while at school. A nation cries. VERY LITTLE has changed. When is it going to end? Do you think the Founding Fathers intended the second amendment (right to bear arms) to end up like THIS? Is the strength of the National Rifle Association (NRA) simply too powerful?? I know in my mom’s case she and her partners simply got too tired of fighting the NRA. (I also know that our phone number was unlisted because she had received threatening calls.)
But seriously. WHEN is America going to get down to some sort of serious discussion? It is just NOT OKAY to have kids go to school and not come home.

How I Lost 25% of My Followers With One Tweet

True.

I am a crazy voracious reader of pretty much anything – especially when it comes to my three favorite subjects: business, start-ups (particularly Chicago-based), and moms (after all, I do have five children.)

Saturday mornings are among my favorite mornings: I awake early and in the quiet of the home I read the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”), New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Barrons.

I’ll be darned if I didn’t read an article in the WSJ entitled “Ivanka’s World” http://on.wsj.com/Q9X2at which was an interview of 31 year old Ivanka Trump.

By way of background, I do not watch much television. I do, however, watch The Apprentice. Shocking, but true. Even worse (or better) I let my kids watch the Apprentice! Why? Because the entire show is like a business school case study. The problems are real, the timing constraints are real and the ability to impact a brand is real. Regardless of whether one likes or detests Donald Trump, the actual business part of the show is really great. In addition, over the last few years I have come to marvel at the fact that Donald Trump managed to raise three seemingly nice and bright children in spite of their ridiculous and over-the-top upbringing. Clearly those kids were born with “silver spoons” which is the very reason I have come to admire and even be intrigued with the kids – especially Ivanka Trump. How would you like it if your father and his personal life is constant public knowledge AND he is mocked publicly? Ivanka seems to have beaten the negative PR with brains. She demonstrates her intelligence by giving excellent feedback to Apprentice teams and always delivers the message in an intelligent yet firm fashion. She was graduated from Wharton with a degree in business and has a fantastic job. Duh. But when I read about the fact that she is seemingly happily married, has an 18 month old, and cooks homemade dinner for her husband every Friday night, and manages to”unplug” from technology once a week, I was pretty impressed by her “normalcy.” Again, like or hate the Trumps, Ivanka could’ve sat back and eaten bon-bons. But she didn’t. She seems to be somewhat grounded amidst a fairly fancy world.

All of this brings me to the reason I tweeted the aforementioned Ivanka interview with the WSJ. And yes – you guessed it – within 10 hours I had lost 25% of my Twitter followers. Poof.

If I had to do it all over again, I would send that Tweet. If I cannot admire a young mother who is smart, grounded and successful REGARDLESS of her father’s personal choices, then who am I?

On Virality and the Privilege of “Taking” Someone’s Time.

I just finished a vacation from social networks. I was almost 100% unplugged. Yep, “gone fishin’.” Literally. I took my two youngest boys on what I now refer to as “Camp Mom” whereby we fished every dock, ocean, river, lake possible in the course of 10 days of free lodging we’d been provided.

On occasion, I’d check email – but that was it.

Kind of.

You see, I was reading a book while my 12 year old slept. He’d been fighting a terrible stomach flu and was on day three of sleepless nights (which meant I, too, was on day three of sleepless nights!) I decided to check my email when I noticed the tagline of one email:

vineyard vines Design a Tie for Dad.

I opened the email. This is what it said:

“Hi John,
Congratulations! Your “Burger Crossbone” tie design has made the Top 10 in our Design a Tie for Dad contest! Shep & Ian really liked your design! We’ve posted the top 10 on our Facebook page for voting, which will go until 11:59pm ET on July 12th. The design with the most amount of votes at that time will be our winner and have their tie design made into a real vineyard vines tie! Here is the direct link to the voting page:”and so on. [I had forgotten all about the contest three of our kids entered several weeks prior whereby they had mailed in a tie design in hopes of being selected as one that might eventually be turned into a real live Vineyard Vines tie! Our family of seven happens to love that brand and thought it would be pretty cool to have a design made.]

