Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Swag, Speakers and Selfies......my BlogHer '14 recap!

So, I have returned from my very first BlogHer and my very first conference. Several months ago, my sweet, supportive spouse heard me waxing poetic about going to BlogHer - I've always wanted to go! - and began to ask me very detailed questions about it. I wondered about his sudden interest but was still quite surprised when he presented me with a full-conference pass, and an already-booked room at the Marriott for that far-away month of July. As an added bonus, he even bought my 18-year-old daughter a full-conference pass and sent her with me so I'd have company (and avoid the awkwardness that comes with meeting a few thousand new friends). Whatta guy!

All checked in and ready to conference! Apologies to Hannah who will hate me for posting this because she looked like a hobo. 

Now that I'm home, after this much-anticipated trip, I can say it was AMAZING. I loved it. Not every living, breathing minute of it, but overall I truly enjoyed my weekend and came home with some new perspective, twice as confused as when I left, and still feeling like I have no clue what "monetization" and "brands" have to do with my blog, and since when is "organic" such a catch word?

We arrived at the Marriott early, around 10 a.m., so we checked our bags into the valet service and wandered around a bit. I saw a post on the official Facebook page from Julie DeNeen to join her and some other bloggers at the pool at the Fairmont hotel. While this is normally outside my comfort zone, I convinced my daughter we should go and we headed over, swimsuits in hand. What we found was a wonderful group of women who were welcoming, informative, and funny! Heather PetriSamanthaJennyKatia, and Kim helped me navigate the upcoming conference while we, quite literally, dipped our toes in the water. We sipped frosty adult beverages poolside and dined on quesadillas and fries. Later, Elaine joined us and bought me a margarita. I was excited to meet Elaine, as our mutual friend, Amanda, had linked us up on Facebook before the conference. She turned out to be every bit as funny and warm as I imagined her to be and we hit it off, connecting several more times over the weekend to hang out and listen to keynote speakers. I left the pool party feeling inspired and ready to learn, and my daughter left with a nasty sunburn.

Ahhh! Fresh pedi, sippin' drinks poolside....this is the life! 


Me (r) and my new best friend, Elaine Ambrose, chugging some margaritas!

We returned to our hotel and our room was ready. We were tired and suffering from too much California sun so we were anxious to take a load off. What a surprise, then, when we opened our room. First, I noticed an object lying on the bed, but I wasn't alarmed because I heard there would be mystery swag gifts dropped off in our rooms so I assumed that's what it was. We strolled right into the darkened room and over to the bed to see what the amazing gift was and it appeared to be.........a wrinkled shirt? My eye immediately was drawn to a large, open suitcase in the corner. I swung around quickly to survey the room and saw a handsome set of golf clubs leaning in the corner. "Oh my God!" I shouted to my daughter, "We are in a MAN'S room!" I mean, I WAS pretty excited for my free gift, but I didn't expect it to be a MAN! Thanks, BlogHer! We skedaddled out of there, leaving behind the musky, after-shave scent, and back to the lobby where we explained the situation. The desk attendant asked if we would like a room on a higher floor. I replied that we would like a room with no man in it, please. We were assigned to another room, and I left uneasily, knowing that someone else's room key might actually open MY room. Also? The Marriott didn't seem to think it was a big deal that we had just invaded an innocent traveler's room while they were away.

We showered and got all gussied up for the Expo. I was pretty excited about this part because I AM A SWAG WHORE and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I eagerly visited each and every booth, scooping up free gifts and enjoying all the samples and treats. My daughter, more than once, admonished me for taking all the free samples: "Mom, we have to carry all of this back home, you know!" No matter, I went into it committed to checking my bag on the way back, fees be damned! There were free full-sized candles! Board games! Sunglasses! Stuffed animals! I left carrying a huge bag jammed with goodies, much to the chagrin of my teenager.

We are enough!

Omg! Free ice cream!

Even though I hate Greek yogurt, Yoplait wins for giving us gerbera daisies, my favorite flower!

Thanks for the free slushies Sonic!

