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Archive for the ‘BlogHer’ Category

Swagalicious

A lot is said about the swag at blogging conferences, and with BlogHer just a few days away, I thought I’d post a short clip I filmed of the hotel room I shared with Meg and Amy in Chicago last year.

There are several types of swag to be had at Blogher. There’s the party swag, which is handed out on a first come/first serve basis at various blogger-hosted parties. There’s the contest swag one can win by attending the parties and patronizing the vendor booths in the expo hall. There’s the vendor swag that is handed out to everyone touring the expo hall and there’s the surprise swag that magically shows up in your room while you’re out attending conference sessions. As you can see by Amy’s haul, one can take advantage of the end-of-conference swag purging in the expo hall as the vendors try to unload whatever they don’t want to take back with them.

If BlogHer 10 will be your first big conference and you’re flying to and from NYC, you may want to seriously consider taking advantage of any on-location Fed-Ex services they have at the hotel.  Seriously. Consider it.  Last year Amy and I were able to bring everything home with use because we drove to Chicago. Meg wasn’t so lucky. Her bag was too heavy at check-in and she was forced to part with some items at the airport. Apparently while she was digging through her suitcase, a vibrator from the Room 704 party rolled out of the bag and into full view of her fellow travelers.

That being said, don’t let the swag get in the way of  having a good time. Go to parties because you want to connect with the brand or the bloggers hosting the party, not because you heard the swag bags were going to be out of this world. Connect and make friends, explore New York and try not to get into too much trouble.

I’ll be thinking of you while I’m at home sulking and missing these two lovely ladies.

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Misty water-colored memories

What to say bout BlogHer?

It sucked and then I cried.

I’m just kidding. BlogHer did not suck. Much. There were an abundance of non-sucky moments, but ultimately I was left wanting more. I wanted more time to learn, more time to have fun and more time to meet people. Two days just didn’t seem like enough.

BlogHer is exhausting. It’s exhilarating and a little bit intimidating, but once you get that first drink in you, you’ve ingested all the courage you need to approach your first non-friend who is soon to be your new friend. I wish I’d had more of that.

I met the most interesting people during breakfast or lunch and while standing in line to enter parties. I was also able to meet nearly all the people I had hoped to meet upon arriving in Chicago; Amelia, Colleen and even The Queen of Spain.

Girl crushAnd of course there’s Meg. Lovely Meg who’s not above groping another woman. Our first face-to-face meeting didn’t quite go as planned what with Obama holding her up at the airport. I think each of us had pictured this fantastic greeting in which we’d hug and cry but she entered the room while I was on the phone with Nathan, trying to figure out how to hook up my Airport Express. “Meg’s here! Meg’s here!” I cried and tried to end the call but he was all, “Wait, I have IP addresses for you!” so I wound up giving her one-armed hug while holding the phone to my ear. Total friend fail.

So yeah, Internet access was spotty in places, especially in the breakout sessions. Speaking of which, the sessions tended to be very crowded and hard to sit through if you weren’t able snag a chair. Some people were happy to sit on the floor and I was happy to let them. They were either younger than me or had better knees than I do so I’m not going to be ashamed of my lack of chivalry.

I did learn a lot during this conference. It felt like a trial by fire and Meg, Amy and I are already planning our strategy for next year should we choose to go. I really would like to go again and I can’t imagine having to wait an entire year to see these people again. It’s a good thing we have the internet to keep us close to one another.

I have many more thoughts on the conference itself, but this post has already taken the better part of my day and I haven’t even started doing my laundry yet. If you were at BlogHer, I hope your experience was a memorable one. If not, I give you a list of the highlights and lowlights as seen through my eyes.

Most useful accessory: By far my Asus Eee PC. I bought this thing shortly before the conference and was so glad I did. It was small enough to carry around in my camera bag, which saved me having to carry an extra bag throughout the hotel. Since tables at the sessions weren’t always guaranteed, I sometimes had to take notes with the computer on my lap. And as someone who has very little lap to begin with, a netbook was the perfect size for me.

