Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

Posts Tagged "writing"

The Manners Police

Posted on Jan 15, 2011 in Featured, Motherboard |

The Manners Police

Maybe it was over-the-top, or maybe I’m just from a bit of a different generation that my kids, but my childhood was filled with a mix of wild fun and play dotted by perfecting manners and etiquette from the age of 8. I spent endless weekends learning to pour tea (pour from the right, eldest/most senior woman served first) to working on my punch-drinking skills (take white gloves off, lay in lap, keep your head up). In retrospect, it seems a little intense, but I gots me some Emily Post skilz. I want to teach my kids manners that will help them navigate conversation and environment, and demonstrate grace when not nailing each other with Nerf darts.

Four tips I learned in finishing school (HA! DID I JUST TYPE THAT?!), that I’d like to pass along to my kidlets:

1. Ballroom Dancing: The Ode to Commander Unander. Every Friday night my brother and I would go to a hall with other kids in my neighborhood in our dressy clothes. I’d say it was itchy and uncomfortable, but actually, I liked wearing the dresses (below the knee), having my hair done nicely and wearing tiny high heels. The only thing I didn’t really like was the gloves. White gloves aren’t really becoming on anyone, especially on a girl like me with hands like Shaq.  Over several years we learned to dance ballroom with a strict, old, washed-up ballroom dancer. “Commander Unander” and his shiny black tuxedo shoes swept me across the room like a feather. I loved it. Learning to dance ballroom was a wonderful gift — I can still walz and foxtrot my way through any wedding reception without wrapping my arms around my date like a drunk prom girl.

2. Table Top Knowledge: AKA Why do I have three forks? I can remember sitting at a fellow manners freak parents’ house for table training. It looked like a dishwasher exploded in front of me, but in truth, it was pretty easy to decipher after just a few times of practice. When in doubt, work from outside by course with your utensils, unless you don’t, then the waiter is likely to save you. Just don’t use the same utensil for multiple courses or take it off the plate and put it on the table (that was the kiss of manners death). It was more than napkins on laps though. A lot of what we learned here was subtle: don’t push a plate away from you, use the butter knife to put butter on plate not on bread, drinks go on the right. So far we’ve got the kids setting the table for dinner as a first step.

3. Host Management: Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds. As a kid, my parents took me everywhere — from dinner parties to galas. There’s only one whale at any soiree: the hostess. Once you get the gist that it’s all about paying respect to her, you’ve got it made. Bring a gift (Not flowers or food, but instead a small gift  like a homemade card from kids or special soaps); look in her eye, give her a compliment about her home or food; and most of all, don’t do anything without the hostess doing it first. By that I mean don’t put any food in your mouth until she has. Neeeeevvver.

4. Food: Not See-Food. I don’t think I ever chewed a piece of food with my mouth open. I never remember doing it, anyway. My son, Thing 1, has never breached the open mouth gap, either. My dear Thing 2, however, is a see-food eater. Oh man, the battle. One thing I remember learning was a sure-fire way to help curb this food nightmare was to tell the kids to take very small bites. It helps, but it’s not full-proof. Counting to 10 while chewing is another trick. I’m all about learning opportunities, but this one I have no tolerance for. Chew with your mouth closed or don’t sit at my table.

I’ve come to understand that it’s not popular to teach etiquette to children in 2011 — I guess it comes off as snobby or wanna-be high class. I see it differently than that. I spent eight years as a kid going through manners training and in the end, I apply more of it today than most of high school classes put together. I want my kids to grow up with tools that will carry them from the house down the street to The White House and every little cottage along the way.

This post was inspired by the smarty pants team at the Yahoo! Motherboard. (#ymotherboard)

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Privacy Meet Transparency, Your Ugly Twin

Posted on Sep 29, 2010 in Featured, iVoices |

Privacy Meet Transparency, Your Ugly Twin

It has been a long standing debate in our industry about the value of transparency in communication. It breeds trust, gives tangibility and street cred. Being transparent is cool. Until it’s not. Equally, we look at privacy protections, safety of our families online and the need to use code names and words for just about everything from the dog to the husband. But transparency has come to a place online where being truly transparent and completely private online are both pointless, fruitless battles. It’s us against the (PR/marketing/Google) machine, and we’ve lost.

I’ve used code names for my kids and self for years. I worked hard to keep my LinkedIn separate from my blog. I put my online personas into buckets: Facebook/LinkedIn in one bucket; Blog and Twitter and Flickr in another bucket. I went so far as to set search alerts for my name with my user names and cross reference the searches with my kids names — all for the sake of being both transparent and private. But somewhere along the way, the web got smarter than me. Oh, it just took one link to here or there, one re-tweet, one comment that used my real name to put it all together. Mark 2010 as the year that the Internet truly began to never forget.

The biggest problem with working in online communities has always been transparency — both the lack of it, the strive for it and the freakout when it comes to pass. It’s true that most people I know online know me as Garza Girl, and when I introduce myself I expect the blank stares, but as soon as I use my online name, the recognition comes. But the yucky side of that is that if you know me online, you know my dirt, because it is there in the cloud, where I, like so many others, have the false security that I’m writing anonymously. Transparency as we know it is dead because if it has to be staged, hidden behind user names and goofy profile pictures, then it’s not really transparent. Online transparency has a new norm: bare all or someone else will.

My someone else day has arrived.

I’ve been selected to be one of 15 iVoices for NBC/Universal’s iVillage. This means attaching my real name to my real face to my real life. This means being a face of a two-mommy family. This means the world will know that I feed my kids organically to prevent my daughter from having early puberty. This means that my crossed-eyes can’t be hidden. It means being transparent about my opinions on parenting to the world, not just in my backyard between like-minded friends. It means my exes — from the super insane thief to the one that got away — will be able to access me in all my 10-lb weight gain glory.

This move toward transparency also means that I will be able to work on stories that I am passionate about. It means I will put my image fears to the forefront of challenging myself to look in the mirror and into the camera. It means I’ll be able to offer a peek at what it’s like to be a two-mommy family. Being transparent means I’ll have to keep myself in check (can’t rant at the kid’s teacher anymore), keep other’s privacy in check, keep myself open to failure when it comes. It means, above all, that I’ll be living externally and that my role is to ensure I’m living that same life privately — the best I possibly can.

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It’s Sunday. I’m Not at Church. Are You?

Posted on Sep 26, 2010 in Family and Friends |

It’s Sunday. I’m Not at Church. Are You?

he Future is Wild is playing from the next room, my spouse is reading the newspaper, I am drinking coffee in my jammies. Later we might go for a hike. It’s Sunday and I’m not at church.

It’s not that I’m adverse to church, or synagogue or any other form of religious faith. It’s that I’m not sure how to steer my family toward a life that includes a faith-based day and uncertain that I have the drive to commit to it for the long haul. I keep telling myself, If one-quarter of Americans can do it, so can I, right?

An ongoing Gallup Poll research study suggests that about 40 percent of Americans attend some kind of religious services, while nearly 10 percent consider themselves faithful but rarely show up for services. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (a dang interesting resource for information) demonstrates that geography and type of faith guide how often people attend religious services and the more urban, the lower the percentage of attendees. Again, I find myself just a statistic.

Recently, the Catholic church has gone on a get-butts-in-seats media blitz asking its faithful to return to regular services.The problem is, ditching Church is not a sin. If it ain’t a sin, I’m pretty certain my spouse would pick watching the Raiders get pummeled over a couple beers than go to Church.

But my issue isn’t faith, my issue is logistics. A mom’s job sucks sometimes. How do I convince my children that getting out of their P.J.s and foregoing homemade pancakes with warm syrup in order to go to church is a good idea? Worse, I’ve got to somehow guilt my spouse into thinking that we are simply going to ruin our children if we don’t go to church; that we alone cannot be moral guides enough, they need to attend services. I guess I could tell her that52 percent of California children attend weekly services. But she might come right back at me with the fact that California ranks in the bottom 20 states when it comes to children attending regular religious services.

Oh man, how am I — as the self-appointed Board of Directors, Faith Inc. of our home — supposed to get my brood to church when I am not sure I’m buying it either? Another cup of coffee sounds pretty fricking good right about now.

I was raised Catholic, attending some form of Mass daily. I didn’t mind it at all. We have a faithful home and I’ve got a tramp-stamp to prove it. But life with kids always seems disjointed between nap and school schedules, sporting events, community events, and friends and family obligations. Suddenly Sunday seems sacred — and not in the church-going sense.

Then again, all of the obligations of life with kids could go away and I still am not sure I have it in me to pull my family out of their comfy Sunday morning to learn more, be taught more, not fidget in their seats more, be good girl/good boy any more. It’s Sunday and mommy thinks it’s time to chill.

