Thursday, December 18, 2014

Early Learning with InnoTab! + a Giveaway!

A few months ago, we brought the VTech InnoTab 3 Plus into our home. It's been a lot of fun for my kids (and I get the fun knowledge that they are learning while they do it!). One area where I had wanted to do more was with my youngest. Most of the InnoTab games are geared more for slightly older children.

My wish came true when I was sent three new cartridges for the InnoTab! They are all meant for younger users, all they way down to age 1. My daughter is having a great time with them and it's been a fun way to distract her and get her trying some new things.

Berenstain Bears - God Loves You! Review + $25 Family Chrisitan Giveaway!

*This post is brought to you by Family Christian.

My little girl, Shari, is in first grade this year. Her reading skills have grown by leaps and bounds and she has developed a love of reading that I was hoping she would. This Christmas I am giving her several new books to help foster that love. One of those books and is the Berenstain Bears God loves you!

This book series was a favorite of mine when I was young (Fun fact: Stan and Jan Berenstain introduced the first book in 1962) so it is a fun thing for me to watch her enjoying it. One of the things I love about these books is that it teaches lessons that are important for every child to learn, like getting along and using manners.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Starting a Small Business in the Midst of Being "Mom"

*Todays guest post comes from Kris Cospito. She started her own small business, but not without her challenges! I know that I could certainly relate to her story and I'm betting that most of you can too! when you're done reading, hop on over to her Etsy page and show her your support!

When Renae asked me to write a guest post for Mostly Together Mommy, about being a small business owner and a young mom, I was on that like a monkey on a cupcake.  But as I began to ponder, primarily in the middle of the night, what I wanted to say to you fine people, panic ensued . How in the world can I, little, tiny, fake-it-till-ya-make-it, worry about every little detail, Kris Cóspito possibly hope to sit here and type wonderful words of wit and wisdom that other, already stressed for time, women are going to find use and value in reading!?!  Now that cupcake was starting to feel like a trick rather than the initially perceived treat, and those familiar feelings of self doubt and pressure for perfection sat down next to me and looked at me sideways and laughed under their breath.  Who am I anyway?  Well.... (Cue the backstory music)

I'm Kris Cóspito and I started a little business, called SAGEandLAUREL, named after and inspired by my daughters, you guessed it, Sage and Laurel.  By trade I'm a fine artist, a painter, but with a growing family I took time off from painting. As the legend goes my first daughter, Sage, was born a baldy.  In fact she didn't really grow what I would call reliable hair until she was two. Shortly thereafter my second daughter, Laurel, was born with this mind of its own shock of almost shoulder length hair!  In true feast after famine fashion I went hair accessory crazy!  And I was so let down.  Who decided that kids had to be fashion-less, character laden, tacky, walking advertisements for cartoons? Where was the black and white?  Where were the hand felted flowers? Where was that cute funky retro bohemian chick vibe I liked?  So I made it, loved it, everyone I know wanted it, and a snowball's ride down the hill later an enterprise was born!  Here's the part where you click on the link, fall in love, buy 700, and we all leave happy....

Cute no? Sheesh, thanks. I do try and I'm learning so much and sometimes stressing less and occasionally earning money and always having fun.  So what can I tell you smart discerning readers of an intelligently written and well researched blog like Mostly Together Mommy?  Well scoot over self doubt and need for perfection.  Make a little more room on the couch.  Mommy thinks she has something to say.

One of the many things I've learned along the way here is the importance of finding your niche by knowing your product, knowing your customer and knowing your limitations. In that real, outsider's POV, honest, kind of knowing way. It can be hard for me to take an honest look at myself. I can be so self critical that I tend to cover my eyes and ears during self examination in order to avoid a self doubt spiral and I therefore lose a valuable opportunity to make constructive edits and thoughtful additions to my business or life.  I do this kind of "la la la, it's all fine, it's all fine" and then later if it's proven that it wasn't I give myself the aforementioned terribly hard time.  It's not super effective.

So when I try to take a gentle, but honest, look at my product I see that it's not for everyone, and that's ok. The clips are classy and they're not super "kidsy" so they're geared more to co-ordinate with a mini pea coat than with a cartoon character tutu. I like that, I want more of it!  Felt an old vest from the Salvation Army and die cut rosettes!  Yes!!!  Sponge bob square pants motif?  Pass.... 