Friday morning, we headed to the "Newbie Breakfast" for people like us who had never been to BlogHer. We were seated with veteran BlogHer attendees, and Rita Arens, from BlogHer, sat at our table. I used this as my first opportunity to network and whipped out my business cards that I'd had printed at Staples two days before the conference (because I'm THAT organized). The founders of BlogHer spoke, but I was mostly anxious to get to the keynote because Jenny Lawson was speaking! THE BLOGGESS! I have followed her for a few years now, and recently read her book, so I was pretty excited to see her live and in person. She turned out to be every bit as charming and fun as I'd hoped and I enjoyed the interview. She told a story about when she went to BlogHer and was fangirling over Heather Armstrong, carrying all of Heather's books in her arms, and she had an awkward interaction with her. She let the room in tears, but not before someone HISSED at her. What? I slunk down in my chair a bit, because I actually had Jenny's book in my bag at that very moment. Crap. My first conference faux pas. Later, though, I had the last laugh when I didn't have to stand in line to buy Jenny's book but instead was one of the first in line to have her sign MY book. I relayed my story and asked her to please not hiss at me. She graciously told me she couldn't hiss if she tried, and signed my book. We got pictures, too! Squeee!

It's us! And The Bloggess! OMG!

The first session we attended was "Publishing: Getting Your First (Great) Book Deal." I've been thinking about writing and perhaps self-publishing a book for a while now, so this was definitely something I wanted to learn more about. Here's what I got out of it: Find an agent. A standard novel is 80,000 words. People respect people who have been vetted. (I had to look that up - seriously, guys, I'm smart, but I wasn't TOTALLY sure what "vetted" meant!) Check out Seal Press and She Writes. Let at least twelve people read your pitch before you send it. I am still not totally sure what a pitch is or looks like. Ugh.

I was so happy it was lunchtime because my brain was full and I had a lot of questions floating around in there. Lunch was sandwiches, salads and fruit tarts and a healthy dose of Tig Notaro, a hilarious comedian who I will admit I had no idea about until the conference. My younger, cooler daughter recognized her from Conan O'Brien. She was hilarious and a crowd favorite. We even gave her a "forced standing ovation!" Check her out. Tig Notaro, folks. During these keynotes, the 10x10 speakers were sprinkled in. These were ten blogging gurus (I think?) who spoke on the future of blogging. Some were engaging. Some had me scrolling my Facebook feed. But - a highlight of lunch was that Carrie Rocha, the engaging (and very realistic) author of "Pocket Your Dollars" sat next to me! Fangirling again! Another author I've read and I got to talk to her. And take selfies with her! And she's just so darn nice.

Hi Carrie! Thanks for writing a book about budgeting and saving money that didn't make me cry!

The second workshop we attended was "Publishing: What a Freelance Writing Career Really Looks Like." This consisted mostly of a panel of freelance writers telling us about their jobs and experiences. Sounds about right, according to the title, but I was really hoping for something concrete to take away with me. Instead, my notes read like this: Pitch a finished piece. No response in 48 hrs, no go. Pitch relentlessly. Use contact page. Use Google. If anyone tweets you, contact them and ask if you can pitch them. Again, my brain was asking "What, exactly, does a pitch look like?" But alas, no answers. We didn't even stay for the question and answer time because the moderator, Jennifer Pozner, interjected saying she was going to "talk about myself" for a while because "I'm the moderator and I can." After she droned on, listing her accomplishments for several minutes, my daughter and I scooted out the back door. This session left me feeling flat.

Kicking ass and taking names........ahem, notes.........

The BEST part of the conference was the Voices of the Year. I found this to be the most inspiring part of the conference - listening to women read their winning entries for the VOTY contest. The blogs ranged from funny to heartwarming to thought-provoking. I submitted several of my blog posts for consideration in this contest but was not chosen. But the ones that were chosen? They were mostly fantastic. A few were not spectacular, but many were not only well-written but delivered with animated joy, sorrow or rage. I loved it!

Can we just admire this logo for a minute? 

