Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't Germs Go Away In Spring?

It's spring. I know it is. The calendar says so, and I got the email from a friend of mine announcing that we're ready to start booking our spring girls night out. It has to be spring, right? Forget the 19 degrees when I woke up this morning. I'm simply pretending that doesn't exist.

Because you know what? I'm done with winter. I'm done with being stuck inside. I'm done with no sun. I'm done with snowpants and hats and scarves and winter jackets. And most of all, I'm done with sicknesses.

We got through the majority of the winter relatively unscathed. Sure my husband (an almost two decade teacher, mind you) got illness after illness early this fall, but that was an aberration; he never gets sick anymore (we'll ignore the nasty cold he has right now, too). We'll ignore all Little Miss's issues, as those were caused by an ill-fated attempt at reintroducing dairy this fall.

Mister Man and I? We sailed right on through the winter, laughing at the germs that tried to catch us and failed. We didn't have so much as a sniffle. Then March hit. Mister Man came home on a Monday, telling me he had strep. Since he's successfully diagnosed himself twice before - the only other two times he's had strep, mind you - I took him straight to the doctor, and lo and behold, he had strep. No worries, that's what antibiotics are for. I expected him to be home with me on Tuesday but fine the next day.

Ehhhh, not so much. He got a fever Tuesday night that didn't really leave until Saturday afternoon. Even after three days on antibiotics, he still had a 103.5 degree fever. That said, I was extremely grateful that his strep didn't come the next week (two weeks ago, in real time) when we were headed for Florida for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration and then a week of spring break. Everyone was healthy for that. It was awesome - sun, warmth, and no germs.

This week hasn't been so ... lucky. One of the girls in our carpool stayed home Monday - the first day back from spring break - because she had a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes and just generally felt icky. (Thank you to her mom for keeping her home even though there was no fever!) Spring break is when all the germs are supposed to go away. Everyone is out of school and away from people who are passing things around all day in the close quarters of the classroom. When we come back, the strep being passed from child to child is magically gone.

Or so the theory goes.

I got a call from the school nurse yesterday around 2pm. It didn't start with the usual, "Hi, Mister Man is fine!" greeting that I get when the school calls. My stomach sank immediately. He had complained of chills, and when the nurse took his temperature, it was 101.5 (he was fine that morning, promise!).

I quickly learned that he was the last child standing in his row in first grade. All the other students in his row had already come down with the fever virus. It was Tuesday mid-day after spring break, and already five other children were home sick. Yikes!

I headed down to pick him up, and he was sound asleep in the nurse's office by the time I arrived to pick him up. I carried him out to the car. (Oh, what a cute picture that would make, said one passing teacher to another as I passed them in the hallway - especially with Little Miss carrying his coat and backpack for me - while internally I groaned that this was most assuredly not the kind of cute picture I wanted memorialized.)

He went straight up to bed when I got him home, eschewing dinner. When I checked on him twenty minutes later - before I went upstairs to go to bed because I had a splitting headache and could feel a fever coming on - he was sound asleep.

Welcome to FeverPukefest 2011 in our household.

My plans last night were summarily canceled, and I still feel like a truck ran over me. Fortunately, my headache is now gone, my fever is mostly gone, and the puking has ceased. (Thank the skies, as I don't ever throw up and hate hate hate it!) Mister Man woke up at midnight to have a few Cheerios, but went back to bed immediately.

This morning, he slept until 10am. His fever was up to 103 again. He is showing no interest in food or drink, although I've been able to feed him a little applesauce and oyster crackers and rice cereal - and water, of course. He's not going to school again tomorrow, as he's now spend the last twenty-four hours in bed, showing no desire to leave it.

So seriously, Spring? Wherever you are, please come fast. I am not doing any more illnesses this year. I'm done! (Although I would again like to express my appreciation for the ten days of health we had while on vacation - I am very, very grateful for that!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

He Gets It From Me

You know how sometimes you say things and don't realize it until you hear them coming from the mouths of your children?

