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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BlogHer Handmade and The Creative Connection Event 2011 recap

This was my first trip to St Paul, Minnesota. In fact it was the first time I'd ever been to Minnesota. The weather was cool, 30º the morning we arrived, the people were really friendly and though it may be the land of 10,000 lakes, there were zero rental cars available citywide the day we arrived. Because of this Hubby was forced to tromp around while I was attending sessions at the conference. He had a good time though taking pictures of the city and visiting the Science Museum of Minnesota.

I was there for the 2011 BlogHer / The Creative Connection Event conference to both speak as a panelist in a session about using social media and, because being a speaker allowed me to attend the rest of the conference as a guest, I was able to attend some of the other sessions to improve my own business.

After eight days in Canada we boarded a plane in Toronto, had a layover in Chicago and arrived in St. Paul just in time for lunch.

American Burger flies the American flag on all of their burgers.

We walked down the street from our hotel looking for somewhere to eat and spotted the American Burger Bar where I had a veggie burger patty loaded with fresh veggies and some really delicious skinny fries.

After that we headed back to the hotel where, even though there was a meet and greet going on in the lobby I headed up to our room. I was exhausted from all of the traveling and decided to stay in bed for the rest of the evening to rest up for my session the next morning. Hubby went out to wander about a bit and when he returned shortly before 10:00 PM he said "There are a lot of ladies downstairs." LOL. That was a good sign that the attendees were arriving for the conference.

The next morning I headed down to the breakfast sponsored by Starbucks. I thought it was super cool that there were four buffet stations. Two were standard breakfast options, one was Gluten-Free and one was Vegan. I had a little fruit, a bran muffin, 4 pieces of granola and OJ.

The ballroom was already packed with hundreds of women listening to Elisa Camahort Page, one of BlogHer's cofounders, giving a welcome address but I managed to find a seat in a corner.

At the end of her presentation she introduced us to the concept of speed dating, networking style. Two long lines formed and people would have just enough time to introduce themselves, exchange cards and move on as people in one line would then take one step to their right. This allowed us to meet a lot of people very quickly.

After breakfast it was time for our session about content and community building titled "Your Social Media Solar System" designed to help social media newbies to figure out which social media platforms to use and how.

We had a fantastic moderator so I have to give big props to Erica Mauter, standing behind us below, for asking great questions and keeping the flow of the conversation balanced between all three panelists. It's not always easy as sometimes one panelist will receive much more speaking time than the others.

At our session Kathy Cano-Murillo (aka "The Crafty Chica") was to the left, that was me (aka "The Flirty Girl") in the middle and Nancy Malay (aka "The Christmas Lady") was on the right.

Top image posted on FB by Nancy Malay, head shots from TCC website and I took the shot of our audience during the session :)

I felt like we had a really fantastic session mostly because even though we share common goals, our experiences, motivations and answers to the same question were often completely different. Which really, on a panel discussion, is a great thing. If everyone agrees on everything you only needed one panelist. But having diversity helps each person in the audience to realize that there isn't a single right way to do things. Variety can be the spice of life and I think our panel hit that message home.

If you want to know what we said CLICK HERE for the live blog post of our breakout session as posted by blogger Patti Nichols. Thanks for the great coverage Patti!

Later, it was cool to see that even during our presentation the audience was busy tweeting bits and pieces as we spoke.

After our session I skipped the event lunch to have lunch with hubby. He'd read about Mickey's Dining Car and so we headed out to locate it a few blocks from our hotel. Cute right? It's a true old fashioned dining car.

I had my first classic, American cheese, grilled cheese sandwich. The few grilled cheese sandwiches I've had have used fancier cheeses. It was great. We both ordered the cole slaw which was delicious and unusual because they bring you a bowl of chopped cabbage and a small container of sauce that you stir in yourself. This method keeps the salad extra crisp.

Chris Barker I thought of you and posed for these pictures :)

After lunch we walked through Landmark Plaza where you can see and sit with some large sculptures of the Peanuts characters. Charles Schultz was a St. Paul native so the city honors him this way.

After lunch I attended a session that was an introduction to monetization for creative bloggers. Moderator Wendy Piersall interviewed panelists Amanda Rettke, Gina Luker and Bay Area designer Traci Bautista who shared insights about how they have each monetized their own blogs in a variety of ways. Traci in particular piqued my curiosity with her online workshops at Creativity Unleashed. Something for me to think about.