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Five Phrases To Kill in Communication

Posted on Sep 13, 2010 in Featured, Rants |

Five Phrases To Kill in Communication

They all have their time — groovy, neato, smooth, rad, gag me with [anything]. But coined phrases can move to cliches quickly. Clean up your chatter by nixing these five passe communication terms:

“In my wheelhouse”

What it means: What you are describing is what I have experience in.

Previous passe synonyms: “in my arsenal;” “right up my alley”

Why: Are you a train engineer? Do you ride choo-choos? Unless you are working on the chain gang, you have no business using this wildly over-used phrase.

Possible replacement: I have strong experience in this area.

Not possible replacement: I rock that shit.

“Social media guru”

What it means: I work in social media.

Previous passe synonyms: “community ninja;” “online whiz” or “social media expert”

Why: No one, but no one is a social media guru. Guru is reserved for spiritual leaders and maybe your yoga instrutor, not to self-describe your work online.

Possible replacement: “online marketer;” “social public relations”

Not possible replacement: “Hopeless online addict”

“Under the hood”

What it means: Investigate this topic further.

Previous passe synonyms: “into the nitty gritty;” “deep dive”

Why: Are you a mechanic? Mechanics are hot and greasy and work for near-minimum wage.

Possible replacement: “I’d like to research this topic further;” “understand the details”

Not possible replacement: “Under your hoodie”

“Signal to Noise”

What it means: Putting the highest quality to the forefront

Previous passe synonyms: “Cream of the crop;” “Streamline”

Why: Because you are not a radio. And if you are a marketer, you should assume that balancing communication directives are part of the job.

Possible replacement: “Clean communication;” “high quality coverage”

Not possible replacement: “Cut the crap”

“Close the loop”

What it means: Check with other people relavent to the subject to ensure you have completed the task and its needs

Previous passe synonyms: “circle back around;” “touch base with”

Why: Because you are a not a knitter.

Possible replacement: “Complete the process”

Not possible replacement: “Cover my ass”

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The Scary Thin Line Between Blogging and Journalism

Posted on Aug 8, 2010 in Featured, Rants |

The Scary Thin Line Between Blogging and Journalism

As a very young writer, I had the great honor of working for one of the finest editors in the publishing business. Twice, actually. My first real job outside of  selling pantyhouse at Nordstrom was as an intern for Los Angeles Magazine a zillion years ago. The editor,  Blue Lew, taught me more than he’ll ever know — but the number one lesson about journalism that I learned was that the line journalism and advertorial shall never, ever, be crossed. True journalists hold the honorable role of being paid to write without the bias of influence from advertisers nor perk-a-lators.

This precious lesson helped me write some terrific advertorial inserts which made me more money than journalism ever did. And that’s okay, because one is based on touting the products of the company that is paying you, the other is reporting on a product, event or thing. See? Not hard to decipher at all when the line is drawn.

There was a table at Los Angeles magazine that was endlessly piled with goodies. The old wood 6-ft banquet table had everything from cosmetics to fancy dog treats, hoards of the latest goods to hit the market. Sometimes it was junk; other time it was backstage passes to the opening of House of Blues. The goodies were free for the taking — just pick up whatever you want. Nobody was expected to write about them, talk about them or hell, even use them for more than white elephant gifts. But what the table wasn’t was a deal between the writers and the PR folks who send them the goods. See, journalists don’t take the crap you send them — at least unless then need to in order to write a story. But bloggers? Many bloggers do. And that’s where the scary line between journalism and blogging comes to play for me.

And it’s not just the bloggers’ issue, it’s the PR execs too. Send you a sample, you give me a write-up. I send you to a show, you give me a raving blog post. You send me a book, I write a review. You give me free downloads for my kids and I tweet it out to my followers. It’s a growing relationship between bloggers and journalists that needs to be addressed. In listening to people speak this week at BlogHer 10, I started to become more clear on the problem at-hand: Many bloggers are advertorialists, not journalists. Although not good or bad, it’s got to be addressed. And beyond that, it’s got to be determined that paid blogging — no matter how you cut it — isn’t journalism. And that’s okay. But it’s got to require transparency.

