It was that time of year again.
Each August thousands of female bloggers, social media fanatics and techies from across the country- along with hundreds of brands- converge onto the chosen city to meet, tweet and learn about the undeniable force of the female blogging industry, as Forbes Magazine described in a recent post, “Does Anyone Really Take Mommy Bloggers Seriously?”.
Last year, the powerhouse BlogHer conference- with the “who’s who” in the social media industry- was held in San Diego, and for me was all about learning and networking. This year, however, BlogHer’12 lent the backdrop to my biggest love affair of all. New York City was the chosen spot for this year’s conference and played both the setting and the focus of my affection. I fell in love with the city and its people and came home with the biggest love hangover I’ve ever had.
During the conference President Obama addressed our more than 4,000 attendees. Both Martha Stewart and Katie Couric gave keynote speeches (not together). I connected with brands that I use in my cooking and everyday life, and networked with respected bloggers. But nothing could sway my attention from my new found love- New York City.
It’s seems hard to believe I’ve never made it to the Big Apple before this. Many opportunities to visit came and went but the timing was never right. Vacationing with my husband always took us to someplace he would enjoy, where beach side relaxation and margaritas were as far from any “hustle and bustle” as possible. I never really pushed the New York trip because I knew he wouldn’t appreciate it as much as I…. plus, margaritas by the beach are never a bad alternative.
Call it “women’s intuition”, but I always knew deep inside that when the timing was right, I would experience NYC for the first time in a light and circumstance that would validate everything I’ve ever dreamed about it. What a gift from the heavens this trip was. This year’s BlogHer conference gave me an all-girl pass to experience the city in a way Holly Golightly and Carrie Bradshaw would be proud of… with just me and 4,000 of my closest girlfriends.
So, here’s a little “behind the scenes” tour of my trip and love affair with New York City for BlogHer 2012.
The Red Eye
6:00 a.m. New York time came a little too soon for this 3:00 a.m. Pacific-Standard Time girl. But the excitement of being in the Big Apple got my blood pumping as I changed, applied makeup and threw on my heels (of course) in a JFK Airport bathroom while waiting for my business partner, Barb, to arrive on a 7:00 a.m. flight. With a cup of coffee and a few Visine drops, we were off in a taxi and on our way into the city.
Barb had our jam-packed schedule all organized while I had no idea where we were off to next…. the entire trip. “You have a 9:00 a.m. workshop with Adorama called Blographer”, Barb explained. “There’s no time to go to the hotel first, so we’re going to drop you off at the workshop and I’ll just see you at our 11:30 luncheon at Rue 57.” So not only was I in NYC for the very first time, but I was about to be dropped off by myself somewhere around West 18th Street…. and only after four hours of sleep.
The city had an instantaneous affect on me and I couldn’t stop myself from telling each and every person I met how this was my first time visiting. Attending the workshop, I met two New Yorkers, “I’ve only been in NYC for about 30 minutes now!”, I said with more enthusiasm than even 8:00 a.m. east coast time warranted. One of them tweeted this out:
What can I say, Sheena? Your hometown just warms my heart.
The Blographer workshop was held in the Metropolitan Pavilion and sponsored by brands including Canon, Olympus, Samsung, Tamron, Adobe and SanDisk (just to name a few). This all-day event hosted by Clickin Moms would have been even more educational had I been able to stay, but my 11:30 lunch meeting beckoned me to leave early so I could find my way to my next destination.
Following the blue dot on my iPhone GPS navigation made me believe that a two-mile straight walk to a restaurant called Rue 57 was not only possible, but preferable… what better way to see the city and walk off my sleep deprivation than on foot? A two-mile walk in Las Vegas is nothing (except boring) unless it’s in the summer. Sure, I could’ve taken a taxi, but what fun would that be? I swapped my pumps for some sandals, and while walking down 6th Avenue, I honestly could not wipe the smile off my face. I felt like I was home for the very first time in this life.
After about a quarter of a mile and about 5 blocks, I realized that it would take me another 30 minutes to reach my destination and figured an alternate mode of transportation was necessary. Still not wanting to be defeated by the choice of a taxi, I passed several subway stations and deduced that it must be very simple to hop on a train here and arrive a mile and a half up the street, but I was too nervous to venture in.