HOW cool? I was thrilled for my son…but not thrilled. My son is not even of age to HAVE Facebook..so he’d need to rely on others to really spread the word. Moreover, where were my three teenagers when I needed them? EACH one of them was out of town OR were in situations where they literally had no access to THEIR social networks! The burden of making this voting contest go viral was on me.  Hmm. (Background: When I left Plum District I vowed one thing to myself: I did not ever want to be in that daily deal/offer
do-this-buy-this frenzy again – yet here I was in a position of seeking votes on someone else’s behalf!)
I really was in a quandary. Do I: 1) beg, borrow and steal on social networks asking for people to vote for my son’s “Burger Crossbone” design 2) post a few times, send  a few emails and be done with it, OR, 3) do nothing?
To make a long story short, my son will not have his tie design made – which is too bad, because the “Burger Crossbone” pattern (a “take” on skull and crossbone with a burger and grill tongs) is quite clever. [If you are wondering, at first I sent out a few emails, posted a few times on Facebook, but then basically stopped…] Nonetheless, I got to thinking…
Virality? How does one “get” it? Push? Pull? How important are demographics (e.g.age)? WHO has the advantage? WHO has the disadvantage? In the world of sales – where I have much experience – how does “social” fit in when one has an “arm’s length” request (please do this for my child!)? Can the system be “gamed”? Is it even reasonable to “take” someone’s time..by “asking” them to stop what they’re doing, go to Facebook, Like a page, then vote for my child? The question, “Why should I?” keeps coming to mind.

The future of the internet will continue to be PRIVILEGE. The privilege of asking for someone’s time. Each of us is busy. So, going forward, I will try my best to really contemplate the question: “Is is really worthy of asking someone to take HIS or HER time on this?”
If you’ve read this far, I have taken your time.
Thank you.

How to Survive Cancer Diagnosis at 34 and Live to be 75? Fight to Win!

My mom just turned 75.

Big deal.

But, in her case it actually is a big deal. A really big deal.

When mom was just 34 years and the mother of five young children she was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma. Her sister had died one year earlier of ocular melanoma leaving behind seven children.

For the first time ever we asked mom what she actually did when she was diagnosed? Her response was something she’d never told anyone -not even my dad: upon hearing the diagnosis at Rush PSL Hospital, she got in her car, drove to  the Michigan Avenue area and parked. Then she walked. And walked. And walked. For hours. She told us she needed to be near hustle and bustle but she needed to “space out” and process what she knew: she had cancer. She had a husband who traveled frequently (remember, this is the 70’s when dads worked and moms stayed home.) She knew one thing: she was determined not to leave my dad to fend for himself with five young kids and she was going to fight it. Even more, she was going to fight to win.

She ended up having over 13 more diagnoses of melanoma; she lost her hair several different times with several different treatments; one year she was part of an experimental program  at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda taking high dose Interleukin 2 (to even be  accepted into that protocol one needed to be in the 5% survival rate pool of candidates.) She suffers from terrible lymphedema. In any case – she is still here.

I do not think I have ever heard her complain about her cancer. Ever. Instead, she grabbed life. She raced as fast as she could – in everything: solving problems, starting companies, cooking dinner, bringing meals to a newly diagnosed friend, mastering bridge hands, researching the environment, etc. Sometimes she was and is SO far ahead of the curve that we would laugh at her silly research (soy, partially hydrogenated, pesticides, etc). Then, when hindsight became 20/20 we’d  recognize that she was right all along. She can do about a hundred things at the same time: cook dinner, watch little babies, run the laundry, paint a painting and trade stocks without missing a beat. She has never wasted a minute.

While she said she never had a clear answer that day while walking the streets of Chicago hours on end merely to clear her head, over the years she knew one thing: she wanted her children to be independent. That we are. All five of us. While nothing is ever perfect, as mom frequently said, “if life gives you lemons make lemonade.”  She did the best she could. What I especially admire though is that in surviving cancer she chose to make a mad dash to the finish line. She’s still racing ahead and showing those around her the value of fighting to win.

 

Welcome to connectedchicagomom!

After working at Plum District where bloggers and mombloggers are key to understanding the social reach of the powerful mom segment, I am finally jumping in to start my OWN blog! Before working in ecommerce I really didn’t understand   – or even want to understand the online social world that exists.

Today, I feel very differently. I have an amazing level of respect for the females and males I have “met” online. The truth is, whether reading about business, family, recipes, the tech world – whatever – getting a glimpse into a person through his or her writing is powerful. Very powerful. While I’ve blogged for Patch all last year, it was mostly for work. This will be different.

It is my hope that I will be able to stick to a post each month. Further, it is my hope that I am able to share a bit and maybe even learn a bit along the way! Family. Business. Chicago.

Connecting people on and offline.