Afterward, there was a reception which we decided to count as dinner with all the yummy finger foods, free champagne and more networking. Then came the Open House Suite Parties. This was a group of parties held in suites at the Hilton hotel. We chose to attend the GoldieBlox open house - if you're not familiar with GoldieBlox, they are basically pink Tinker Toys and they promote themselves by appealing to parents of young children who are embracing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), a new learning concept that is gaining momentum in public schools. But honestly? They're nothing special, and the party was just ok. Next, we hit the Queerosphere party, because, why not? I'm not queer, and neither is my daughter, but her sister, my other daughter, is, so we figured we'd pay our respects to her tribe. We were greeted by Deb Rox, who was one of the (really good) speakers, who handed us drink tickets and warmly welcomed us. We wandered around, mostly impressed by the Jenga-like cheese tower, took in the view from the twenty-something-eth floor, and left after just a few minutes because we didn't really know what to do or who to talk to. We decided to check out the Flawed, But Authentic party, which turned out to be someone selling DoTerra essential oils. It smelled good and all, but eh. We got our free samples and went back to our hotel room to get some sleep.

But before we could sleep, we needed to eat. We were hungry and after debating for a while, we decided to splurge and order room service. We were told it would be 45 minutes so we settled in with our respective electronic devices and waited. An hour later, no food had arrived, so we called the front desk. We were told our server had "dropped" our tray during delivery and that they were making new food and putting a rush on it. When our food did finally arrive, it was nearly an hour and a half later, and it arrived on a rolling cart. How did the server "drop" our food if it was on a rolling cart? Hmmm. They did include a nice cheese tray and a plate of truffles as a consolation, and comped our food order. Which would have been fantastic if the food had arrived earlier but, as a result of eating a sandwich and chips and nearly 11 p.m., I spent most of the night with the world's worst heartburn and no sleep.

We so FANCY!

Also, just before I climbed into my fresh, white hotel bed, I noticed a spot of BLOOD on the comforter. I called the front desk who nonchalantly said they would send housekeeping up. The housekeeper was sufficiently horrified and quickly changed the bedding. At least someone else thought it was as gross and unacceptable as we did. But apparently the Marriott is not shocked by sending strangers into other guests' rooms or blood on the sheets. Ew.

Saturday dawned bright and (way too) early and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast. The keynote focused on the future of the social web, which sounded really interesting at first, but quickly turned into a room full of women looking at their phones.I tried to stick it out to see Arianna Huffington, but I just couldn't do it. I felt a bit guilty sneaking out early but my eyes were glazing over. Plus, I wanted to hit up the Expo for more free stuff! And I managed to sneak in a quick picture of Arianna inside the Expo. I didn't buy her book and to be honest, I don't know what it's about.

Also? I didn't know Huffington Post doesn't pay writers. WHAT? 

Sorry, not sorry. This session left a lot to be desired. 

For the first session of the day, my daughter and I decided to go separate ways - me to Mom Blogging: The Next Ten Years and her to Screenplay Writing. In retrospect, I wish I had joined her because she came out of her session inspired, fired-up, motivated and with a free book, while I left mine immediately after it ended, having waited a long time to be chosen for a question even though I was the first to raise my hand. I did learn some good tips on how to deal with critics (shut the laptop), to not do reviews for free, that bloggers are very powerful and can destroy a brand, and that the "mommy blogger" tag is limiting. Still, nothing huge, enlightening......no a-ha! moments for me in this one.

Lunch was a paltry salad and the leftover fruit from breakfast. The keynote was Kerry Washington, who was delightful, but who I also didn't know before the conference. I don't watch much TV, although when I Googled her I vaguely recalled hearing about her. I left just before she took her now-famous (in blogging circles) selfie. But - the best part of lunch - was that Deva Dalporto sat next to me! I'm a big fan of her blog "My Life Suckers" and recently she has gained notoriety for her humorous parody videos, notably, "I'm So Cranky" (to the tune of "I'm So Fancy" by Iggy Azalea). Fangirling again! What are the chances? She was so sweet and helpful and told me to email her anytime for ideas. So cool.

