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Leaving On a Jet Plane…

drawing2I still feel a thrill every time I get ready to go on a trip.  Maybe more so now that I’m a stay-at-home mother — the last couple of years of my career I didn’t travel as often as I did in previous years and I miss that.  So I’m in that adrenaline high right now of packing up for a plane ride… BY MYSELF.  Let’s face it, it is much different packing up to go on a (quasi) business trip than packing up to go on trip with the family.  I’m headed off to BlogHer and I won’t be taking a car seat, a portable DVD player, Matchbox cars, crayons, any Leap Frog toys, etc.  Just my own overstuffed suitcase.

But the question everyone asks me is, “How are the kids going to handle it?” 

And the answer is — just fine!  My kids really are perfectly fine with Mommy being away.  So fine, in fact, that if I didn’t know better, I might actually get my feelings hurt.  But here’s the thing, I’ve worked really hard at instilling a sense of confidence and independence in them, and I take their lack of hysteria when I leave as a sign that I’ve succeeded.  Which is not to say that when other children have separation anxiety there parents have done something wrong — every child has a different personality type and every family has a different dynamic.  Who knows what would happen if we threw a third child into the mix?

My involvement in volunteer organizations takes me out of the home for evening meetings and the kids have gotten used to me leaving some evenings and them having time for Daddy.  There are no tears, just hugs and kisses goodbye and goodnight as they are often asleep by the time I return home.  Having spent the entire day together, they are fine with me leaving, and now having Daddy-time.

The first time I ever was away from JavaBoy overnight, however, was when JavaGirl was born.   I was a wreck.  He didn’t seem to mind at all — he had his grandmother to play with!  He did, however, miss his father the second night (JavaDad stayed with me in the hospital as I was in a lot of pain from the c-section) and asked for him at bedtime, but then settled down.  But for the most part, he basically understood where we were and why, and that’s all that mattered.

Over time I’ve had a few opportunities to be away from the kids for retreats or conferences and every time, it’s been harder on me than them.   They’ve always been perfectly fine – I’ve always prepped them well in advance and then called home to make contact and that seems to work.  They have a pocket calendar we use to mark everything that is going on and I made inserts for an airplane leaving and an airplane returning, so they’ve known about my trip to Chicago all month.  JavaBoy counts the number of days I’m going to be gone, JavaGirl asks me every time she sees a plane in the sky if that is the airplane I will be on.  A week ago, Java Boy made a drawing for me, and proudly told me it was a picture of the two of us and he made it so that I could have him with me on the trip.  It’s been on the fridge and tonight he reminded me to take it with me so that if I needed to remember him, I’d have it.  Not with a worried voice or a sad voice, just his practical, matter-of-fact voice.  I assured him I’ll never forget my boy.  (How could I??)

He then filled me in on all his big plans for things he’s going to do while I’m gone.  Whew!  Sounds like I’m getting out of town just in time!  Good luck JavaDad!

My mother once told me that I was always so thrilled to go off to school that it sort of hurt her feelings, but she took it as a sign that she had done something right.  And now I understand what she meant — my kids rarely look back when I drop them off or when I leave.  But if I ever I doubt their devotion to me, all I have to do is open the door upon my return and feel them run towards me and wrap themselves around me while yelling, “Mommy, you’re back!”

Yes, I’m excited to go on my trip.  But come Sunday, I’ll be equally excited to come home.

The Anniversary Gift That Keeps On Giving… Guilt

They taunt me from the magnetic board above my monitor — two iTunes gift cards — all hot pink with some dude (chick?  … sometimes I can’t tell) rocking out with an iPod). 

Music… just sitting there, waiting to be listened to, in the form of a gift card.  He meant well, he really did.

Go back about 5 years to our second anniversary, the cotton anniversary.  This was back when I dutifully tried to follow what you were “supposed” to give for the anniversary and prided myself in being creative in finding the perfect gift.  This is a bit of a challenge when you hit it out of the ballpark the first year (paper) — when I found him an out-of-print book about his family he had been searching for for a decade.  Even better, I had actually found it BEFORE our wedding and had kept it hidden for a year.

Knowing my husband’s, let’s say challenges in finding gifts, I had not-so-subtly said, “You know, our second anniversary is the cotton anniversary and I know that can be hard for you to think of, so I would really, really like a linen table runner for our buffet.  Like this one.”  (Pointing to one in a store.)