Now as an artist I found the construction part of this process to be a very favorite - taking second place only to the fun of the creative "idea" phase. I have found a tiny emotional snag, though, that I've learned to watch out for. As my products evolve and improve I have that same tendency to give myself a pretty rough go about the shortcomings of earlier versions. So I'm trying to let go of the growing pains and instead give myself props for an evolving process and an improving product. I actually had a "seconds" bin at a recent holiday fair!  I was so proud of myself for being willing to present a less-than-perfect product at a reduced price. I found they sold very well yet didn't distract from my originals sale. Score!

Secondly knowing your customer. This was a real surprise to me.  As a bit of a narcissist I assumed, especially after the intense interest of all my friends, that everyone would fall in love with my clips and would form raucous lines in crazed anticipation of getting their greedy (money filled) hands on the little beauties. Even though I knew they were different, I still thought their funky appeal would change even the most staunchly tacky mind.  I would convert them all!  And THEN after my very first craft fair, at a ritzy hotel ball room was a screaming success I thought this is it, I have arrived.  All I have to do is get these little puppies as much exposure as possible and they are going to fly off the shelves. My quick little fingers won't be able to keep up with the demand.  I am famous. So I signed myself up for as many local fairs as possible.  One sunny Saturday I packed up my wares and arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at a local "fun fair".  You know one of those events you bring your kids to so they can jump themselves silly in a bouncy house, eat a wheelbarrow full of sugar and fill a large string armed "backpack" with as much plastic, logo-ed, glowing crap as it can hold?  And busting at the seams you leave exhausted and dizzy but you haven't spent a cent?!  I bet you know where this is going, it just wasn't a good fit. Painstakingly handmade adorable hair clips just weren't on the menu there. I spent the whole day telling people they were in fact not free and though I made $125 the table at this event cost $90. It was a depressing day but a lesson learned. Know your customer, got it!

So, on knowing your limitations, I feel I have a few. But rather than launch into another self-deprecating rant I think that I'll let you know that this post right now is me trying to get comfortable with one of them.  I'm not very technologically savvy. I don't have a Facebook page, I've never tweeted, and I couldn't tell you what Instagram was if my life depended on it.  I know, right?!  Prepare the gallows or at least one of those medieval public humiliation deals that trapped you by the neck and wrists. It's true, one of my limitations is a lack of social media presence, and I'm trying, as we speak, to change that.  Honest efforts to a better end without too much self flagellation about my original shortcomings. And it all comes together....

Another limitation I face is that eternal balancing act of being a wife, a mother of two young children and a small business owner.  It's a dog-and-pony show for sure, or a dog-and-chicken show in my case. I have a small (read large) chicken obsession that is the fodder for another rant on another day, preferably one where you don't have a lot planned, and I can talk a lot about chickens - but I digress.

Anyhoo- I feel my life is kinda like an ocean, go with me on this one, it's like my kids are the huge body of water that take up the most of me.  I'm always giving everything I can to them and always thinking about them. They are priority number one. Now if they are the water, my husband is the storm. He's mostly good and he's strong and he stirs up the stagnant parts of the waters and ends the doldrums but he can be a little noisy and pretty messy. Finally my own personal pursuits are the waves. They come and they go, they ebb and they flow, sometimes they're big and powerful and strong and other times they fade to the calm I need to focus on the ocean and the storm.  I don't know if you are following me down the path of this analogy but to me it feels really apt. I know that the waves are going to be irregular, and in so knowing I feel less of the pressure/guilt combo that plagues me.  When I have the time and the energy and the gumption I ride that wave like a wicked awesome surfer, making clips and adding to my Etsy page, booking craft shows and writing a guest spot for a killer mom blog, until I don't. And then I rest and regroup and gather a bit of that spunk I'll need for next time. It works for me.  I like it. Captain Fits-and-Spurts they'll call me.  I'll have a spy glass and a cape and a kid on each hip (both well accessorized) and I'll be rocking it!

Well friends, I think that's all I have to say, I'm learning to know my product, know my customer, and to know my limitations. I hope it was useful or funny or at least makes a good "you won't believe what I read today!" story.  Ok, scoot back over self doubt and pressure for perfection, mommy's going to hit send. Yikes!

Ps- another limitation?  Time!!  I got this blog post done by offering my iPhone up to my two year old like a sacrifice. She has irreparably, to my redemptive tech skill level, changed it.  She also rode the dog.  But I did it!  Good times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Family Traditions with Reed & Barton + a Giveaway!

*This post is brought to you by Reed & Barton.

Every year my family chooses a special ornament to represent the past year and our love for each other. Our tree has become a beautiful symbol of our family life and history. It is fun to see it grow and change each year as our family has also grown and changed.

This year, we purchased our first home in what we affectionately call, "The Great Frozen North". So this year our ornament is a beautiful snowdrop snowflake from the annual Williamsburg sterling ornament collection. It is made of sterling silver and a red ribbon allows it to hang on the tree, catching and reflecting the light from the Christmas lights.

The Williamsburg collection is a special one from Reed and Barton in that every purchase of a Williamsburg product supports the preservation, research, and educational programs of the colonial Williamsburg foundation. If you've ever visited Colonial Williamsburg, you'll know what a great program this is.

I also love that when Christmas is over, there is a beautiful red velvet box to place the ornament in, so that it will stay nice and safe throughout the next year, ready to come out again the next Christmas.

You can find this collectable ornament and more from Reed & Barton. There are several collections that come out every year, including an annual star, cross, bell, angel and more. There is also a wide price range, so everyone can find something special at any budget!

Now for a Giveaway!

One lucky winner will take home a special ornament from Reed & Barton. To enter, simply use the Rafflecopter form below. Must be 18+ to enter. On entrant per household, please.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
*Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC's 16 CFR, Part 255:  "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising:):  Many thanks to Reed & Barton for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Party Planning Starts in the Bathroom!

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Charmin. I received product samples and a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

Today, I wanted to take a moment and talk about an aspect of party hosting that no one really talks about - the bathroom. When planning the food, games, music, decorations and more for your party, the bathroom usually gets neglected and is more of an afterthought rather than something you put time and planning into. It's usually not something you think of at all - until there's a problem, that is.

It's only when something that goes wrong that anyone thinks of what they could have done better. Hindsight s 20/20, after all. Let's face it, there is a lot that could go wrong. Clogged toilets, running out of supplies, atrocious smells, even nosy guests can all create embarrassing moments for both hosts and the guests themselves.

To prevent a mishap, be sure to give some thought to your bathroom before party day. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, paying close attention to areas that tend to get overlooked, like the back of the toilet. Next, place a candle or air freshener on the back of the toilet or somewhere visitors will be sure to see it. You can even install an automatic spray that will mist the air every so often, allowing every party pooper the privacy and freshness they'll need. Place a plunger in spot where a guest could find it, but in a place that isn't overly noticeable. Place some extra supplies for the ladies in a discrete drawer, and if your party is going to include little ones, think about including a kiddie seat or potty in your bathroom. Lastly, consider your toilet paper. Be sure that you place extra supplies in an easy to access location.

When choosing a toilet paper, there are several things to consider. You don't want to choose something so cheap and thin that it chafes, but you also don't want something so thick that it clogs your toilet. Consider using Charmin. Did you know that consumers who use Charmin ensure that their plumbing will stay clog-free even during the busiest of times, such as the holiday season.

Charmin and Roto-Rooter, America's largest provider of plumbing and drain services, have teamed up again this year to remind consumers of the clog-free and septic-safe guarantee that only comes with Charmin. Roto-Rooter plumbers recommend Charmin more than any other brand. Not only does Charmin have Roto-Rooter's stamp of approval to be clog-free and septic-safe, but it is also used by plumbers more than any other brand.

For my family of 5, we certainly can go through a lot of toilet-tissue! I have found that when choosing Charmin, we are able to use far less (up to 4x less!) than when using other brands. Sometimes, kids need to be reminded of this, but it's far easier to remind them, than to have to plunge your toilet day after day.

#IC #TweetFromTheSeat #MC #

A Charlie Brown Christmas + a Giveaway!

*This post is brought to you by Santa Snoopy's Holiday Gift Guide!

Christmas calls for lots of great family traditions, but one especially fun one that my family has done since I was a little girl was to cuddle up and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (Can you believe they've been around for 50 years?!). We loved it so much that we even had a cardboard cutout of Charlie that lived in our living room year-round! This year, the beloved movie has already aired once, but it's not too late to get in on the action, with another showing on December 16th.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Messy Marvin! Review and Giveaway

*This post and giveaway is brought to you by Messy Marvin.

Messy Marvin sounds one of my kids! In reality, though, Messy Marvin is the brainchild of the fabulous Rebekah Woodard - a mom and interior designer who is only too familiar with how dirty children can be. In response, she designed a line of products with families in mind.