I ducked into Starbucks and while analyzing the map on my iPhone, made friends with the man behind me in line. After he helped me download HopStop, a mobile application for navigating Manhattan, and giving me the “run down” on how to make my destination, I insisted on paying for his coffee while everyone there looked at me like I was from Mars. See, it’s only 11:00 a.m. and I’ve met three New Yorkers already and they’re all so very nice, I remember thinking, I don’t know why they get such a bad rep.
“Hail, The Taxi’s”
I walked down into the subway station feeling as if I had entered the forbidden tower because of a promise I made to my mom that I would not venture the subway alone, “please promise me that you won’t ride the subway”, she had insisted. I watched people beyond the metal gates getting on and off the trains. I studied the subway map on the wall and looked at the ticketing machine. I then turned around and walked up the stairs out of the subway to find a taxi before realizing that I had never hailed a taxi before either. It can’t be that hard, I remember thinking, after all, I had watched Carrie Bradshaw do it a hundred times. After spotting a taxi I apprehensively stepped off the curb and made eye contact with the driver; and then after giving an unintentional demure eyebrow raise, he responded with a suggestive head-tilt motioning me over. I walked over to the taxi and opened the back door to my victorious first-ever “hailed” taxi. “That was really easy”, I remember thinking and wondered why everyone made such a fuss over it.
Within seconds I arrived safely at the lovely Rue 57 restaurant, and only a few minutes late (but fashionably, of course, after throwing my heels back on in the taxi).
BOKS Luncheon Hosted By Reeboks
What can I say about BOKS?- not enough, that’s for sure. Sponsored by Reeboks, Build Our Kids Success (BOKS) is a program started and promoted by the most powerful force in American schools today- moms. Kathleen Tullie is the BOKS Founder and Executive Director (and mom), and spoke about her amazing journey to start this program that empowers other moms to bring this much-needed program into our schools.
You can watch a short video here about the BOKS Program.
It’s Party Time
After bidding the wonderful women of BOKS a farewell, it was time to check into our hotel at the Sheraton in Midtown. Being in the city for nine hours straight from the airplane gave me the will to rest for about 30 minutes before showering and dressing for the evening’s parties.
The first part of the evening was hosted by Iconix Brands, with names like Truth or Dare by Madonna, Badgley Mischka and Mossimo. I didn’t feel like standing in the long line to get all the free swag they were handing out, but enjoyed some champagne and cupcakes while bumping into fun friends like Amy Bradley-Hole from BeBetterBranding.com.
After leaving Iconix, we passed by majestic Central Park as we made our way over to trendy eatery Rouge Tomate for a party hosted by Stonyfield. I couldn’t help but snap these beautiful photos.
Stonyfield, maker of Oikos yogurt, is a brand and product I work with a lot with in The Organized Cook, and am part of their upcoming “Clean Plate Club”. The party was lovely with samplings of tapas fare made from Oikos Organic Yogurt, and offered the perfect stage to hear more about event co-host Healthy Child Healthy World.
After a glass of wine and some green healthy food from Stonyfield, Barb and I set out for the Viacom building in Times Square.
Big Toy Book’s Exclusive “Sweet Suite” Party
Standing on the balcony of the Viacom building during the exclusive Big Toy Book “Sweet Suite” party hosted by blogger, Complicated Mama, I became conscious of the fact that this was an amazing and fortunate way to spend my first evening in New York City.
Inside, the party housed toys as far as the eye could see from nearly every toy brand with popular products like Xbox Kinect. I joined the other bloggers in playing with and learning about the latest, greatest and upcoming toys.
But the real action was on the party’s balcony, and not only because that was location of the bar. Pinkberry was dishing up delicious yogurt treats for guests while the folks at Charm It! had a make-your-own-bracelet bar. But none of these fabulous gifts could take me away from the magnificent views of Times Square.
I was happy to call it somewhat of an early night. I probably hung out with the other gals in the lobby lounge a bit too long, because then it was time for the inevitable trip to Steak and Shake, just a block away for a burger and milkshake.
Kickin-It Rockette Style
Again, 6:00 a.m. came way too soon. I would have gladly hit the snooze button for any other item on the agenda, except this one. According to my invitation, I had to be in front of Radio City Music Hall by 6:45 a.m. for my dance session with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes hosted by the makers of Centrum and Caltrate. Wow, someone up there went all out to make sure my first NYC experience was one I would never forget.
