Friday, April 11, 2008
Anyway, Camp Baby was a blast! You are all wonderful!! And you can see what I had to say about it all over here.
Thanks for making me feel like I've known you all along.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
From the moment the towncar picked me up in the wee hours, I was excited. I was frantically text messaging with Y and Jenifer as we were all being picked up at the same time (4 am) At the airport, I checked in and turned around and bumped squarely into Jenifer. We cruised through security, and collected first coffee and then fellow Camp Baby attendees as we made our way to the boarding gate.
I hung out with Erika, Glennia, Kari and Jenifer until they called first class passengers to board the plane (first class, baby!) and then made my way to my seat. It was giant and I was feeling very hysterically out of place. They never called my bluff though.
After a long, but smooth flight, we landed at Newark and were greeted by the adorable team from Camp Baby. After grabbing our bags, we were escorted to the fleet of GM vehicles that transported us to the hotel. Oh, that poor, poor young man whose ears were probably stinging from all the salty talk on the way.
The Heldrich was absolutely lovely. I felt like I was besmirching it with my funk, since my arrival 12 hours after leaving my house left me a bit, um, ripe. After checking in, I took a quick shower, freshened my wardrobe choices and headed up to the wine tasting with Ted (OMG It is really him!) Allen.
The appetizer buffet was fantastic, and I started seeing familiar faces everywhere I turned. Liz made me all weepy - we finally got the chance to meet, and although I've known that Carmen has made some amazing physical changes this year, it was so great to be able to see her in person.
After taking countless bad photos (thank you, my dears, for sparing the flickr pool the worst of the double chins and cheeks-eclipsing-eyes shots) and eating a pile of crab cakes (What? They were good! Gotta keep the chins happy...) we made our way into the wine tasting room.
I regret not ambushing Ted Allen for a photograph with me, but I'm okay with it. If I had left the crab cakes for a moment, someone else would have gotten some.
Anyway, the wine tasting was hilarious and fun. The wines provided by Constellation were all lovely, and while my palate didn't always match up with the "right" answer, I still felt like I learned something. And that something is 1) the paper bucket is not supposed to be a hat and 2) wine tasting means sips, not gulps.
After the wine, we adjourned to the hotel bar for a nightcap. I also ate a giant burger, because apparently all the crab cakes were not enough. I could have stayed up chatting all night, but regretfully went to my bed. Five hours later, it was breakfast.
After a quick breakfast, we found our seats in the amphitheater-style meeting room. I can only imagine J&J's bemusement as 56 women snapped open their laptops, and immediately began twittering like crazy. Presentations were captured, and hilarious asides were flying around the room (and out into the internet) like passing notes in class.
As I expected, the presentations were heavy on product mentions, but each presenter allowed questions and took a stab at answering some of the tough questions lobbed at them - some of them more successfully than others. I did feel that some of the content was unnecessarily dumbed down, and some of the graphic slides were unintentionally hilarious.
Between presentations, J&J fed us royally. Every time we emerged from the room, we were greeted by an overflowing parade float full of food. Catherine called it "A Pregnant Woman's Heaven."
The afternoon session were a riot. While I was in the first group that attended the "What's Going On Down There" session, and our group was fairly mature about the whole thing, the later groups strayed into fecal territory, and the twitters from that couple of hours were hysterical.
I showed off my mad braiding skillz to Kristin's vague horror and was impressed by JenB's shake-down of the stylist "No, show me how to make MY hair get height. And show me how to do a chignon." We took a bunch of photos of the heads. Man, so many nightmare heads.
Finally, in our focus group session, I found the moderator to be aggressive and leading. I hope the J&J folks got what they wanted to get from that - I felt like there were expected responses, and we were being asked questions that would elicit those responses. Maybe it was just me that felt that way.
The Nintendo-sponsored dinner at the kick-ass The Frog and The Peach restaurant in New Brunswick was amazing. The games were fun, the food was beautiful - the takeaways (Hello, Nintendo DS?) were awesome. I WANT Wii Fit SO, SO BAD. Watching Y rock the penguin game, I knew it was for me. I showed my pathetic skills at bowling while holding a glass of wine, and spent more time chatting with JenB, Melissa, Chris, Maryam and Susan.
I really enjoyed chatting with new friends: Stacy DeBroff, witty Amy from MomAdvice.com and the lovely Jane from PinksandBlues over the meal, and flirting with our flirty flirty waiter. Way to go, Nintendo and J&J! Benign flirty waiters are a good thing.