After the session I met back up with hubby and had a little coffee break at the Dunn Bros Coffee. Hubby had already been there earlier in the day and knew I'd think it was cool and unusual that the coffee shop shares space with an optician's office. So as you walk in the door you can get coffee to your left and eye glasses to the right. LOL

After coffee Hubby wanted to walk around downtown using the extensive skywalk system. They are glass tubes that connect each block together making it so people don't have to walk outside during extreme hot or cold weather. It is five miles long and connects a total of 30 blocks.

It was actually quite bizarre. Because it was after 5:00 PM the downtown was a virtual ghost town, but the skywalks stay open until 2:00 AM. We walked and walked, saw lots of closed for the day convenience stores and small restaurants, walked through huge office parks and even spotted some downtown apartments but for the most part there wasn't a soul to be seen.

I also skipped the event dinner because I didn't want to just abandon Hubby since he had nowhere to go and nothing to do so he had dinner at a sandwich shop called Erbert and Gerbert's and I got a sandwich to go because I was still kind of full from my earlier mocha. I also had a terrible craving for more American Burger skinny fries so we went back but upped the ante by ordering their Skinny Truffle Fries (dusted with parmesan) to go.

Night Photo by John Vink

That night I was pretty tired but sat up in our room clickity clacking away on my laptop to work on editing photos from our Canadian stops. LOL Hubby later said to the best of his knowledge I never slept in Minnesota because I went to bed after him each night and woke up before him every morning.

Our third day I attended three sessions. I got up bright and early and headed downstairs to expand my brain.

The first session was about self publishing a book.

From left to right were: Amy Barickman (Vintage Notions), Janine Vangool (UPPERCASE magazines and books), Amy Powers (Inspired Ideas online magazine), Terry Walters (Clean Food and Clean Start) and Moderator Nancy Soriano (Publishing Director of Craft for F+W Media)

"Self Publishing"

Since I've decided to write a cookbook I thought this would be a great session for me. And it was! I learned so much about both self publishing and working with established publishing companies as well as information about both books and magazines.

All of the head shots in these photos were taken from The Creative Connection Event's website.

And another example of how there's no right way to do anything. I couldn't help but notice that Jennifer, from Jennifer Inspired, sitting beside me was taking notes about who was on the panel but while I was typing away on my iPad, she was illustrating the panelists! After, she let me take this photo of her notes.

The next session was about "Working with a sponsor: What does it mean and how do you find one?"

From left to right were:  Laurie Turk (Tip Junkie), Jenny Lauck (BlogHer), modertaor Loralee Choate (Loralee's Looney Tunes) and Jessica Rau (McDonalds).

 "Working with a Sponsor"

I have to say this was the most illuminating session I attended. For years companies have offered to send me free samples of their products in the hopes I'd write about them here on The Flirty Blog. I would thank them for the offer but would always decline because I didn't want to be perceived as one of those bloggers who is only in it for the "free stuff."

The panel made me realize that it's by accepting some of these offers that I will be able to begin creating relationships with brands.

It also got me to thinking that there is a way to allow companies to send me their products and work them into my posts in an unobtrusive way. For starters these are the guidelines I'm  creating for myself:

  1. I will not create product review posts. When I review a product it will be a facet of a larger story because I don't think you want to read commercialized product reviews here on The Flirty Blog.
  2. I will only accept products I would personally use
  3. I will only accept products I would purchase myself
  4. Write honestly when reviewing any product or company (I already do this)
  5. Always disclose when I received a product for free

The final session I attended at the conference was the "Agents, Publicists and Brand Consultants: Who are they and what can they do for you?"

I sat beside Tina, a very fun woman known as The Knitting Contessa. She cracked me up that day and has continued to make me laugh by both email and blog. She's pretty awesome.

From left to right were: Caitlin Friedman (Sterling), Leigh Standley (Curly Girl Designs), Stephanie Smirnov (President of DeVries PR) and moderator Margo Tantau-Hallmark

"Agents, Publicists and Brand Consultants"

Again, another great session that taught me a lot! Particularly after when I was able to chat one on one with Stephanie Smirnov who was kind of enough to give me a few minutes of her time and some great suggestions about future possibilities for all bloggers. For starters she told me about Sway Group LLC. Check it out. It's an agency for bloggers (aka influencers) that helps to pair them up with the right sponsors and programs for their brand.

