Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.
It’s Motivational Monday, and today I’m profiling Danielle Connelly, a wonderful person I have recently met who tries to help other moms find the best deals in town. She has turned this idea into a successful, growing business. I was inspired by her great story, and hope you will be, too.
When her boys were little, Danielle Connelly started a blog designed to do what is chief on many young mothers minds: save money. What began as a small hobby has turned into a fast growing business four years later. Her website, www.motherofadeal.com, is a virtual treasure trove of deals that appeal to parents.
Here is her recipe for success: take a great idea (saving money), add some knowledge and hard work, and be at the right place at the right time.
Shortly after starting her blog, she had gone to a momcafe event – another growing enterprise where mothers spend a morning networking and listening to inspiring speakers. On this morning, a woman spoke about a self employment program at Douglas College. If you had been on maternity leave within the last five years and fit the eligibility requirements, you could actually get paid to attend this program through Service Canada.
The program is offered through many post-secondary institutions across the country, and is a perfect way of launching your own business, while getting support from like-minded and entrepreneurial instructors.
Inspired by the idea of working for herself, Danielle promptly enrolled in this program. It set the wheels in motion, turning her blog into a growing business.
She is undeniably a busy woman, her boys now four and six years old, but they are some of her biggest supporters. They occasionally help out at family trade shows, and her youngest will blurt out to strangers that his mother does Mother of a Deal.
It’s an ongoing exercise trying to be both a great mother and run a successful business from her house, she says. Setting boundaries has been a key element to keeping the occasional resentment her children show at bay. “Are you doing work stuff, mom?” they will ask. But she tries to make Mother of a Deal a shared experience for her family, and one they will hopefully benefit from as they grow.
Like any small business owner, Danielle has faced adversity along the way, but her online community has been overwhelmingly supportive. In 2009, her father passed away, and she decided to give up on her site to focus on her family. When she shared what she was going through with her subscribers, she experienced a huge outpouring of love from mothers, most of whom she had never met. Somehow, her site stayed strong through this tough time and continued to grow. She believes her father had a hand in this – he was so proud of her drive and determination to succeed. He continues to inspire her everyday, she says.
She has big goals for next year, when her boys are both in school full-time. She plans on making some changes to her site to make it a more interactive experience, and is hoping to attract more subscribers.
With the end goal of helping people help themselves, and the phenomenal success of other money saving websites like Groupon, Mother of a Deal seems like a mother of an invention.
In the parental press box, I had become a dinosaur. For years, while others videoed their children using a device barely bigger than their palm, I scouted my surroundings for a power outlet to plug in my comparatively enormous camcorder.
Good things come in small packages, many will be heartened to hear, in the world of video cameras.
I’m excited. My heart is beating a little bit fast, even though I am sitting here on my tush typing away on my computer. I have truly taken a giant step forward into the twenty-first century of technology. I bought a Flip video camera.
I realize these have been around for years, but they are new to me. I guess I have been so overloaded by the frenzy of Apple products, that I have overlooked this tiny video camera that is smaller and lighter than my Blackberry.
It really is a crime that I have three kids who can be incredibly delightful at times, and yet an extremely outdated and limited capacity to capture their essence on video. Our former beast of a camera was one that required it to be hoisted on one’s shoulder, and would film for approximately five minutes before the battery lost power. Furthermore, it would record onto these tiny cassettes that are unplayable anywhere in the world but on your actual video camera.
As I charged our old behemoth in preparation for my daughter’s gymnastic competition, she begged me to not bring it. It was too embarrassing for her. Normally I would chide her for this, but this time I was relieved. It had crossed even my higher threshold for embarrassment. I gladly left it behind.
At the competition, a mother beside me pulled out what I thought was a tiny camera, but in fact was the Flip video camera. I immediately realized that all this time I had been mistaking this much heralded video camera for a still camera, since that’s what it looks like. And the Flip doesn’t actually flip. Maybe it did at one time in its life, but the latest models don’t require opening. They are ready to capture what’s happening in front of you, just push the red button.
The biggest advantage to the Flip is there are no tapes, cassettes, cords, or strings attached. You simply press a button and the USB connector flips out (ah, is that the namesake?) and you connect it to your computer to both download your videos and recharge your camera. So this is why YouTube has become so accessible.
If I sound like an advertisement, apologies, I wish Flip was paying me to write this but sadly they are not -I bought it for $150 at Target. I’m just excited that I can capture little moments in my kids lives without looking like I’m filming a segment for the evening news.
Retail shopping is so yesterday.
I refuse to pay full price for anything anymore. If it’s not on sale, forget it. With huge outlet malls cropping up in suburban areas, and email alerts conveniently telling me when my favorite shops are busting out goods at huge discounts, who needs to?