Never content to let the party end, I enjoyed visiting with many of the folks who put together this event at the campfire. Everyone was candid and charming, and seemed to be genuinely interested in not only making the event a success, but in getting to know us as individuals.
Finally heading up to bed, I opted for a shower and packing before sleep - a decision that was wise for me, as checkout time came early - 7 am. Another ride with our friends from GM to the Johnson and Johnson campus, and we were eating breakfast and wiping sleep from our eyes.
After breakfast, we heard a couple of interesting presentations and provided feedback to J&J. I also visited the bathroom, an experience that left me shaken. The bathroom...beeped. I was unsure if the toilet was going to explode, if my movements were being tracked... I hurried, people. But I washed my hands thoroughly.
After a quick ride back to the hotel, we got to do some product shopping. I took one of everything and put it in a big box to be shipped to my house. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my mega box of neosporin and baby shampoo and listerine and ky jelly and monistat anti-chaffing cream. Dude, it is going to be a regular party over here when the box arrives.
J&J also awarded three trips for two to the Beijing Olympics - a trip that I mercifully didn't win because I'm SO not able to take time off to China this summer. But I'm really happy for the ladies that one, and I'll look forward to reading their trip reports.
Finally, we were provided with lovely sack lunches, hugs and fond farewells and sent on our way. Well, at least, the folks returning to the airport were. Since I was traveling on to Manhattan with a couple of other attendees, we were trying to arrange a ride to NYC when the folks at GM overheard our plight and arranged a ride for us.
Which is how I came to be riding in a sweet Suburban down the New Jersey Turnpike, through the scary tunnel into New York. Wooooo!
I had a marvelous time at Camp Baby, and made some amazing connections with new friends and old. I'm so tired tonight, that I'll add in link love to all the amazing ladies who brought the laughs and shared the experience. Johnson and Johnson - you put on an amazing event, and I'm glad to have been part of it!
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
I took my sweet time in my room before heading out to meet up with the others for refreshments and snacks. I walked into the room and immediately felt like the person in the nightmare who is without clothing. You know that feeling, right? Although, it didn't take long to blend right in with the rest of the bloggers in attendance. Met some bloggers from the St. Louis area and more from the New England states. Even met one from my home Chicagoland area.
After our little ice breaker, we dispersed and I had a nice little Skype video chat with the hubs and the bug. He was feeding her miniature Oreo cookies. She was on her fifth one. Glad I'm here and not there! I kid, I kid! She did very well at "school" today. Hope I get the same report for the next two days while I'm gone.
Around 6:30pm, we gathered for a delicious buffet dinner and then some fabulous wine tasting, hosted by Ted Allen. I wasn't even starstruck! Or maybe I was. I wasn't shy, that's for sure. But if you know me, you know I'm not afraid to speak up. I reminded him of an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where they made over an old friend of mine from my hometown. He recalled the episode! Good times.
Ted left before I was able to snag him for my famous "Amy is a groupie" picture. Shoot! Hopefully he'll blog about tonight or at least check our blogs...naaaahhhh. We did get to chat with him throughout our wine tasting and it sounds like he has some fun television stuff in the works aside from Top Chef and Iron Chef America, so stay tuned.
Hanging out with these two ladies has been a big highlight so far.
Christine of "From Dates to Diapers and Beyond" and Jane from "Pinks and Blues" (you know, my favorite Throwback Thursday girls?). I was also able to connect with these fabulous women tonight:
Jodi "Mom's Favorite Stuff"
Lisa "Midwestern Mommy"
Leighann "Soy is the new black"
Jamie "Blonde Mom Blog"
Colleen "Classy Mommy"
Stephanie at "About.com" (Babies & Toddlers Guide)
Last but certainly not least and much to my delight, Stacy DeBroff of Mom Central
Hope to hang and meet with the other bloggerettes at camp baby tomorrow!
*Originally posted at The Ladybug and her Blogging Mama
In the last couple of years, blogging has become an interesting business -- and I use that term in the commercial sense. It's weird, because when I started this blog (back in 2003 - I know, it's mind boggling to me, too), I never expected anyone but my friends and family to read it.
Obviously I -- and the blogosphere -- have come a long way. Especially since we showed up on the radar of corporate America.