This is Renée Mak from Fuss it Up Designs who I was fortunate enough to sit beside at the "Sponsors" session that day. She showed me this great conference trick of putting your business cards in the back of your name tag holder so you don't have to go digging though your purse to have your cards ready to hand out. Brilliant! She learned the technique from someone else the day before.

Hubby was busy visiting the Science Museum so I headed downstairs to the Marketplace to take a peek around. Jennifer of Jennifer Inspired, the illustrator I sat next to that morning had a booth so I wanted to go visit her. I wandered around the floor, had a mishap that I'll post about in a future post titled "Travel Bloopers," and finally spotted her cute booth full of journals and colorful paintings. She wasn't there but I took this picture.

I also spotted Little Big Pants and fell in love with designer Ann Wood's adorable dolls.

After that I met up with hubby for my afternoon iced mocha at Dunns Bros. and we went to get some popcorn at a popcorn cart we'd spotted the night before because I love me some good white cheddar cheese and caramel corn!

After our mochas we wandered down to the Wabasha bridge spanning the Mississippi River and took photos of the river from both sides of the bridge. It was partly cloudy and really pretty.

The Vertical-lift Rail Bridge in the foreground and the arched Robert St. Bridge behind it.

From there we could see the St. Paul Union Pacific Vertical-lift Rail Bridge which, when you think about it, is pretty interesting. I'm assuming the bridge lowers to track level to allow trains to pass than rises again to allow ships access. All the while a small house is perched atop the bridge I'm assuming for the bridge keeper to live in but I cannot locate any information about the bridge aside from wikipedia which doesn't mention the house.

Hubby had spotted an "Urban Italian" restaurant called Pazzaluna he wanted to go to for dinner. Unfortunately we had no reservation so we had to kill some time while waiting for a table. No problem. We walked around and I took some nice pictures for the blog.

The Center for Performing Arts, the Landmark Center and the Ecolab Plaza

A show had just let out at the Center for Performing Arts so there were a lot of people on the street. And the Skygate sculpture at the Ecolab Plaza looked more beautiful at night than during the day. It's a mixture of steel poles and a glowing blue orb by artist Ron Fischer.

The first photo was taken at 6:50 and the second at 7:15!

When we got back to the restaurant a table was waiting for us.

And here's a great photo tip: Photograph the same subject at different times of day for different results. The restaurant looked so much prettier after the sky changed to a beautiful blue as we waited for our table. The sun had just set and in this case it only took 25 minutes to transform the sky from grey to blue.

Once seated I had to get a little creative with the menu. There were some vegetarian options but none were screaming my name. That's when I spied two appetizer items that I knew would make a perfect entree when ordered together: The Sauteed Asparagus with a Poached Egg and Pecorino Cheese and a side order of Herbed Risotto.

Oh. My. Gosh. It was delicious. I mean seriously one of the best dishes I've ever had. The risotto blew my mind. It was perfection. The texture, flavor and serving temperature were all perfect. The asparagus was so fresh, the egg beautifully poached and the cheese added just the right amount of saltiness. Mmmmmmm my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Since I don't live in St. Paul I'm going to have to figure out how to replicate this dish so stay tuned for some experimenting in the kitchen because I need to learn how to poach an egg and make risotto to enjoy this dish again.

The next morning we headed to the St. Paul airport and back to San Jose via a layover in Phoenix.

I left St. Paul loving the local people and feeling full of knowledge from the conference. My thanks to BlogHer for inviting me to be a speaker and to The Creative Connection for all of the great sessions I was able to attend. I'm looking forward to attending more conferences in 2012 and hope to meet many more fellow bloggers on the road.

I had a great trip but there were glitches. Lots of them actually. Some were quite funny so I think I'll do one more post and recap all of our travel bloopers. Some I even have photos to show you. Topics range from rental cars to squishy bananas, a broken shoe, a screaming baby and being on Dramamine for 9 days straight. LOL. You seriously have to be able to laugh at this stuff or it could really be a downer :D

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