A seasoned PR exec with a stellar reputation was approached by a blogger who wanted to know why she hadn’t contacted her lately. She asked why she wasn’t commenting on her blog, why she wasn’t returning emails at the drop of a hat. Caught off-guard, she tried to make it clear how valuable the blogger was to her and important to her business. And that’s true. But what the blogger was missing in all of this is that her direct access to this PR exec wasn’t a friendship — it’s a business relationship. Do you think the PR chick is calling up Brad Stone every day for a chit-chat? She calls him, then it means she’s got news or information to share that might be useful for his writing. He takes her call knowing that she’s got business. How are bloggers missing this important piece of business relations? Dear blogger friends, PR executives do not want to be your friend, they are working for their client. It’s not personal. It’s not about you. And no, they’re not reading your every Tweet.  PR execs know how to engage a journalist, but why not a blogger?

A few weeks ago I received a direct message on Twitter from a company that had offered me free downloads of their new iPhone app. I never got around to it. Yesterday I get a DM saying, “Taking your word for an older promise to try our (parenting) app on your iPhone.” Excuse me? I gave you my word? My word of what? And what promise would that be? How do I explain that offering writers a product to try is very different than committing to write about it. I think bloggers are mistraining our clients to expect that if we receive products to try that it means they will receive a post in return. The lessons of that old table are so simple and yet so hard to teach.

Advertorial is not a bad thing — it’s a great thing! The lines are very clear: you pay me with product or money and I, in return write a glowing blog post for you hitting all the points of interest that you’d like me to focus on. You pitch me or I pitch you. Great. You offer me a Cannon PIXMA Photojet printer which is worth about $375. How much are my blog posts worth? Well, if I write for BlogHer, they’re worth $50, so that’s either a blog post and social media outreach for $375 worth of your services or you are being over paid. Maybe that doesn’t work for longterm relationships with PR folks. Okay, how about if you loan me the printer and I get to have a photo printing party with some friends. You get to use the printer, print out as many photos as you want with all the supplies paid for. That’s worth about $50-$100. More in range of what we’re talking about here. Now you’ve got a deal. And, you’ve got a story to tell, rather than a simple review. That’s a good advertorial deal for both sides. And, could get you both more traffic and more clients.

I used to be on every PR list known to man. Seriously. Anything that had anything to do with entertainment was in my inbox. Not so much anymore. And that’s fine, I’m not an entertainment writers. It’s not my business. And, shame on the PR person who pitches me because they must be unaware that I no longer do that kind of writing. Recently I got on a PR list for live events for children. Now, that’s interesting to me. Why? Because I blog about my kids and kids lives, because I am always up for an adventure and I rather like cultural stuff. You want to send me tickets? That’s great! I like that, but what’s in it for you, you PR maven, you. Not much unless you have made a deal with me to do so. As your guest and having been “invited” to attend your event, I feel no obligation to write about your show. But the line is funky here too, especially for mom bloggers who could really use activities for their kids and ones that are free? Whoah, that’s hard to turn down.  But before you say yes with three exclamation points, I’d suggest making the relationship official and transparent. Think: is this advertorial or is this journalism? And then, proceed accordingly. Neither is wrong, of course. It’s just business.

Transparency is the key here. Decide what it is you are doing and be transparent about it. The way I see it, you have three options (a) be a journalist and use your blog to report things/people/events/thoughts without influence or bias; (b) be an advertorialist and use your blog as paid writing, using your blog as a mechanism to advertise things/people/events. Neither is wrong or less influential. The only wrong turn you can make is to blur the lines. And in doing so, lose trust of your audience. Set expectations, understand your strengths and limitations and understand that being a writer — both advertorial and journalistic — are held to the highest level of integrity.

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If I Was… Going to BlogHer ’10

Posted on Aug 1, 2010 in Featured |

If I Was… Going to BlogHer ’10

…oh wait, I am going to BlogHer10. But still.

I attended the very first BlogHer in Silicon Valley. I have to say, it wasn’t earth shattering for me. I never considered myself a pro blogger or even an aspiring pro blogger. I have been a journalist. I consider myself one of the tribe. Attending the first BlogHer didn’t do it for me. I was a bit annoyed at all the discussion of blogging for money, blogging for this, blogging for that. And why the focus on women? Weren’t journalists unbiased? Weren’t we held to the high code of honor to never entertain advertorial? It seemed, to me, at least, that BlogHer was one big amateur fest of women that wanted to be paid for their writing. What was the big deal? I thought BlogHer wouldn’t make it to year two. Holy hell, did I miss that one.