The girls were so sweet and fun and taught us a few “8 counts” from a popular number from their famous Christmas extravaganza. I was having so much fun, I hardly realized that it was, again, 4:00 a.m. according to my circadian rhythm.
I went straight to the conference from Radio City Music Hall- sweats and all- to catch some breakfast and the tail-end of the morning’s keynote speaker.
After showering and changing back at the room, I headed back to the conference to join the excitement of the BlogHer Expo.
Here are just a few brands that had me buzzing at this year’s conference:
Got Milk and The Breakfast Project
Martha Stewart Home and Office Organization at STAPLES
Red Carpet Star-Studded Movie Premier of “Won’t Back Down”
During the BOKS luncheon, Barb and I received an unexpected invitation from The Moms to the red carpet movie premier of the upcoming film “Won’t Back Down” starring Maggie Gyllenhall, Viola Davis, Rosie Perez and Holly Hunter. “Do you have something to wear to a movie premier?”, asked Barb. I told her that I could probably dig something up from my suitcase.
Barb had another dinner party across town in the Meat Packing District, so was planning to meet me at the movie premier. As I left my hotel room to head downstairs to catch a taxi to the premier, I was in the elevator looking up the address of the movie event on my iPhone when it finally struck me that I was setting out to an event by myself where I really didn’t know anyone. I felt a twinge of nervousness but assured myself that everything would be fine. When I reached the lobby I realized that I had left my room key in my room, so as everyone else got off the elevator, I stayed on to go back up to my room when a young gentleman entered the elevator. “Aren’t you getting out here?”, he asked in a rich Brittish accent. “I forgot something in my room”, I murmured. “How’s your day going?”, he asked after the doors closed. And, in keeping with my chatty behavior from the trip I went on to tell him that it was my first time in New York City and how I was on my way to a movie premier…. blah blah. I may have also let on that I was nervous about attending the premier on my own. As we got to his floor he began to exit the elevator before turning to me and saying in the most Harry Potter of all accents, “Would you find it cheeky of me to ask to be your plus one?” I was a little stunned and before I could answer him, my higher self answered for me, “sure”, she replied. I had to trust that higher self because she typically knows what she’s talking about.
The movie premier, hosted by Denise Albert and Melisssa Gerstein from The Moms, was an amazing event. But what was even more amazing was this groundbreaking movie. Being released September 23rd, “Won’t Back Down” is a film I urge everyone to see, especially if you’re a mom. The movie shows us that no matter how small our lives may seem, we hold the real power to make change, especially in an area as crucial and in need of change as our public school system.
After the movie, the stars sat on stage and answered questions from the audience. It didn’t take long for me to conclude that Viola Davis was now my most favorite actress.
After leaving the movie premier, a late-night walk in Central Park in my Tiffany-blue pumps made me feel like Carrie Bradshaw. With each breath I took in as much magic as possible from the city to my soul, where it still resides.
My New York Moment
A late night dinner after the movie premier in a gorgeous restaurant overlooking Central Park with good friends can be topped by only a few things in life. As the noise and crowd in the restaurant slowly started to dwindle and we realized that we were almost the last table left, I walked over to a window to check out the scenery. What I saw at that moment can define my entire New York love affair experience.
As I’m writing about this now, it feels like I’m talking about some long lost love- which I am. But I didn’t fall in love with someone, rather it was someplace. As I looked out the window with Central Park on the left and majestic buildings center stage, there was one building across the street that jetted out triangularly (I should know the technical name for this, as my ex-husband is an architect), where the almost-full moon hung right over the building, looking close enough to reach out and touch, and producing the most breathtaking scene I have ever witnessed. The feeling that movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sex and The City and, my favorite, Moonstruck evoke could all be summed up in this one image.
There it was, right in front of me, outside this window in this amazing restaurant with beautiful new friends nearby- my New York Moment. I didn’t go running for my camera or iPhone, rather I stood there and just soaked it all in. Weeks later I can still see the image I’m describing as clearly as if it were seconds ago; it’s one photo that I didn’t need to capture with a camera because my
mind heart will never let me forget it.
