Thanks, BlogHer ’14

BlogHer 2014 San Jose

I can’t believe how much I’ve missed this.

I started blogging in 2001. I was living my sister at the time, and our entertainment routine was to rent a random horror movie at the Hollywood Video and watch it while slamming Pixie Stix, making snarky commentary, and laughing our butts off. It will not surprise you to learn that we also watched a lot of MST3K. We thought we were pretty entertaining and I made websites for my day job, so we decided to start writing some of our rants down and They’re Coming To Get You, Barbara was born. It looked like this. screenshot

This was before WordPress, before blogging conferences, before Twitter, Facebook, or even MySpace. We never, ever worried about who was reading us, we were just writing because we loved it. Over the course of 5 years we reviewed over 400 movies, we had indie filmmakers send us their stuff to review, we went to a horror conference and met Leatherface (he was so nice!), and we even gave a presentation on types of film zombies to a Stanford immunology class. The professor had read our stuff and contacted us, so we made a slideshow with a zombie hierarchy with film still and references, and we totally grossed out the class by serving white chocolate cordial cherries painted with food coloring to look like eyeballs. It was a blast.

Reading that paragraph right now and remembering how much fun we had with it, I’m shocked at my decision to just give it all up when I became a mother. I don’t even remember giving it much thought. For some reason I just said to myself, well obviously I don’t have time for THAT anymore, and that was it.

I did start keeping a personal blog and that was something, but since it was 100% focused on my son, it never carried the same kind of personal joy for me that They’re Coming did. My routine was I spent all day caring for him, and then gave myself the assignment of spending my evenings documenting the day. I was essentially approaching motherhood like a very intense seminar, and I am very good student so I gave it all my attention and took copious notes.

I had a second child, and when my sons were four and one I looked up and realized that I had spent the past four years as a person without a hobby or a purpose outside of her children and I kind of snapped. I went back to work, I regained some of my old professional skills, learned many many new ones, and slowly started to come around to the idea that it was ok for me to have things in my life that I do simply because I enjoy doing them. Not for my children, not for my husband, not for my job, but 100% selfishly for ME.

I’ve attended two other BlogHer conferences before this one. My first was in San Diego in 2011, and I was there as a brand rep for my job. My second was in New York in 2012, and this time I was there for myself. I was still mid-freakout, so I pretty much hid in the corner and talked to maybe ten people over the course of the conference.

This time was different. This time, I talked to people. This time, I walked through feeling socially awkward and allowed myself to make to connections. This time, I felt like I found my people. And I looked around the room more than once and asked myself, why did I ever give this up?

I don’t have the answer to that. But I can tell you that even though it feels like the indie web is being swamped by branded bullshit, what I saw this weekend made me believe that independent voices can and will take their space. And I want to be a part of that.

So thank you, BlogHer ‘14. I’d like to close with the top 5 reasons this weekend was the BEST.

  1. I went through at least 125 business cards which I think means I must have talked to 125 people, and I’m not sure how that is mathematically possible but there you go.
  2. I made friends in the bathroom, outside the expo hall, walking down the street, sitting at lunch, getting coffee, in the elevator, talking about prom dresses 50 feet from Reverend Run.
  3. No really, these women were amazing. Super-duper awesome, A++, would friend again.
  4. You got me so far out of my comfort zone I spend the entire conference wearing a floral crown.
  5. You got me so super far out of my comfort zone that I ended up part of a self-titled #renegadechampagne crew hosting a pop-up bar in the hallway. I can’t even describe how much fun it was to have this random collection of people who self-sorted purely on the basis of being the kind of person to say yes when a crazy woman in a floral crown offers them a champagne cocktail. As it turns out, that is a FANTASTIC way to discover people you really want to talk to.

Renegade pop-up bar at BlogHer14

So even though it’s time to return to real life where I don’t pour champagne in hallways, I want to keep that feeling going. So if you’d like have a conversation about motherhood or blogging or horror movies or pixie sticks or really any damn thing you think is interesting, hit me up and let’s talk. I’ll be the one in the crazy floral headdress.

Closing party at BlogHer 14

The Woman’s Dress for Success Book

The Womens Dress for Success Book by John T. Molloy, 1978

This is The Woman’s Dress for Success Book, first published 1978. I am in love with the duel photograph on the cover, especially the part where this woman is standing up at a board meeting wearing a white muumuu and holding a glass of wine. I’m basically 100% anti-professional by the standards of this book, and even I know that you should always hide your work wine in a travel mug (kidding! totally kidding!).