Kerry Washington doing the "quarter behind your ear" magic trick. Just kidding. 

Me and Deva Dalporto! Check out her parody videos here and here

The afternoon session was a series of "Mini-Cons." We wandered to the rooms, reading the descriptions and could not really find a "con" that was right for us. Boomer and Beyond? Not there yet. Craft? Eh, we're not that crafty. Healthy Living? Sounded ok, but seemed more geared toward food bloggers. Special Needs? Although I work with special needs kids, it's not a huge part of my life and I never blog about it, so that one didn't seem right either. Style? We were interested in this one and wandered into the room, only to realize it was filled with style bloggers. Maybe not. The Future of Personal Blogging? This one sounded good to me, but was packed full by the time we arrived and by then my daughter was losing interest and really just wanted a nap. We ducked into the Expo long enough to snap a picture of Khloe Kardashian, get another sample of Baskin and Robbins ice cream, and pick up a few more freebies. Then, we headed back to the hotel room after stopping at Starbucks to refuel after the measly lunch.

Khloe, your hair is FABULOUS! What do you use? 

My daughter was still slumbering peacefully when it was time for the closing keynote. I left her dreaming and attended alone. This time, I met up with my friend Elaine, and we listened to a panel of women discuss race and gender and how it applies to social media. It was interesting and I really enjoyed the 10x10 talks by Stacy Ferguson and Katherine Stone.

Finally it was PARTY TIME! The closing party was hosted by McDonald's (an odd choice) and the featured food was.......happy meals. Yes, you read that right. Happy Meals. Oh, and wine and beer, which we didn't partake in, but probably should have because a Happy Meal just doesn't satisfy like it used to. No matter, though, because the amazing Rev Run from Run DMC was the host of the party and he spun us back to the 80's. My daughter laughed at all the "middle-aged women dancing" and I tried to take sneaky pictures from the side of the stage when the Rev himself saw me and posed for my camera!

Yo, Rev!

Hannah, Elaine, and I at the closing party

Sadly, his set only lasted about an hour and he was being whisked away. The music fell silent and we wandered around wondering what to do for the next two hours. I suggested the jello-shot party being held at the Fairmont, but my 18-going-on-90 daughter suggested an early bedtime. I conceded but on our way home we spied the Bijou bakery and stepped in for some gelato.


The next morning we slept in a teensy bit later than normal (for the past couple of days), checked out of our hotel room and took a taxi to the airport. We left the Marriott in a taxi at 9:35 and were waiting at our gate at the airport at 9:58. That included the ride there, checking a bag, waiting in security and walking to our gate. Wow! We were exhausted, exhilarated, and elated that we'd just had an incredible weekend shoring up our mother/daughter bond and experiencing the greatness that is a convention full of bloggers, changing the world one word at a time.

Such a great weekend with my girl!

Yes, we can!

Happy blogger!

Thanks, BlogHer '14! We had a fantastic time! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BlogHer '14...........

Tomorrow I'm going to my first-ever conference, BlogHer '14 in San Jose, CA. My husband gave me this as a gift, and even included my 18-year-old daughter, in the mix so I wouldn't have to go it alone. I've always wanted to do something like this but I'm the queen of talking myself out of things, so I've never taken the leap. It was hard to make excuses when Jeff had already booked my room and purchased conference tickets, so here I go!

As the conference has drawn near, there have been so many Facebook posts about what to bring, what to wear, where to go. The whole thing sounds huge and confusing and hard to navigate. So, I'm doing what any sane person would do. I'm not making a plan. I'm just going into it with no expectations and letting things unfold. 

But........I am getting a pedicure before I go. For God's sake, no one needs to see my old pedi, grown out several millimeters and looking shabby. I have purchased several dresses because I just have a feeling everyone will be more dressed up than usual. And while I love those dresses right now, chances are, I will hate them the minute I put them on, so I'm also bringing my usual capris and tops and sandals just in case. I'm throwing in a swimsuit because even though everyone says there's no time for pool time, I'm planning to sit poolside at least once while I'm enjoying the California sun. 