So imagine my surprise when on our anniversary, I received a tiny box.  Not that kind of a tiny box.  But much too small for a table runner, unless it was extremely crinkled up.

Surprise!  It was a pink iPod!  Which I wanted (well, not pink specifically, but an iPod).  But it wasn’t what I had envisioned for our anniversary.  But that was okay.  I remember processing my thoughts while JavaDad grinned at me and said, “And I got it in PINK so you’d know I really got it for YOU — it’s not for me at all.”

Since our anniversary is near the holidays, setting up my iPod with music got set aside as Thanksgiving and Christmas events came up and then  it was time for JavaBoy’s first birthday and so on and so on.  We would go through this cycle of being ready to put music on, but the iPod not being charged, or the iPod being charged, but not having time to put music on.  Or JavaDad put his music on, but not mine.  Or my Dad visited and added his songs for me, but my own music wasn’t on.  And so on and so forth.  And no one had time to show me how to use it and I didn’t know where the manual was and next thing you knew, I was pregnant with JavaGirl and puking my guts out.  And not long afterward I was dealing with her acid reflux, then her failure to thrive issues and so on.

JavaBoy was actually the one who finally showed me how to use it.  When he was 3.  My grandmother, in her 90s, was the one who showed me what he couldn’t.  Her iPod is actually newer and fancier than mine.  And she has portable Bose speakers for hers.  When it comes to iPods, I’m clearly the loser of the family.

By now my pink iPod mini is so retro compared to what’s out there now, but it’s what I have.  And I have used it a few times, but I still haven’t had time to really configure playlists and do what I want with it.  And I don’t have a lot of time to listen to my own music.  When I first clamored for an iPod, I envisioned using it for going on high-powered walks.  These days my walks are with two small kids and I am listening to them and to nature.  In the car I am either interacting with the kids or catching up on phone calls.  In other words — I rarely have time to just tune in and tune out.

But I am determined to ultimately get it all together.  In the meantime, every time I see advertisements about iTunes or iPods, I feel guilty about my husband’s earnest attempt to give me something I wanted and it’s something I haven’t taken full advantage of.  Life sort of got in the way. 

It sits there, next to my computer, reminding me of yet another unfinished project, but also of my husband’s love for me.  And that’s much better than a cotton table runner.

BlogHer ’09 – Proof that Bloggers Aren’t Anti-Social Drones

My friends are divided roughly in half by those who are rabid tech users and those who barely check their emails.  I consider it an extreme compliment when the non-email-checkers tell me they’ve actually read my blog (or “blob” as some say, which I actually kind of like.) 

So when discussions about social media and the future come up, either my friends can dream up all kinds of fantastic ideas of a complete virtual world where geography is irrelevant and we all know each other it’s just in a way where physical objects are no longer a barrier or they see the year 2020 as utter doomsday when no-one interacts with each other anymore because everyone is glued to a computer screen.

It is at this point that I get a bit frustrated.  How did the “social” part of social media get lost in the discussion? 

Next week I am going to the BlogHer Conference in Chicago — which sold out of its original 1000 tickets in MARCH.  A corporate sponsorship helped open up a few hundred more slots, which immediately sold out.  Then, because there was so much clamor about people wanting to come, they actually created an event called LobbyCon where people are paying to come hang out in the hotel bar so they can watch TV screens of  the general sessions, go to the expo and go to the much-discussed cocktail parties after the seminars.   First of all, how brilliant is that?  But secondly, sold out tickets and people willing to travel and pay to hang out in the hotel bar to see only a small portion of the programming — that’s not about the content of the conference, that is about interacting with the people.  That’s about the social aspect of social media.  Real life interaction.  Human-to-human exchange of ideas, without a keyboard and a computer screen between them (I’m not saying there won’t be Pokens, iPhones, Blackberries, nettops, etc. around, but there will be actual conversations going on.)