Mister Man has a Math Journal that he does in school. It's pretty cool actually. They have to write out the word problem, draw a picture of it, write the math sentence (the equation), a sentence explaining the solution, and then my favorite part: telling how you solved the problem.

As I flipped through his math journal that came home yesterday (it usually doesn't, but since we missed school for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, he had a little makeup to do), I started giggling at a few of the entries.

"How many fish left? 7 fish 6 thrown back"

And Mister Man's explanation for how he solved the problem?
My mind told me!

There were others that made me smile and more. Then there was this one....

"21 jars of jam, 3 bears"
"21 / 3 = 7 The bears each get 7."

And apparently I've told him this just a little too often. Because how did he solve the problem?
I am smart that way

I'm still laughing. I'm not sure that his teacher is.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chicken en Mole - Tasty Tuesday!

Most of the time, when I put up my recipes here, they're pretty quick and easy. It's nothing that takes too much time or effort. This recipe is a little different in that it's one I only make a couple times a year because I need essentially an entire afternoon free to make it.

That said, once I make my mole, I wonder why I don't make it more often. A lot of it is simmering time, and there is plenty for me to do in the house while it cooks down. Yeah, the ingredient list is obnoxiously long, but nothing is that outlandish or hard to find - most ingredients I have in my pantry on a daily basis, actually.

My husband lists this in his top five of items I make, along with my scones, molten chocolate cakes, and others he refuses to mention for fear that he'll leave something out. I sit here typing this with a bit of my leftover mole sitting in a Tupperware next to me, debating if I should just got ahead and get a spoon and take a sip or if I should get the last of the leftover shredded chicken and dip it.

It's. That. Good. Don't get scared off by this recipe. I promise it isn't hard, just lots of ingredients. Promise.

Chicken en Mole

5 New Mexican chiles*
2 Guajillo chiles*
3 chipotle chiles*
5 ancho chiles*
1 oz sesame seeds (about 2 T)
1 oz peanuts
1 t peppercorns
1 oz almonds
1 quarter large onion, large chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 piece bread
1 tortilla
1 lb roma tomatoes
1 stick cinnamon
1 oz raisins
1/2 tablet Mexican chocolate
1 c grapeseed oil (ok, so I used olive because I was out of grapeseed - totally worked fine)
2 T chicken stock
2 t salt
1 scant c sugar

*These are all dried chiles that I find in our grocery store in the ethnic section. I sometimes run low on one type of chili or another, and that's fine. I just sub in one of the other chiles making sure the heat is similar (go by size of the chili - the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is!).

Begin boiling a pot of water, approximately 2 1/2 quarts.

Destem and deseed all the chiles except the anchos. Toss the seeds and ribs and stems, leaving only the body. To do so, use a knife to cut the chili in half lengthwise and shake out the seeds. If the chili breaks while you're doing it (which it will do as it ages and dries out more - the flavor is still fine, so don't worry!), that's fine and sometimes actually makes it easier.

Destem and deseed the anchos, but save these seeds!

Place the ancho seeds into a small saucepan, along with the sesame seeds, the peanuts, the peppercorns, and the almonds. Toast over medium head for a minute or two, shaking to stir them up periodically. When you can smell them toasting, they're done. Set them aside.

Meanwhile, dry toast the chiles on a cast iron grill (or in a saute pan with a little grapeseed oil) on medium heat. Turn them once after a minute and a half or so.

Drop the toasted peppers into the boiling water.

You'll be using that cast iron grill pan (or saute pan) a lot, so keep it on the stove. Start toasting the onion you rough chopped, along with the cloves of garlic. Turn them after a minute, just like the chiles. Add them to the boiling water, too.

Toast the slice of bread and the tortilla in the grill pan until lightly browned. Add to the boiling water. (Do you see how much the water has changed color as the chiles are boiling in it? Cool, huh?)

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this whole process is watching the bread expand as it absorbs the water. It's truly fascinating to watch - at least for me!

You'll go through the same routine with the roma tomatoes, cinnamon stick, and raisins. Toast them on the grill pan, then add them to the boiling water.

Next up is the Mexican chocolate. This is the kind I use. You cannot just use "normal" chocolate for this. It has a different texture and taste, and it's perfect for this. (It also makes a rockin' hot chocolate if you put it and hot milk in a blender... just sayin')

I rough chop the chocolate, then add it, the grapeseed oil (or olive oil this time around), chicken stock, and salt to the pot of boiling water. At this point, you're probably going to start wondering if you did something wrong. You didn't.

Turn the heat down so that the mixture simmers. Cook for about an hour, and it'll look a little more like this. Still questionable, but hang in there with me. I promise it's worth it.

Let it cool, and remove the cinnamon stick (ummm oops, I forgot to do so this time. I have no idea what happened to it. Actually, I do. I blenderized it. And it tastes good, but I still suggest removing it!) Put it into a blender in batches. I would generally puree a sauce like this in the pan, but I truly want it pulverized and pureed as finely as possible, so I actually use my blender for this one.

My standard warm/hot liquid blender cautions remain: never fill it more than 1/3 full with hot liquids. Use a potholder or kitchen towel to hold the top on so that it doesn't pop loose and spray the kitchen or burn you.

When I do this, I pull mole from the pot then blenderize it. I pour it back into the pot on one side, then pull out more mole from the other side until the entire pan looks like it's a consistent color and umm consistency. This means that some parts of it get blended more than once, but I'm fine with that. I really want this to be fairly smooth.

Cook it uncovered over low heat. Add the scant one cup of sugar, and simmer until it thickens. It will darken in color, too. Stir it periodically, as it will develop a skin, but it stirs away. This will take forty-five minutes to an hour, but feel free to simmer longer to make it even thicker.

Serve over rice and poached, shredded chicken.

And now I want another helping. Y-U-M. Do not get scared off by this one. It's not hard, and it is SO worth it. It makes a lot of mole, which stores well in the fridge for up to a week. It also freezes well for use later.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed with Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's All About Priorities

NO, Grandma, Little Miss insisted, that's wrong. First we went on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin where I traded for this pin, then we went on the People Mover where I traded for this pin. She gestured dramatically towards the Chip and Dale with light sabers mock fighting atop a storm trooper's helmet. THIS is the pin that I got when I was at Epcot.

Oh, my mother smiled meekly, as she stood vehemently corrected about when Little Miss had traded for the Minnie Mouse in a parachute pin. I didn't remember.

Silly Grandma. I remember where I got every one of these pins, she boasted proudly, showing off her lanyard filled with the cloisonne Disney Trading Pins.

My mother shook her head in wonder. How is it, Little Miss, she asked, that you can remember all that, yet you still can't learn your own phone number?

We're getting closer. She knows eight of the ten numbers now. Unfortunately, it does us know good unless she knows all ten. And in the right order, too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Recap Part III

The final day of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was a little different. In the morning, attendees had three different options of experiences before free time with families and then a final interview and dinner at Epcot.

While I had my fingers and toes crossed that I'd be able to go on the Africa Trek, I wasn't so lucky, but instead I had the joy of interviewing a chef and a sommelier from Disney. They had so much to say about their experiences - from how they came to work at Disney to updates of the menus.

It was inspiring to hear that the chefs don't simply put a dollar value on a meal and then try to work backwards from there to keep it within the Disney Dining Plan requirement but instead go for a more creative approach, just keeping the budget in mind rather than having it be the starting point.

And while every restaurant has its own twist on meals and styles, they have a very effective ordering system. Where there are common ingredients - hamburger meat, tomatoes, chicken, and the like - the restaurants order from a distribution warehouse within Disney. However, when restaurants need something more special and different for their menus, they order from distributors just for their restaurant - allowing both a cost effective solution and uniqueness required for many of the restaurants.

Not surprisingly, adding healthier options has been one of the biggest trends in dining at Disney. I know I've started to see it, where kids' meals now come with carrots and grapes as the first option - although yes, you can still get fries if you ask. There are more salads, and the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort has been hugely successful.