Also? There's a lot of language I don't understand. Like, what is a change agent? How do you make a media kit? Why should I be "talking to brands?" I'm really confused, as I guess any newbie should be, and I just have this relatively tiny blog which is more for myself than anyone else, so I'm not sure that the business end of things is really for me. But who knows? I guess I'll be learning a lot. 

And I'll admit - I'm excited for the swag. Who knows what it will be but "expo" means bags 'o swag in my book and I'm already planning how to carry it all. I'm excited for the speakers - mostly Jenny Lawson and Arianna Huffington. I'm excited for the closing party featuring the Rev. Run from Run DMC and sponsored by McDonald's - although I can't really wrap my head around Happy Meals and sangria as a closing feast. Heck, I'm just excited to stay in a decent hotel. 

My ambitions are small but my enthusiasm is big! Except for the part about the 7:30 a.m. flight from Seattle tomorrow morning. That I'm not so excited about. But otherwise? Bring it, BlogHer '14! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Getting rid of your fat habits..........

Last night I spent a wonderful evening with a bunch of ladies, most of whom I'd never met, trying on and exchanging clothes. It was sort of a spontaneous get-together, formed on a Facebook page, and the best part was all the clothes were size 14 and up.

Some may think "plus-size" is a one-size-fits-all description - in a word, FAT. But some would be wrong.

What I saw was a group of beautiful, kind, loving and supportive ladies who enjoyed an evening of trying on clothes, giving honest opinions, taking the shirt of their back (literally) to hand it over to another who would "look better in it." Sure, we joked about the lady lumps we don't love as much as other parts of our bodies, but mostly we rejoiced in each other's unique assets. Even if many of us wore the same size, we found that the same top looked completely different on each of us. We all took home armfuls of new-to-us clothing in sizes 14-3X - and yes, most of us had something in nearly every size!

I arrived at the event wearing shorts and a tank top - seemingly a normal summer-y outfit. But for me, it was way outside my summer uniform of capris and a cute short-sleeved top. I rarely wear shorts OR tank tops and this was the first time I was meeting most of these women. First impressions are important, right? Not when it's hot out. Because I didn't care. I liked my outfit. And I felt comfortable.

Of course I have criticisms about my own body. Of course I'm always striving (with varying levels of success) to get more fit and healthy. And by that I mean - more fit and healthy. I did not say skinny. I am not skinny. I've never been skinny. I've not always been fat, either. But none of us (and I mean YOU) are ever going to fit perfectly into some media-driven ideal size or measurement. We all have lumps and bumps and skin that is not taught or perfectly smooth. And we all have reasons - having children, going through a divorce, taking medication, having a thyroid problem. But who cares?

No one - and I mean no one - should have to "explain" why they are a certain size. So, stop doing it. That is the first "fat habit" you should get rid of. Why is it anyone's business why you are the size you are? It's not. So, don't bother explaining. That would be akin to making someone explain why their hair is blue or they have a nose piercing, or why they have tattoos. Because they do. That's it.

Another "fat habit" I'd like to get rid of is thinking "I can't wear that." If you can put it on and breathe in it, you can wear it. I once saw a post online that said "How to get a bikini body. Buy a bikini. Put it on your body." Exactly! If you want to rock a bikini, go ahead! If you're not comfortable, for whatever reason, don't do it. Same goes for sleeveless shirts and dresses - they're just arms - everyone has them. Shorts and short skirts? You have legs. We all do. So maybe yours are a bit lumpy or, like I've been known to say about mine "tree trunk legs." It's hot. Wear shorts. If you don't want to, don't. Wear what makes you feel pretty and comfortable - there are cute clothes in all sizes out there so buy something that fits and wear it. Don't squeeze into a size large t-shirt if you are not a size large. Tags are just tags. Cut them out if they bother you. I remember reading an article once about a woman who lost a great deal of weight. She said she never used clothes as a reward because "I think women should buy clothes they love in EVERY size." Yes! Buy and wear what you love, regardless of whether or not you are happy with what the little tag inside says.

