The Gift of Presence

08.18.12

I boarded the Amtrak Surfliner just before 9am to arrive in San Diego just after noon. From the train I could have taken a taxi but to save $40 or so on cab fare I hopped onto a bus that took me most of the way to the camp where Jane had spent the prior two weeks. Rather than taking a second bus and then walking a mile I tried my luck with a taxi and found myself chatting with an African man who spoke like he was singing and told me that he too had a daughter. She would be four in two days. She lived in Africa and he was trying to bring her here.

He might have been lying to me but I tipped him too much anyhow and asked him to please come back to the camp at 3 so that he could drive us back to the Amtrak station. He gave me his phone number and I went to pick my daughter up.

I love kids at camp. There’s a swagger that’s been earned. Jane thrives with independence and giving her tasks that are difficult but ultimately achievable are the greatest gifts she can receive. She was glued to her friend Kate that she’d attended with and I met two more girls that were there for the two weeks.

The girls ran and changed into wetsuits and then I got to watch them surf but only for a few minutes. Jane’s popping up smoothly now and she’s having fun when she’s riding a wave. Last year she was fighting the ocean this year she’s harnessing it’s power. I was standing in the water enjoying watching my daughter when I noticed Kate’s mom had arrived. I went to say hello to her and she was fighting back tears while talking about how perfect her daughter is. I must have looked confused and then Kate’s Mom went on to tell me that she has a friend who is fighting for her life. I have a little experience with that. I hugged her. I didn’t have anything to say because sometimes there really is nothing to say. Some parts of our lives are painful and because we are gifted life and friendship and people to love we will hurt and nothing is capable of taking that hurt away.

Tom Petty was blaring while our girls were surfing. When the girls have struggles in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s maybe Jane and Kate will be on a beach with a summer song providing a score that is testament to their love, triumphs and struggles all at once. Hopefully in everyone’s struggles there will be moments of perfection that penetrate like sunlight fighting through the sides of a drawn curtain. Surely we all have struggles it’s the ability to recognize those sweet slivers of sunlight that gets us through.

At 2.30 I had to get Jane out of the water so we could get everything together and head back to the train station. I walked next to her and listened while she talked. We checked out of camp as she told me about all the other kids. She continued to chatter for half an hour while we careened up the 5 freeway toward the Amtrak. I felt sad for the cab driver who must have been missing his own daughter and I tipped him too much money. The train was 45 minutes late and while we waited to board Jane continued to provide detail. There were kids from Santa Monica, Peru, Panama, Chula Vista, San Diego and Imperial Beach. Some of them were sooooo spoiled and some of them were sooooo smart and the only children weren’t as socially adept in Jane’s eyes. There were kind words for everyone except the two girls who refused to help clean the cabin. She struggled there.

I heard about surfing, kayaking, friendships, volleyball, dancing, whispering, walking and crushes. I heard about food, sunscreen, little kids, counselors, games, school and sand. We spent the train ride back looking at pictures from camp. I just listened. Listening to my kids may be one of my favorite activities. I’m not sure I could recount all the stories but I have a good general sense of how the two weeks were for my daughter.

I could have bought her a train ticket home and the camp would have sent her back on her own. Jane would have liked that too. She loves to travel solo, but then I would have missed the chatter. The chatter is the best part.

Loews Coronado Bay Review: San Diego Area Hotel

02.22.12

Us Gottliebs spent President’s Day weekend at the Loews Coronado Bay hotel. There are two things that are important to note. Presidents Day Weekend is a busy weekend with many area hotels sold out, and the hotel’s lobby was under construction. I had lowered my expectations. Apparently not quite enough.

lowes coronado bay resort aerial shot

I called the Loews just a few days before the holiday and explained to the reservations agent that I’m a high maintenance traveler. I like nice things and I make no apology for it. I also explained to him that I wanted either adjoining rooms or a one bedroom suite, the requirement is that there is a door between the two rooms. “It’s not a vacation if I’m sleeping in the same room as my children.” I said. It’s what I always say. He chortled, agreed and set us up with a Grand King Suite. He assured me I’d be delighted. I assured him that I wanted to be delighted.

Let me just say that a Grand King Suite at the Loews Coronado Bay is a wonderful thing. The ceilings are high, the views of the bay are stunning and the bathroom is everything you could hope for in a luxury spa hotel. Unfortunately there was nothing to separate the bedroom from the living room. It was exactly the hotel room I didn’t want for a family of four.

I called the front desk and explained the dilemma. They couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. After a brief hold I was told that they had a one bedroom suite for us. It would be smaller and a few dollars less but it was vacant and he would send a bellman with keys.

So we waited. And we waited. Then we waited some more.

A very nice and incredibly apologetic bellman arrived with keys and showed us to the second room. It was still very nice, smaller and with a much smaller bathroom but it suited our needs as a family of four that wanted a little privacy throughout the weekend. The views of the bay were soothing and the location was actually better than the larger suite. When traveling with kids it’s nice to be near the teen room and the swimming pool.

We thanked the bellman and reminded him that we needed a rollaway bed as well as some extra blankets and pillows. This was at about 4pm.

At 6pm we called again and they sent the rollaway bed but no pillows or blankets. I asked about turndown service and for the sofa bed to be opened. They assured me that someone would be “right on it”.

At 8pm I called again.

At 8.45 the incredibly sweet operator once again assured me that the housekeeping supervisor would be right there. I ran out of nice and reminded her that I was in a hotel and asking for a bed at 9pm. Shortly thereafter a housekeeper arrived to unfold the sofa bed and gasped audibly to find it bare.

Sometime after 9 I left the room in utter disgust to take a walk with my son and left Mr. G and Jane to wait for housekeeping (who again failed to bring extra blankets and pillows). Mr. G asked if he should tip whomever arrived in the room. I didn’t have an answer, I’m still of two minds.

The hotel manager arrived. Mr. G reported that she was very young and very apologetic. I’m sure she was sweet, everyone was sweet there. Sadly they were mostly incompetent.

The television in the bedroom didn’t get reception on many of it’s channels but we weren’t concerned enough to complain about it. In addition to the shower being tiny, and folks when I say tiny I’m talking about a 3 foot by 3 foot space, the showerhead hardly dribbled. Shower caps were not provided. Again, I’d accepted defeat after the bed fiasco.

We spent a wonderful day by the pool. There are two ping pong tables and a giant connect four. There is plenty of seating, some sofas and a bar. Unfortunately the food is from room service (as opposed to a separate pool service area) so it’s VERY slow. Fortunately the coffee bar in the lobby (even under construction) has fabulous grab and go choices including fresh fruit, pasta salads, healthy sandwiches and little bits of handmade chocolate that you simply must experience.

Although the hotel is located on the bay, you should not confuse this with a beach. I wouldn’t have my kids swimming in the water as it’s mostly full of motorboats. It’s a beautiful view, but it’s better for boaters than for swimmers.

The pool area is really quite lovely and I cannot emphasize enough how much we enjoyed our day by the pool.

The Sunday brunch is similar to other hotel Sunday Brunches. There’s an omelet bar and a lunch area, there are lovely desserts, overcooked vats of scrambled eggs and piles of breakfast meats. Like other hotels it’s hideously overpriced, unlike other hotels it has a Mexican flare. I like Mexican flare, especially when I’m spitting distance from the border.

Our second night was better. We had no requests and it was impossible to disappoint us. We accepted the dribbling water from the teeny tiny shower and left town. In spite of it all we had a fabulous weekend together.

What would alarm me most about this hotel is that upon checking out I said to the woman at the desk, “I’d like to general manager to call me on Tuesday so that I can tell you about my experience here.” She nodded, wrote down my number on a slip of paper and shoved it into a pile. Naturally there was no phone call.

It’s an okay hotel in an okay location but the staff is not so okay.

I’d reserved a Grand King Suite at $450 a night (I know a steal) and then moved to the one bedroom suite at $350 a night. If you can lower your expectations and make your own bed you just might enjoy yourself.

Overabundance With Our Feet on the Ground

02.21.12

This weekend we snuck out of town for some family time. Since we’d unplugged Jane from her friends it seemed only fair to take the family funishment to the next level and make her spend quality time with us. We had a blast.

What was interesting about this trip is that we stayed in a hotel I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t one I’d recommend. It wasn’t budget friendly, and no matter how much I lowered my expectations they simply couldn’t be met by the hotel staff. They were a friendly staff, adorable even, but they weren’t particularly competent.

We told the kids we were heading to San Diego and my son packed for the beach. I don’t know how we didn’t double check his clothing choices, but we didn’t and he ended up with shorts and tee shirts and not enough socks. Although San Diego is, in fact, the beach, it was February in San Diego and it was quite cool at night. Jane’s hair wasn’t behaving as she thought it should (though I maintain that she has the most incredible hair I’ve ever seen).

With all this, with not very interesting food, cold and windy nights, waiting until 9pm for a bed to be made (and by “made” I mean it had no sheets) and Mr. G’s back hurting him it sounds like a horrible weekend away. Don’t worry, it’s only a sound.

Jane finished book seven in Pretty Little Liars and we had to beg the bookstore owner to please let us in, “we don’t need to browse.” I explained, my foot wedged into the closing door. We just want to grab a book and go. A toddler was in the back pooping in her diaper under a table, her father thought it was adorable. We got a book and Jane had a dose of birth control all at once.

During this weekend I was reading, obsessively reading, The Man Who Quit Money. It’s about Daniel Suelo who quit money in the beginning of the millennium. It’s a fabulous book and it touched me because it was written by a man with whom who I grew up. I still make his mother’s pancakes from the Co-Op nursery school cookbook. Obviously I wanted to like this book, but somewhere midway I realized it was me. He was writing about me (and so many of you) when he talked about the dilemma of reusing a Ziploc bag. Is it worth the water to rinse it? Am I adding to the plastic in the landfill? Why the fuck did I buy this bag in the first place? To hold apple slices? Next time I’m sending the kids to school with an apple and a knife (braces make it impossible to bite into one whole).

The book might have made me nicer over the weekend. There was only one moment where I lost my cool with the hotel manager (who was approximately 15 years old). I looked at things a little differently. It didn’t matter how I wanted to see the world. It didn’t matter what I expected a resort to look like, it mattered that I was with my family and I was gifted time and attention.

In fact Monday morning Alexander looked up at me and said that even though it’s a bay and not a beach and even though and even though… this was the best weekend of his entire life.

I’m not sure why our family is having such a nice time just being together. I’ll never really know how a crappy hotel and terrible food gave us all such pleasure, but it did.

BlogHer 2011 Observations

08.7.11

BlogHer 11 started with giggles and ended in uncontrollable laughter. I’d been promised a Nissan Murano for the drive to San Diego, unfortunately someone crashed the car a few days before the event and it just wouldn’t be out of the body shop in time.

The folks at Nissan were very apologetic, but hey, these things happen. They explained to me that there was one car left from the fleet, a Frontier. I said I’d take it, and then I googled Nissan Frontier.

OMG a pick’em up truck. A BIG ASS PICK UP TRUCK.

We drove this exact same nissan Frontier 2011 to BlogHer in San Diego

So I called my friend Carley who was driving down with me and I explained to her that we would be having a different experience. Since Carley has historically been open to my stupid ideas I felt fairly certain she’d be open to this. We had an absolute blast driving the Frontier down.

I will preemptively answer a few questions you might have about two women driving a Nissan Frontier:

  • Yes, it gets a lot of attention
  • No, I cannot park it very well
  • Yes, when we dropped it off with the valet we then made the valet take our suitcases and stuff them in the cab for safety
  • Yes, the kids think I’m the coolest mom in town
  • No, we didn’t go off-roading (but I’ve still got 24 hours)
  • Yes, the visibility is awesome
  • No, there were no problems getting in and out in a skirt and heels
  • 90 MPH is too fast to drive on a lightly curved highway interchange, though we broke no laws and absolutely were driving safely with the flow of traffic

Back to BlogHer. As I’d expected, no one cared what anyone wore. No one was judgy except me. I got one look at my friend Carly’s handbag and decided that I absolutely HAD to have one. (see not all judgement is bad). I grabbed Cassie and my pick up truck and the concierge gave us directions to Barney’s in Fashion Valley.

Except there was no Barneys, it was a Barney’s Co-Op which definitely wouldn’t have the amazing Proenza Schouler bag that I still must own. So Cassie and I hit up Neimans and I found a great dress and a pair of crisp white bermuda shorts that were on sale. Because of the sale prices Mr G now owes me $423, it’s called wife math.

Later that evening I had an amazing dinner in a sea of blones. Cassie, Kathy, Claire and I headed to Nobu and proceeded to eat and drink and chat for two hours. It was one of those dinners that you want to never end. I couldn’t get enough of their stories, the travel, the career building, the rapid ascents, the love stories. I wanted to drink in their successes and force them all to blog endlessly so that I can read about it more. I hunger for moments like these, smart women sharing knowledge. I don’t get enough of it.

I attended one session. It was good.

I met with brand representatives from a dozen or companies, some of whom I’ve worked with, some of whom I will never work with but I will play matchmaker with a friend. They were all anxious to work with bloggers, and they will have varying degrees of success if they don’t get in their own way.

I had a stumbly dinner with Cathy and Laurie and I’m hoping that someone can explain to me why shoes that fit me six months ago are now so big that I walk right out of them. My feet are not shrinking.

I changed hotel rooms. If you ever have to stay at the Marriott Marquis in Downtown San Diego do not under any circumstances accept a room with city views. Trains go by every half hour or so all night long, and just as you’re about to drift off to sleep a train whistle will wake you up. The first night was somewhere beyond miserable. The second night we faced the harbor, it was much better.

Bloggers are smart. Don’t let their cutesy icons fool you, these women are building meaningful businesses.

There are a few new startups that I fell in love with. Follow @PopSalad on twitter, it’s evolving into something fun. Parents, you’ll want to watch for Vikido. It’s good stuff. Tom was there from Cmp.ly, if you aren’t using cmp.ly you’re working too damn hard.

I hate to be negative, because 98% of BlogHer was fabulous. I have just one PR agency that I can’t work with. Over the years I’ve had nothing but terrible pitches from them followed by 2-3 follow up emails that were less like follow ups and more like nagging. They aren’t a small shop, they’re just a shop I’m not a match with. This shop recently hired a fellow blogger as part of their team. When I met up with the blogger we chatted and she told me all about the work she was up to with the agency and all the perks of blogging.

I was confused because the blogger/publicist had provided me with access to the client company yet she was telling me about how her blog got 1,000 hits a day from her interviews with executives and creatives from that same company. Then she went on to tell me that she loved working with _____ as a blogger because of the perks and she was already a fan. So I smiled and walked away.

I love when publicists blog. There are too many great PR blogs to mention. I love when bloggers find jobs within public relations firms. What I saw at BlogHer (and again, it’s just this one shop that I saw it with) is that the best access will go to the bloggers who work there. I am staying far far away.

I was sad to see so many women smoking. I won’t sermonize, but it made me sad.

The phrase I most often heard was, “I’m not just a blogger.” They would go on to talk about their other talents and social media influence. I felt badly for these ladies too, because there’s nothing wrong with being a blogger. I’m just a blogger.

 

 

 

 

Conflicted About Blogging

06.28.11

In a few weeks I’ll be joining 3,000 or so women at BlogHer. It’s a big blogging conference for women and I’d went once before when it was in Chicago.

I have mixed feelings about it. Although I’m not part of the BlogHer ad network, and I don’t participate in their community BlogHer has paved a path for women to follow. BlogHer took a hobby and turned it into a career. For that I am grateful.

But of course I’m not one to gush, so I have to find the negative too.

As bloggers we have to support ourselves with brand partnerships, advertising or by writing on someone else’s site for a paycheck (just not places like Huff Po who pay you with a thank you note). There’s a delicate balance, and I’m not sure that many people achieve it. I occasionally share product information here and it comes from one of three ways.

  1. A product has blown me away and I’ve told you about it. (like the Diva Cup)
  2. A product line has dazzled me and I’ve begged them to partner with me (like Kenmore)
  3. A brand has a message that they’ve shared with me and I’ve agreed that the message has value and shared it with you. (P&G)

The way that a product would make it’s way to me is pretty narrow, and the way that I’d share it with y’all is narrower still. Not a lot of product sharing goes on here. Which is good, right?

There’s a new kind of blogger, the review blogger. Review bloggers seem to be mostly women, but that’s just the way I see things because I’m smack dab in the middle of the mommy blogging world. I want to dislike the review blogger. You see she takes any old crap and writes glowing reviews of it. Typically the review blogger only writes positive reviews and she might even publish a press release word for word.

The review blogger is the lazy publicist’s best friend. The review blogger will almost always garner positive press for a product and almost never charge anything more than the cost of the trinket and overnight shipping.

The review blogger has also sucked the life out of the blogosphere. The review blogger often calls herself a Mom Blogger (or worse a Mommy Blogger) and her site can create confusion. You see when I tell people that I’m a Mom Blogger they’re like, “But you’re so much MORE than that.” And I smile but don’t say anything because calling your peers crap makes you only better than crap. In my head I’m screeching, “They aren’t bloggers! They’re shills.”

And I’m sure I’m going to meet a huge number of them in August. And I’m conflicted because these are nice women who I like. They’re walking down this same weird path of blogging, but they’re using it very differently.

Is it okay to like someone and really dislike their business?