Better Than a BlogRoll…

I learned about’s Top 50 Mommy Bloggers list when fellow Silicon Valley Moms Blog network member Jessica Gottlieb was named to it (she’s part of the LA Moms Blog, I’m part of the DC Metro Moms Blog).  In fact, the original Silicon Valley Moms Blog made the cut as well (congratulations, Jill!)  There are a lot of other familiar names on the list, blogs I have been reading and some of them are women I’ve met at BlogHer or traded tweets with on Twitter.  But there are also some I didn’t know — and that’s what I love about the blogosphere — when you accidentally bump into another kindred spirit out in cyberspace. 

Babble recognizes that although the Top 50 are certainly noteworthy, that there are a lot of terrific bloggers out there, and they are letting readers nominate them, and then give a “thumbs up” if someone has already nominated a favorite.  I think that’s pretty darned cool!   So often you see the same names rise to the top (with good reason), and this is a nice effort to broaden the horizons.

A lot of the names on that list are already some of my favorite blogs, and some are going to become new favorites.  Amongst some of my current favorites are Sarah and the Goon SquadToddler Planet, Jodifur, and Wife And Mommy all of whom I have the pleasure of having met in person as well as reading their blogs and they are terrific women as well as terrific writers.   As I scroll through the list, I see more that look intriguing and I’m going to find some time to check them out and you should, too!  (Not that I want you to stop reading here, of course!)

And yes, I’m thrilled that not only did someone include Caffeine And a Prayer, but people other than my husband and mother-in-law gave it a thumbs up!  Thank you!  It means a lot!  If you feel strongly enough about Caffeine and a Prayer to add a thumbs up, it may encourage others to check it out.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out both the Top 50 list and the reader-nominated list — there are a lot of fantastic writers out there worth reading!  One of these days I’ll get around to updating my blogroll…

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.

What Makes PBS’s Super WHY! So Super?

When Angela Santomero was a little girl, she’d lean into the TV set and she just knew she was special, because Mr. Rogers told her she was.  And so did I.  And I’m willing to bet, so did you. superwhy1

We are the generation who learned our ABCs on PBS, and now our children are too, but they are learning so much more, so much faster, and Angela Santomero is one of the reasons why.

Maybe you don’t recognize her name… unless you happen to pay close attention to the credits of your children’s favorite shows.  She is creator of Nick Jr.’s Blue’s Clues  and creator, executive producer, and head writer of the award-winning PBS show, Super WHY!   She has the Midas touch of children’s programming, so I jumped at the opportunity to peel back the layers at PBS headquarters May 6 and find out just what goes into putting together a show like Super WHY! 

The Invitation

JavaGirl was afraid of our official PBS greeter at first.

How did I get in on this gig?  Quite simply through the DC Metro Mom Blog.  Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President of Children’s Media of PBS is reaching out to bloggers in order to reach out to parents everywhere to get feedback about the role media plays in our lives, especially with regard to our children.    She wants us to start an online dialogue — on our blogs but also on PBS Parents about how we use not just the television shows, but the PBS web sites,,, and the site (which I didn’t even know about, frankly!) to engage the naturally curious minds of our children.  Or as she said, “Children are born explorers, we are trying to provide a safe environment for them to explore.” 

Around the table there were a lot of nodding heads… we already trusted PBS.   PBS is what we were raised on — Sesame Street, the Electric Company, so fortunately for them, half the battle was already won out of the gate.  But back in our day, there wasn’t a Disney Channel or a Nick Jr. or… gasp… the WEB to compete with.  So just winning parents over isn’t the entire battle if you want to win in the game of capturing the audience of young children — you have to be entertaining enough to keep the kids interested and educational enough for the adults in the house to approve.  That’s a tall order.  Fortunately for PBS, Santomero was just the person to fill it — and in the two-hour briefing, we learned a little bit more how, but even better, there is an interactive component to this — a week long of activities you can do with your own children and you can comment here as well as on PBS.  And the kind folks at PBS have even offered to give me a prize to offer up — which  I will give away in a drawing for my commenters.  How cool is that?!

Pssst… Want to Know the Secret to Building an Award-Winning Children’s Show?

Angela Santomero

Angela Santomero

As we bloggers quieted down around the conference table, we were told we’d get to put an award-winning show on the operating table and find out how one is really put together.  Having grown up in the television industry, I found the idea quite intriguing.  Each of us around the table came from different backgrounds, while all of us are of course, writers, some are teachers, some are lawyers, some  are in politics— and many in the group I am still learning about.   So we each approached the show with a different eye and probably each left the briefing with a different takeaway — but we all had one thing in common: we’re all mothers.  And we knew anecdotally what this press release was capturing statistically:  Super WHY! helps young children learn to read.  I know the show is one of the main reasons why JavaGirl knew her ABCs by age 2 and I know that it helps JavaBoy with his reading skills.  There are some shows that you just know work for your kids, and you may not be able to tell why, but you can see that this one engages them and that one doesn’t — so this was a rare opportunity to figure that out.

Santemero says that when she used to watch how kids would kick at the TV screen when they watched the Power Rangers, she wanted to create a show that was that powerful, but inspired children to learn something instead of kick.  So Super WHY!was actually her Master’s thesis when she got her degree in Child Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.   She knew how powerful TV was, “I mean c’mon, I had the ‘Rachel’ haircut.  And did you know that when Fonzi from Happy Days got a library card, the number of people getting library cards went up 500%?”  She wanted to have that kind of an impact, on children, in a positive way.  But she also wanted to be sure that she made books the go-to resource for children, the way books had always been a resource for her. 

According to Rotenberg, unlike many other TV shows, PBS shows begin with a specific need or problem to solve, and the problem Super WHY! tackles is the need was to teach children ages 3-6 to read.   But “teaching children to read” can be a bit nebulous, so they broke it down into more specific terms:

  • letter identification
  • word decoding
  • phonemic awareness
  •  word encoding and phonics
  • reading comprehension


So that is what needs to be taught — but how to do it?   They created four characters to help with specific tasks:  each begins as a “regular” Storybook Village character who then transforms into their “super” character with a special power.  Pig (of Three Little Pigs) becomes Alpha Pig, a builder with alphabet power.  Little Red Riding Hood turns into a rollerskating Wonder Red with word power — whom many little girls have come to adore because she is a non-princess heroine.  Princess Pea (of The Princess and the Pea) transforms into Princess Presto with Spelling Power and is also the one who always picks the right book for the story portion of the show.  The bloggers at the briefing expressed their thanks to Santomero for making Princess Presto your non-stereotypical princess — she’s not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed princess and that was important to their daughters.  And then there is Whyatt, whom Santomero described as the “Zac Effron” of Storybook Village — he’s the younger brother of Jack, as in Jack and the Beanstalk, and he becomes Super Whywith your more traditional super hero garb, with the power to read.  Personifying each element of the reading process is one of the many ways Santomero’s team of writers helps keep the lesson entertaining.  Of course there is a fifth, very important “character” in the show — the child in the audience.  Super Why! breaks that fourth wall and addresses the child right through the TV screen, asking his or her name, and then “transforms” the child into his/her super self as “and Super You, with the Power to Help!”  The viewing child is asked to actively participate throughout the show.

Each episode has a framework of introducing a socio-emotional problem (i.e. “Jill keeps stomping on my blocks”), then a reading adventure (The Three Little Pigs), then a conflict resolution (make friends).  This not only makes for a plot, but reinforces Santomero’s goal of teaching kids that books are a life resource.

The amount of work, thought and detail that goes into each show is far too much to be captured in a single blog post, but here are some highlights:

  • Because every child is at a different point in their literacy journey, the show has something for everyone — even the non-reader can feel some success simply by singing along to the updated version of the alphabet song with Alpha Pig.  And with Alpha Pig, a child can simply point to the letters that are already on the screen — the answers are right there.  And yet later in the show, there are more complex questions and answers for the more advanced reader.
  • The fractured fairytales are often changed around with some “girl empowerment,” thanks in part, to Santomero’s daughters.  For example, Rapunzel can now get herself down from the tower.
  • Every script goes to a school three times during development.  First as a storybook reviewed by a reading teacher, and later screened as an episode by children where researchers watch how children react and how attentive they are.
  • Santomero pays careful attention to each individual learning element, but also the totality of the final product.  Or as she says,  “With every episode — I’m baking a seven-layer cake.  Each layer on it’s own is important, and has to work, but it also has to all come together and taste good together as well.”

Does Super WHY! Live Up to the Hype?

After the briefing, we were sent home with media kits of activities to try with our children.  You can download many of the same materials here — including the show episode and a week’s worth of activities.  I’m going to post about our day-by-day results with the activities as well.  Please post back about your experiences with these activities, the show, or any other comments about children and media here and you will be entered into a drawing for a prize from PBS!

JuiceBoxJungle — the New 300-Pound Gorilla?

Is 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 code — should anyone choose to shop at 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!