Here’s a clip from one of the best movies of all time to give you an idea of the magic that can happen when the the moon and New York City decide to come together:
The Glamorous Luncheon
The next morning brought more BlogHer conference events and expo. I then went back to my room early to take a quick nap to shake my slight hangover before the exclusive “Glamorous Luncheon” hosted by Glamorous Moms, Shannon Lazovski.
The luncheon started at 12:30, so of course I jumped up in bed and looked at the clock to see that it was 12:37. I shot out of bed to change my clothes and was still dressing on my way down to the lobby. I put on shoes while waiting for the elevator, snapped on jewelry in the elevator and zipped up my dress in the lobby before running out to the doorman, “I need a taxi to Ruth Chris Steak House on West 56th Avenue”, I gasped with my out of breath voice. The doorman looked at me like I had just lost my mind. “That’s right around this corner”, he said. I ran to the restaurant in my pumps to make my apologies for being tardy.
The Glamorous Luncheon was, to sum it up in a word, glamorous. The food was amazing and I had the best time talking all things “girl” and “glamorous” with some of the most well-connected bloggers around.
My Time. Girl Time.
After the luncheon I made the conscious decision to skip the Katie Couric keynote speech and get in some “Toni and The City” time. I walked 5th Avenue, Park Avenue and Lexington and shopped at Juicy, Sephora and Steve Madden. I love how you can do something alone in New York City like shopping but never feel alone. Not having to share this stolen couple of hours with anyone in particular brought me even more appreciation for my surroundings.
Barb called and it was time to meet her and the girls for a late lunch near Times Square, “just grab a taxi”, she urged. But after pulling up the restaurant location on my navigation, I realized this was one trip I would rather take on foot. One of the many things I love about Manhattan is how you’re never really too far from anything or anyone in the city. On my way to the popular and overcrowded restaurant, Carmine’s, to meet the girls I passed by the most adorable little cafe that took my breath away. “Tomorrow I’m returning here to eat lunch”, I told myself. I didn’t catch the name of the restaurant, but I remembered exactly where it was.
At Carmine’s we ate a fabulous and authentic Italian lunch… or rather, dinner according to the time. After we ate it was time to head over to Bryant Park for a private party sponsored by Southwest Airlines. Bryant Park is impressive in itself. Set smack dab in the middle of the most heavily traveled streets in Manhattan, Bryant Park is a gorgeous Oasis of gorgeous green park and entertainment including an outdoor movie screen. And, in the southwest corner of the park is an outdoor restaurant appropriately named “Southwest” where the private party “Super Fly” hosted by Southwest Airlines was taking place.
The party was beautiful, and once again I couldn’t help but soak in more of the city’s magic with its little pearl of a park, tranquil and still, with the chaos of Times Square just a block away.
After Barb retired for the evening, I met friends for more drinks and city time, all the while wishing sleep wasn’t necessary. And once again I tiptoed into my hotel room past Barb at about 3:00 a.m.
In the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s there’s one scene where Holly and her beau take a day out of their typical routine to walk around the city and enjoy it’s attractions including a trip to Tiffany’s. Before my trip to New York, when I watched that movie I could feel what that day felt like.
On the last day of my trip I got to experience that “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” day first hand. With a chivalrous companion at my side, we walked Central Park, rode the subway (finally) to Little Italy, said a few prayers at St. Patrick’s, and best of all- remember that little bistro that my heart was so drawn to?- we found my little restaurant which turned out to be French (oui, oui) and had the most fabulous lunch imaginable, with champagne and all.
Farewell, My Summer Love
Sadly, it was time to head to airport for a 9:00 p.m. flight home. As soon as I checked in for my flight, it started pouring down rain outside shutting down the airport and delaying my flight. I believe in signs. In fact, a good majority of my daily decisions are based on signs. So please don’t think I’m crazy when I write that I had a fleeting thought that this rain was the city’s way of letting me know that it was sad to see me go as well.
After a four hour flight delay, I arrived in Las Vegas at 4:00 a.m. and was happy to be getting back to the kids and my home, but a part of my heart will always be in New York City.
This is how I felt when I got home:
Next year, BlogHer’13 will be held in Chicago, so everyone should plan on seeing more of me at the conference.
And, if you’re interested in watching President Obama’s speech to the BlogHer’12 attendees:
Katie Couric’s message to BlogHer 2012: