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So You Can’t Spoil a Baby…How About a Furry One?

“THE BABY ALWAYS WINS.” Simple, obvious and yet immensely profound. Susan A. was a professor *and experienced mother of two young boys* when I was working at the University of Wyoming – she often spoke wisdom in a realistic, understandable form. As a first-time mother-to-be, I was a walking target (hard to miss) for those willing to share a little guidance, old wives’ tale, simple axiom, wise maxim, old proverb or other type of unsolicited advice on all the ways in which to have, raise and/or really go wrong with this parenting stuff.
 
The knowledgeable contributions did not go unappreciated – it’s just that I received a LOT of them…and many contradicted one another, which negated the entire process of information gathering. This one, however, stuck. It made sense in theory…in practice, well, there was no denying the fact: SIMPLE, TRUE, UNDOUBTEDLY CONFIRMED…the baby always wins. 
 
You can’t spoil a baby. It’s effectively been proven and is particularly true in the fist six months of life. What happens after that, well, let me tell you – the baby is sill going to win, just not as often. As I pondered Susan’s wise words, I had to wonder if the same applied to my furry baby.
 
Our lovable Bichon Frise Fiona Belle joined our family during a season of tears. She filled our hearts (and arms) with exactly what we needed following a heartbreaking miscarriage. Needless to say, our fuzzy lap dog was a bit spoiled in her young years and she deserved it – she saw us through hard times and happily moved with us from home to home until we landed back in Colorado. Unfortunately for her, as our family grew, the opportunity for one-on-one time faded. She did, however, get plenty of attention from the kids (just not the kind she had in mind!).
 
We’ve always considered Fifi a member of our family – we just forget about her sometimes – not out of a lack of love, but because an inordinate amount of brainpower is devoted to the children’s needs. Including her on our family summer road trip of obligatory fun, mandatory bonding and indisputable adventure in the state of Wyoming just seemed right.
 
Upon arrival at our favorite dog-friendly hotel, we learned that they had *let go of the friendly part.* We were sure our day trip to Ayers Natural Bridge would be a thrill for everyone…but we were greeted with a NO DOGS ALLOWED sign. An outdoor park in the middle of nowhere…in Wyoming…of course man’s best friend is excluded, what were we thinking?
 
 
This is our smiling Fiona Belle – waiting in the car – just before we were asked to leave…yep, for having a DOG IN OUR CAR!?!
 
So, our summer road trip was a bit of a flop, but we managed to have a few good laughs. As I was planning our winter getaway, I had to wonder…where can we go with our sweet Fiona Belle and still achieve a fabulous family vacation? Ironic twist to the storyThe Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek welcomes man’s best friend with open arms…yes, one of Colorado’s finest ski/in-ski/out resorts – located right at the base of the mountain! Phew, what a relief to learn that not everyone has turned their backs on our lovable, domesticated animals AND that the true value of our four-legged friends is being recognized (in style). The Park Hyatt’s PaMPeREd POohES program offers full amenities in luxurious surroundings – tailored specifically for our beloved pets. Thank you, Park Hyatt, for welcoming our entire family and for helping ease the worries of vacation planning. 
 
Oh ya, I should mention that dogs are welcome in the gorgeous, great outdoors at Beaver Creek! If you’re going to spoil your pooch, you’d best do it up right! …Not to mention the fact that Beaver Creek has become one of our FAVORITE Colorado destinations (and not just because they serve chocolate chip cookies everyday at 3:00 p.m.).
 
So, next time Noelle randomly tells me she thinks she’s going to cry – I ask why – and she says, “Because I’m not in Beaver Creek.” Fiona Belle can give a little whimper too and I will rest assured that I have totally and completely succeeded in the inevitable spoiling of my baby AND my furry baby too!
 
 
feature photo: miltonmanner

The Denver Post’s New “Family Cents” Column

Mile High Mamas,

I’m thrilled to be a new columnist for The Denver Post’s new Monday print section: $MART. Once a month, I will bring you fun, personal narratives for navigating the consumer culture. My column, Family Cents, will also include helpful tips (and I’m always looking for your topic ideas).

This month, I’m talking about the best daily deal sites for moms, what to avoid and even how to aggregate all of them so you’re able to tap into the best deals without being overwhelmed.

Come check out my article Daily-deal websites more of a dandy deal now and be sure to share your ideas!

Decaying statistics prompt a renewed dental-health push by Colorado and private officials

As he lies back and chats with dentist Zach Houser about soccer, the Patriots and his next taekwondo class, 8-year-old Matthew Fellows is all that is good and getting better about teeth. Matthew knows what floss is. He brushes twice a day and doesn’t want emergency crowns, like some of his decay-plagued friends get. He has parents who bring him to the dentist twice a year and hang on every word of advice.

But with a quiet “Uh-oh” from the dentist, Matthew suddenly becomes another example of all that remains intractable and worrisome about oral health.

