Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bloggy Con 14--Had a Wonderful Time, Can't Wait to Go Back

I spent this past weekend at Bloggy Con 2014, sponsored by the fabulous people at Bloggy Moms. It was an amazing experience.

It was the perfect first conference for me.  More low key than some of the bigger conferences, with only about 250 bloggers in attendance, and far more affordable and conveniently located as well.

We were hosted by Cedar Point Amusement Park, which offered generously discounted rooms, in the lovely Hotel Breakers.  Our suite (which the Hotel graciously upgraded from a single room for us at the last minute when we wound up with a bigger group than expected) was lovely, with a fantastic view of the lake, and convenient proximity to both conference and amusement park.

  Cedar Point wanted this to be an event that bloggers could bring their families to, so they also provided passes to the park for the weekend. I was able to take my sister, her 3 boys, and my own daughter.

Upon arrival Friday we checked into our room, then Sis and the kids decided to go hit the roller coasters. I decided to enjoy the quiet for a couple hours and check out my swag bag, which was filled with a variety of  products that I can't wait to check out.

Saturday morning I made sure everyone was squared away with their park tickets for the day, and I headed off to  breakfast at the convention center.  I was a little apprehensive (I am actually rather an insecure person)  but the larger part of me felt I was taking myself and my writing a giant step forward.

The first thing I encountered at the table was a lovely memo portfolio that doubles as a tablet easel, courtesy of Cedar Point, as well the plus Snoopy in a Santa Suit.  We were asked to take pictures of Snoopy around Cedar Point as part of a Twitter contest.
Snoopy and I wait for
 the Blue Streak

Snoopy checks his social
The Girl becomes
possessive of Snoopy

Passing out Lefty Pop cards

and promotes this blog
as well

Each morning we all met for community time, before we broke off into special interest group sessions.  I attended classes on subjects as varied as blog monetization, attracting brands and sponsors, social media trends, SEO, and travel blogging. Especially exciting was the photo walk I took on Sunday morning, which deserves its own post.

Our schedule left us with plenty of free time to enjoy the park with our families as well. I hadn't been to Cedar Point in over 20 years, so it was great to catch up with old favorites among the attractions and discover new ones.

A view of Cedar Point at night.

The Windseeker is a particularly impressive ride at night.
It looks like the mothership in Close Encounters taking off.

Another view of Cedar Point at night. 

Also the park and hotel were decorated for Halloween, which was also fun.

More important of all I met a lot of other bloggers, some novices, some experienced, all enthusiastic and helpful.  It was good to be in a group of like minded people for a weekend. I found that we all have our uncertainties regardless of followers and page hits. And I know I picked up both ideas and friends that will stay with me a long time.

At our final group session  it was announced that Bloggy Con 2015 will be held at Cedar Point again.  I'm already making plans to go.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Heading Off to Bloggy Conference

Several years ago I began working on this blog, largely in an attempt to reawaken the writing ability that had lain fallow for about 20 years as work and kids took up most  of my time and creativity.  I was first encouraged to do so by my longtime friend Linda Roy  of Elleroy Was Here who was herself dealing with similar issues.   What started as a writing exercise has taken on a life of its own.

I have written some 300 posts now.  I have been to blog hops and link ups and tweeted my little heart out. I have earned a position as a staff writer at Lefty Pop, probably my proudest online achievement to date.  I decided it was time to take the next big step and attend a blogging conference.  For two years now I have watched my friends blog about their conference activities: contacts, inspiration, information, networking. I wanted my piece of the action.

I was looking for an event that was close to home, affordable, and reachable by public transit if necessary. Pretty soon I discovered Bloggy Conference 2014. It was a mere 85.00 for attendance, with major discounts and perks for staying at the Breakers Hotel at the park. Best part of all, Cedar Point is less than two hours from my house (especially when one isn't fighting summer amusement park traffic). Returning to Cedar Point is especially fun because I worked there the summer between high school and college.

The number of attendees is a relatively small 250 or so. I will be attending classes on topics like managing social media, the dreaded Search Engine Optimization, and blog photography. I will get to network with people, and hopefully raise awareness of both this blog and my cyber home away from home: Lefty Pop.