When you go out to eat, do you feel self-conscious about what you order in front of others? STOP IT! That is the third "fat habit" I'd like to see banished! For goodness sake, you are lucky enough to be eating out at a restaurant. Hopefully, you are with friends, someone you love, maybe a first date. You are there to EAT so stop ordering a house salad with dressing on the side when what you really want is a bacon cheeseburger. You don't eat out every day, so enjoy the opportunity to savor something you wouldn't normally make at home. If that's a salad chock-full of yummy goodness, then go for it! If it's a slice of cheesecake, have it. We all know how to eat healthy. We know we need fruits, veggies, grains, low-fat dairy.......so focus on eating those most of the time. And when you go out, enjoy your food. Two incidents stick in my mind regarding this "fat habit" - one, when I was in college and went out with my then-boyfriend (who later was my first husband). We went to Denny's in the wee hours of the morning, following a night out at the bars, and of course we were starving. I immediately requested an order of fries and only after they were delivered did I notice every single other girl in our group had ordered the side salad. Who the FUCK eats a side salad at two in the morning? I know those bitches wanted fries but were too concerned about how it would make them look. I felt self-conscious, but only because my boyfriend gave me a "look" (I divorced him many years later because he never let me eat french fries. Kidding! About the fries...). The other incident has happened twice - my husband, who isn't much of a bread fan, often orders his burger "low carb" (without the bun) and enjoys a Diet Coke now and then. I like my burgers with a bun, and I might be inclined from time to time to enjoy a Bailey's shake. When our orders have arrived, I am immediately given the low-carb/Diet Coke order and he is given the "loaded" order. BULLSHIT! Girls eat, too. I may have just enjoyed a smoothie with fresh fruit and kale that very morning, but when I'm at a restaurant, I want FOOOOOOODDDDDD! So, stop ordering what you think the universe is telling you to - because, guess what? No one cares. It's your stomach, your hunger, and your food. Eat it.

The next "fat habit" I would like to discuss is working out. Specifically, thinking you can't work out at a gym because you're "too fat." What the??? Anyone can work out at the gym. I know people who have actually lost weight BEFORE they join a gym so they will "fit in." Are you kidding me? Last time I checked, no gym discriminated based on size. The gym would love to have you working out right alongside the toned athlete next to you. The important thing is that you MOVE. Everyone needs exercise. So, go out and move. Who cares what you do? If you want to walk slowly on a treadmill, do it. If you want to take a water aerobics class, do it. If you sign up for a triathlon and you are the VERY LAST person to cross the finish line (guilty) so what? You did it! Anyone, any size, can and should exercise. Last year, at a local 5K race my husband participates in, the last person to cross the finish line was a very obese man. Most of the spectators were long gone by then, but the few that remained gave this man a fitting celebration. Why not? He did it! If all you do it ten minutes of light weights or break a sweat washing the car in the hot sun, GOOD FOR YOU! Just move. No matter what size you are. Never stop moving.

Finally, the last "fat habit" I would like to banish is thinking that you are fat. Who decided what is "fat" and what is "skinny" in the first place? Sure, we have BMI charts, but even those are flawed and don't take into account many factors that affect fitness. Why is one size admired over another? What IS fat? Ask a size 0 girl and she might say "size 6." A size 14 girl might answer with size 20. Is fat just "fatter than you?" Is skinny just "skinnier than you?" My children tell me, all the time, "Mom, you are NOT fat." I wear a size 2X. Is that fat? Is anything over sizes "small, medium, large" considered fat? Is fat relative to the relationship you have with the person who is judging you? We are not fat. We are not skinny. We are not the sizes on the tag in our shirts. What we ARE: people who are all different shapes and sizes. That's it. Nothing about that speaks to anything we are in our hearts and minds. Size does not equal intelligence or ability, or capacity to love and be loved.

Get rid of your fat habits. Once and for all.