Least useful accessory: Pretty much everything I thought I needed for the parties. I packed nearly every pair of shoes I own and wound up wearing my Keen sandals most of the time. I did dress up in a nice blouse and skirt the first evening I was there, but by Sunday I had given up on all attempts to look presentable and walked around Chicago sans makeup and with a headband in my hair.

And about this whole BlogHer wardrobe thing? If dressing up is what you do and what you enjoy, by all means bring your party clothes with you. If the last time you dressed up was for a funeral or a wedding, you might be more comfortable just being you. It’s true when they say no one cares what you wear at this conference and it just might save you from having to buy a pair of Spanx.

Best phone call from home: Amy answering a call from her husband with the greeting of “Hi, sexy!” only to hear her daughter’s voice on the other end.

Worst phone call to home: Sunday morning’s call to Nathan and Autumn and hearing Autumn’s sad little voice say, “I miss you, Mommy.” She cried, I cried and it really killed the rest of my day.

Most regretted missed photo op: Getting a picture with Backpacking Dad. Seriously, have you seen this man? The first time I caught a glimpse of him at the conference was in one of the breakout sessions. Meg was in another session and I sent her a frantic DM over Twitter. “Backpacking Dad is in here. He looks like Orlando Bloom only cuter!” But really, Backpacking Dad is cuter than everyone, which is why I ultimately chickened out and never approached him. I did, however, get my photo taken with the giant bottle of Ragu made entirely out of vegetables.

Least regretted missed photo op: Getting snapped with the All Laundry Fairy. There was something appealing about him, but I think it may have been that he was basking in the aura of clean clothes and promises of a chance to win laundry service for a year.

Best display of environmental consciousness: PepsiCo set up several stations throughout the hotel and expo floor to recycle bottles, cans and chip bags. To see what they do with the chip bags, check out Terracycle project. Target is currently carrying their folders and pencil cases.

Worst display of environmental consciousness: Our $5.35 cab ride from Navy Pier to Giardano’s. In our defense, they looked a lot farther apart on the map.

Best elevator encounter: Meeting Corvida from She Geeks just before attending her Social Media, Syndication and Stats session. This young woman is amazing and is definitely someone to watch over the next few years. I’ve been subscribed to her blog for a while and she has tipped me off to some great stuff.

Worst elevator encounter: Amy and the psychiatrist who had some not-so-nice things to say about bloggers. That’s her story, though, and I hope she tells it.

Celebrity appearance I was most excited about: Paula Deen. I can’t stand to cook half her recipes, but gosh darn it she’s just so charming I had to hear that drawl in person. It turns out she was also tardy and I missed the chance to snap some pictures of her before heading to the next breakout session.

Celebrity appearance I was least excited about: It was a tie between Carson Kressley and Tim Gunn. If Carson was going to tell me how to look good in pictures, Tim was going to tell me how I didn’t look good in anything. I skipped them both.

Most successful attempt at looking cool: Sitting in the hotel lobby with my netbook while the woman across from me with a Macbook Pro in her lap expressed computer envy.

Least successful attempt at looking cool: Trying to walk the red carpet at the Lucky Strike and posing with a cardboard cutout of Heidi Klum. I was wearing a pink feather boa. It wasn’t pretty.

Best quintessential BlogHer moment: catching the hotel security guard pocket a cheeseburger while issuing a warning to Lindsay Ferrier that the CheezeburgHer party will be shut down if they don’t lower the decibel level.

Worst quintessential BlogHer moment: Walking into the elevator and nearly stepping into some vomit.

Best way to stay up when you’re completely exhausted: Having an impromptu slumber party with Meg. We were both so wiped from our day but couldn’t stop talking. I finally had to say, “I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open,” but we still couldn’t shut up.

Worst way to stay up when you’re completely exhausted: Fishing your makeup out of the toilet because you placed your bag on top of an unsteady pile of swag on the bathroom counter at home. The resulting “swagalanche” cost me a brand new compact of Physician’s Formula pressed powder, dammit.

And finally, a few random bests without any worsts:

Best Community Keynote reading: Black Hockey Jesus reading “5.” It made me cry and I’m so sad he has decided to quit blogging. I just found him.

Best memory: JD of I Do Things… reciting her faked concussion post from memory at the Community Keynote.

Best unnecessary display of celebrity shyness: The girl who asked me if the guy standing ten feet to our left at BowlHer was Chris Mann. Having seen him at the People’s Party on Friday, I did confirm it was indeed Chris Mann and then asked, “Who is he anyway? Is he famous?” The girl didn’t seem to know how to answer that so I added “Or is he internet famous?” Apparently he’s a musician and he tweets a lot, which I guess makes him Twitter famous but not on an Ashton Kutcher scale.

Best bag for swag: The Hanes t-shirt bag. Trying to push objects through the neck hole was challenging at times, but it’s sure to be a conversation starter if I ever venture outside the house with it. Which I probably won’t.

The best swag: I heard the SocialLuxe lounge gave out a great swag bag complete with a Kodak video camera, but the vibrators in the Room 704 bags were quite the hit. I did not get one and am just now starting to feel the bitterness sinking in.

Best public display of affection: Autumn’s greeting for me when I walked through the door. She ran down the stairs shouting “Mommy! Mommy!” and practically leaped into my arms. She wouldn’t let me go and kept looking at me like, “You’re really here!”

Yes, I am really here.

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Wish you were here

I arrived in Chicago yesterday with the aid of two GPS devices appropriately dubbed Lucy and Ethel.  Lucy belongs to Amy and lives inside her Blackberry while Ethel is a not-so-reliable device I borrowed from my dad.  Ethel likes to dispel directions that are both baffling and obvious.  As we approached a toll booth she said, “Point five miles ahead, stay on the road.”  At first I thought the directions were a bit silly but then realized my father may have told the GPS about my questionable driving history.

Nevertheless, we’re here and we’re safe and we’re having so much freaking fun.  The swag is amazing and the people more so.  It feels so wonderful to be amongst 1500 women as geeky as me.  At home, in my own city, I often feel like I’m on my own little blogging island.  There are a few people I know who blog and fewer still who would schlep on down to Chicago for a blogging conference.  Let me tell you it’s so worth it.

One of the most amazing things I’ve learned in the 24 hours I’ve been here is how much power women have in the marketplace now. Sponsors from HP to Pepsi to Hanes to PBS Sprout have all gone out of the way to make this a great experience for all attending.  It’s like being wooed and I’m having a blast.

And the swag.  Have I mentioned the swag?  The swag is talked about so much every year that it kind of becomes an entity of its own until you’re not sure if the swag really was great or if it was just this glorious mythical beast that was always discussed but never seen.  As someone who frequently revels in freebies and prowls Costco during sample day, I can tell you the swag is glorious and I’m in heaven.

There will be more to tell in the next few days, but for now I’m happy to just soak it all in.

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Pearls of idiocy

This will be the last post before I leave for Chicago and I have a very important life lesson to share.

If you make travel plans several months before your trip, it would probably be a good idea to double check the vacation calendar at work so that you don’t show up on your scheduled day off like I did today.

And if you do show up on a scheduled day off like I did today, please take your boss’ advice and just leave.  Get the hell out of there.  Don’t be noble and don’t worry about how short-handed they are because everyone else is on vacation or maternity leave.  Just leave and don’t look back because you will get stuck with a shit job you could have avoided if you had checked the vacation calendar like a normal, organized person would have.

That is all.

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Mental notes

Nathan and I finally told Autumn I was going to be gone for a few days later this week. It wasn’t that we were keeping my trip to Chicago from her, but we, or at least I, hadn’t yet thought about the need to tell her. The last time I ventured out on a road trip by myself was back in 2003 and I was not a mother then. I simply got in the car, waved goodbye to Nathan and the dog and took off for a week-long stay at a writing workshop in Iowa. I missed them terribly of course (Nathan more so than the dog), but I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I’m feeling now.

It all started with the morbid, yet not uncommon, question of “what if I don’t come back?” There’s no reason to believe I won’t come back. Chicago is only a 300-mile round trip of mostly open freeway, so what’s the deal?

The deal is I am prone to neuroses just like everyone else, and when my mind starts heading in that direction, the mental inertia takes over and I just keep on going.

What about my blog? Should I give Nathan the password to my blog in case I don’t come back and he needs to let people know why I’m not posting? Will I jinx myself and ensure I won’t come back if I do give Nathan the password to my blog? What about my journals? Should I let him know it’s okay to read the journals as long as he keeps in mind the context in which they were written and that I was a completely different kind of crazy back in the ‘90s? Does he even know where to find the passwords to our bank accounts and credit cards? Does he know that every day I feel lucky to have found him? Should I write a letter to Autumn letting her know she has shown me a kind of love I never thought possible and that I really do think she’s a good little girl even though I tend to yell when I get frustrated or tired which happens to be a lot lately? Nathan doesn’t know which parts of The Lorax Autumn likes to recite by memory, so maybe I should go over that with him and he really really needs to learn how to secure a proper ponytail regardless of whether or not I come back Sunday night. And should I be feeling like a shitheel because my thoughts started with the blog and ended with my family and not the other way around? Oh hell…

And I’m sure right about now Amy, my travel buddy and roomie for the weekend, is questioning whether or not she’ll be able to survive the weekend with me.

Autumn seems to be okay with the prospect of me leaving, mostly because she thinks she’s the one who’s going on a trip and that I will be the one left behind. I imagine at some point I’ll have to set her straight, but once I drop her off at school on Thursday I won’t see her again until sometime Sunday night or possibly even Monday morning. In spite of the near constant tantrums, the attitude and the whining, the thought of being away from her for four days seems almost painful.

Almost.

Because last night was one of those nights that left me thinking Thursday can’t get here fast enough. Of course once I’m in Chicago I have the feeling the best part of the trip will be the part when I pull back into my own driveway again. That’s usually how it goes.

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Thursday night the family had dinner with my mom at her favorite Chinese restaurant. My dad was absent, having left for his yearly trek out west and my mother was due to leave Saturday to meet my dad at their friends’ house in California.

I had told both my parents about my big win, and as we sat at the table noshing on crab legs and sesame chicken, I told my mom how that very day I had received an e-mail from Johnson & Johnson’s PR firm letting me know my specific sponsor for BlogHer would be Splenda.  I also mentioned that they very politely suggested I throw them a bone and mention Splenda when writing about my BlogHer experiences.

My mom’s face lit up at the mention of Splenda. “You know they have a great deal on Splenda at Walgreens this week. 200 packets for $5.99!”

“Wow, that is a good deal,” I said, thinking about the Splenda coupons I was pretty sure I had at home.

Mom looked at me with a sly smile on her face, “I know exactly how you can start your Splenda post,” she said.

Now I hadn’t said I was going to write a specific post about Splenda, just that J & J encouraged me to mention them, so I simply told my mom, “Oh, I already know what I’m going to say.”

“I’m sure you do,” she said, “but it would be really easy to start off saying something like, ‘I needed to pick up some Splenda and saw that Walgreens had a great deal on a 200-packet box.'”

I tried not to cringe. The whole thing sounded so commercial, like the sponsored posts I’ve come to loathe.  Most of all, it didn’t really sound like me at all.

While I have dabbled in monetizing my blogging efforts, I’ve realized I’m most happy just writing for me. I do have a review blog, on which I’ve written exactly one review, but for me that kind of writing is the exception rather than the rule.  I would prefer to attract readers because they like what I have to say rather than what I have to give away.

There’s a debate brewing, and maybe you’ve noticed it, in which commercialization and content are being pitted against one another.  Voices are emerging and decrying the glut of paid reviews, giveaways and sponsored posts that have become the mainstay of some of the more popular mom blogs.  Lindsay Ferrier of Suburban Turmoil recently wrote a post in which she lamented the disappearance of the “authentic” voices that were so easy to find on the mom blogs several years ago. She writes:

As blogging goes mainstream, mom bloggers are starting to look and sound more and more like they came straight out of a diaper ad. And frankly, the moms who don’t make motherhood seem like an 18-year-long Hallmark commercial are getting harder and harder to hear amid the babbling about whateveritiswethinktheadvertiserswantustosay.

So what do you think?  Do you think the authentic voices of the fallible, self-deprecating moms are being drowned out or do you think was it only just a matter of time before advertisers infiltrated our ranks and turned us into freebie-hungry retweeting vultures?

I think it’s a little of both. As bloggers we’re encouraged to change, to go with the flow and stay on top of whatever social trend is rocking the blogsphere, but think about last time you went to a movie and didn’t see a commercial tucked in between the previews.  When was the last time you attended a sporting event and held a cup of soda or beer that didn’t display several corporate logos?  Advertising is everywhere and it’s foolish for us to think it shouldn’t exist in this world we’ve created for ourselves.

On the other hand, if the most active product-pitching mom bloggers out there are complaining that these PR relationships are becoming a bit much, then maybe they need to step back and figure out what it was that brought them here in the first place.  Was it always about the paid reviews and the freebies or was it about finding a community and sharing their lives?  I’m willing to bet it was the latter because nobody goes into blogging to make money.  That’s just silly.

Some of the best writers out there have a relationship with one ad network or another and some have even indulged in the random giveaway (remember the Wii Fit madness at Dooce last year?) so I think it is possible for advertising and quality content to coexist.  I think what Lindsay Ferrier is saying is that we’re entering a phase in this relatively new medium called Mommy Blogging in which advertisers are controlling blog content instead of the writers.  Now that is a big deal.

So as we were sitting there in the Chinese restaurant, I tried to be polite as I declined my mother’s suggestion on how to structure the Splenda shout-out.  “That’s really not my style,” I said, knowing she has no idea at all what my style actually is.  In the nearly four years I’ve written here she has never visited.  Not once.  But that’s mostly because she can never get my dad away from their computer.

As we wrapped up our dinner, I started calculating how I could get my mom online as I continued to wonder, in spite of what I had told her, how to insert Splenda into my posts without sounding like a hypocritical hack.

I’ll let you know when I figure something out.

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We love our bottle deposit refund here in Michigan, and in most garages you will find bins overflowing with sticky piles of aluminum and plastic.  No one ever takes back just a few cans or bottles at a time because it’s much more fun to fill your cart with the bounty and wait your turn at the sorting machine.  Autumn absolutely loves the sorting machine.

Back in 1992 we had no sorting machine.  We had a counter, behind which stood two guys named Randy and Jeff.  Randy and Jeff did not like to count and thus would place implicit trust in your ability to accurately report the numbers.  If you were on friendly terms with Randy and Jeff, as I was at the time, they would sometimes fudge the numbers and give you back several dollars more than what was owed.  I bought a few good paperback novels thanks to them.

So this one day back in 1992 I’m in my bedroom gathering up my cans to take back to the store and took notice of the contest advertisement.  Win a pair of airline tickets to anywhere in the U.S., the can said.  I turned my attention to the box in which the soda had been packaged and read further.  I was to look inside each can to see if a special code was printed on the bottom.

I decided not to waste my time and started shoving the cans into a plastic bag.  I was going to get more from taking these back to the store than I ever would from some stupid contest, I thought.

I don’t know what it was that made me go back and check the cans, but I wound up pulling them out of the bag to look inside.  And there, on the bottom of one can, was a very distinct printed code; TRP.

TRP?  I looked at the box again.  TRP was a winning code.

I won?

I let that sink in for a minute as I read through the contest rules again.

Holy crap, I won!

I rushed out to the backyard where my father was and shrieked out the news. IwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwon!  He took the can from me, examined it in the sunlight and assessed that I was not off my rocker.  It looked like I had a winner.

It took several weeks for me to hear back from the soda company once I sent the can back to them, but they finally confirmed that I had indeed won.  They sent me a letter of congratulations and a voucher for two airline tickets which my mom and I used to book a January flight to Phoenix.

Now I’m telling you that rather long story to tell you this short one.

I won!  IwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwon!

A couple of weeks ago I entered a Johnson & Johnson-sponsored contest to win one of twenty $1200 scholarships to help pay for BlogHer expenses.  Last week I received an e-mail letting me know I was one of the winners.  Holy crap, I won!

So, having reaped a lifetime’s worth of dumb luck karma, I now have no use for lottery tickets or slot machines.

Thank you, Johnson & Johnson and BlogHer!  I will be seeing you both next week.

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