This post is not going to be about the political/social aspect of partnering with marketers. This is a topic that has been covered thoughtfully and forcefully by others, and is better suited for my main blog, SoCal Mom (where I hope to talk about the phenomenon after I've had some time to evaluate this event, but in a broader sense).
But I did want to talk a little about the wonder I feel every time I get an email promising an opportunity that is going to be FUN -- like the one that began my relationship with Nintendo... and the invitation I received last year to meet General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. Or my very positive association with the Walt Disney Company, which paid me last year to be a consultant for Family.com.
These are things that NEVER would have happened to me without my little blog. They make logging on to my computer each day a little bit like Christmas. You never know what you are going to find in that email you are about to open.
So I was a tad giddy back in February, when I got an unexpected invitation to attend Johnson & Johnson's Baby Camp. A retreat with mom bloggers, like a mini-BlogHer? Only all expenses paid? On the East Coast (in New Jersey -- home of my beautiful blogging buddy, Lizzie Thompson)?
Did they know that I am in my 50's and not likely to have much contact with babies until I become a grandmother (hopefully, not for another 10 or 20 years)?
I RSVP'd immediately, in case they came to their senses.
Since then, there's been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about this event and others. As I said above, I will deal with that in another post, after the event is over, and probably at my other blog, SoCal Mom.
This post is about the event itself.
Everything has been first class -- including my airplane ticket to New Jersey (not all participants got that perk. I think mine was due to how promptly I was able to RSVP). The Heldrich Hotel, where the conference is being held, is a quality, four-star facility. The food served at the dinner buffet was surprisingly good (I tend to expect less from food that's sitting out in a chafing dish). I didn't even have to drive myself to the airport -- Johnson & Johnson arranged for a towncar to transport me to LAX and back.
We have each received a goodie bag filled with Neutrogena products, like anti-wrinkle cream (AHA! Maybe they actually do know how old I am). There's also some partner mark eting going on here: the shuttle from Newark to New Brunswick was a hybrid Tahoe, courtesy of General Motors (a company that really does understand marketing through blogs), and the vintages we sampled at Queer Eye and Top Chef host Ted Allen's wine pairing seminar were provided by the parent company of Robert Mondavi.
Ted Allen, by the way, was wonderful: informative, funny and highly entertaining (just as he is on television -- only he seemed a lot looser. Or maybe we were the ones who were loose. A number of us went straight up to dinner after a chat session in the hotel bar. Anyone who has ever been to a party filled with mommy bloggers -- or even a PTA convention -- knows what that's all about).
I live-tweeted the Ted Allen event, which seemed to unnerve our hosts, one of whom asked another attendee what I was doing by texting on my phone through the whole thing. I guess they had not yet learned about Twitter (we were telling Ted about it, too -- he writes a couple of blogs of his own, and ended his presentation by asking US for pointers. Which, of course, we were more than happy to provide).
Tomorrow's agenda is chock-full of events, from 7:30 a.m. until midnight -- with nary a break inbetween. I expect to learn a few things here. But I think Johnson & Johnson is going to learn just as much -- or more -- from us.
And that's probably the point of this entire exercise.
In the meantime -- getting to reconnect with old blogging friends, live and in person -- is an experience I am savoring.
More tomorrow -- and with a little luck, I will be a lot more coherent than I am tonight.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
My ride arrives at the crack of dawn tomorrow for New Jersey and do I have anything packed yet? Noooooo. I have "an idea" of what I'm bringing along but nothing actually physically in my suitcase yet.
I do know for a fact that I'm bringing four pairs of shoes. Three pair in my suitcase and one pair on my feet. Yeah. That's right. That's just me. For some reason, I'm packing "business casual". I'll have casual clothes with me too but I think I'm just getting into business mode because I start a new job when I return from Camp Baby.
Oh, I can't wait to get there. There are so many people I want to meet. I hope we all have a chance to get acquainted. Please don't be offended if I don't remember your name, I'm bad like that. I'll be the girl there wearing a different pair of shoes everyday!
PS: If the festivities end earlier enough on Thursday night - LOST party in my room!
You'll know me by my cold sore.
Yes, ladies, I have another cold sore. This makes three in three weeks - yes, I've taken possibly illegal amounts of Lysine, done a round of Abreva and Valtrex and coat my face hourly in Denavir. Despite all of this, I still look like a leper.
So, don't worry about your pasty white legs, dorky clothes, unshaven pits or the like. Everyone will be so busy staring at the blogger with perpetual cold sores that it'll take all the attention off you, and you can feel free to relax.
