Well, we’ve been back for almost a week, and I’m still not sure what to write about the conference. Fundamentally, I would say my experience was better than last year (my thoughts here). And the tone much more positive. Additionally, this was only my second trip to New York, and while I initially suffer sensory overload there, once I acclimatize (to the place, not the heat and humidity… oy vey…) I love it and want to do everything.

This time we also had a lot more company, as there were six of us heading there from KW. Aside from Carol and I, this was the first BlogHer for all the others. It was downright funny initially listening to all their questions about parties and swag and how to find them. Really, unless you hide under your bed in your room for the entire conference, there’s no problem finding either.

We went down a bit early, and had dinner the first night at Toloache, which was both conveniently close to the hotel and came highly recommended by Andrew’s family. They weren’t lying. Even waiting for a table was fabulous, with mojito in one hand and homemade tortilla chips and one of the best salsas I’ve ever had in the other. (Why is it so hard to balance cilantro well?)

My dinner was all about the shrimp (ceviche for the appetizer and grilled for the main) and sangria (red), with some hot, crispy churros with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces for dessert. Yum. The other ladies had a variety of dishes, and exclamations of deliciousness were universal. (I guess it’s now become tradition that when Carol and I head to BlogHer, good sangria must be found…)

The following day was pre-conference, and was earmarked for shopping. Debbie, one of the women in the group, goes to New York about four times a year, and so was our tour guide for the first part of it when we hit Chinatown. I won’t get into details, but I have a fabulous purple purse to show for it (the others have some great stuff, too), and tried out a fantastic bakery that I would almost give the aforementioned purse to have in KW. Mmm… taro puffs…

We also hit the retail zoo that is Century 21 (think Winners, but several floors, and more designer stuffs). I only ended up getting a pair of sunglasses. We lunched at Macy’s, and wandered around there as well. Had near misses buying a couple more purses, but I guess in the end I just don’t have the dedication to owning thousands that some of my friends do. 🙂 It was certainly a thoroughly girly (and sweat-soaked…) day.

Century 21 is pretty much next door to Ground Zero, so I saw that for the first time. It currently looks like any other large construction site, so it’s hard to reconcile the past with the present. I imagine visiting re-built parts of New Orleans would be a similar experience. Having experienced vertigo from looking up more than once during the trip, I can only begin to imagine what looking up at the Towers from ground level would have been like.

Dinner the second evening was nothing special, though I was pleased to discover my ability to sleep in the hotel bed was not a fluke — I slept unusually well the whole trip. Probably due to the heat, humidity, and all the walking.

Friday morning the conference kicked off, and it was just the zoo of bodies, exclamations, and buzz that I remembered… except more. From 1500-ish attendees last year to 2400-ish this year. Apparently around 40% of attendees were n00bs this year. As I recall the stats were similar last year.

As before, the culture among these women amazed and charmed me. For so many of them this conference is like annual spring break. This is where they see each other, get in-person hugs, cheer each other on, share tears, dance, drink, and dress to impress. Sure, there are a handful of people who aren’t terribly friendly or behave badly, but they were vastly outnumbered. (And I didn’t see or hear of a single one while we were there.)

And hell, last year there was far too much attention paid to a handful of people who didn’t mind their manners. Plus, let’s face it, too many outlets just salivate for a chance to report about the bitchiness that is “inevitable” when a lot of women get together… But this year?

This was the story and the visual and the inspiration that kept coming up. There is so much more truth and honour there. Same with the mind-blowing strength and stories coming from places like the grief panel. Wow. If I can be half of what these people are when I grow up, I will be pretty goddamned proud of my life.

I saw a few of the famous, or bloggers I just recognized, and managed to accidentally whack a couple more with my errant backpack. Twice. (My apologies again, Ree — Sorry about your feet, but your shoes were fabulous.) At least I wasn’t the poor woman whose boobs prevented the elevator door from closing. 🙂

I was also frequently amazed at the ease of conversation. I don’t do terribly well in big social settings, especially when I don’t know people there, but at BlogHer you can, and do, just start talking to people — anywhere and everywhere. In lines, on elevators, standing amidst a room full of helium balloons. I loved that.

I didn’t quite get why so many of the women were so dressed up practically the whole time, but I freely admit I’m not much of a dress-up girl, and hell, I would’ve broken my neck trying to traverse those marble floors in stilettos, or been crippled after about 15 minutes of walking around the exhibition halls in heels. (I did see some really fabulous shoes, though.) Also, based on casual observation of racks, racks, everywhere over several days, there is one big-ass sponsorship opportunity for a lingerie company to have a bra-fitting suite. Lordy.

I felt less foreign at the conference this year, too. I don’t know if that’s because I got my bearings last year, or if they took feedback about the “momcentricity” to heart. Sure, there were babies, and plenty of mother/child/family-focused stuff in conversations, booths, presentations, etc., but I didn’t feel excluded. Despite the enormous schwag bag that ended up with my sister-in-law, there seemed to be a greater variety of sponsors there. The only times I didn’t really have anything to contribute to the conversation was when my travel companions got going about their kids.

And to be honest, I was ok with occasionally letting the people I interacted with assume that Cadence and Cassie were my kids. But hey, I let one guy think Gordie was my dog, too, so I am an equal opportunity stealer of dependents. 🙂

The scope of the lives represented was really brought home in the keynote panel from the International Activist Scholarship recipients. Prior to the presentation we were informed that there could be no photography or video taken. It was literally a matter of life and death for at least a couple of the panelists that their faces not make it out onto the internet. Yeah. I blog pictures of my cat and stuff. Really makes you think about what you’re using your voice for.

The first evening’s gala featured an art show that will become an auction to benefit the Gulf Coast. The work was fantastic, and if I could I’d bring home over half of the pieces I saw. It was fun, too, being able to leave notes under the works, though while a lot of people simply expressed how much they liked the work, I found different things coming to mind — mythology, snippets of lyrics, etc. I got my picture taken by a vintage Polaroid, and was painted on, too.

Of course, being a girly kind of conference, I also got massaged, hair-did, manicured, henna painted, and had my makeup done several times. I drank champagne and ate chocolate and nibbled cupcakes… so many friggin’ cupcakes…

And I talked to people about work stuff. I am so not sales people, but pretty quickly developed a standard response to the frequently asked question of, “What’s your blog about?” Commenting that it was just about my life and stuff, but that I was mostly there for work, because we just launched this service called Connect, which…

It was gratifying to see genuine interest from bloggers and brands alike when I told them what we do, and I gave out a lot of business cards. We managed to do a bit of mild pimping in three of the most business-relevant sessions, too, which was awesome. It’s actually really nice to have a target demographic with real faces and real stories, who we can both help with what we do, and who I actively want to honour in how we approach them. Makes it a lot easier to do business the right way, you know?

Anyway, came home pleased and exhausted, with my 65lb suitcase in tow. (Thanks, Jacqui, for the loan of space in your bags to save me the $75 overweight fee…) And aside from one lost BlackBerry (not mine), everyone got home safe and sound and was committed to going again next year in San Diego. Fingers crossed. 🙂

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