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Four Questions for the Marketing Manager

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Updated: Saturday, December 10, 2016

Melissa McKenzie is PAMP’s Marketing and Communications Manager. Her job involves social media, marketing and communications.


“I handle all marketing and communications efforts including developing the PAMP voice, developing/updating marketing collateral, social media and social media analytics,” says Melissa. “I also work with the board  working on the communications plan and creating graphics.”


Overhauling the Facebook/social media pages (we're now on Twitter and Instagram as well) was a fairly big undertaking and continues to be a work in progress for Melissa. She's always open to suggestions from members as far as what they'd most want to see on our page. Her goals for the future are creating a social media community where PAMP interacts with members and gets some great conversations started about all things PAMP.


“One of the really great things about working with PAMP is being able to work with other parents,” Melissa says. “As the mom of an infant, sometimes it's hard to get out and do things, but working with people who completely understand all of the struggles and difficulties that come with being a first (or second) time parent is great. I love talking to members and learning about their wants for PAMP, and I hope to get out to more events in the near future. It's always nice to know that no matter what you do, your kid(s) are welcome.”


Melissa lives in Santa Clara with her husband and son. Her husband, Phil, is a paramedic, paramedic preceptor and field training officer for Santa Clara County EMS. Their son Colin is almost one year of age. “We also share our lives with four different four-legged furballs who have adjusted quite well to having an infant around,” she says.


1. What is the last non-kid movie you saw? In the theater? It was when I was pregnant and I went with two friends to see How to Be Single. At home, the last blockbuster movie I watched was Deadpool, but the last non-Hollywood film was an ESPN 30-for-30.

2. Are you a Bay Area native or transplant? I am a transplant. Phil and I moved up here from the Orange County area of Southern California in 2010 after I was offered a job at a local newspaper.

3. What’s at the top of your to-do list? For PAMP, it's thinking about the 2017 communications outreach and marketing plan. Personally, it's finding the time to get outside more and being more active -- something that I completely lost during the latter half of my pregnancy and the past 7 months.

4. Who is your favorite Sesame Street character? Oh my gosh. We're not at the TV stage yet, so I honestly have no idea which characters are still part of the show. I remember, as a kid, loving the old Cookie Monster, but I know he's become more health conscious since my childhood. I have to be honest though, even though I watched Sesame Street I was really more of a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow kid.

Each month we train the spotlight on someone who works behind the scenes for PAMP. Interested in hopping on board? Browse our open volunteer positions and join the fun!


Tags:  spotlight 

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Four Stress Relief Tips for the Holidays

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It's official -- the holiday season is here-evidenced by all those commercials. Does just thinking about all the shopping, entertaining, and decorating and your ever-shrinking budget send you into a tizzy? Relax. With a bit of thoughtful preparation and some helpful parameters, you can achieve the look and outcome you want for you and your family-without being so stressed you can’t enjoy the season.

What are the tips to reduce stress and still enjoy the holiday season?

1. Spend Smarter
Consider a budget. Don’t get caught shopping until you’ve given some consideration to how much you are able to spend. Think of those credit card bills in January-what can you honestly handle? If you love to shop, it may seem to take some fun out of it, but being faced with big bills in the New Year isn’t fun either.

Be specific. Once you’ve put a realistic limit on spending, you know what you have to work with. Are you getting just a few high quality gifts or would it be better to get a number of less expensive gifts so kids and family have more to open? You decide what works best for you. Encourage your extended family to draw names instead of everyone getting gifts for the whole family.

Make a list. You can make it very specific or general. Coming up with ideas of what your family would like gives you a starting point and helps you estimate how much you plan to spend on each person.

Use only one credit card. This will help to keep track of purchases.

2. Shop Shrewder
Start early. Don’t run the risk of being frustrated because they have run out of what you wanted. If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, save it for small gifts such as stocking stuffers or little treats. Get the bigger items out of the way first.

Go online. You are savvy enough to know this can lead to finding things at a lower price. You can also research where to find something if you want to buy in person and save time driving from one mall to another.

Negotiate. It may surprise you to know that it is possible to ask for a lower price. You never know until you try. If you are buying in bulk, one or more could be slightly soiled, or you are in a small store that is owner owned and willing to bargain. They want the sale. Give it a try.

3. Entertain Effortlessly
KISS: Keep it simple sister! As much as possible simplify the event. Make part of the menu take-out items from your favorite deli. Ask some guests to bring their specialty- most likely they will be happy you asked. Invite a family member or friend to co-host. If a fine dining experience is a must, hire some help. Plan to do as much as you can in advance. Setup the table the day before and prepare as much of the menu ahead of time.

How about January? Some social events could be delayed until January. Consider which ones can be postponed. People’s schedules are generally more open mid-January. You may find more people can make it and you will have a better time because you aren’t so tired.

4. Downsize Decorating
Get the whole family to help. Rethink how you want the house to look based on the ages of your children. What can they do so they can be a part of the celebration as well? If much of your decorating is complicated and time consuming, perhaps you want to pare things down a bit until your children are older. The point is to have FUN! And it’s no longer fun if you are up late at night working on hanging, arranging, etc. after everyone is in bed.

Rein in. Count how many boxes you’ve taken down from storage. Sort out those items that you are tired of looking at or that simply look a bit tired. Donate them to a shelter or retirement home. They won’t think they look tired and will greatly appreciate new items to liven up the place. Decide to use some of the boxes and put the rest away. You won’t miss the decorations you didn’t use.

This year make your resolution BEFORE the holidays begin: More fun, less stress!
Use these tips to keep stress at a minimum and enjoy the holidays. Would enjoy hearing from you on any tips you found helpful. Enjoy the holidays!

Janada Clark, MA is a parent educator and teaches Love and Logic at Stanford and public and private schools. Her parent education classes are a well-respected resource for parents. Join her Facebook community and get your parenting questions answered within one day.

Tags:  health 

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Living the Expat Wife Life

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2016

It’s been fun and adventurous these last 15 years as a ‘trailing spouse’, an expat wife and a mother. I think it’s got a lot to do with the person I am today. But, it is also not all rainbows and cupcakes. It’s been challenging. Although I have gained a lot, I’ve missed out on a lot, too. 

I was born in Sydney, Australia. I married my sweetheart, whom I’d met at age 17 on a Sydney dance floor, and we have been together ever since. We have three kids ages 10, 9 and almost 5. Those four are the air that I breath -- I count my blessings each and every day.

We left Sydney 15 years ago on a two-year assignment in Singapore, but ended up staying six years. That's where I had my first two kids. We then moved to Connecticut/New York for a few years and finally out to California 5 years ago. My daughter had a school presentation recently and it meant tracking on a globe our path, and it was eye opening that we have practically travelled right around the world.

If I think about it too much, I feel stuck. Like I don’t belong in Australia anymore, but we didn’t grow up in America either. We have missed out on multiple weddings (which in turn has dissolved many friendships), births and family milestones (such as our siblings 40th’s). We have been on the other side of globe when family members have been incredibly sick or have had life threatening operations. It’s hard to not have family down the road to call for help. The thought of international departures sends me into a panic and I have had horrendous guilt attacks at those international gates. I have also spent years, willingly, supporting my husband's career and put my own goals on the back burner while I focused on the home front.

But to every cloud is a silver lining, and I like to think of my cup as half full. I have absolutely been pushed out of my comfort zone multiple times and basically had to build a life from the ground up at least three times. Like not knowing one friendly face or even where to buy a gallon of milk! But I’ve survived each relocation, made wonderful friends and had incredible experiences (only to have to wrap it up, and start over again).

As a family, its has given us so much time together. Weekends are our own to explore and bond, not being pulled in multiple directions with family commitments. We have had so many adventures, either walking the Redwood Forests, leaf-peeping in Vermont, driving to the Florida Keys, spending Thanksgiving in Boston, multiple road trips from San Francisco to LA and San Diego. Also exploring and traveling most of Asia while we lived in Singapore. I’ve climbed  the Great Wall of China and partied in Helsinki, Finland.

My husband is an Engineer and incredibly passionate about technology, so the Silicon Valley is THE place for him. He is a kid in a candy store! Even I have to admit that the entrepreneurial vibe is infectious. In the last few years, I have decided our sweet spot is to call California home for now. I can have a ticket back to Sydney to visit my family any time I want. As my kids are getting older,  I can fly with all three by myself. 

We got our US Green Cards two years ago. That gave me a chance to start working on what I wanted to do. It has been life changing, and my husband supports my decisions, just like I have with him all these years.

We always think that others lives are more fascinating than our own, but as you've just read, there are pros and cons to any situation. You just have to think about what’s more important in that time, and never look back.

Melissa Menzies is a Palo Alto based wardrobe stylist who's mission is to make a stylist such as herself affordable and obtainable to every woman. Find her at and on Instagram.

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Kickstart Giving with Your Kids

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2016

My friends have been asking for simple tips on how to encourage giving with their kids. As with most things in life, there’s no magic formula. There’s also no shortage of online advice for teaching generosity and kindness to kids. I’ve summarized some of my favorite sites below for your scanning pleasure.

My biggest piece of advice as a mom of a three- and five-year-old is just start doing
something. Remember, kids have hawk eyes . . . so one day, when you least expect it, they just might model the behavior you’re trying to teach.


Let’s Talk About Giving

As we all know, kids believe the world revolves around them. So talk to them about how their actions will impact others. Keep it simple, though. There’s no need to be preachy about it. For example, you could say, “When we raise money for XYZ nonprofit, the money will go to kids who need medicine so they will get healthy.” Or, “When you donate your toys to kids who don’t have any, they will be able to have fun like you did when you played with them.” Being specific will have more of an impact than saying, “We’re giving because it’s the right thing to do.” Both are true, but it’s best if you can help your kids relate.


Side note: If your kid appears to be unphased by your efforts to spark giving (i.e., there are no empathic, teary eyes or follow-up questions), don’t worry. This doesn’t mean they’re uninterested or uncaring. Giving can be a foreign concept at first. . . . Just keep at it. (Try to avoid guilting them into it, though, and keep it fun!) Like many things in life, consistency leads to lifelong habits.