So the bags are packed, the business cards are made, and shortly I will be on my way.

Bloggy Conference 2014 here we come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rocking out with Schoolhouse Rock

Today I am over at Lefty Pop writing about Schoolhouse Rock. The classic series of 3 minute snippets of grammar, history, math and science is over 40 years old now, and last night ABC did a one hour special celebrating this fact.

The show was one of the treasures of my middle school years. Several episodes, especially those celebrating grammar and history have stuck with me ever since. (If only there were a Schoolhouse Rocks for algebra, my college career might have gone more smoothly.)

Last night ABC reported on their picks for the 5 best/most popular episodes. I agree with their top two choices, but not the others, so here is my countdown of the five best segments of Schoolhouse Rocks.

"The Preamble" is a sentimental favorite.  When my son was young he had a Leapster and he had both Grammar Rocks and History Rocks games for it. He learned the Preamble to the Constitution courtesy of Schoolhouse Rocks and Leap Frog.

"The Great American Melting Pot"  A classic that has stayed remarkably timely as well.

"Interjections" I rank this higher than ABC did--for the sheer genius of fitting lines like "or with a comma when the feeling's not as strong" into a  song, not to mention audaciously setting a kids educational video to Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus,".

"I'm Just a Bill" One of the best civics lessons ever, in the space of 3 minutes here is the story of how Federal laws are made (and not made).

"Conjunction Junction" Here it is, the earworm to end all earworms.  As I mention over at Lefty Pop, I had a high school teacher who made students who misused conjunctions sing the song in front of class. It is the perfect merging of pop art and useful knowledge.

So those are my favorites. What are yours? If you go over to my post on Lefty Pop you can see the ones ABC picked. Or let me know what your choices would be.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Last year at this time our world was chaotic and adventurous. The children were both embarking on grand new academic adventures at the same time; with the Girl starting high school while her big brother headed off to college.

The Girl had been admitted to our school systems performing arts program, by auditioning for orchestra on viola.  The program is housed at a different high school than the one that middle school fed into and her brother had attended. With the exception of a few girls she knew from a city wide summer academic program she was heading off to school without any of her friends. Moreover, due to her time commitments for orchestra she had decided to give up dance; thus she was shifting her identity from "dancer" to "musician".

The Boy, meanwhile, had chosen a school a 3 hour drive from home, in another state; thus allowing him to put some distance (but not too much) between school and family. His last spring and summer at home had its own brand of chaos, as he navigated college offers, finished classes, tried to complete his Eagle Scout Requirements, worked all summer at the scout camp, finished his last season of baseball, and tried to get all the things he needed for his first semester of school.  Somehow, with a lot of help, he managed the juggling act, including having his Eagle Project finish 4 whole days before the 18th birthday cut off.

I'm happy to report that both did well this year, each surmounting a few challenges along the way--with good grades, extra curriculars, new friends, and teachers who seem to like them.

So September beckons again, and now they both are Sophomores, veterans of the scholastic trenches as it were. 

The Girl started back to school with all the drama of screwed up schedules, over packed classrooms, last minute summer reading assignments (as in she was finishing them up last week--she got the assignments in June) and the usual quest to color co-ordinate her notebooks and folders. But she survived that first week (which was exactly 2 days long, since they went back on Thursday) and now has had a 3 day weekend to recuperate. 

All week the kitchen and dining room had filled with all the Boy's treasures and necessary items: TV, coffee pot, clothes, drinks and snacks, school supplies and text books. Sunday we loaded up the car for an early start. One difference this year--the Boy drove going to the school, a relief to his dad who only had to make the return trip.    

So now they both are Sophomores--1 year down and 3 to go in their respective schools.  Both have more schooling ahead. The boy is already considering grad schools, the girl is looking at dozens of colleges and majors, her choices change almost daily. 

Both have a long way to go--and no doubt many twists and turns along the way, but so many kids their ages see only dead ends, or can't even find the road at all.  At least these two are both studying the map.