I’m also delighted by the knowledge that in 1978 America had a best-known clothing consultant. I wonder how many aspiring clothing consultants he beat out for that title. (Apparently it was a fair number judging by the cranky footnote on page 30 disavowing affiliation with other speakers or consultants.)

As wonderful as the front cover is however, it cannot hold a candle to the creepy Svengali pose selected for the back cover.

The Womens Dress for Success Book by John T. Molloy, 1978

Please, ambitious American career woman, allow John T. Molloy to gently cradle your shoulders and mould you into the high-powered executive he knows you could be if you’d just stop dressing like a tramp.

This is the beginning of the introduction, p 15-16, which I need to quote in full because it’s wonderful.

The Mistakes Women Make and How to Correct Them

This is the most important book ever written about women’s clothes because it is based on scientific research, not on opinion.

The advice in this book will help women make substantial gains in business and in their social lives. It should also revolutionize their clothes-buying habits.

Most American women dress for failure. I have said that before about men, and research shows it applies equally to women. Women dress for failure because they make three mistakes.

1. They let the fashion industry influence their choice of business clothes.
2. They often still view themselves mainly as sex objects.
3. The let their socioeconomic background influence their choice of clothing.

The only reasonable alternative is for women to let science help them choose their clothes.


In other words:
1. Ladies, the problem is not that the playing field is massively tilted against you, the problem is your failure-clothes.
2. Conform.
3. Conform!

Half of me is really enjoying reading this, and the other half is horrified by how recent the advice sounds (aside from the bits about acceptable ways to tie the scarf on your power suit).

Parties Are Fun But Messy

Parties are fun but messy; vintage newspaper illustration

I found this gem tucked into the front cover of one of my thrift sale etiquette books. Since the type is a little small and hard to read in the scan, I just want us all to appreciate this intro.

Parties Are Fun, But Messy
by Marion Dietrich, News Beauty Editor

With the season to be jolly comes much to be jolly with – food, beverages, toys. But the cleaning problems may be unjolly for mother. This household guide may be helpful.

As an internet content creator, I can really identify with Marion. Yes, her words were given the dignity of paper instead of an SEO ranking, but this right here is churned-out, traffic-bait content. It’s no fun to write, and I want to give her a thumbs-up on her terse and unapologetic intro.

As a mother, however, I kind of want to kick her in the shins. Actually I should probably kick her editor in the shins, as I’m sure this was handed to her in the morning editorial meeting and then she had to go figure out how to fill X column inches with recycled cleaning tips. And just look at this illustration!

Parties are fun but messy; vintage newspaper illustration

This monster-mother is so filled with rage at the table carelessly littered with pop bottles that she’s basically attacking the presumably jolly celebration that had been going on without her. The disembodied arms of her inconsiderate family members wave at her to stop, to no avail. The longer I look at her, the more miserable she seems, trapped in the role of the family work-horse and kill-joy.

So I supposed the person I really should kick is the illustrator, along with every ad agency between 1945 and now who has created a version of this long-suffering mother character to sell crap to real-life mothers.

My Etiquette Obsession

Vintage etiquette book collection

I have a bit of an obsession with old advice books. This shot is of not quite half my collection, which started with one Miss Manners book I got in college and has been slowly but steadily expanding since then.

It was actually a friend in my sophomore dorm who introduced me to Miss Manners. As I recall, we were arguing about something or other about how dates work, probably related to who pays for what, and she ran off and grabbed her copy of this edition of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior to settle the matter.

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

After we finished teasing her for having an etiquette book in her room, we spend the rest of the evening reading letters to each other and giggling.

Aside from the fact that Miss Manners is a delightful writer and a lot of fun to read, what really grabbed me was the idea that someone was handing me an instruction manual for, well, life. This being a topic I wasn’t really clear on at the time, I was hooked. I got my own copy and read it cover-to-cover, more than once.

My first foray into vintage etiquette books was about 8 years later. I found an old copy of Emily Post at a thrift sale, and discovered a whole new world of instruction on the correct way to throw a debutante ball, rules on how to introduce an ambassador to a doctor’s wife, and what gifts were proper for an unmarried girl to accept from a man.

After collecting every etiquette book I came across over the years, I’ve expanded into household management and personal improvement. I admit this is partly because they’re funny as hell, but my collection is entirely non-ironic obsession for me. These books were written with the goal of helping women navigate their world. Yes, that world is gone and changed now, but rules are still in place, and with the benefit of distance easier to examine.

Part of what I want to do with this blog is share some of my collection, and take a closer look at the rules that have changed – and those that haven’t.

Take Your Space

Oxford College Glee Club 1913 by Miami U. Libraries

I was an a cappella nerd in college. I should that add that at this point (i.e., back in the dark ages), there were few groups less cool than the a cappella nerds. I mean, we were less cool than the musical theater society. Really, really uncool. This is before Pitch Perfect, before the Sing-Off, before Glee, before American Idol (which granted is not a cappella but at least brought vocal performance front and center). And we were serious about our nerdity. We’d do a concert and them immediately go to the after-party and spend the entire night drinking rum and cokes and singing at the top of our lungs. (In fact, after a couple of these in a row, my sister refused to accompany me to any more parties on the grounds that they are incredibly boring for people who might like to talk or dance or do anything else but sing Journey songs.)

Now, collegiate a cappella has its own set of conventions. And of course those conventions were based on the origins of the art form, which in the case of collegiate a cappella involves a bunch men from a prestigious East Coast school standing in a line singing barbershop chords. If you’ve never experienced this, please enjoy the Yale Whiffenpoofs singing their signature closing number “The Whiffenpoof Song”, which they have been singing since 1909 (not kidding).

Of course things loosened up a bit between 1909 and when I joined the scene, but even so most groups still looked a lot like these guys.

The Stanford Mendicants singing in sport coats
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

That’s the Stanford Mendicants. I’ve been to their alumni shows, so I can vouch that they’ve basically looked like that since the 70s.

When I started singing, it was widely accepted that mixed-gender groups (or heaven forbid, all-female groups) were just never going to be as good as all-male groups. Because I was an aca-nerd, I would be part of these discussions and hear things like “No offense, but male voices just blend together better”, and “No offense, but women’s voices just don’t have the purity of male sopranos”, and “Sorry, I just don’t like the sound of women’s voices – no offense”.

Now, these arguments are clearly sexist and stupid. In fact, just go listen to The Real Group as a palette cleanser from that nonsense.

But what’s interesting is the underlying assumption of what makes a group should look like. Because the gold standard of a cappella was defined as a group of 10-14 men standing in a line singing, that’s what all the groups strived to look like, even if that vision was (a) not possible because women and (b) not desirable because it didn’t fit the group’s strengths. I have some very embarrassing pictures of my mixed-gender group wearing neckties and collared shirts, because that’s how we thought groups were supposed to look. We did doo-wop choreography because that’s the way it was done. In retrospect it was totally absurd how strictly we adhered to these unspoken conventions, without even realized that’s what we were doing.

And lest you think I’m just talking about ancient history back in the 90s, please just take a look at the terribly-named acoUstiKats on The Sing-Off. Same preppy look we aspired for, same testosterone-fueled performance, bunch of yelling in the backgrounds, bouncy tenor up front (not to mention the offensive song choice). Feel free to turn it off after the first 8 bars, you’ll get the idea.

I was thinking about this recently because of a workshop run by a leader in women’s a cappella, Lisa Forkish, and the video I really wanted to share in this essay. Please go listen to this amazing cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, which she arranged for her group, The Riveters.

What I love about this arrangement, aside from the fact that it’s gorgeous, is that it has nothing to do with the conventions of “normal” a cappella. (Alert readers will note that this is not a collegiate group, but since most singers get their start in college groups, the performance and arranging conventions tend to carry over into the pro and semi-pro worlds.) For starters, there’s no bass line. The chords are beautifully arranged but it’s not done in the transcription SATB+solo style of collegiate groups. It’s a new sound. It’s theirs.

In her workshop, Lisa was talking about ways to grow women’s a cappella. And one of her main points was, take your space. Of course a performer has to take her space on the stage. But the part that really spoke to me was the point that to succeed you have to take your space creatively as well. Trying to re-make someone else’s art is never a path to excellence. And the problem for women in a cappella, as in so many other endeavors, is that the history was created mostly by men. And as in so many other fields, it’s easy to lose perspective and believe that the way things are done now is the way that things have to be done in the future.

So that is my lesson for the day. Take your space. Make something new. Don’t ask permission. And sing.

Featured image: Oxford College Glee Club, 1913
Image source: Miami University Archives

Vintage Christmas Ornament Kits

A friend found a box full of these delightful little kits at a garage sale. I love finds like that, and not just because at $10 for the whole box it was a serious score. It makes me feel connected to this crafty lady who bought up a bunch of glittery Christmas ornaments, maybe just for herself to keep her hands busy, or maybe to create with friends. Not to mention the Lee Wards packaging, which bring me back to my Midwestern childhood.

Whatever use they were originally intended for, we used them as raw materials for an ornament making party (craft parties are the best kind of parties). I like to think that the original owner would have approved.

Tiers of Garnet

Tiers of Garnet vintage Christmas ornament packaging
Vintage Christmas ornament


Elegance vintage Christmas ornament packaging

Panorama Santa


Tiers of Garnet Instructions

Tiers of Garnet vintage Christmas ornament instructions

Elegance Instructions

Elegance vintage Christmas ornament instructions

Sour Cherry Frisco

Sour Cherry Frisco

Presenting… the Sour Cherry Frisco!

Created in honor of the trainwreck that was the first episode of the Startups: Silicon Valley, and also to get me through Episode 2, the Sour Cherry Frisco is a non-ironic homage to stressed-out webmonkeys everywhere and also to the ingredients I had in my kitchen.

I am not a cutthroat startup, so I’ll credit the source of my good idea, namely this delicious-looking recipe for a dirty sour cherry manhattan.

As this is neither Manhattan nor Italy and I was lacking in fancy sour cherries, I substituted my non-fancy but delicious sour cherry syrup. And to add an extra note of bitterness, I added a lemon peel garnish. As we all know, changing the garnish changes the drink, so we can’t call it a Manhattan any more. The Silicon Valley is too long, and The Mountain View is too boring. Since the show is at least 80% in San Francisco, and is 100% the kind of people long-time residents love to hate, The Frisco just feels right.

Highly addictive, kind of bitter, and guaranteed to knock you on your ass… cheers to Startups: Silicon Valley!

Sour Cherry Frisco

2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz sweet red vermouth
1 tsp orange bitters
3 tsps sour cherry syrup
lemon peel garnish

Rub the lemon peel on the rim of the glass. Mix bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and cherry syrup over ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with the lemon peel and toast your worthless stock options.

Behold the Power of Math

Future date 2022: after the last pundit retires to the Old Pundits Home for the Terminally Bloviating, this will be remembered as the Big Data election.

The power of math

He’s a sorcerer. A sorcerer!

At least that’s my hope. I hope that, as a country, we can come together and agree that math is real.

The amazing image above is of course Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight correctly predicting the electoral college votes in roughly 50 out of 50 states. That’s not luck, or gut, or intuition. That’s careful, painstaking research and analysis of mountains of data, and it works.

So please, political pundits, on behalf of a weary nation — consider math. Consider data. Because you just got your collective ass handed to you by a blogger.

Or failing that, you might want to start polishing your Linkedin profiles.

Real Housewives of Silicon Valley

Live-tweeting Start-Ups: Silicon Valley was not the best idea I’ve ever had. Mostly because the only sane reaction is W.T.F., but tweeting that over and over isn’t that satisfying.

Start-ups Silcon Valley

I have never worked with anyone who even remotely resembles any of these people.

And seriously, with all the intensity and drama that comes from putting everything you have into an idea, the best they could come up with for plot was a drunken toga party in the Marina? (Which, not to be nit-picky, IS NOT IN SILICON VALLEY.) To be fair, the plot also included telling us that this one girl spend 2 hours a day on her makeup and lives at the Four Seasons, and also some other people had jobs which involved computers, so there’s that.

