BlogHer Food 2012.

This past weekend I attended my first BlogHer conference – BlogHer Food 2012, right here in downtown Seattle!  Even though the conference was right here in my home city, I hadn’t originally planned to go because of the steep ticket price.  I knew I’d likely have to take Cullen to some of the events, and since he can be unpredictable, I wasn’t sure it was worth the hefty price tag.

As luck would have it, a generous friend who ended up being unable to go offered her ticket to me!  I was thrilled to be able to go without the pressure of feeling like I needed to get my money’s worth.  Thank you again, Danica!  And as predicted, I did end up having to take Cullen with me for part of the Friday afternoon events.  I shared Cullen’s conference experience over on Babble this morning…

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But the short version here is that he did really well!  He and I sat in the back of sessions so that he could crawl around and play while I did my best to listen and focus on the speakers.  We discovered that he loves really ugly, patterned carpet.

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I spent most of Friday afternoon wrangling Cullen, and hanging out with my good friend Lacey.  She and I met during my first visit out to Seattle last year, and we’ve been walking buddies ever since.  She was a huge help with Cullen and I can’t thank her enough!

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When I initially looked at the agenda for the conference, I was most excited about the Friday afternoon keynote session.  I knew this was something really important to me, and I wanted to make sure I could just focus and enjoy the experience.  The conference ended up being held in a hotel directly across the street from Casey’s building – so convenient!  So about an hour before the keynote, I walked over and dropped C off to hang with dad for a bit.

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Back at BlogHer, I was finally ready to focus and really soak in the experience.  I have written about (and given away) Terry Walters’ cookbooks several times on my blog, even though I rarely do giveaways or promotions here.  Terry is not the most famous or televised chef, but she is my personal food idol.  Something about both her food and her charisma makes me want to give her a giant hug.  Lucky for her, I resisted.

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But I did sit and listen, and I soaked up every word of an amazing keynote presentation.  Because it was later in the afternoon, I think a lot of conference attendees skipped it in favor of resting or exploring the city.  It’s too bad, because I think this session alone was worth the entire price of the conference. 

Terry spoke along with Bryant Terry about The Intersection of Great Food, Good Health, and Social Justice.  They were both amazing and compelling speakers, and I sat there feeling motivated, inspired, and ready to go home and take action. 

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I wasn’t familiar with Bryant’s story prior to the conference, but I’m so glad I learned about his journey and his mission.  He and Terry both talked about using food as tools to nourish and feed their families – healthy, vegan food that isn’t labeled as such.  The food can stand for itself. 

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Since I am a huge fan of Terry’s I knew I would love this session, but I was thrilled to find the discussion covering topics such as cooking for a family, finding work balance with a new baby (Bryant has a 13 month old baby girl!), and making healthy choices that can inspire other families and cooks. 

Terry spoke quite a bit about starting her own family, and how that affected both her health and her career. 

Sometimes there’s no balance at all and that’s a choice. You’re pulled in both directions. Projects are a way to connect me to a community and nourish myself.

My personal professional goals have been on my mind a lot these days.  When Cullen was born, I never assumed things would go back to the way they were before.  I knew as my life changed, other things would be naturally affected.  Here in this space, I wrote about him a lot at the very beginning, because his daily needs and developments were pretty all-encompassing.

As he has started to get older, I’ve found myself pulling back a bit on some of the parenting talk.  Part of that is me feeling a bit more protective and guarded these days.  The other part of that is finally feeling like I’m being pulled back to focusing on food and health.  Finding a work/life/health/parenting balance is an ongoing project here in our house.  It has taken me a good chunk of time, but I’m finally able to see that getting energized and motivated by my work is good for both me and Cullen.  He doesn’t need me 100% of the time. 

Sometimes there’s just no difference between work and family and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. In my house we decided there would be no such thing as should and shouldn’t, just choices.

My sister is here to spend the summer with us, and she’s going to be watching Cullen part-time (also interning part-time at a PR firm) so that I can finally get the mental and physical break that I need to focus and have time for myself and my work.  Meanwhile, we’ll spend the summer looking for a more permanent solution for the time that follows. 

Over the last few years of writing, I have received so many emails and notes from you guys telling me you’ve felt inspired and motivated by my journey.  I think about them each time I sit down at the keyboard.  I know that recently my focus has shifted and seemed a bit confused.  Probably because my blog is a direct reflection of my life, which has recently felt – well, a bit confusing and often very overwhelming. 

And as much as I love knowing I have inspired some of you, the people I want to reach the most is my own family.  I want my children to be proud of what I’ve done – turning a passion into a career.  And I want them to see that our family’s health is something that can inspire and motivate others to join us in our journey. 

My work became something that my children could look at and see Mommy make a career out of what’s in her heart. That’s the greatest gift of what I do, empowering my children. I bring my children with me to the farm to see the work that I do. They don’t have a stay at home mom but they have a phenomenal childhood.

Terry’s words were the final stamp on something I was already feeling pretty deeply.  I found her approach to both parenting and work to be incredibly motivating and inspiring.  I left on Friday feeling ready to really dive back into my kitchen – creating recipes, breaking down ingredients, sharing cooking tips, and all the other things I love to bring to this space. 

Like I said before, I knew my writing and focus would shift a bit once we had a new little person filling up our hearts (and time!).  It would feel unnatural for me to not talk about that, and him here with you guys.  But I’d like to shift to mostly talking about parenting here from a health perspective.  (The rest will still be shared over on Babble!)

On Saturday, I was able to attend the conference alone (while Cullen stayed home with Dad).  I decided to go to the session called Food Bloggers as Storytellers: Telling Your Own Stories, and the Stories of Those at the Table – mostly because I wanted to hear stories from the great Molly Wizenberg.

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Molly’s writing is very personal, and I like to think that, at times, mine is too.  Often my posts here are recipes or day to day things, but here and there I feel compelled to share deeper and more personal stories. 

I think it comes down to what it is you want to read. I like reading personal writing. I’m not going to blog about my sex life. But, I do write a lot about my family. My dad was 50 when I was born. I had to decide that those stories belonged to me. I like reading personal writing and try to keep in touch with my gut.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of sharing more of my family’s story here, but I’m still sort of sitting on that one.  It’s hard for me to decide to share things that aren’t just mine, and I’m fiercely protective of the people that I keep close to me.  I appreciated Molly’s advice to write in your most natural voice – by speaking.

Don’t be afraid to write the way you speak. Your ear will catch moments that you’re writing something that you would never actually say. Reading aloud is a tremendous tool.

She also talked a lot about growth as a writer, which made me – and the rest of the room – laugh, mostly in agreement.

I hate pretty much everything I’ve done at a certain point afterwards. I think it’s not a bad thing to hate what you’ve written. It’s a sign of growth. It’s yucky that it’s sitting out there, but I think it’s never too soon to get comfortable you’re probably not going to like stuff you’ve done before.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing here for four years.  What started out as a personal journal for friends and has morphed into something I never imagined.  I read a lot of my old posts and cringe, usually at my own naivety and inexperience at the time.  But it’s nice to reflect and see how I’ve grown and changed, hopefully for the better. 

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This was my first time attending a BlogHer conference, and it was a wonderful experience I hope to have again.  A good mix of both social and professional, it introduced me to many new people and blogs, as well as new ideas for my own cooking and writing.  I feel lucky to work in a community of such amazing and inspiring professionals.  Perhaps someday I will sit on a panel myself!  Until then, I’ll just keep on keeping on – one post at a time.