The only thing better than driving south of the border to hit these outlets is when these outlets come to you, in your own backyard, a new trend that is catching on like wildfire.
My friend has an in on a sweet line of Sun Ice ski jackets and outdoor apparel – her family owns it. Instead of shipping their extra stock off to a discount center, she is setting up racks in neighborhood homes and selling them at big discounts. I went by her house for a sale where she had partnered with a local yoga line, Tonic. We had coffee and I left with a super cute yoga outfit and raincoat that both rival Lululemon – but at half the cost.
I was giddy with delight, flushing with victory so pure I was puzzled. I felt something was missing, and then realized it was that feeling of buyer’s remorse. Unlike usual, I had none. No guilty feelings thinking, “I didn’t need that”. I had gone with the hope of finding some new yoga wear (whether doing yoga or not, I live in this stuff) and a raincoat that was a tad different from everyone else in Vancouver. I found both within the confines of her friendly living room and spent a fraction of the cost.
Life may be beautiful, but mine is seldom this easy.
I am being invited to sales like this on a regular basis; women hosting jewelery designers and clothing lines in their own homes. The environment is much more welcoming than harsh fluorescent light and those mirrors that make my hips look wider than they are. I’ll gladly exchange the bored out of their mind teenage shopkeepers for honest women who know a garment flaw when they see one.
The concept of shopping is changing as quickly as the world is shedding its landlines. I don’t aimlessly browse through shops in the hopes of randomly discovering something I like and is on sale (unless, of course I’m at Winners and in need of retail therapy). My shopping is much more purposeful and driven by red tags.
I’m ignoring the middle man in favor of neighborhood homes, my days of mall crawling are officially over.
I am no queen of green. I try to do my part to reduce my carbon footprint – I have about a 50% hit rate of actually using my reusable bags at the grocery store, I always choose “no” to printing my receipt at automated checkouts, I attempt to amalgamate errands to reduce driving – but I would be the first to admit I have a long way to go with helping Mother Earth mend herself.
Like anyone in this day and age, I don’t like to see flagrant abuses of the environment. Every Christmas morning I was sickened by the waste produced for the landfill from our household alone, until a few years ago, when I stumbled across a way to help in my own small way.
Christmas is a time to pack some punch into my husbands otherwise drab wardrobe, so I always give him clothes, and girls being girls, my children are likewise excited to receive clothes. But clothing stores are infamously short on those nice boxes this time of year, and a shirt wrapped without a box just doesn’t have the same fancy effect, not to mention it announces what it is by its limp texture and size, whereas when housed in a box the sky is the limit: a bathrobe! sexy underwear! ear muffs! Really, anything could be in that thing. So on Christmas Eve a few years ago, while frantically wrapping my heart out and my fingers off, I ravaged my kitchen cupboard of cereal, cracker, and granola bar boxes, and used these to keep my family guessing on Christmas morning.
Now I set aside boxes in the beginning of December, knowing they will be put to use in the next month, either to disguise hockey tickets for my father in law or jelly beans for my child’s best friend. Under our tree there now is a plethora of interesting shaped boxes, and if a wee bit of wrapping paper is accidentally dislodged after my daughter has shaken it mercilessly, there is no way for her to guess what treasure it holds.
Be forewarned, you are setting yourself up for a chorus of “You got me waffles?”, “Cheerios, just what I always wanted!”, “Reduced fat cookies – are you trying to tell me something?”, but boxes that were destined for the recycling bin are put to one last good use. When I survey the scene mid morning after the tornado of wrapping paper has ripped through, the end result does not look so disastrous, knowing much of it would have been previously recycled anyway.
Merry Christmas, Mother Earth.
I had the most vivid dream last night: I was standing on an island at the water’s edge. Not so far away, a 747 was taking off in my direction. I stood, transposed, as this magnificent beast lazily lifted first its nose, and then slowly its rear, its huge bulk improbably hanging in mid air. Suddenly, in a horrifying twist, its nose turned downward and it was heading straight towards me. This prior magical moment, full of wonderment at the marvels of modernity, turned into the shock of modernity causing my death; there was no where to run.
And so it is with Christmas, another altogether beautiful, mass market, man made beast. It has become an industry that spawns an entire collection of movies, its own section in book stores and the library, encourages even the most gifted of musicians to cover Christmas classics (as if anyone could improve on Nat King Cole’s version of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, but still, they try). Most importantly, it is the crowning glory of everything retail; spend! spend! spend!, advertisements tell us. As the days of December tick quickly by, the nose of that 747 has taken a nasty downward focus.
The internet has supposedly made shopping easy: one click and it’s on its way. Yet I am paralyzed. I have not bought one gift for my best customers, my children. The lights are too dazzling, the smell of pine intoxicating, the wrapping paper too varied, the choices of gifts both big, small and insignificant, overwhelming. I am frozen by the sheer volume of my growing list, and now it is too late to order online.