Twitter is atwitter with hashtags about BlogHer — even people not going are talking about it.  People want to know who has a sponsor (someone paying a blogger to go) and who doesn’t.  Who is going to which after-conference cocktail parties (note the many “badges” on my sidebar — I promise my sidebar will stop looking like a tattooed lady when I return).  People are excited about what we’ll learn, absolutely, but more than anything, we’re excited to meet people we’ve corresponded with online, or have read about through their blogs and never been bold enough to comment but hope to meet in person, or maybe have even partnered with on a project but haven’t met “in real life” yet.

All around the country, people are organizing “pre-BlogHer meetups” and I was lucky enough to attend one in my area, organized by Devra of Parentopia for those of us in the DC/VA/MD area who are going to BlogHer.  And when I tell you more about it, you will see that bloggers, or at least female bloggers, are certainly social! 

Because the get together was at a swanky art gallery called Scene in Baltimore’s National Harbor, several of us from DC Metro Moms decided to carpool and through a complex set of emails and voicemails, the last set of which I was completely not part of because I was in the middle of registering my bone marrow, it was decided that Wife and Mommy and I would meet Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes outside a popular store on Andrea’s route to the harbor.  Now, Wife and Mommy and I have been to a few blogger events together, so I was fine with this arrangement.  But as she and I got out of her husband’s minivan, she said, “oh by the way, I don’t know what Andrea looks like…”  Fortunately, I had met Andrea at the BlogHer DC Reach Out Tour and I’ve seen Andrea’s picture many times, but I did NOT know what her car looked like, so there we were, standing on the sidewalk, like some sort of odd suburban streetwalker, waiting for a car to slow down and say, “hey, are you going to the pre-BlogHer meetup?”

Um, yeah, kids, remember how we told you not to get into the cars of strangers.  We still mean it.  Seriously.

DSC03313When we arrived, I was relieved to see some faces who are starting to become more and more familiar to me — several women from DC Metro Moms, including: Teach Mama (who scored major points flattering me both on a new haircut and new shoes, I think I blushed), Urban Mama, Jessica, Lumpyhead’s Mom, Linda, Tech Savvy Mama (who wields a mean skewer – don’t mess with her kabobs!), Susan, De in D.C., Laurie, Sarah (who took this great photo apparently some time after I left), Kim, Jean, Devra (our amazing hostess), Sue, and of course Andrea, and Wife and Mommy.

And those are people I’ve only known since May!  And then I got to know more people that night.  I really didn’t get a chance to talk to CaraBee (maybe in Chicago!), but I did talk to Kristen (whose BlogHer cocktail party badge I have in my sidebar), Jill (with whom I have tweeted), Jen (with the double-entendre puddle-jumper blog name), Kim (taught me a lot about Laurel), Katherine (we had a quick chat over dessert),  and unfortunately I only had very brief interactions with the bloggers with the two best names in the bunch — Zandria and Examorata.    I hope to see everyone in Chicago and if not there, at another local meetup.

I am fighting one nasty ear infection which makes me miserable at night when I write, so I am relying on Wife and Mommy’s excellent notes for the list of attendees (thanks!) so if I missed anyone…  uh, blame HER! 

While at Scene, we dined on lovely food by Chef Deryl Shouf.  Every time I thought the gallery was going to tell us it was time to go home, more food came out!  When Devra called out the names for the doorprize of the Safety 1st Air Protect car seat and other prizes from our sponsors Safety 1st and Giant Food, I thought surely the evening was over, but no, dessert was coming out.  Nothing bloggers like better than bonding over brownies.   (Say that ten times, fast.)

With our reusable Giant bags filled with Safety 1st ProGrade mirrors and rollershades, Andrea and I broke off from the party, admitting with defeat that though we may not be anti-social drones, we are (ahem) semi-middle-aged mommies of much-more-energetic-than-we-are children who were going to wake up at the crack of dawn and we shuffled off in the dark in search of the parking garage (don’t worry, we didn’t forget Wife and Mommy in some sort of middle-aged-brain haze, she opted to stay later) and unlike the people ahead of us, managed to remember to follow the directions and pay for our parking before getting into the car and reaching the exit gate.

On the way home, I sponged up all the gardening knowledge I could from her (because seriously — look at the woman’s site) and we talked about kids, and once I discovered she also played Bunko, that settled it for me, I decided like it or not, I’ve officially adopted her as a friend.

