Sunday, October 28, 2007

How to Save More Money, Part 2

You may recall that I am a "super saver" (my husband's term for me).

Here are three more great food-related ways to save:

1. Don't order drinks. When you go out to eat, DO stick to water. It's the healthiest option and, besides, soda and tea are way overpriced at restaurants.

2. Don't order drinks. Speaking of things that are overpriced, don't buy alcohol at eating establishments. If you want to sip fine wine or enjoy a cool beer, DO buy your own and enjoy in the comfort of your own home. You'll save money - and you won't have to worry about drinking and driving (double bonus).

3. Don't go to the ice cream shop. DO buy one or two gallons of your favorite flavor at the grocery store. You can even splurge on toppings (Reeses, bananas, bluenerries, gummy bears, whipped cream, etc.) and waffle cones. It's still cheaper than that $6 Cold Stone Creamery creation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Quote of the Week: Ambition

Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions…Just as soon as you attain one ambition you see another one glistening higher up still. It does make life interesting.” (L.M. Montgomery, 1908, Anne of Green Gables)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

In and Around the Internet: Get Connected, Earn Free Stuff

Three things I've been doing on the web this week:

1. I joined LinkedIn, "an online network of more than 15 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries." I'm not quite sure what to expect or what I will gain, but so far I like it better than Facebook.

2. I became a Bzz Agent, "an everyday consumer who believes in honest word of mouth." The website claims that agents receive "new products, services, books, and other cool stuff." I haven't been part of any "campaigns" yet so I can't be excited just yet.

3. I received my first invitation from SheSpeaks to "test a new personalized homepage and get a free magazine subscription." I browsed the new myAOL page and then provided feedback. In exchange, I was able to choose a free magazine subscription from either Health, Money, Entertainment Weekly, or Cottage Living (I chose Money Magazine).

What cool things have you been doing on the web this week?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tucson Tuesdays: La Encantada Shopping Center

I've been to La Encantada Shopping Center twice. La Encantada is an "intimate, open-air lifestyle center with extensive landscaping, upscale shops, walkways, patios and courtyards that invite pedestrian interaction."

Located on the northwest corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue, the shopping center has a very specific demographic - upper class Tucsonans, who are probably in the 35-75 age range and who probably live in the Foothills.

The stores are not "young" in taste - they are the classy, older set - Pottery Barn, Talbots, Coldwater Creek, J.Jill, and Crate & Barrel. You won't find GAP, American Eagle, Old Navy, Target, or H & M here.

The actual design of the shopping center is nice - I like the indoor/outdoor combination, especially since we live in sunny Arizona where the warm, balmy weather greets us nine months out of the year. The walkways are pretty and the landscaping is well-manicured.

But something seems still and cold about the center. It lacks vibrancy, vitality, youthfulness, authenticity, something...I always feel a bit of a chill there, a strange feeling that I don't quite fit in with the pretension, the brand names, and...yikes!...the price tags!

In my opinion, these factors are what have made La Encantada only a lukewarm success. Many of the store slots are empty and the center is strangely quiet - dead.

By targeting the older and richer segment of the population so narrowly, Westcor has excluded the "rest of us" - the families, the singles, the young couples just starting out, the moms and babies, and the college students. We just don't feel comfortable there. We want more color, more splash, more noise. We want to feel welcome in our Target t-shirts and our Old Navy flip flops. We want to be able to let our babies cry, our toddlers squeal, and our kids run about...without feeling out-of-place.

The La Encantada concept hasn't worked because, when the developers planned it, they forgot about "us."

Of course, I don't like to criticize without offering some solutions. As a Tucson resident, I actually desperately want La Encantada to succeed. Here's what I think the resident marketing specialist should do:

1. Get "younger" stores to fill the empty spots that are still for rent.
2. Start a weekly "Kids Club." It could be anything - a story time, a puppet show, a dance production, a meet and greet with a storybook character, etc.
3. Re-think the marketing campaign. Focus on authenticity and inclusion. Make it a place for everyone.
4. Plan several key events to re-introduce the center to the community. Be especially conscious of families in the planning process. Invite a face painter. Give away a stroller. Offer free lemonade.
5. Create a "Moms Panel." Select 5 social and influential moms (perhaps host a contest of some sort to find them...) to shop at La Encantada and provide reviews about the stores, the prices, and the fun things to do. As the experts say, word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective kind...and moms are an important market audience.

Fellow Tucsonans, raise your voice. What do you think about La Encantada? Is my synopsis accurate? What suggestions do you have?

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Future in Blogging - Nailing down my Niche

For those of my readers who don't know, I have another blog:

Metropolitan Mama is a blog geared to moms in their 20's and 30's who are pregnant or who have little ones under age three (although all moms are welcome!). I blog about fitness, fashion, freebies, and general information to help moms navigate the challenges and wonders of early motherhood.

Metropolitan Mama is quickly picking up speed and I'm averaging over 200 hits per week - close to 1000 per month! I attribute my growing readership to many things, but, first and foremost, to the "niche factor." The blog has a very clear and defined audience - and thus the blog has a magnetic affect in drawing readers from my targeted demographic.

I'm having a lot of fun with my MM blog because motherhood is a topic I'm particularly passionate about. I've made some great connections and built some wonderful relationships with other moms from around the country and around the world (Thanks especially to my many readers in Canada and Australia).

I'm thinking about starting yet another "niche" blog (more details later...) - and possibly closing up shop here at Adventures of SS. I'll keep you posted as my plans unfold.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

E-mail is for Old People (and other technology truths)

A 2005 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project called "Teens and Technology" found that teenagers prefer new technology, like instant messaging or text messaging, for talking to friends and use e-mail to communicate with "old people."

"Teens who participated in focus groups for this study said that they view email as something you use to talk to “old people,” institutions, or to send complex instructions to large groups. When it comes to casual written conversation, particularly when talking with friends, online instant messaging is clearly the mode of choice for today’s online teens."

Yes, that's right. Teens choose to communicate via instant messaging, text messaging, and social networking sites way before e-mail.

When I read that study, I felt "old." I'm 25 and I do instant message. I occasionally text message. I had a Facebook account, but I deactivated it. I still probably use e-mail communication the most.

I really need to stay on my toes. I don't want to lose touch with Generation Z (anyone born between 2001-2041)...that's my daughter's generation. I wonder how she will communicate with her friends 10 years from now.

Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Market Your Product/Service on Blogs (and why it works)

Some innovative companies are starting to investigate blog marketing - and for good reason!

In July 2006, the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimated that the "US blog population has grown to about 12 million adults." That was in 2006. And just in America. And that was in estimate.

Blogging is a huge cultural phenomenon and I see it as another form of word-of-mouth advertising because blogging is all about connections and relationships. Blog advertising is more like a friend-to-friend conversation ("Guess what I bought yesterday?") than an air-brushed commercial. It's more authentic and real (at least it seems that way).

That's why it works.

When I want to buy a specific product, I usually (A) read the reviews on and (B) do a Google search on the Internet (in that order). If blogs come up in the Google search results, I might read them (but usually without much interest). Blog marketing doesn't work like that.

Remember, blogging is all about building relationships and being a part of a community. Yes, people blog to give and receive knowledge, but that's really a secondary purpose.

Marketing in the blogosphere is more about finding influential people in your target market/demographic and getting them to genuinely like your product...and then talk about it. If you can do that, you're well on your way to success.

We know from research that people buy products and services that are recommended by friends and individuals in their social circles. They buy in response to other people more than in response to magazine ads and TV commercials.

Case in point: me. There have been countless times that I've decided to purchase (or investigate) a product based on a blog post (of a blogger "friend," mind you). For example, I read about Johnson's bath time products at Ode to Umbrella Moments and proceeded to put them on my "buy-at-Target" shopping list.

If you are interested in marketing your product/service via blog marketing, start by taking these 3 steps:

A. Find influential bloggers in your niche market. How? Ask people in your "real" life if they blog and then ask them for their address. Visit their site and visit their commenters' sites. You'll soon be able to discover which blogs get a lot of traffic and why.