I counted exactly two scenes that had any bearing on reality. The first was Dwight’s filthy Mountain View apartment, which simultaneously made me slightly nostalgic for my own filthy Mountain View apartment and profoundly grateful that I’m now too old to get invited to parties at filthy Mountain View apartments. (I don’t even want to think about sitting down on that futon.) The second was @davemcclure‘s righteous smackdown of the siblings Way’s pitch. While I have not been privileged to be rejected by Mr. McClure personally, experiencing painful rejection and failure is an important part of one’s personal growth. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

And I hope it’s what Ben and Hermione start telling themselves. I mean, they have to know that apps for tracking your weight loss and health exist, right? So what exactly are they offering again? I have no idea, but now I know that you should definitely wear Tetris tights and not a suit to a VC pitch meeting! Thanks, Hermione!

I get that this this site, this brand, and in fact Sarah herself are not targeted at me. But still, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for having a giant “under construction” graphic in the middle of your site like this! What is this, 1997?

Under construction

Also, instead of keeping a make-up artist on retainer, maybe spend some money on a good front-end designer, because that is one ugly website right there.

The problem with Ampush is that it’s boring. I will say they make their Ikea tables look very nice. Hey, that just gave me a great idea for a startup! I bet you could get GREAT deals on slighty used Ikea furniture by stalking failing startups, and then resell them to startup employees living in filthy Mountain View apartments. Hang on, let me go tweet Dave McClure real quick.

Oh right. So he probably doesn’t have time for my bottom-feeding cheap home furnishings startup idea. Fine.

Just watching that party gave me hives. I would rather re-attend my junior high school homecoming dance and awkwardly try to dance to Sweet Child of Mine than attend that party.

I certainly love working here in Silicon Valley! We do things quite differently in Silicon Valley! You may think that you should wear a suit to impress a potential investor in Silicon Valley but since I have lived in Silicon Valley I can tell you that in Silicon Valley we like to go to Silicon Valley investor meetings dressed like a sexy game of Tetris.

You know your show is bad when your audience is wishing that you’d go check out the company meeting going on in the next conference room instead of watching Hermione taking a fake nap under a table. Pan back Bravo, I think they were just going to talk about the Q4 marketing goals!

Oh look who stopped by to visit – it’s the Voice of Sanity! Welcome to the show!

I wish Dave McClure would show up every episode to point and laugh… but he’s probably busy, you know, working.

Ah yes, working in SILICON VALLEY. Better get ready for my oxygen facial and blowout before heading into work tomorrow! Toodles!

Try a Mexican Dinner

Try a Mexican Dinner!

from Sunset’s Hostess Handbook, 1937

The imperative in this title makes me laugh. Try a Mexican dinner! Try it! You must try it!

I’ll leave out the worst of the casual racism (although the full article is worth a read for sure), but did calling something “crude food” and “typical of the peon’s love of bunched, smashing color” ever sound ok? Apparently it did, since that’s the appeal to serve your guests tamale pie and decorate your table with peon-appropriate flowers. Just like in “Old Me-hick-o”! (NB: it really was written out like that. I shudder to think of how she’d describe her recipe for fried chicken.)

On to the menu!

Fruit Cocktail
Endive Salad
Tamale Pie
Monterey Jack Cheese

As bizarre as this menu is, it at least sounds mostly edible. It’s a tough call which is weirder, the salad or the tortillas.

Salad ingredients:
Green onions
Green peppers

Tortilla ingredients:
Baking powder

She calls these tortillas “Americanized”, which I guess explains the milk? I’m almost tempted to try them and see what happens. I feel like they would turn out like tortilla-biscuits, which strikes me as a waste of two delicious foods.

The “pie” is basically a beef stew thickened with a LOT of cornmeal. To its credit, it does contain a small amount of chili powder, plus about 5 grains of cayenne. But the crazy thing is that it’s served with the salad, not the tortillas. So you’re stuck eating this under-seasoned stew with a fork when there are warm tortillas just waiting in the oven. And then when you’re done with the stew, you get served biscuit-tortillas, slices of Monterey Jack, and little cups of raisins and figs.

So I think the tortillas win for “most bizarre”, but the most horrifying is definitely the coffee which is put on to perk BEFORE the guests arrive. So with the biscuit-tortillas, you get hour-long perked coffee.


“Your guests play with raisins, then, and coffee, and they are likely to light cigars or cigarettes right there and keep on talking until nine or ten o’clock about the lost San Saba and hunks of Yaqui gold, while the cheap candles gutter grease down on the cheap, coarse crash of the table cover, and the evening becomes a most pleasant memory.”