For more tips and information about how to talk to your kids about giving, here’s a link to a great PBS article.


Get Them Involved

If they are old enough, let your kid(s) pick the nonprofit they want to help. Brainstorm ideas with them and see which one sparks an interest. (For example, if they are obsessed with animals, pick an animal shelter, or if they are into geography, pick a country like Peru and sponsor a child.)


Family volunteering, as logistically complicated as it might seem, is totally worth the effort. Kids remember it. Whether it’s a clean-up drive or planting trees, there’s something out there for your crew.



This generation of kids is all about the visuals. That’s why they foam at the mouth to get access to our phones and iPads. Use videos as a learning tool, especially when you’re trying to illustrate issues or needs in other countries. For example, this simple water project includes a smart video that shows how similar kids are—despite being several airline flights away.


Six Easy Giving Ideas for Kids

I borrowed a few ideas from this awesome list from Generation On called 65 Ways to Make a Difference. It’s all simple stuff. Try one out if you haven’t already.

  1. Instead of birthday party gifts, ask your friends to bring books or art supplies that you can donate to a local homeless shelter or other local youth nonprofit.

  2. Love baking? Bake cupcakes or cookies, sell them to friends and neighbors, and donate the proceeds.
  3. If you have a membership to a science museum or zoo, and have extra passes, invite a friend who might not financially be able to visit, to come with you.
  4. Feed your furry friends . . . and then drop off an extra bag of food at the local animal shelter.
  5. Got old sports equipment? Bring it to your local parks and recreation center or another nonprofit that works with youth.
  6. Before Santa comes, gather old toys and donate them to make way for new ones. Or, even better, encourage your kids to limit their wish list and then adopt a family in need with the money you’ll save. Your kids can pick out a toy for a child who’s a similar age.

For nearly two decades, Stefani Jacobsen Willis of  Give Greatly has been learning, growing and contributing globally to the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. She has raised money for nonprofits, strategically given away money to nonprofits, launched initiatives in collaboration with foundations and inspired community to be more generous with their time and money.


Tags:  parenting 

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Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Updated: Sunday, November 27, 2016

Eating healthy while pregnant may seem like a no-brainer however there are also many women who think that being pregnant is a license to eat anything they want.  During my first pregnancy I joked that my husband was the food police, but quickly believed his approach was valid when my daughter was born at 36 weeks – considered a late pre-term delivery – and was perfectly healthy – no NICU, no lung issues, no issues even today – that my diet played a big role in her outcome.  Wanting to see if this would work a second time, I followed the same nutrition regimen with my second daughter – now three weeks old – and she too was born healthy.  Admittedly I was a little less strict this time around yet remained true to the core approach.

Based on our experience, here are some tips to consider for your pregnancy diet (author’s note: this does not replace the advice of your physician):

Eat Organic
Buying organic fruits and vegetables in the Bay Area is pretty accessible via certified Farmer’s Markets however many grocery stories carry fresh organic produce and organic products including non-GMO (genetically modified organism) items.

Know Where Your Food Comes From
For all meat and fish, my husband was careful to ask whether it was farmed or wild-pole-line caught, and where the meat, poultry or fish came from.  Knowing the farm or information about how the animals are fed and treated  - including use of antibiotics and hormones - helps you understand what you are ingesting.  If eating local is an option, try to learn about the farm practices as well.

Take Your Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins are a must and your physician will concur.  Omega-3 fish oil capsules are a good second addition.  Omega-3 fish oil helps with brain development while in utero and post-delivery as well. To complement your prenatal vitamins and also provide a tasty snack, I also discovered the Belly Bar.  During my first pregnancy these were easy to find at Whole Foods or any pregnancy-related store.  The second pregnancy I had a harder time finding them.  They come in flavors that make you think you are eating dessert but you are not.  

Limit Coffee
I usually drink half-caffeinated coffee on a regular basis and didn’t give this up while pregnant.  Once a day I had my treat so I didn’t feel like I was giving up everything.  Some physicians say it’s fine, others say not to drink it.  Ultimately, you want to enjoy being pregnant and not be resentful for 10 months.  

Eat, Eat, Eat
This may sound strange and you may worry about your weight, but if you eat a lot and eat healthy options, you will gain a healthy weight for you and your baby.  Don’t skip breakfast, do eat a snack before lunch, do eat lunch and eat another snack in the afternoon.  Do eat dinner and if you have no aversions, spice up the menu.  Eat fruit, almonds, graham crackers, protein like hard-boiled eggs and cheese sticks, and more.

Plan Ahead
Working outside the home can sometimes make it more challenging to eat healthy meals and snacks so plan ahead each week.  Pre-pack your snacks on Sunday so you can grab-n-go when you are heading to work.  Think about your lunches for the week and instead of eating at the local café each day (which can also be pricey), buy pre-made organic salads or meals from your local grocery store.

I recognized that there are many factors that contribute to your baby’s health like genetics, the environment, and your mental health, to name a few.  That said, if you are vigilant with your diet while pregnant, then your health and your baby’s health have been given the best start possible.  And if you are lucky, your newborn will grow into a child with healthy and diverse eating habits for the long term.

Kelsey Combellick is a career-loving parent who us is passionate about travel, food, wine and her family. Email her at


Tags:  expecting  health 

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8 Steps for Dealing with Challenging Behaviors

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Updated: Sunday, November 27, 2016

Parenthood is an exciting journey and constantly offers caregivers an opportunity to grow and learn. On the other hand, as parents we all face complex situations such as managing children’s challenging behaviors. The underlying simple truth is that children go through various developmental stages and, depending on character and temperament, react differently when facing change or upset. One of the major reasons for children’s challenging behaviors is their inability to express their true feelings, which often results in tantrums. Depending on the nature of the change, a child might interpret the information around him or her as dangerous or stressful. For example, a 10-month-old can be engaged in and enjoy the game of peek-a-boo because she understands the concept of object permanence. However, a 3-month-old interprets the absence of an object as “out of sight, out of reach” and might cry if a favorite toy is hidden. Based on Jean Piaget’s theory of object permanence, infants only start to develop the understanding of looking for a “hidden” object  at about 8  months of age (Berger, 1998), which explains the reactions of a 10-month-old versus those of a 3-month-old.

As parents we can help children to cope with change by providing age-appropriate support, teaching proper ways to communicate needs, and redirecting behaviors. We always need resources and quick and easy tips, which can be applied during challenging circumstances. Some of the key concepts for managing challenging behaviors are listed below. If used properly, these ideas can eventually turn a tearful child to cheerful one!

1. Stay calm.
The first step in dealing with a challenging behavior is to look calm. A parent who expresses anger and frustration, even unintentionally, can generate fear and anxiety in the child and possibly escalate an already-chaotic situation. Keep in mind that your child’s emotional reaction is rooted in some type of an unmet need; the calmer you are, the easier it will be for you to recognize the need and find the best way to respond to it. Modeling composure while facing a disordered situation can help strip away a child’s anxiety and nurture a sense of safety and reassurance.

2. Give clear and positive instructions.
Keep in mind that children need to know exactly what your expectations are and that they respond more effectively to positive statements even when they are upset. For example, if you are concerned that your 3-year-old might be too upset to be left alone in his room with the door shut, you can calmly and clearly communicate your positive request: “Please keep the door open” versus “Don’t close the door.”

3. Be consistent.
Consistency is the key element to shaping a new behavior in children; because of the level of commitment it requires, it is often one of the most difficult tasks for parents to adhere to. Keep in mind that children learn more from your modeling than from your telling. For example, if you would like to replace TV time with reading right before your son goes to bed, you need to demonstrate your commitment to consistency by avoiding distractions (even your work-related conference calls) right before his bed time. Keep in mind that your commitment is only the first step. Children react to change, and your son might not be pleased with a demand that results in a change of routine. He may respond with anger, resistance or frustration. However, your consistent behavior—reading a book at the same time every night—will gradually start to wear away his frustration and introduce him to a new routine that he can become attached to. Consistency makes a task predictable for children and gives them a sense of control. Once your child is in this state of mind, tantrum-free learning is more likely to happen!

4. Be aware of emotions.
Young children often do not have a full understanding of how they feel or the appropriate words to label their emotions when they are upset. It is the parent’s responsibility to offer them appropriate tools to enable them to deal with their emotions. The following suggestions can be helpful while modeling appropriate emotional response:

  • Acknowledge emotions. We need to send the message to children that we see and hear them. Acknowledging their emotions helps with this process and makes the child feel safe and less anxious. It may even put an end to a noisy tantrum!

  • Label emotions. Children may or may not be at the developmental level to understand emotional complexities. However, labeling an emotion such as anger or sadness can help the child to find the right word for certain feelings or facial expressions. Simply stating, “I can see you are sad,” when the child is crying will enable the child to make a connection between sadness, the intensity of her emotions and (most importantly) the appropriate vocabulary for expressing sadness. You can use books such as Today I’m Feeling Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis or When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang to label emotions through pictures. If developmentally appropriate, you can ask your son to draw a picture of his face when he is sad or happy.


5. Set boundaries and be creative about it.
Boundaries are not designed to limit children. On the contrary, setting age-appropriate limits and providing structures helps children to feel less overwhelmed and more secure. Keep in mind that creativity can smooth the rough edges of rules and makes limit setting more effective. The following examples might be helpful when setting boundaries on waiting and turn-taking:

  • Sing a short song while helping a distressed child put his shoes on.

  • Count to 10 to offer some time to a child who is not ready to go down the slide (and does not care that his friends are waiting).

  • Clap your hands 5 times to offer a concrete waiting time to a child who wants a toy that his sibling is playing with.

6. Replace words with actions.
Regardless of how consistent we are or how boldly we set boundaries for children, a child might be too overwhelmed to be comforted or accept directions. In such cases we need a stronger tool. In his book 1, 2, 3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12,  Thomas Phelan advises caregivers to use his simple steps to replace words with actions, give options and take action. To illustrate his point of view, let’s review the following example and the dynamics between Cindy and her 3-year-old daughter Meagan:

Meagan was excited about Story Time at the library, but right before the librarian started reading her favorite book, she noticed that she had forgotten Mr. Teddy Bear at home. Meagan started to lose control. Cindy managed the situation according Phelan’s steps:

Step 1- Acknowledging emotions: “Meagan, I can see you are upset and you want Mr. Teddy Bear.”

Step 2- Providing some possible choices: “Do you want to go back home and be with Mr. Teddy Bear, or do you want to stay here and listen to the story?” This question can be asked twice to make sure that the child understands.

Step 3- Set boundaries: “I am asking you this question one more time, and if you don’t make a choice I will make it for you: Do you want to stay here or go home and be with Mr. Teddy Bear?”

Step 4- Take action: Either value your child’s choice, which should be within the boundaries you set, or make the choice for her: “I can see that you are too upset to make a choice, so I’ll make it for you and we will go back home.” And stick to it!

The underlying foundation of 1, 2, 3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 is to provide three chances for your child to make a decision. If she is too overwhelmed to make a choice among some possible options, then you take an action and make the choice for her. Keep in mind that although your child might not be ready to immediately adapt to your decision, she will eventually learn to build trust in what you have to say, take control of a frustrating situation and make her own decisions. This concept will teach your child problem-solving skills and to take responsibility for her actions!

7. No words, no action.
As parents, we need to know that picking a battle with our children can help establish a healthy relationship. In his book ScreamFree Parenting, Edward Runkel advises us to “let the consequences do the screaming.” Sometimes, it is necessary to teach our children to make their own choices and learn to deal with the consequences later on. For example, if your child resists taking a toy to a play date to share with his friends, consciously choose to let go of trying to convince him. Instead, invest your energy in helping him see the consequence of his action during the play date when he realizes that he has no toy to share. The upside of such a practice is an inevitable fact: since your child has been exposed to the consequences of a self-directed decision, he is now more receptive to avoid the discomfort that resulted from his choice. As a result, he is more ready to listen to your suggestion before the next play date!  

8. Create a reward system.
All children demonstrate positive behavior that needs to be acknowledged throughout the day. It is our job as parents to catch our child in the right moment, reward positive behavior and build the foundation of behavior modification. Depending on the child’s individual needs or the dynamic of a group, rewards can be used in different formats:

  • Simple reward system:

Using words to acknowledge a child for his behavior when he is upset can keep his attention on the new behavior. A simple verbal reward such as “good listening when mommy is speaking with you” can go a long way while facing a conflict.

  • Complex reward system:

Using visuals such as sticker charts can convey a positive message to children. Depending on a child’s developmental level, the parent can have the child postpone immediate gratification, earn 5-10 stickers first, and then get a toy from a treasure box.

These practical and effective tips are easy-to-remember tools that not only minimize tantrums resulting from challenging behaviors but also encourage problem-solving skills in young children. Simply break these tips down and choose one or two at a time while dealing with a challenging behavior to avoid being overwhelmed. Gradually, add more techniques to your day-to-day routine, and before you know it both you and your child will have more enjoyable days and fewer challenging ones.

Pouneh Azadi is an Early Childhood Educator.

Tags:  child development 

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Best of the Forums: Gifts When Host Requests None?

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Do you bring birthday gifts for children's birthday parties when the host has noted "please no gifts" in the invitation? 

We have always requested no gifts and ALWAYS some people bring gifts. But lately I've noticed at a few birthday parties we've attended where the host also requested "no gifts" almost EVERY guest came with a gift. 

We try to honor the request when I see it in an invitation. Instead I have my kids take time to make a nice handmade card and write a note for their classmate/friend and sometimes we will also make a bookmark or add stickers inside the card. But I'm often then questioning not bringing a gift when I see most guests coming with them. I believe that parents are sincere in their request because when we've made that request for our parties we truly don't want more gifts for our kids, we just want a time for our kids to celebrate with friends.

Curious - what do you do? If you bring gifts when a person writes "no gifts," why do you bring them?

  • I have occasionally brought a gift to a "no gifts" party, and it's been a book. I just think you can never have too many books. My kids always make homemade birthday cards as well. 

    On a related note, we have been to 4 birthday parties in the past 6 weeks (all invitations from my son's new kindergarten class friends) and I have noticed that they are all receiving goodie bags with books in them. That seems to be the trend. I've personally never been a fan of the goodie bag but now is it expected?
  • I have brought gifts in the past -- we try to respect the wishes of the family but I have three kids and sometimes forget which invitations are which. Plus, like the previous poster, we usually give books, and think there is no such thing as too many books. Although if there is you can always donate them to your school/classroom library -- our school librarian will put a nice sticker in saying who donated the book and my kids love seeing "their" books circulating.
  • One suggestion: if you have a no gift policy, make the few stray gifts quickly disappear from sight. If people in your social group go to no-gift parties and see a table with presents while they came empty handed, they might get confused and start overcompensating at the following parties.
  • We have also been to many parties with goodie bags. Lately in lieu of goodie bags, my younger has received a book, a hula hoop (from a luau birthday party) and lots of candy from a pinata - from the birthday parties recently. Not exactly goodie bags but I'm actually happier without any parting gift. I do not think they are necessary but it does seem that they are expected -- by kids, not parents!
  • I've been to parties where the no-gift request was replaced with "please bring an item to donate to a charity of the birthday child's choice." I like this because, for the most part, it reminds kids there are those less fortunate than themselves (and some parents too). When it's a party where the whole class is invited and I know my child isn't "best friends," I stick with the hand made card and stickers. If it's someone I know my child plays with and talks to a lot, then I have my child choose the theme of the book or the book to give as a gift.
  • I just went to the "no toys please, but a book is fine" birthday party yesterday where some parents brought giagantic bags with presents. I myself bought a few presents for this party at ToysRUs the night before (because I completely forgot the specific instructions on the invitation that I received a month or so ago). But when I saw this very thread on PAMP, I went back and re-read the invitation; then I scrambled to replace my gift with a good educational book at the last minute because I wanted to honor the family wishes. However, every time I come with no gift or a book and see someone with lots of other presents, I can't help it but feel a little ... hmm... embarrassed, stingy, etc -- even though I am obeying the specific instructions from the parents (I know it's silly - can't help it! And my mind always has a quick detour: should I have also brought something extra??). But I did feel more at ease after reading this thread yesterday.

    For my older daughter's first birthday, I chose to ask for donations to the charity that I support in lieu of gifts (I asked for checks, not toys or books), but some parents still brought gifts (some did both: a donation AND a gift for my child). Of course my daughter LOVED receiving them, even though she was only one and I thought she wouldn't even care. So the next year I decided to let her indulge (it's only twice a year: birthday and Xmas for our family; plus, we actually do not buy birthday or Xmas gifts for them ourselves because they receive so many from others!).  

    Anyway, I was very grateful for this thread! HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON TO ALL!!! And happy birthday parties - gifts or no gifts, whatever your policy and personal preference may be! Love our community where we can be who we are and respect each other's choices!  

Tags:  best of the forum 

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Save Your Way Out of Debt

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2016
Saving is the fastest way out of debt. Time and time again I see men and women in debt keeping themselves in deprivation mode saying things like, “I can’t buy new clothes until my debt is paid down,” or “I don’t deserve a vacation because I’m only paying the minimum on my cards.” A poverty mentality can be very depressing and might affect one’s self-esteem, relationships and ability to earn money. Worst of all, it can keep you in the debt cycle because the tension around keeping a lid on it has to be released eventually. It is possible to save money and pay down your debt at the same time. It takes some discipline, but the integrity and peace of mind you will experience through authentic guilt-free spending is priceless. Simultaneously, you will cultivate the skills and awareness you need to prevent future debt. According to my mentor, Karen McCall, here are four approaches to saving your way of debt.

1. Stop debting. The first step towards getting out of debt is to stop digging the hole. You must stabilize the situation before you can make shifts in your mentality and changes in your behavior. Make a decision to take your credit cards out of your wallet, change your primary card for all of your online shopping accounts to your debit card. If you’re a dramatic type, you can freeze your cards in a bowl of water or ceremoniously cut them up. I have a client who mailed one of her credit cards home to her dad with a letter saying, “Thank you for paying for my monthly car payments, gas, tolls, insurance and repairs for the last eight years. I’m taking on all the payments from now on!”

Put money aside every month into a periodic savings account. Periodic expenses are anticipated non-monthly expenses like vacations, holidays, tuition, vet bills and car repairs. These are expenses that can end up on a credit card if you’re not prepared. The periodic savings account is a foundational regular savings account with a revolving door and money that is meant to be spent. When a periodic expense comes up, simply transfer the money you proactively set aside into your checking account and pay with your debit card. It’s okay to deplete your periodic savings, and you should expect to from time to time. By making monthly transfers to your periodic savings account a consistent part of your budget, you can always build it up again. Map out your periodic expenses and divide the total on the bottom right by 12 months -- that is how much money you should be saving every month in this savings account.

2. Manage your debt. The next step is to live free from debt, mentally and emotionally, even if you are not debt-free. Once you organize every credit card balance, APR (annual percentage rate or interest rate), credit limit and current minimum in one place, then you can create a strategic debt repayment plan. The priority is to get each of your balances at least 33% away from the available credit. You may have to pay only minimums on all of your cards while you build up your periodic savings, get a handle on your monthly in and outflow and reduce your balances by a third.

The next level of savings is the safety net. The goal for this account is to have six months of living expenses set aside in cash. The intention behind the safety net is to prepare for a potential interruption of income -- critical for those of you with fluctuating incomes. Note that a separate tax-only savings account is equally important for self-employed folks. And, a safety net savings account is important for everyone regardless of your employment status. This is an emergency fund. Once some of your safety net is built up, you’ll have the funds to pay yourself the difference during a lower or zero earning month. Remember, being laid off or set back on disability is considered an emergency while quarterly tax payments are not.

3. Eliminate debt. This is the final stage of debt -- being free from debt financially and spiritually. Once all of your debts are cleared, it can take some time for your heart to catch up and integrate this new reality. The key to preventing a back-slide into debt is to take excellent care of yourself by respecting your money with personal money practices, routines, rigorous honesty, willingness and accountability.

The highest level of savings is for investments -- real estate, stocks, bonds, money market accounts and retirement accounts. This is truly do-not-touch money, and these accounts are designed to take care of your future, older self. In an ideal world, you would have multiple savings accounts to cover periodics -- your safety net, taxes and the long-term. I am a big believer in “build it and they will come”. Something very powerful starts to happen when you take action and open savings accounts on every level even if your initial deposits or monthly transfers are minimal.

4. Watch for signs of deprivation including making do, doing without or overdoing. If you notice one of these limiting beliefs in your life, it’s an opportunity to uncover an unmet need. It’s not always obvious. Unmet needs have amazing ways of hiding themselves. I have a client who is a chronic over-spender. Her weaknesses are clothes, bags, shoes and jewelry. She has very expensive taste and virtually can’t say no to sales people who know her by name. I gave her a tool she could carry with her at all times -- a shopping journal! It helped her connect to her underlying thoughts and feelings before, during and after a spontaneous purchase. Through this process, she realized she was feeling lonely and bored on the way home from work and frequently stopped at Barney’s to pass time and have social interaction. The unmet need was in her social life and relationships. She compensated for that void by overspending on her wardrobe. Anyone who has been in debt knows about the snowball effect and how quickly things can get out of control. Be mindful of slippery slopes, hot spot areas of spending and money fog. Protect yourself today by proactively building and sustaining multiple levels of savings.

Carrie Friedberg, SF Money Coach is a certified financial coach and financial behavior specialist. She guides individuals, families and small business owners through a holistic process of aligning your spending, saving and earning with your values. Carrie works in downtown Palo Alto and with clients around the world via Skype.

Tags:  finances 

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Mentally Preparing for Motherhood

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2016
There’s so much attention given to the physical changes of a woman’s body during pregnancy, and yet the common emotional changes that many women experience often do not get discussed. The arrival of a new baby can be both exciting and challenging, and it’s normal to have a mix of emotions coupled with exhaustion. For about 80% of mothers, childbirth brings the “baby blues,” and another 15% experience postpartum depression. How can expectant mothers mentally prepare for their new role?

Expectation Setting
Postpartum depression can be linked to trying to meet or exceed societal expectations about what new motherhood is supposed to look like. There are unrealistic expectations often placed on new mothers such as being happy and functional at all times, immediately knowing how to soothe their babies and never feeling alone or isolated. In reality, new motherhood is full of highs and lows, new experiences, tears and sheer joy. There is no one correct way to feel, and each mother will adjust on her own time period.

Although it's common for this transitional period to cause raised emotions, it’s important to pay attention to extreme and unusual feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety. Crying often, feeling angry, withdrawing from loved ones or feeling numb or disconnected from your baby are all unique signs for postpartum depression.

Paying attention to and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings can help you be a better partner and parent. Develop a mindfulness practice and internalize your breath to be in the moment. Be aware of your own thoughts and be prepared to step back when necessary and applaud yourself for the work you’re doing. Repeating phrases such as “This is temporary” and “I am a great mom doing my best” can be helpful for some mothers when they are experiencing a difficult period.

Consider learning to practice meditation during your pregnancy. For some, it may be as simple as quieting your mind through focused breathing. Other women may find it helpful to take a class or retreat to your own created space in your home with a yoga mat and complete silence. Benefits of meditation include improved sleep, revitalized energy, anxiety and stress relief and an opportunity to connect to your changing body and new baby.

Prenatal Yoga
If you are looking to increase your flexibility, concentrate on your breath and connect with your new baby and evolving body during pregnancy, prenatal yoga may be right for you. In a typical prenatal yoga class, you can expect stretching, mental centering and focused breathing. Yoga can be adaptable for all levels of experience. Check with your physician before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Poor sleep has been shown to significantly worsen the symptoms of many mental health conditions. Since newborns rarely sleep more than two to three hours at a time, a mother’s sleep is constantly interrupted. This continuous sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can then contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression. Try to nap when the baby naps, as this will help prevent you from reaching exhaustion. Don’t hesitate to ask a friend or family member to watch your newborn for a short period so you can rest.

Seek out a therapist ahead of time
Locating a therapist in your area that is familiar with counseling mothers can be especially helpful for any new mom. It’s important to develop a relationship ahead of your delivery so the therapist can get to know you prior to this life-changing event, even if it’s just for one introductory visit. Finding a therapist that’s right for you can also take time, so identifying one ahead of your delivery will only ease the stress if you’re in need of one after having your baby. This is especially important if you have experienced depression in the past, since you are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Talk to your primary care physician for a referral.

Shelley H.K. Howell, Ph.D., J.D. is the Outpatient Manager at El Camino Hospital Mental Health and Addiction Services. El Camino Hospital offers a full spectrum of mother-baby care and services, including a specialized support program for women experiencing prenatal or postpartum depression and anxiety. The Maternal Outreach Mood Services (MOMS) program provides education, counseling and evaluation for mothers in a supportive, nurturing environment.

Tags:  expecting  health 

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3 Tips for Moderation around Technology

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I love what I love - but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I like sports, beer, Springsteen. But I hope these loves are in balance with the rest of my life (although 68 Springsteen shows may test moderation to my wife). So, as I watch my kids absorb technology, I struggle with its place in our lives. Just how much is enough? What is moderation?

It is hard to watch my kids entranced by any screen. My childhood was filled with bikes, kick the can, tag, sandlot anything and board games. But the average American kid is now in front of a screen for more than 8 hours a day. It is not just a TV show or a movie that my kids find. It's an avalanche of new media in apps, games, TV and movies. All of which can be viewed on multiple screens, from a variety of sources which are completely mobile. 

Technology and media are interwoven into every facet of kids' lives 

Kids use screens:

  • At school and doing their homework

  • Traveling by maps

  • Shopping

  • Talking, texting and emojis

  • Finding Friday night movies

  • Answering the everyday questions by asking Siri to look it up

  • Watching, tracking and even playing sports   

Initially, my wife and I tried the tactic of just limiting our kids screen time. But this leads to the inevitable and endless battle of,  “Just a few more minutes!" "After this round?" "Can I finish this game?” It may be better to find some media that is both high quality and interesting. In the onslaught of new media there are a wealth of gems buried underneath the most popular apps and movies.  

Here are some ideas to help you feel more comfortable with kids on screens: 

1. Find apps and movies enjoyable for them and interesting to you. At first, keep them simple and make sure that there is a fun aspect. Yes, It takes a little effort to find them, but I happen to love problem solving and puzzles. 

Some examples of apps I love:

  • Baby's Musical Hands - The simplest possible interface allows babies and toddlers to play with piano, guitar and percussion sounds. An incredibly rewarding experience and a great choice for a child's first app. (1+)

  • Where’s my Water? - Solving a puzzle for an alligator. What phase is the water -- liquid, steam or ice? Good for ages 4-12 as the puzzles get harder. 

  • Amazing AlexYou get new tools and the puzzles can be solved in many ways.  Learn to test an idea and try something else. As a parent, this is a great game to offer ideas and let kids try to solve the puzzle. Good for ages 6-12.

  • The RoomAn amazing display of puzzles and clues about unlocking a room. The visuals are so fantastic that it alone drew our son into the game, but the clues and secrets kept him working at the puzzle. Great for 9+ and certainly for parent engagement. 


2. Pick a movie or TV show that allows them to relate to one issue or question in their own life. Yes, the show still has to be interesting but it can tell a great story and have subjects that are interesting for kids. A few that have generated conversations in our household:

  • Sesame Beginnings: Make Music Together - The Sesame Street Muppets appear as babies in this video which demonstrates tapping into young children's natural love of music in everyday activities. (2+)

  • SpellboundA great movie about a spelling Bee. Asking our oldest son if he was comfortable with getting up in front of people in a spelling Bee actually became a reality. The situations in the story are worthy of some great “What would you do?” questions.

  • Searching for Bobby Fischer Introduced  Chess and had all three kids asking questions about Bobby Fischer. One of our kids now takes Chess classes.  (7+)

  • HoosiersYes it is a classic but the story is a great one (8+). It will inspire some great questions about winning and losing well as both the underdog and the champion. The same is true of Mcfarland, a more modern day version of the hard-work-meets-success. 

3. Don’t forget about books. We prefer paper as it travels without the screen (Does that sound old school?). A book inspires the discussion and also allows them to use their own imagination. 

  • Ben's Trumpet - Ben is a young boy growing up in the 1920's who falls in love with jazz music and playing the trumpet. (4+)

  • The Clay PotI do love many of the Eastern stories, but this is one of my favorites. Honesty rewarded. Doing the right thing has its merits. Simple and so direct. (5+)

  • Me, JaneYes, it has won almost every award but that isn’t the point. In a world of money and technology, this is an easy story to talk to kids about doing what they love. And it starts from Jane Goodall's childhood stuffed animal. (6+)

  • Encyclopedia Brown - The stories are always positive, have a puzzle to solve and teach some great attributes about the boy detective. (9+)

I find it easier to accept moderation -- which includes some Angry Birds, Surfing, racing and, yes, even some shooting -- if I also know that we spend equal time on media that helps develop the kids. 

Yes, we still have to hold to time limits ... otherwise when would they run out into the yard and play Kick the Can?


Chris has spent 20 years building high tech products for kids in the sports market (Nike and Oakley). Currently on sabbatical, he supports his wife in the passionate pursuit of her start-up, SmartFeed, a new tool to help parents navigate the complex and fast paced world of kids’ movies, TV, Apps and books.


Tags:  technology 

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