B. Offer to give a free product to an influential blogger in exchange for a review and a link back to your site.

C. Start a blog yourself (Need help? Read Penelope Trunk's The Easiest Instructions for How to Start a Blog) and enter the "community." Be sure that your blog is helpful, personal, and meaningful - rather than just an ad for your product. Ads don't work in the blogosphere. Authenticity does.

You can find bloggers of all ages and "stages," but you're especially in luck if your product is geared to moms because the "momosphere" within the blogosphere is huge. Or if your product is geared to people in the 25-45 year old demographic - again, lots of bloggers in that age range.

Welcome to the blog world! It's a great avenue for connecting - which is really what marketing is all about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

6 Tools for Writers

1) A laptop - Desktops are on their way out. Laptops are the current technology trend. Fortunately, laptops are the perfect tool for writers because they're portable. I recommend the MacBook or the MacBook Pro.

2) Steno pads - The mind of the writer is always buzzing with new ideas and, often, brilliant thoughts pops up at inconvenient times - at the grocery store, in the shower, on a run, in the library, in traffic. Having a notepad handy is crucial for retaining those quotes, lines, and topics that will make up tomorrow's best seller.

3) Free Magazine Subscriptions - I enjoy flipping through magazines on everything from business and parenting to fashion and home decorating. Why? Because the glossy pages give me insights into the culture around me. Here are the magazines that I currently receive: Health, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Babytalk, Working Mother, Metropolitan Home, and Sweet Sixteen. That list doesn't include the catalogs that I receive. Best of all, I don't pay for any of them. You can get free magazine subscriptions by participating in surveys on e-Rewards. You can also find offers for free magazines on Absurdly Cool and other freebie websites. Other magazines - like the ones with links above - are just free to everyone.

4) The nearest bookstore - Browsing through new releases is a fantastic way to scout out what's "hot" in the book market, to find potential agents via your favorite books' prefaces, or to get familiar with magazines that you want to send queries to. If you're extra lucky, your bookstore has cool events - like author readings, writing groups, and storytimes for kids.

5) Wi-Fi at home and abroad - If you're living without wireless technology, you're missing out. Find a computer guru, buy a wireless router, and bring Wi-Fi into your home. You won't regret it. You can also scout out all of the public places in your neighborhood that offer free Wi-Fi and tote your laptop around with you - try coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores first.

6) Writer's Market - I have an outdated version of this book and I'd really like to get the online version, but haven't splurged just yet. The Writer's Market is a comprehensive listing of book and magazine markets (and their submission requirements). It's a very useful resource, to say the least.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Business Idea #4: The Fusion of Dance and Fitness

There are dance studios and there are health clubs, but I have yet to see a successful intersection of these two ideas.

Dance studios generally feature classes in Ballet, Tap, Pointe, Jazz, and perhaps Hip Hop...most of the classes are geared to kids. At prestigious studios, kids dress in black leotards, pink tights, and dance shoes.

Health Clubs and fitness centers generally cater to adults (think: Curves, 24 Hour Fitness, etc.) and offer amenities such as weight rooms, swimming pools, and group fitness classes. The group classes usually range from Pilates and Yoga to Aerobics and Kickboxing, but dance classes are rarely offered.

What I'd love to see is the fusion of these two concepts: A dance studio for adult women with the intent purpose of fitness and without the black leotard requirement. Class offerings could include: Ballet, Funky Ballet, Tap, Jazz, and Hip Hop in beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Most women (including me) have fond memories of taking dance classes as a child and would love to get some of the health benefits as an adult. I would definitely try a Funky Ballet, Jazz, or Hip Hop class with friends.

This could be a brand new business concept. Or a dance studio could start offering classes specifically geared to women with the expressed purpose of fitness. Or a health club could hire a dance instructor.

P.S. I am not interested in starting up this type of business so I am hoping that one of my business-savvy readers will. Invite me to the Grand Opening!

(Photo by: northbaywanderer)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Functional versus Aesthetic Workspaces - Which Do You Prefer?

Husband: We should get rid of this rickety, old desk in your office and get something nicer. Like this. (Shows me photos from an online business furniture store - deep cherry wood, shiny surfaces, modern designs).

Me: My desk is fine. I never really think about it. Besides, that price tag is pretty steep (I like to save, remember?).

Husband: But how can you work in here?

We had this conversation about two weeks ago and we both discovered something about ourselves that night.

My husband prefers an aesthetic workspace. Walk in his office at work - you'll see modern black frames with crisp black-and-white photos that he took and developed himself and diplomas that showcase his undergraduate and graduate degrees in pristine and artistic frames. Even at home, he's bothered by pictures that are crooked, rooms that are cluttered, and colors that don't quite match.

I, on the other hand, prefer a functional workspace. Don't misunderstand me here. My space is organized and clean, but it's also rather practical and plain. That's partially because we don't have unlimited finances and partially because I'm not particularly tied up by "prettiness." I want to have a working laptop, a wireless Internet connection, an organized filing system, steno pads within reach, and pens with nice, dark ink (I'm finicky when it comes to pens). Candles? Paintings of scenic landscapes? Flowers? Unnecessary.

These same "leanings" affect our home too. For example, about a month ago, my husband suggested that we give away our TV and DVD player. My response was immediate: "Okay." After all, we haven't turned on our TV for over six months so it's not very functional.

You've probably guessed that I'm not very sentimental when it comes to my belongings - unless they are useful. I give things away often. Our wedding guest book? Toss it! That little crayon drawing that I created when I was five? Gone! The bridesmaid dress that I wore to my sister's wedding? Sayonara! You get the idea.

This is an ideal place to interject and send out a memo to family and friends - If you give me something nostalgic and don't specifically say that you want me to keep it, there's a good chance I won't. Not because I don't love you or cherish the memory. I just am not fond of keeping things around that aren't useful.

So there you have it. Two different preferences for workspaces. Which category do you fall in to?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

These are a few of my favorite things...

I stole this idea from Musings of a Housewife. These are the items I use every day, almost without fail.

iBook G4 - I know iBooks are a bit old school, but the company that I work for provides it so I can't complain.

Cover Girl Smoothers SPF 15 Tinted Moisturizer - This moisturizer provides just enough coverage with sun protection.

Secret Clinical Strength Deodorant - the best deodorant I've ever used, hands-down!

Cranberry Juice Cocktail - I like Ocean Spray, but the Fry's Cranberry Juice Cocktail is just as good and less expensive.

Steno Pads - I'm a writer so I carry a notepad everywhere - there's one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one in the office, and one in my purse.

What are a few of your favorite things? Post on your blog and leave a link here. I'd love to see your list!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to Save More Money - 5 Tips from a Super Saver

People who know me well know that I'm not a big spender. I save. I give. And I occasionally spend money (but only after careful contemplation). I very rarely make purchases on a whim and I am not the kind of person that a salesman likes to run into because I am not easily swayed or charmed by statistics or smiles.

If you're looking for a few ways to cut costs and save money, follow my lead and try these ideas:

1. Cancel cable TV. TV is, for the most part, mindless and a waste of time. Cancel cable and save every month. Do something else. Go on a run. Read a book. Cook a healthy meal. Volunteer at an elderly home. The key is focusing on worthwhile, action-oriented activities.

2. Boycott movie theaters. The theaters in my area charge $9.25 per seat. Yikes! A movie every week adds up fast - especially if you add in a spouse and a few kids. Rent a movie (preferably, from the library) instead. If you must get the big screen experience, opt for a "cheap theater" or a matinee.

3. Bring your lunch to work. It's healthier. It's cheaper. It tastes better. Period.

4. Don't attend in-home shopping "parties." Just say no to Mary Kay, Discovery Toys, Gold Canyon Candles, etc., etc. They're usually overpriced and the products are almost always unnecessary. Why add more clutter to your home and your life? Simplify!

5. Opt to not have a home phone. You need a cell phone. That's obvious. But a home phone? Probably not. Unless you spend copious amounts of time on the phone, your cell phone plan should cover all of your bases.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tucson Tuesdays: Ask and Ye Shall Receive

About 8 months ago, I wrote a letter to the developers of Passages of Tucson, a planned mixed-use destination development in southeast Tucson (see photo).

I wrote because I knew that it was a HUGE project with limitless potential - and I wanted to share my "requests" for certain shops, restaurants, and services. I don't remember all of the details, but I know I requested:

* Zara
* H & M
* Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack
* Target
* A Movie Theater (not Century Theatres)
* Family-friendly services and features (family restrooms, nursing lounges, kids club, etc.)
* A Women's health club/gym or a Lifetime Fitness

Guess what? The developers responded, invited me to lunch, and gave me the "inside scoop" on their master plan. They listened to my ideas and I listened to theirs. It was a productive give-and-take session.

That's the beauty of community engagement and participation.

I encourage you to take some small action step today to engage in your neighborhood, in our city. Think of one thing that you wish was different. Do you secretly wish that the local bakery would sell blueberry muffins? Tell them! Does the library not offer a book that you want to read? Request it! Do you wish that your child's preschool had a higher adult: student ratio? Volunteer!

Do just one thing. Start today. Our city (and our state, our country, our world) will only improve if we all contribute.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Secret Ambition (P.S. It involves Exercise)

Today, I started a running regime - my plan is to run a 5K this winter. This morning, my husband and I put our daughter in our jogging stroller and went for a 25-minute training session.

Now, I'm on-the-lookout for running advice, especially about running products. Tell me about the most comfortable tennis shoes, the cutest workout attire, the most supportive sports bras, and the most energizing tunes for the road.

***Note to Companies: I am open to doing reviews on products or attire related to health, fitness, and running. Please direct all inquiries to:

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Stephanie's 10 Essential Wardrobe Elements

Busy moms desire style, but they also require functionality. Moms need clothes that they can bend up-and-down, stretch from side-to-side, run down the street, and maneuver around in without showing anything (that's reason #1 why skirts and dresses are impractical for moms - usually).

These top 10 wardrobe elements provide both function and style:

1. Jeans - Several pairs in different shades and styles...perhaps a few with embellishments or sparkles. Every woman should have one pair of dark-wash, boot-cut jeans - I have yet to find someone who doesn't look great in that style.
2. Well-fitted Tees - Lots of different colors and variations...perhaps with embellishments or sparkles. I prefer V-neck.
3. Boots - Boots are stylish, comfortable, and professional. You can dress them up or dress them down. I have a black pair and a brown pair that I love.
4. Nice Coat - I have to agree with Tim Gunn here. A nice coat is a necessity because it can bring pizazz to any outfit. Trench coats are a good choice or - my preference - you can buy a quality leather coat. Nothing is quite as sophisticated as leather.
5. Camisoles - These are great for lounging around the house, for working out, for layering under low-coat shirts and sweaters, or for wearing underneath a classy suit. Right now in my closet, I have 2 black camisoles, 1 brown camisole, 1 red camisole, and 1 aqua camisole.
6. Dress Pants - One or two nice pairs of dress pants are essential for those times when you need/want to dress up a bit without having to sacrifice functionality. Dress pants are a great option for parent/teacher conferences, for church, or for work.
7. Heels - They're not for every day "wearage", but I really think heels are a must-have in a woman's wardrobe. Heels really can add a lot of umph to any outfit - whether to jeans or a dress. If you're only going to invest in one pair, choose a 2 inch pump in black.
8. Cute Workout Attire - What you're going for here are items that you can wear running or to hip hop class - AND to the grocery store AND to pick up your kids from school, etc. Consider a matching, well-fitted sweat suit or stretchy yoga pants and a quality tee. (Maybe a velour set from Juicy Couture - pictured).
9. A Dressy Outfit - There are times when a nice skirt or dress is required or desired. Think weddings, date nights with husband, etc. Have one pretty option that makes you feel lovely.
10. A Quality Suit - If you work outside of the home (or even if you don't), I think it's important to have at least one nice suit in your closet. For those times when you need to command authority or show that you're an expert - an unexpected job interview, a charity fundraiser, a board meeting for a local non-profit organization, etc.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

10 Essential Wardrobe Elements According to Tim Gunn's Guide to Style

I recently found this list of Tim Gunn's 10 essential wardrobe elements on the Musings of a Housewife blog:

1. Basic Black Dress
2. Trench Coat
3. Classic Dress Pants
4. White Shirt
5. Jeans
6. Cashmere Sweater
7. Skirt
8. Day Dress
9. Blazer
10. Sweat Suit Alternative

The blogger then went on to list which 10 elements she has in her closet and why. I decided to follow in her footsteps:

1. Basic Black Dress - No. I don't have one of these anymore, but I should. Dresses just aren't particularly suited for motherhood. (I do like the black dress pictured, Diane von Furstenberg Leno Dress from Nordstrom).
2. Trench Coat - Yes, I have a khaki-colored one from Old Navy, but I really don't like it. The material is cheap and it wrinkles too easily.
3. Classic Dress Pants - Yes, I have several pairs. Dress pants are my work wardrobe staple.
4. White Shirt - No. Why do fashion gurus always list a white shirt as an essential item? In my experience, white is only flattering on a minority of people. I am not one of them.
5. Jeans - Yes, I practically live in jeans. In fact, if I had to be stranded on an island with only one outfit- jeans would definitely be a part of that outfit.
6. Cashmere Sweater - No, but I'd love to have one.
7. Skirt - Yes, I have one fabulous skirt and about three skirts that are too big now that I had a baby and lost weight.
8. Day Dress - No. See #1. Dresses are not very functional for moms.
9. Blazer - Yes, I have several nice long-sleeved ones. Unfortunately, Tucson is too hot for coats the majority of the year. I need some short-sleeved alternatives.
10. Sweat Suit Alternative - A. What is wrong with a cute sweat suit? B. I don't even own a sweat suit, but I wish I did.

I have 6 of the 10, but I really don't feel bad. I'm sorry, Tim Gunn, but you just have it all wrong. Stay tuned tomorrow for Stephanie's Top 10 Wardrobe Essentials for Busy Moms...

    Friday, October 5, 2007

    Feeling Overwhelmed

    Tonight, I feel overwhelmed.

    I used to feel busy before I became a mother. But I didn't realize the freedom that I had. To read a book cover-to-cover. To dedicate myself to a project completely without stopping. To sit down and write with a cup of tea and my laptop without interruption. It all seems so foreign now.

    My life is much too unpredictable now for such luxuries. I might make plans, but they are likely to be postponed or delayed by an unexpectedly sick baby, a night of teething, a particularly clingy stage, or a plea for playtime.

    Sometimes I wonder how I will ever make room for all of the things that I want to do. I start to panic. I think of my dreams - the Ph.D., the best-selling book I'm supposed to write, the 5K race that I'm going to train for, the magazine queries that lay neglected on virtual shelves. I'm getting old, I tell myself.

    Then, I suddenly realize that I'm only 25 and that there is a beautiful reason for my crazy life. I realize how good I have it. I realize that I would never go back to that life of lazy "frills" - not if I had to forfeit that irresistible smile, that gurgling giggle, those open-mouthed kisses, and that incredible personality that comes out more every day.

    Not a chance. I'll keep my charmed life and the cherished people that feel it.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Is LinkedIn different than Facebook?

    I recently was invited to join LinkedIn by a freelance writer who I respect. I think I might move forward and sign up, but I hesitate.

    I wonder:

    1. Is LinkedIn just another social networking site?
    2. What makes LinkedIn different from Facebook and MySpace?
    3. What benefits does LinkedIn offer?

    Most people know that I tried Facebook and then deactivated my account because I couldn't find much value in it. Will joining LinkedIn be a deja vu experience?

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    5 Things I Would Buy if Money Grew on Trees

    The First FIVE Things that Come to Mind...
    1. Cashmere Sweaters
    2. Lots of Books (my own library)
    3. Maid Service
    4. Shoes for different occasions
    5. Tuition for classes or conferences...probably ones about writing

    What would you buy?