Check It Out: Compass/BlogHer Study – Differences In How/Why Women Use Blogs and Social Networking

In their 2009 Women In Social Media Study, BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Media found that women online were twice as likely to use blogs as sources of trusted information for advice or purchase decisions, but turned to social media sites for connecting with friends and family. Women continue to turn to blogs, social networking and online status updating resources in increasing numbers.

Go to BlogHer to read the press release and see the executive summary slides.

I’m still mulling over all the datapoints, but I have to say that I agree — I do comb blogs for reviews and real-life experience with products. Sadly, some bloggers have now been sued for their reviews, which is why you will soon see some fine print on this blog to remind you that any reviews, advice, or opinions on a product on this blog should be considered about as worthy as if they were given by a stranger in the supermarket. I’ll give you a real-world opinion on something, but I’m not a Consumer Reports test engineer — get the picture?

So if you are as geeky as I am about studying the blogosphere, go check out the study, and I’d love to see your comments about the findings here!

JuiceBoxJungle — the New 300-Pound Gorilla?

Is JuiceBoxJungle.com social media’s new “It Girl”?

BlogHer’s Elana Centor is making waves with her article, “Can Juicebox Jungle Succeed Where Twitter and Facebook Have Failed? Monetizing Social Media.” (Read the article.)

In the same week, Entertainment Weekly referred to JuiceBoxJungle as where “the Carrie Bradshaws of the world go when they start breeding.” (Read article.)

The site debuted its first video February 11 and is already raising eyebrows — both for its business model — and on Yahoo’s Shine, for it’s counter-to-other-media stance on parenting topics such as TV time for kids (read blog posting).

How It Works

JuiceBoxJungle (JBJ) produces weekly online video clips about parenting topics, and then invites bloggers to write about these topics and embed the clips into their posts. These posts are then brought back to the JBJ site, where JBJ visitors can read them and rank them. The relationship between JBJ and the blogger is win-win:

  • JBJ provides “starter topic” content
  • Bloggers then provide follow-up content to flesh out the topic and keep the conversation going
  • JBJ provides a way to drive more traffic to the blog sites by publishing the blog posts — JBJ visitors discover new bloggers they may become loyal to
  • The blogs also drive traffic to the JBJ site
  • The media player the JBJ video plays in can be coded to include the Amazon affiliate code — which either uses the JBJ Amazon code or the individual blogger’s code — for example, in my post last week, it uses the caffeineandaprayer.com code — should anyone choose to shop at Amazon.com for parenting books directly from the player, this site would get a tiny percentage
  • What I Like About It

    I tried JBJ out for the first time last week.  Having been in the television news business, I found the idea intriguing, and wanted to see how this push-pull model would work.  From just one post, I did indeed receive some additional traffic to my site.  Am I “monetizing” (the hot buzzword in the blogging world!) my site yet?  No, not really, not yet.  But this may be a step in the right direction.

    Just as there have always been content providers for drop-in articles for newsletters or radio shows, content providers for web sites are a smart idea.  This is an even smarter idea — a way to get a conversation going, and then to help drive traffic, and even to help make use of “monetizing” programs you may already have.  I’ve had my Amazon affiliate status for a while and haven’t even put up anything because I frankly didn’t know what to do with it — last week was my first experiment with it because it gave me my first relevant opportunity to do something with the code.

    As to Elana Centor’s original question — I would say that Facebook, Twitter, and sites like JBJ each have their place and are different tools used in different ways.  At the moment, Facebook is one of my top referral sites for this blog — not a surprise since I “share” each posting with my network on Facebook.   I don’t tweet much (although I have finally given my JavaMom persona her own Twitter account – caffandaprayer), but one of the fascinating uses of Twitter in business is how companies are using it for customer support.  (See Network World’s Tweet to Compete.)  I have signed up to be a JBJ VIP and you will probably see more JBJ videos on this site.  I like what I have seen of their videos so far — smartly produced, humorous, and down-to-earth, and I think you will, too.  I think we can start some interesting discussions based off some of the topics.  

    Social media, social networking, Web 2.0 — whatever you call it — it’s going through some interesting changes and I, for one, and thrilled to be a part of it!  While working in Silicon Valley in the ’90s, I saw many giants rise and fall, so I expect the same this time around as well.  I won’t even dare to predict who will come out to be the next champion — but I will say that JuiceBoxJungle is one to watch!