In 2008, with a ticket in-hand, I blew off BlogHer in San Francisco in lieu of taking my kids to Pier 39 and dinking around the City. I guess I *still* didn’t drink the kool-aid. BlogHer just seems like so.much.work. It also seems like a sorority gone wrong. Alpha Delta Ohmyfuckinggodstoppitchingme. But again, I was wrong. I had clients that did great business at BlogHer, business that moved the needle in their communications with bloggers.

On Wednesday I leave for BlogHer 2010. This time, I get it. I am at BlogHer to see my people. Some of them are indeed journalists and many I have come to know are not. In fact, many are people that I have grown to respect, admire and some times, get star-struck by. And those craft bloggers that I endlessly made fun of? Those are the ones that are at the core of some of the greatest work in the blogging industry who I am constantly learning from. This year, I am going to BlogHer to celebrate simply being a woman in a cutting-edge industry. I am going to have a cocktail. I am going to support my dear friend in her new book club venture, From Left 2 Write. I’m there for my new project with The SJFive, a kids geocaching adventure coming this fall. And then there is the marketing Me part. The I’m-A-Startup-Advisor-for-Women-Yes-We-Should-Talk-Here’s-My-Card part. That’s my least favorite part. I’m much better at marketing you than marketing me.

On that note, here’s my advice for those going to BlogHer ’10:

1. Without exception, be you. At the end of the day (and beginning, middle and end), being yourself is the very best marketing tool you have. This doesn’t mean dress like you’re homeless or neglect to brush your hair. It just means, be you. If a vendor doesn’t feel like the right match for you, then smile and leave. If a breakout session doesn’t offer what you are needing or how you want to spend your time, just leave. It’s not worth it to stick around half-assed with people, parties or conference sessions that don’t make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth.

2. Take a break. Now everyone talks about how crazy the conference is (and it is); how many parties they are attending (trust me, the free drinks aren’t always worth it); the sponsor events you must go to in order to maximize your time (ever heard of email?). The truth is, this stuff is truly overwhelming, overstimulating and over the top. Taking a break doesn’t mean meeting someone for coffee or even taking a yoga class. Taking a break means going to your room and putting your feet up without your laptop. It means putting on your headphones and stomping down the NYC streets smelling the City and people watching.

3. Live in the Moment. I know that you are wondering which event you are missing, where you should be and what you should be wearing. But being present and enjoying the process is something that I have worked toward for a long time. I’m not great at it at all. I suck. I’m always looking to where I should be, what’s next. I’m slowly learning to live more in the moment. Its my hope and advice to realize how damn lucky we are to be in the midst of great women doing great things and do my best to enjoy ever second I have to learn from them.

4. Plan. A Bit. I’m going to be going mostly under the radar this year. I’ll be going to a couple of parties, but not a ton. I’ll be going to some of the conference elements, but not all. I’ll be meeting up with friends but I also plan to be alone. My plan this year is to (a) not have a hangover (b) look my best (c) exercise Friday, Saturday and Sunday including the BlogHer 5k and an @EatBlogRun and @runteamsparkle reunion. (d) listen to some great speakers work their magic and (e). Bring something home to my children that’s one step above the mad dash at Barak Obama bobble heads at the sundry shop at the airport 20 minutes before boarding.

5. Forget the Popularity Contest. It’s already happening, just as it does every year. Is @punditmom going to be at this-and-that? Who will reign now that @queenofspain is not attending? What will @jessicagottlieb say/do/hang out with? Who is going to be at the cool parties? Who is having a private dinner with the @chevymissions team. Should I be jealous? How do I get in? Do they know I’m famous on Twitter?! Forget it. Seriously, forget it. When women get together — holy crap over 4,000 including sponsors — both magic and shit happen. Women are, well, women. For me it’s important to remember that it better be damn important to be 3,000 miles from my children and spouse for four days and it ain’t to worry about this stuff. Do your own thing, refer to #1 above and you’ll be fine.

My final goal for next week is to Learn. One of my favorite life lessons has been that I am not as smart as I think I am. Or that I am, but there are many that are smarter and smarter in different ways than I am. I don’t plan to market myself at BlogHer. I know that’s what’s done and I know it’s a game you have to play, but it’s just not why I am there. I’m there to learn from the best in the business. And for that alone, I can’t wait.

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