One thing I was surprised by was an area of Disney dining that I'm intimately familiar with: allergens. If you have any food restrictions, allergies, or intolerances, Disney is one of the best places to dine. At each restaurant, there is an allergy chef who will make sure that you meal meets your restrictions. In fact, on the website if you make a dining reservation, there is a place where you can share your restriction. That is noted on the reservation and forwarded to the restaurant where the chefs will not only be sure they're ready for you, but they will come out to your table to discuss everything from the ingredients to cross-contamination with you.

And if you happen to go to one of the quick serve places that doesn't have an allergy chef, there is a black binder at each location that details every ingredient in every item on the menu from ketchup to hamburger to buns and beyond. And many of the foods have allergy alternatives - tapioca buns are available for those with gluten, dairy, and soy issues, for example. I know that I'll always be confident with Little Miss's dairy issues when dining at Disney. The part that had surprised me though? With the growth in allergies for a long time, this is a program that has been around for only the past six or seven years. We've been using it for the past three years coming to Disney, and they definitely have it down pat.

The consistency across restaurants and days and meals is impressive within Disney. If you're ordering a particular menu item, it will be the same no matter when or where you order it, and that's part of the quality control the chefs require. And unfortunately, that is not always the case at all restaurants I eat at.

Disney is always hiring new chefs - obviously, given the number of dining establishments they have! - and many of them come for externships with various culinary programs around the country. I love how Disney helps continue their education and provides them with a foot in the door. That said, the chef admitted that there has been a problem in the past several years with the interns coming in after watching so many cooking shows on tv and challenging how things are run more, thinking that a) they know how to do it best and b) that they're ready for an executive chef position as soon as they complete their internship. I can only imagine the fun that has to be to manage that!

After our day of fun - and yes, in the Magic Kingdom, I ran into a friend from home within the first five minutes, before we got to a ride! - we headed over to Epcot to a mysterious interview opportunity.

When we arrived, we were ushered into an exposition hall where we discovered several interviewees from Chef Gary (my favorite Disney chef for all the help he offered me the first night with the buffet ingredients) to Barrett Ruud of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Jennifer Stone from The Wizards of Waverly Place to Alyson Stoner from Phineas and Ferb to Daniel Curtis from Zeke and Luther and more.

They were there - along with two winners of the weekend's TRYathalon (an activity aimed at getting kids excited about living healthy lives by trying new things and foods) and a twelve year old who feeds people at a homeless shelter with produce from her garden. She was remarkably mature and inspirational, but I have to admit I didn't catch her name. Shame on me, I was in the parks all day and didn't have my computer on me.

This fall, thousands of kids wrote essays on healthy living. There was definitely a trend about how to get kids to eat more healthfully; lots of kids wrote about how getting in kitchen and cooking helps inspire eat new foods. I am in one hundred percent agreement with that, as I see the wee ones willing to do and eat so much more when they're involved in choosing the recipe or helping me make it.

Our wonderful gardener suggested that kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies if they're fun. Cut them into shapes, make them dippable, use different textures, etc. I've heard the shapes thing about foods so often. There's something in me though that can't bear to waste the rest of the food, and I've never been able to do cool shapes - except when making pancakes!

Chef Gary brought up a wonderful point, giving me yet another reason to bring the wee ones into the kitchen (and thankfully, I've already started teaching fractions when doubling recipes or using measuring spoons or cups). He suggests that we use cooking as an educational tool. The obvious one is fractions and decimals, but you can also include history and cultures when talking about the foods and where they come from and why we eat them. Really, food is all about science and reactions. Why not talk about them as you're cooking? All in all, it's a great learning tool.

The Magic of Healthy Living also focuses on getting kids involved in meal prep. There are all sorts of suggestions on how to do so, even for younger children who aren't physically capable of cutting and being around hot surfaces. Why not have them add precut veggies to your salad - their choice of veggies so they're more likely to eat it! - or stir fries? There are ways to include our kids, no matter what their age or skill level.

Gardening with our children to encourage them to get involved with their food, eat healthier, and try new things was another focus. One of my favorites was an interesting idea to create a garden and have different planters for each food - e.g., cole slaw or pizza toppings. And yes, Epcot now has some of these themed gardens on site, including the aforementioned pizza garden!

The biggest tip for new gardeners was to make sure your plants get sun and water. Some "easy" beginner plants to start with are tomatoes and peppers, as well as herbs. I know I am certainly inspired to actually do my garden this year rather than say I'm going to an let it get away from me. I will be planting seeds indoors to start them this weekend!

Gardening is obviously a great way to reduce the cost of eating healthy foods. There is the concern and perception that eating healthy is expensive and more than people can afford. If you think about the cost of a seed packet (usually around ninety-nine cents by me) compared to the bounty, it's a no brainer. Beyond that, though, buying fruits and veggies at the store may be slightly pricier than buying processed foods, but they're more filling to eat, so you eat less of them. To keep costs down, combine them with brown rice or quinoa (which counts as a complete protein even though it's a grain) to cut the cost of eating healthy foods. Yum!

There were all sorts of great tips on how to help people eat healthy with limited time, too. A great idea is to cook on Sundays for the whole week so that you can pull out leftovers and have quick meals when you're busy during the week. We all have a two hour block somewhere on the weekend where we can make three or four things for the week and then stick them in the fridge or freezer for later. Beyond that, simply work on making good choices everywhere you go.

My favorite bit of advice on this topic? There are 24 hours in a day, says Chef Gary - use 'em! It's really easy to come up with excuses for why we aren't eating as healthfully as we should be. Daniel Curtis had it right: "I can't" and "It's too hard" are our mental blocks to doing things; we need to just try it out.

Disney is working hard to incorporate vegan into vegetarian options, according to Chef Gary. In his eyes, it's such a small leap to go from vegetarian to vegan, and I personally love how they're the adapting menus to accomodate more people! These adaptations have been well-received, as Disney has served over 440,000 people with food allergies and sensitivities.

Interestingly, Disney isn't focusing simply on pointing out where food is healthy. They don't always call out healthy foods because, according to Chef Gary, "healthy food should just be good food." I admire that attitude. If the chefs make something taste good, that's great. Being healthy is simply a by-product.

That said, Disney is also focusing on getting healthy snacks within arms reach of every park guest. There are obviously the alternatives to fries for the kids' meals, but even the ice cream stands now offer a whole orange or other fruits. Granted, I saw people eating more ice cream than I did fruit, but the option is there - and I know I'm not ordering fries for the wee ones!

They're also doing it beyond the parks with their licensed produce. They've sold over 1.3 billion servings of fruits and veggies so far. Even the television shows have shown changes with a reflection towards healthy lifestyles. You're much more likely now to see a bowl of fruit in the background of a set than you are chips or other junk food. This is a huge change, and the characters are also more likely to be shown eating healthy foods instead of pizza or donuts or ice cream. I like the subtle changes in the message.

There is also a push to improve school lunches, which is one of my personal pet peeves - and no, neither of the wee ones ever gets a school hot lunch for many reasons. Chefs are moving to schools where they are partnering chefs with schools through the American Culinary Foundation. They try to work with school chefs to improve menus and taste, frequently for free. It's worth looking into for your local schools to see if there's an opportunity to make a difference. Most schools around the world have a limited selection - not the thirty choices each week that we offer. It's a smaller selection but healthier, cheaper and easier to prepare. This may be the model we should be following - I know I'd be good with it!

Tampa Bay Bucaneer Barrett Ruud also offered up some tips regarding what works for him - even though to this day he is not a veggie fan! His best route for eating healthy and performing well is to always eat breakfast. He also eats after every workout, and in general, he eats every 2-3 hours. For him, exercise doesn't have to be work. When he isn't in training for the season, he isn't one to just lift weights and run for the sake of it. He suggested that we just do something fun that's an activity that we like, whether it's yoga (he does it) or dancing or golf. Being active is what's important.

Lastly, we discussed what health means to various panelists. This was so telling to me, especially coming from several people who are growing up in an industry that is so image conscious.

"Health is not a look. Health is not a size. It's your self respect." I may need to print that out and pin it to a wall somewhere.

"Reach your own full potential. It's not about comparing yourself to someone else." Gee, I don't know anyone who ever does this....

"Healthy living is freedom and taking the time to make those choices for yourself. And yes, cake is part of healthy lifestyle." This one was a quote from Alyson Stoner from Phineas and Ferb, and even with so much competition, quite possibly my favorite of the evening.

Ok ok ok, one last tidbit of Disney trivia: the average guest walks seven miles each day in the parks. Apparently that gives a little justification to be able to then eat some of the treats there. Like the ones we had after our healthy dinner.

Once the interview session ended, we met up with our families again for a healthy dinner. While I might have hoped that there was a kids' option, both the wee ones had plenty of food to eat. Little Miss, in fact, cleaned her plate and was thrilled with everything from the heirloom tomato water to the polenta to the beautiful white fish. Mister Man wasn't as pleased with the flavors - though he did try everything - but he still at the roasted chicken and multi-grain bread. Personally, I loved it and could eat this kind of healthy food all day every day. And I'm really quite inspired to do so.

Or I was until we got to the viewing party for Illuminations where the healthy desserts were displayed for us. No, I have no pictures of them, but there were very few tables or places to put our food. We ended up squatting next to a curb, which wasn't exactly conducive to attractive pictures. The yogurt panna cotta was beyond compare. I'm begging Disney for the recipe, as I (and Mister Man) want to recreate that at home. It's so much better than my panna cotta, and I'm sure far healthier, as well. I also had blueberry water for the first time, which was wonderful and a very unique taste. I'm going to look at how to recreate this one for summer, as well. It was so refreshing!

And finally, IllumiNations. We watched it together as a family with the fireworks and images displayed on the rotating Earth as the music told its story. It was the perfect ending to our conference and stay with Disney telling the story from chaos to order to meaning. Yes, the conference had it all, and I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything.

Thank you, Disney!

First "recap" post on my family's take of the conference here
Day One recap here
Day Two recap here

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. The conference ticket also included discounted hotel stay, park tickets, and some gifts for myself and my family. I was not compensated in any way, nor was I asked to write about the conference. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Recap Part II

On Day One of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, we got into the meat of the conference with speakers ranging from Meg Crofton who is president of Walt Disney World Resorts to Matt Jacobson, Head of Market Development for Facebook, to Rene Syler to Fran Capo to to conference favorite from last year Chris Brogan to a performance by Susan Egan and Georgia Stitt. Whew!

I loved the setting of the stage, and the white baby grand piano was ... a real mystery. Fortunately, that was cleared up by the end of the afternoon. Based on the above list, can you guess how?

And of course the centerpieces at each table were pure Disney. It looks ready for a wedding, no?

Meg Crofton shared a ton of detail with us about Disney, much of which really made me think. It is amazing to contemplate how big Disney really is. They are the largest single site employer in US. Their laundry washes more than 300,000 pounds of linens and towels each day. Washing two loads a day in a home would take 27 years. I don't want to even think about that. Disney buses log more than 20 million miles per year. In an entire year, I drive less than half what their buses drive in a single day.

I was most impressed by Matt Jacobson, the eighth employee of Facebook, who is now the Head of Market Development. While he shared lots of facts and figures about Facebook, some of the questions he answered were by far the most enlightening of the day.

Ninety-two percent of moms are using Facebook to check on what friends and family are using Facebook. About eighty-two percent of people are using it to keep in touch with family and friends - meaning ten percent are just stalking their friends and family? Interestingly, fifty percent are finding about brands and companies on Facebook through their friends - and I know I'm amongst their number.

A lot of his discussion was about building a social media presence using Facebook. He discussed a few items I wasn't familiar with - since I only just put up a Facebook page for my blog, after all - from using a notes feature to import your blog directly into Facebook instead of using Networked Blogs to integrating social plug ins into your blog (which I know I need to do, once I figure out how!).