One of Matthew’s 6-year molars has a cavity eating through

Pinterest, an idea exchange, now a Top 10 social-networking site

Like the images on its site, the clever definitions and analogies by Pinterest users are endless: “Pinterest is like getting a new magazine in the mail every day.” “Pinterest is everything you never knew you always wanted to know about anything.” “It’s like Etsy and Pottery Barn had a baby and made a scrapbook of their cute little family.”

The latest social-media craze is a virtual pin board, or scrapbook, to collect and organize your favorite images and ideas from around the Web. While the site has something for everyone, it’s dominated by home decor, fashion, food and crafts, and has become the new Internet darling — make that obsession — among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“Pinterest is like fantasy ootball for girls,”

Top five Super Bowl 2012 commercials

Super Bowl 2012 advertisers spent $3.5 million per spot to put their brands before audiences. The sponsors, including a large number of first-timers, trusted somewell-worn strategies: sex, cute animals, talking babies, celebrities and sex. David Beckham, MatthewBroderick, Elton John and Clint Eastwood. Whichwas most memorable?

OUR PANEL: Susan Jung Grant, assistant professor of marketing, University of Colorado at Boulder; Pasquale “Pocky” Marranzino, chairman/CEO, Karsh Hagen; Glenn Morey, president, Morey Evans Advertising; Mike Sukle, creative director and owner, Sukle Advertising; Daphne Fink Taber, general manager, gyro;Greg Wagner, Denver University, Daniels College of Business.

CLICK TO READ ON

What was your favorite ad?

Creative Valentine Ideas for the Entire Family!

Spreading the love has never been so much fun! Whether you decide to go traditional or get creative, this holiday of charming affection offers up an opportune time to tell those around you how much you care.
 
A Valentine mustn’t be elaborate or pricey to win the hearts of those you love…but it does need to shout I LOVE YOU! With the many types of love out there, you’ll want to be sure to put some thought into the type of Valentine you choose…below are a few of my favorite ideas.
 
A Valentine For Your…
 
Husband:
Pinup Photo by Iman Woods

He’ll treasure an amazing photo of his one true love and a gift like this will likely find its way through generations to come. Iman does fabulous work and the experience is half the fun (a little gift for you too). Your great-grandchildren aren’t going to believe that’s a picture of grandma, lol.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wife:
Jewelry by Kris Nations
You really can’t go wrong with a classic gift of bling. Make her favorite meal (or order in) because restaurants are b.u.s.y. on Valentines Day. Find a creative way to surprise her with the gift! This jewelry is made in the USA from recycled metals by two creative sisters.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Co-workers:
Heart-Shape Paper Clips
Let ‘em know you care with a little bend and clip. Use this thoughtful idea to attach a Happy Valentines Day note to mundane paperwork and help brighten someone’s day.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Teachers/Childcare Workers:
 
Write a little message of appreciation on a strip of festive paper, crease it in the center and roll the edges to form the perfect valentine…or go the extra mile and design an entire card!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Family & Friends:
Creative Photo Cards 
A photo card with a sweet twist is a perfect gift for family and friends. 3-D fun is perfect if you’re handing them out, but if you’re mailing your Valentines, you’ll want to go with a flat…Tip: add lip stickers to the MUAH card. We don’t have regular lip trays at our house…but we DO have vampire fangs from Halloween…I’m thinking we might have a little Twilight inspired fun – it’ll make the grandparents wonder, ha.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Happy Valentine’s Day! 
 
 

Focus Groups are a Parent-Friendly Way to Pad Your Pocketbook

If your laundry experience has been noticeably better in the past few years, you may have me to thank.

It was a little strange when the three women with clipboards and a video camera watched me do a load of laundry. Usually, people scatter when I announce I’m doing a chore. On that day, however, I had an audience who would use the information they were gathering to improve the laundry experience. They were especially interested in the detergent they provided. My machine did not explode and my clothes emerged spankin’ clean. I can’t say what detergent it was because my lips are forever sealed.

For my efforts, they paid me with a tidy check. How did I find myself separating whites in front of marketers? I joined a market research study.

What Is a Market Research Study?

In this competitive economy, businesses and manufacturers are keenly interested in how people react to their goods or services. Nobody wants to wait until the laundry detergent is launched to discover consumers think the name is cringeworthy or it reminds them of the wistful scent of wet dog on an April morn’.

Professional marketing firms are commissioned by businesses to find out if their fragrance is foul or the logo is laughable. To do this, they gather focus groups and design useability studies. Often, they search for a broad range of demographic backgrounds when seeking opinions. Sometimes, however, the product they wish to put on the market caters to a subset of society. For example, they may want young urban moms for a diaper study or middle-aged men for a lawnmower study. Sometimes they want people living in a certain zip code. Other times, they are interested in certain ethnicities, income levels, or education. I’ve seen incredibly specific listings: 45-year-old tax preparers who own golden retrievers named Bailey! Okay, maybe not that specific, but close.

I’ve been a member of several focus groups and useability studies over the past 5 years. Some of the groups were large. I listened to music in a hotel ballroom for a radio station. There were hundreds of women in attendance, rating songs with hand-held dials. Most groups tend to be in the 8-12 person range, though. I have done 2 one-on-one interviews as well, not including the laundry fest. I’m not allowed to talk about the specific businesses or products because when chosen for a focus group or study, participants sign a non-disclosure agreement. This means you cannot reveal what you saw, heard, tasted, smelled, or talked about. To anyone. You are allowed to be extremely general. For example, I am allowed to say I did laundry and used a detergent. I talked about pets. I looked at food serving thing-a-ma-bobs and gave my thumbs up or down.

Many marketing firms have guidelines about how often you can be in focus groups or studies. Sometimes, the clients who commissioned the studies dictate their wishes. If you are a participant, be aware it could be six months to a year before you can be in another group, but I found it never hurts to try. Once in a firm’s database, potential participants receive emails and calls when a study seems to be a good fit with provided demographic information.

What Kinds of Goods and Services Do Focus Groups Cover?

Everything. From consumer products to taste tests to political interests to mock trials, groups are gathered to study just about everything sold, heard, or able to be influenced. Some of the subject matter is a lot of fun. Some of it is very dry. For example, my husband spent nearly 3 hours talking about paint one evening. That’s all I know, because he couldn’t tell me any further, but he did say he doesn’t want to think about paint or talk about paint until 2014. Sorry, two youngest sons. Your room will be staying pink for a long, long time.

What Do Focus Groups Pay?

The clients dictate what they are willing to pay to individual participants. Factors include the length of the study, the intensity, and where the study takes place. They always make it worth your time because they know people won’t block out a few hours from a day to make money that won’t cover gas or babysitting expenses. I can’t get terribly specific, but the money I’ve received has always been generous.

Payment is usually in cash, although in recent months I’ve noticed many firms are paying participants with pre-loaded Visa or Amex gift cards. Sometimes, they will pay with a check. Payment is rendered immediately, unless otherwise stated and agreed upon. They will always tell you what it will pay before you agree to participate.

What Are The Responsibilities of a Focus Group Participant?

First, everything discussed about a product is strictly confidential. The firms stress punctuality and nearly always start on time. Latecomers are told they can’t participate. Many firms encourage punctuality by having an early-bird bonus drawing. Participants who arrive at least 15 minutes early have the chance for a bonus $50 (usually). Another responsibility might be homework. In one study, I had to make a poster depicting what a certain word meant to me. The best poster received a bonus.

Focus group participants tend to be outgoing and extroverted. It seems a little unfair that shy people aren’t getting their say about the warm cookies in a taste test. But companies spend a lot of money on these studies and tests. They want people who will freely share and actively participate in discussions. Focus groups demand a lot of give and take with fellow members. It isn’t just answering questions. Group members bounce opinions off each other and brainstorm, too.

Participants must be honest, not only with their opinion but with their demographic information and their backgrounds. It’s highly unethical for a cookie shop owner to be in a focus group for a competitor’s cookie shop. If a spouse works for a cell phone provider, they don’t want the other spouse to be in a focus group regarding cell phones. This is to preserve the integrity and accuracy of the results.

Where Do Focus Groups Take Place?

I mentioned how one group of researchers came to our home. Most take place in a boardroom setting. And yes, there is usually a mirrored wall where you know people are watching and videotaping. They freely disclose this. There are no gotcha moments. Some studies follow people to stores. They are called shop-alongs. I’ve never done this, which is probably a good thing. If someone followed me around a store, they would feel like they are following a pinball. I shop like one of Billy’s Family Circus maps.

Increasingly, focus groups are being conducted online, either through Skype, chat rooms, or surveys.

Marketing firms that specialize in focus groups are located in every major city.

Find A Focus Group!

The best way to start is to visit the websites of marketing firms with good reputations. Often, they provide a way to register with them by filing out a survey noting your demographic information. Most large firms have Facebook pages as well. For example, Fieldwork, a nationally-respected firm, has a page for their Denver office. They post current studies on those pages. You can pick and chose what you may qualify for. You can see what a study will pay and when it will be held.

If your answers match what they are seeking, they call and ask for more detailed information before extending an invitation to join. They might ask for clarification. When invited, you are sent an email to confirm your participation, along with the date, time, and a map.

If you need to cancel, call them promptly. Sometimes, they have a list of alternates who would love to take your spot. Remember, if you aren’t chosen for one study, there will be another right around the corner.

Get Started Today:

Fieldwork

Ingather Research

20/20 

Plaza Research

iOpinion

Parents Insight Network 

If you have been in a focus group, share your experience!

How Young is Too Young to Learn to Ski and Snowboard?

Growing up in the town of Salida, in the Heart of the Rockies, had it’s disadvantages…and if you’ve ever read the list of “you’re from a small town if” then you know what I’m referring to, ha. On the brighter side, living just a short drive from Monarch Mountain Ski Area – and having not a whole lot else to do – meant abundant time on the slopes.
 
My mom began teaching my brother and I at a young age how to *ski*…because I’m older than snowboards, wild concept to my children! It was her “fun job” on the weekends: ski instructor and it scored the whole family free season passes. I completely took most every moment of it for granted but I did learn to ski.
 
So, in my adulthood I figured I’d try this boarding stuff. I think still recovering from my full-day, private lesson at Winter Park, ouch. It’s not that I didn’t have a fabulous instructor or that it wasn’t my THIRD time on (and I use that term loosely) a board. I think what it really boils down to is the one thing I had a whole lot LESS of as a child…FEAR.
 
When is the best time to get your kiddos out there? RigHT NoW!
 
Just bundle those babes up and head on out to make snow angels or throw snowballs. The more comfortable they are playing in the snow (and braving the elements,) the better off they’ll be when they set out on a real adventure. Santa brought Noelle a pair of practice skis this year for exactly this purpose – so she can go out after a big snow storm and ski down the driveway! Her learner skis strap onto regular snowboots, making it easy to take them on and off – and yet I still end up giving piggy back rides to the top.
 
Several resorts and ski areas in Colorado offer lessons to children as young as three. Noelle sampled the three-year-old ski lessons at Winter Park, Beaver Creek and Steamboat Springs last year. She absolutely LOVED all of them. Now, if you’re mental picture includes your child’s tiny skis dangling several feet over head as they zoom up the hill on a chair lift – you can relax. Little learners use a magic carpet (similar to a moving walkway in an airport) to get to the top of a small slope. Their skis don’t leave the ground and instructors are with them at all times. They are usually corralled inside some sort of special “ski school” area to contain the wanderers. Their lessons also include long, indoor breaks filled with fun games, yummy food and winter snacks like hot cocoa, s’mores and swizzle sticks (a WP favorite of ours.)
 
Silas also took lessons but he chose to skip the skis and went straight for the snowboard…he’s now an avid eight-year-old boarder (yea!). We most recently took a trip up to Echo Mountain near Evergreen to see what it’s all about. I was impressed with their accommodations for learners. The great thing about Echo: it’s beginner-sized. Far less intimidating than huge resorts and everything is easy to find…no map necessary AND you probably won’t loose your children…but you might leave your skis (not really – just me). If you do, they will likely bring them into town for you because they really are that nice (and I tested it out)! If you’re looking for a place to start your family’s skiing/boarding pastime, this is it.
 
I think the most important thing about learning to ski or snowboard is that both you and your child are comfortable with what you choose: boarding vs. skiing, big resort vs. small ski area, several lessons vs. no lessons, hot cocoa vs. s’mores (I’d go for both!). We are fortunate in our state to have a LOT of options. I recommend shopping around for the best fit for your family, and try out more than one because you just never know. As for me, I’ll be giving that board another try…just maybe not this season, wink.

On average: How often do you brush your teeth, change your sheets, talk to your parents?

From brushing teeth to changing the sheets to washing the car, we all have varying frequencies for the necessities in life.

This week, we took a look at the norm for some of life’s “musts.”

The percentages listed are based on the results of an unofficial online poll on the On the Edge blog on Timesunion.com.

How often do you brush your teeth?

Twice a day — morning and night (66 percent)

Once a day — the morning is more than sufficient (27 percent)

Every time I eat (7 percent)

Fact: Nationally, the average is 1.1 times/day, according Dr. Harold Katz, founder of The California Breath Clinics who has done extensive research into oral hygiene.

How often do you change the sheets on your bed?

Kid’s Winter Gear Roundup…WIN Obermeyer Ski Coat/Pants & Name Bubbles!

Whether you’re hitting the slopes this winter or building snowmen in your backyard, you are going to want to bundle up – and with these top winter gear picks, your kids will be properly protected AND in great style!

Obermeyer  – Clothes That Grow!

(photo: Sheer Bliss Coat in Anthracite)

Obermeyer’s novel “I-Grow” System allows for your children’s winter wardrobe to grow right along with them. It is one of the most brilliant l ideas I have come across in my search for epic winter wear. Simply snip the colored thread at the wrists and ankles to extend the length up to two inches, allowing for an extra season (or two!). High waters will be a thing of the past with this original design. Another ingenious devise by Obermeyer – the “goodie pocket,” perfect for a healthy snack when you are too busy having fun to take a break…a favorite pick at our house: organic Wacky Apple fruit leather.