Friday, August 15, 2014

I Don't Want to be a Funny Writer

Ever since I started writing I have noticed a major deficit in my work--I'm not funny, at least on paper.  In my high school  journalism class I was supposed to write a humor piece--it fell flat.  Same thing in my college writing classes. Jokes, gag lines, funny stories, even those I had successfully told in person, died on paper.  My plays were all dramas, my poems were all tragedies.

It's not that I don't have a sense of humor, (I ever aspire at times to depraved Irish wit) or even say funny things occasionally, I do. My occasional sarcasm is usually recognized for what it is. It's just the humor never seems to survive the journey to the printed page (or computer screen.)

When I started blogging, I discovered there were a lot of humor blogs out there, and they were often among the most successful. There is all sorts of funny out there: wistful funny, snarky and sarcastic funny,, laughing through the tears funny.

And I envied them.

I envied them their readership, but even more I envied them their ability to make people laugh, to make a difference in their readers' days.

But as I read more and more humor bloggers, I made a discovery. The writers who were the most effective at getting laughs were among the ones  who were also being most gut-wrenchingly honest about their experiences with depression and addictions. Just because their posts had a light tone didn't mean their lives were as well. Many of their stories were harrowing.

I have had my own relatively brief experience with postpartum depression. Diagnosed by my family doctor, alleviated by the first medication she tried, I saw just enough  of the tip of the iceberg to know the 90% below the waves is far worse.  I am filled with admiration for those who not only surmount their problems, but share them with others and provide laughter as well.

I have been thinking about these things this week, in the wake of Robin Williams' suicide. So many of bloggers have contributed heartfelt posts about the tragedy, often in response to those who just do not appreciate that depression is an illness, just like any other. (For further evidence, see every person on the Net who says  they understand his death better now that they know he was dealing with Parkinson's disease as well as Depression.)  Cracked Magazine ran a superb article Tuesday morning on the link between Depression and humor (who would know better, they are some of the funniest people on the Internet), making many of these same points as well.

I am in awe of those who make laughter of their pain, or in spite of their pain. They are a true gift to the rest of us. But I have learned that I am not that person, and hopefully will never have to be. I am happy to remain in the appreciative audience, well aware of the price the entertainers have often paid.

I don't want to be a funny writer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Vacant Lot in the Heart

(Dear Readers, I just got back from vacation this weekend, and I was planning  several light and lovely posts about the vacation, and the Middle Ages and so forth. I didn't intend to waltz into tragedy the first post out, but I had to say something about Monday's events.)

Around the corner from my house, at the place I wait for the bus, there was a big old house. It had once been very nice indeed, but had been vacant for some time, and had gotten grown over with hedges and ivy, and made the bus stop a really scary place to stand because you couldn't see anymore if anyone was hiding on the porch. There had been break-ins and drug activity.

Saturday when we came home on vacation, we came around the corner and the house was gone, completely gone.  A bulldozer was inside the fence flattening out the dirt. By this morning when I headed out to work, there was no sign that a house had ever been there, except the indention in the sidewalk for a driveway, and yet I can still picture the house that was there, as it looked before it was vacant and the meth heads showed up.

This is kind of how I feel about Robin Williams' death. Like there's a big hole in our movie loving hearts where he should be, and yet we are able to call up all those moments that put him there in the first place.

I first became a fan of Robin Williams in the summer of 1979. I spent the summer before I started college as an employee of  Cedar Point Amusement Park.  When we weren't working we would gather in the common room to watch television. Two of the shows that most frequently packed the place were Saturday Night Live (with the glorious original cast) and the Thursday night airings of Mork and Mindy.  Certainly college aged youth will respond to anything that will give them a good laugh, but there was also the sense that we were watching an extraordinary thing, gifted and talented people walking high wires without nets.  In the case of Robin Williams it took about 5 minutes of any episode of Mork to realize that you were looking at a genius.  Within the confines of a sitcom, there were moments when you could see that Mr Williams was ad libbing madly (Supposedly the writers would just write a note saying "Robin takes off here" and let it happen).

Another thing I was introduced to that summer was The World According to Garp. When Williams was announced as the lead in the film, many wondered if he was up to such a complex and multifaceted role, but he was, because Robin Williams was that rarest of birds, a great stand up comedian who was also a great actor.

I remember laughing at his performance in Good Morning Vietnam, a part he was in many ways born to play as it permitted him to "take off" in the broadcast sequences, yet he was great in the quieter, more thoughtful scenes as well.

But it was Dead Poets Society that won me over forever. His performance as John Keating, an unconventional teacher who brought both anarchy and a love of literature to boys at a boarding school was magnificent.  Although there were still "take off" moment, they were at the service of the plot. Few mainstream movies have treated audiences to so much great written word from Thoreau, Vachel Lindsey, and especially Walt Whitman. When Williams' John Keating quotes Whitman: "That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" the film spoke to me. It must be have resonated with a lot of other people too, because one of the trending lines on Twitter was a simple Whitman quote that plays a prominent role in the film: "Oh Captain, My Captain."

From that time on I was a committed fan. I watched most all of his movies when I got the chance, and plan to get to the others.  His Peter Pan was the heart and soul of Hook. (I once heard a reviewer say the movie worked because he believed in it) He was the best thing about Aladdin. He was a high point of the Night at the Museum movies. I endured movies like RV that aren't usually my thing, because of him. He was heartbreaking in films like Bicentennial Man. 

  I cheered when he won his Oscar for Good Will Hunting, "High Freaking Time" I shouted at the TV.

I applauded his many charitable endeavors, especially for Comic Relief and for the USO.  I also read and watched his many interviews, and appreciated his attempts to be honest about his dealings with drugs and depression.

When the news broke on Monday Night that he had died, and soon after that he had died an apparent suicide I was deeply moved. Lately many of my blogger friends have been writing heartbreaking columns about their struggles with depression and other mental disorders. One of the issues many have raised is that this is a disease that is controlled, not cured, and that one never knows when the demons will come rolling back. Ironically the funniest, most captivating voices are often the ones who have fought the hardest battles with depression.

Robin Williams' death was yet another reminder of all this. Predictably some pundits reacted by calling him selfish, though few sunk to the depth of Rush Limbaugh who blamed Williams support of leftist causes.
Many others (including so many of those aforementioned blogging friends) wrote with real thought and feeling about depression and addiction and its causes.  The more people stepped up to talk about their experiences the more you realized that it was a triumph that he endured his demons so long, and gave so much to people along the way.

Right now though, I am looking at this vacant lot, and thinking about the vacancy created this week in so many hearts. At least we have the great gift of film, that may not fill the hole, but at least it can help us remember what belonged there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Happy Anniversary!" I say to my husband in the middle of the afternoon.

"Oh it is today, isn't it?" he replies. "26 years?"

"Yes" I say.

That's about how it goes with mushy sentimental things like anniversaries for us. Most years it runs up against our departure for Pennsic, as it did this year.  We are too busy locating camping gear and and medieval garb to take much time out for an actual celebration; and lets be realistic, who can afford either the time or the money to go out for a fancy meal right before vacation (although sometimes my husband will cook a nice dinner if time permits).

Last year, Pennsic was a week early, and we were already there on July 23rd, and got to celebrate with a cheesecake and the company of some good friends. But this year we back to the usual packing mode.

The weather today is threatening rain, of which there has been a decent amount this summer, but the year we married the Midwest was in the grip of a horrendous drought. We planned our wedding for the late afternoon, in part due to the weather, but also because it allowed our working theatre friends to come between the matinee and the evening performance. We actually got a little rain, which was a blessing indeed as it cooled things off. It was a low key sort of reception, just our family and friends and everyone had a good time.

This year the 23rd lands on Wednesday, which is Family Night at the Camp the Boy works at. For several summers now our Family Night ritual is to deliver pizza to the Boy (and have one ourselves) as pizza is one of his favorite foods, and moreover allows his parents to make sure he has eaten at least one full meal this week.

The more I think about it, the more appropriate it seems to mark the day in such a way. Marriage, and Life, isn't really about the big events half as much as it is about all the little day to day things you do because they must be done, and do together because it works better that way.  

Eating carryout from Little Caesars with the kids is as good a way to celebrate a marriage as any other.