As the mother who wears the purse, if not the pants, in this family, I am the unspoken provider of Christmas. I have three little girls who fully expect Santa to bring them a boatload of presents on December 25. We are working our way through the multitude of Christmas movies Hollywood has faithfully produced, all with the same message: you must believe in Santa for him to come. Yet, try though I may to believe (dutifully, like all of the cards shout from my mailbox, Believe!), this higher being has yet to materialize. It will be me trudging through malls this week, battling frantic shoppers who are decidedly not in the holiday spirit as they beat me to parking spots and dash in front of me in long checkout lines.
I know this; I have been out there already. I haven’t bought one present for my family, but I’ve been trying hysterically to keep up with the other demands of Christmas. My daughters are each doing Secret Santa gift exchanges at school, at gymnastics, and now, they tell me, since they are so much fun, with their friends. They are collecting money for coaches and teachers, to give them gifts, and since it is all about giving, who can argue with that? Each of their classes are putting together a gift hamper for families in need – the most useful gifts I will purchase this season – but adding three more to my list. For every party they attend (classroom, school play, gymnastics, soccer) they bring items for the food bank, so my pantry is disappearing before my eyes, and I’m also expected to bake and decorate cookies for these events, as if the twelve other plates of gingerbread men are not enough. There are dresses and shiny shoes to be purchased, snow boots and ski suits that must be upgraded for the impending weather. I’m exhausted and broke and I haven’t even started on the list that includes my own family.
Our tree is up, but my children are begging for more decorations, more lights, more everything. When, they keep asking, will the presents be under the tree? Oh yes, those elusive presents. Telling them I’ve been a bit busy doesn’t fly: doing what? they ask.
The ten shopping days remaining are reduced to five for me, since school vacation starts at the end of this week, at which point I morph into camp director, shepherding my children to the skating rink, ski hill, indoor pools and playdates in an effort to entertain them.
The nose of the plane is now closing in on me, I am deafened by the roar of its engine. Should I run or swim, I wonder. It really doesn’t matter, since it is landing on top of me in any event. Just as the Grinch discovered, you can’t stop Christmas from coming; but unlike those gracious Who’s in Whoville, my children will not peacefully gather around a tree without presents underneath it, singing carols.
Halloween is not in the can for a week, and the Christmas crap starts.
Before I have even taken the skeletons and cobwebs (this, in itself, is alarming: Halloween decorations??) to storage and put away the multiples of costumes, the kids have their Christmas lists finished and are asking about their dresses.
Dresses? For one day?
As I’m questioning the necessity of whether they each need a dress they will never wear (Doesn’t last year’s fit? How about something a little nicer than normal that you will actually wear again throughout the year?), I catch a glimpse of my oldest daughter’s list.
The first item is a laptop computer. And then the cheeky bugger has listed several other items beneath it, since you can’t simply get one gift for Christmas.
Hardly an original thought, but once more, with feeling: have we lost our marbles when it comes to consumerism at Christmas?
I said as much to her. “But I need it for school! We don’t have enough laptops to go around,” she wailed.
She is eleven. Whatever happened to the blackboard? And slates?
I try not to point my finger solely at her – it is the age in which we live. Also to blame is her peer group, who seem to up the ante on every birthday and occasion. You can’t blame her for trying. But it seems to get worse every year, the wish list loftier and longer, the price tags higher, the gadgets fancier.
We’ve traded in American Girls (who knew you could spend that much dough on a doll?) for electronics. A couple of years ago it was the iPod, then the Nintendo DS, then the iTouch. (The requests for the cell phone have been ignored although her voice gets louder, and I am sad to report she is in the minority of her group of friends who must resort to land lines for calling home – “use your friends cellphone,” I tell her cheerfully.)
When I was her age I was lucky to get a Barbie. The world, and not just my daughter, has gone mad. And you either must buck up in order to make their wishes come true, or buck the trend; in which case your name, come Christmas day, will be the Grinch. Or Scrooge. Pick your poison.
The answer, of course, is to educate your children about those who have so little at this time of year; let’s help them instead. We gather necessities and tiny treasures and put them together for families in need in our community. We deliver bags of food to the Food Bank. We talk about all the people all over the world who are simply trying to survive each day, let alone play with a new toy. We do all this until the cows come home. And yet when tucking them in at night, it’s back to their list.
This is where the tough parenting comes in. I love my children to the ends of the earth, but it’s my job to teach them that their happiness can’t be bought. I want them to be joyously happy on Christmas Day, but not because I’ve forked out January’s grocery money on their gift. I want them to have great friends and feel secure but not because they received what the rest of their friends got during the holiday. I want them to be thoughtful, loving, caring, empathetic citizens, not greedy, selfish drama queens.