And yuck. Anyone have a spare burqa?
See, when you start wrestling with a shower door that has come off its track, and subsequently drop it on your toes, your desire to wear shoes at all goes straight out the window. Plus, no one is touching that foot for a pedicure now, I assure you!
So, let this be a warning to all of you. Please stop cleaning things now. Do not harm yourself in preparation for this trip. And if you see a girl hobbling around wearing flip-flops, with only one pedicured foot, and toes that look like an entire Hell's Angels club ran over them, that's me. Glad to meet you!
I'm so looking forward to this trip! Wine - good. Dinner out - good. A bed all to myself without toddler feet, knees, and elbows kicking me in the face all night - good. The smell of Johnson's baby lotion - good.
I'm not so sure about the braiding, bug juice, ghost stories, and getting my butt kicked playing Wii (my children have informed me I'm pathetic because my Wii age is 492.)
Sooo, if you see a George Costanza shaped dork wearing a maternity shirt and floods, sitting over in the corner looking nervous because she doesn't know a single person, it's me. You know, just so you can avoid me and all.
What happened was, Johnson & Johnson and their PR firm, in an effort to "connect" with what is becoming an increasingly powerful demographic, MOMS WHO BLOG, decided to host a 3-day "getaway" for moms, culminating, naturally, in a field trip to J&J headquarters for a product expo. The hope is that the blogger attendants will return home and write (hopefully glowingly) on their blogs about the J&J products they saw, and how well they were treated by the giant corporation. They invited 50 "influential bloggers" on this junket, and shockingly enough, Yours Truly was one of those 50. I'm still trying to figure out quite how "influential" I am, but I registered for the trip based on a few key factors:
1. FREE. The trip is FREE. As in, all expenses paid, including airfaire, car service to and from the airport on both ends (though I excused them from sending a car for me here at home), great hotel accomodations, meals, a wine-tasting hosted by Ted Allen (fangirl squeeeee!), lots of pampering activities, a Wii-party and fine dining at The Frog and The Peach, etc. Yes, apparently, I can be bought--although I have to give props to our sponsors at J&J for making it clear right up front that: a.) We are not obligated in any way to write about the trip or the product expo, and b.) If we DO write about any of it, they ask that, in the interest of total transparency, we reveal that we were there on THEIR dime. I respect that.
2. The opportunity to visit with scads of my all-time favorite blogger-buddies from all over the continent! And these are just a few of the ones who I know will be there--I'm sure I "know" a heck of a lot more of the 50 attendees, if only online. If I had to guess, I'd say that MOST bloggers who accepted the invitation did so with this motivation high on their list of priorities. That was smart of J&J. I've heard lots of complaints that "the same group of bloggers gets invited to all these corporate-sponsored junkets," but this is the first time for me. It will be interesting to see if my participating in this activity gets me on some kind of PR "list" in the future. I do get PR pitches from time to time, but I'm certainly not inundated by them like some folks say they are.
3. TED ALLEN. 'Nuff said. I'm a dorky, dorky Top Chef/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fangirl. I'm not ashamed. Much.
In preparation for this trip, in order to educate myself about exactly who was buying my attention, I did some research into the companies owned by Johnson & Johnson, and the products they make. I was ASTOUNDED at the sheer number and variety of things made by J&J or one of their subsidiaries which have directly impacted my and my family's lives. They're not just Band-Aids and Baby Powder. From psychiatric medications that have benefited my bipolar husband to the Interceed fabric that repaired my resectioned colon and protected me from adhesions during a lifesaving surgery in 2000, I've spent enough money with Johnson & Johnson that a plane trip and a few dinners are looking like a nice "Thank-You" note at this point! Check here to see how much influence Johnson & Johnson has in your life--you might be surprised!
I'm looking forward not only to visiting and schmoozing, but also to doing my best at being a representative of wonderful folks like this amazing woman and others.
I just got my AmEx boarding pass reminder in my e-mail. Wahoo! I'm very thankful this is a direct flight for me. I'm a nervous traveler. I foresee a glass of wine upon arrival in New Jersey.
For those of you who work, did you tell your employer the details? I just requested time off for a mom's retreat. I don't really feel comfortable tooting my blog horn here at the office. I know one co-worker who occasionally reads it, but no one really seems to get the "blog thing" at work.
I'm looking forward to meeting everyone tomorrow! I arrive fairly early (1:30.)