It’s so much easier to say yes than no, but what is that teaching them? I always did have a soft spot for the Grinch.
I am rocking this homemaker thing.
In the past week, I have purged our playroom, organized my youngest child‘s room down to the Barbie shoes, delivered a truckload of toys to the Salvation Army, got my oldest child to her three orthodontist appointments AND finally took her to the doctor to discuss her shinsplints, mailed back my mother’s spare key that I accidentally took, remembered to wish my brother a happy birthday (at 9pm the night of his birthday, but still), charged my way through my book in time for book club, paid the MasterCard bill, and remembered to pick up all my children from every sundry activity and birthday party that rules their world.
Today alone, I managed to make their lunches, get them to school in proper rain gear, indoor shoes safely ensconced in their bags, had a workout, talked a friend through a crisis, joined Twitter, dealt with our broken window blinds, made healthy muffins, picked children and their play dates up from school in timely fashion, and have dinner marinating.
Children, have no fear; Supermom is here.
I am giddy with power. Confounded by my usefulness. Loving my resourceful self. Where can I buy that snazzy red and blue suit? I’m ready to fly. It only took eleven years.
My recent domestic roll (as in, I’m on a roll) comes not a moment too soon. Domesticity, as I wrote about in an earlier post (Motherhood: my unlikely career) is not my natural calling. I prefer to get paid for my blood, sweat and tears, and the minutia of homemaking is not fulfilling.
I started this blog to talk about other things that weigh on me or interest me, like sex, drugs and rock and roll for instance. However in the process of homemaking it is essays on homemaking that I write in my mind. I figure I will get the motherhood topics off my chest, and then move on to bigger and better topics. Hang on, that sounds familiar – wasn’t that my life plan, for that matter?
Yet here I am, eleven years later, still stuck on the homemaker aspect, but with a subtle difference: by simply acknowledging my accidental role, I somehow own it. Call it the power of the pen, or whatever. But writing about it absolutely makes me feel better.
If you, too, find yourself curiously at home raising your children, and are wondering about your worth since you make substantially less than minimum wage, I recommend writing down every minuscule task, no matter how mundane, for an entire week. Keep in mind you will need either a very long piece of paper, or will have to use tape to piece together a list that will surely be taller than you are. Refer to this list, and be proud of your achievements, even if they are remarkably different from what you had imagined. I think this is what they call living in the moment.
I still feel like I’m going to rocket to stardom once discovered on Canadian Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, but until then I will continue on as CEO of our family.
It is November, not January, or September for other non-conformists, that marks the beginning of the year in my house.
November can be a tough month. Some grow mustaches for a great cause, and select lucky ones fly off to sunnier destinations, since it’s too early for skiers to ski, too rainy for bikers to bike. The rest of us grin and bear November and the rain it inevitably brings. Or go out and buy a sun lamp to lessen their Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I nominate November to become National House Purging month. A month to declutter, reorganize, become the minimalists we all want to be. (In an unbelievable quirk of fate, my friend has set the date for her clothing swap for Nov. 30 – in preparation I have already sorted out my closet: http://reganrants.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/fun-green-and-free-clothing-swaps/
By November, the craziness of September is out of the way – ironing out multiple routines for children, figuring out how to be in three places at once, dealing with new teachers and coaches and expectations of advancing education. October provides last glimpses of decent weather and a brief breather before the Halloween onslaught begins, the indecision about what to be and how to find it culminating, of course, in a sugar crazed fit of hysteria and exhaustion by 9 pm Halloween night.
We wake up with sugar hangovers, and welcome November.
The costumes are put away, the candy stash dwindles, and we settle in for a long winter season. Like clockwork, a desire to purge and organize my house overtakes me.
On Saturday, I innocently started organizing the Barbie bin, and before I knew it had two bags of trash (headless Barbie’s, dolls missing limbs, pieces to toys long since broken), one bag of recycling (workbooks completed, books missing key pages) and three bags for the Salvation Army (naked dolls with only slightly matted hair, toddler toys reluctantly outgrown.)
My children were a vital part of this process. At first they voiced their discontent with shrill screams and tears, but once they understood I was trying to create a better, organized (if not bucolic) setting for them to play in, they were a great help. I would ask them if they still played with an item, and if it was in good working order and they assured me it would be used, we found a bin or basket for it. If the toy in question was broken or of no value to them, they gamely put it in the proper pile to give away or recycle.
At the end of the day (literally – it took all day) they were so pleased that they had helped create this newly organized world, still slightly cluttered but yet new, fresh ground, ready for them to unleash their limitless imaginations.
Next step: their closets. Deep breath.