He was also very adamant about keeping your personal and professional identities separate. Your friends should be your "real" friends. If necessary, go through and put them into buckets and lists with different privacy standards (blog, surfing buddies, PTO moms, etc). It sounds like what I ended up doing with my in-laws (shhhh!), but it makes me extra grateful that my blog email isn't the one I used for my personal Facebook account so that I can keep myself separate.

My favorite moment of the day, though, came from one of my pet peeve about Facebook questions. Molly from My Go Mom asked about ensuring that people on Facebook truly are over age 13 as the restriction states. Considering that my nine year old (at the time) niece friended me - I declined immediately - I can see where this is an issue. I don't want or need a nine year old knowing what I'm doing all the time, nor potentially exposed to anything inappropriate, which thankfully my friends tend to be more conservative on that level.

Matt admitted that there is little Facebook can do to guarantee ages, which was a disappointing answer - but also probably realistic. Instead, he used the example of his own daughters. When they turned thirteen, they didn't just get a Facebook account. And he's there; he practically is Facebook.

In fact, he didn’t give his 15 year old daughters Facebook accounts until they could give him a case for why they needed one. And it took awhile. Once he agreed, he didn't just let them set up an account and go. The email account on their Facebook page is an email he has access to. While he doesn't stalk their page or read every email, he sees who they get friend requests from and volume they get versus those they accept – which is a HUGE delta for them.

He set them up so that they are invisible and so have to find friends. It was a pain for them, because they have to work through their friends to find people. This was hard, but the privacy is critical. The good news is that they understand it and are very careful of their privacy and settings. And really, figuring out responsibility and restraint on the Internet is something not enough people figure out. I really like this solution and suggestion.

Our next guest was Rene Syler who was such a hoot but so full of wisdom. She was a news anchor who ... no longer is. She should be back on tv, and I'll leave it at that. She reinvented herself after her firing and eight weeks later her radical mastectomy. Eventually, and finally, she became The Good Enough Mother. And she absolutely is.

As she puts it, "Washed up is just another word for reinvention." After her firing and mastectomy, she still held hope for resurrecting her career, but her agent for 15 years didn’t have the same vision anymore. She had shot a couple pilots, and when she got word that they weren’t going, she fell into a deep depression. She wasn’t the same person anymore – "scuffed up, tattered and torn" is her description.

On a daily basis, she got up, took her kids to school - still in her nightgown with ski jacket - then would stay in bed for seven hours, waiting for the phone to ring (it never did) before going to get her kids again. It was really hard to see the things that were good in her life. Needless to say, she left that agency and was represented by another agency who knew very little about her and instead tried to get her to do something that wasn’t a good fit at all.

And now? She's Good Enough. Two quotes that really spoke to me about her rediscovery: “You may not know what you want to do, but you do know what you don’t want to do. And that’s just as important” and “Every day, I am happy. Every day.” The first speaks to me because I spent so much of my life in that place, fretting and dithering because I knew what I didn't want but couldn't quite put my finger on what I did want - and that wasn't good enough. And being happy every day? That is where I want to be. I know I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way, and I strive to get all the way there.

Real Growth hurts. I have learned more in the last four years than I have in the past 44 years of my life, but that kind of growth, that kind of character building, that soul stretching HURTS. It just doesn’t work if you don’t move and hurt and cry. Look at it in different ways. Listen to things that perhaps when you were up here you wouldn’t have listened to before. Follow your passion because you’ll never go wrong.

It is ok to take yourself off the bottom of the to do list. It’s ok to say to your kids “Mommy needs a break from you” and not feel guilty about it.

The thing I learned that’s most important is that I’m loved. I’m loved by my family, my friends. I have my family who loves me for me, not the image of Rene that the world sees with ever hair in place (sort of). The mercurial mom that they’re treated to, and they love me nonetheless. I have friends who are not of the fair weather variety. I was once the field trip mommy, and I went to watch wheat being threshed. It’s horrifyingly violent, but what’s left is only the good part of the plant. That’s what happened to me. It’s all the stuff that got stripped away, and it left only the good part. The part that’s the nutritional part. The healthiest part.

The fair weather friends are gone because they weren’t there through the nights when I cried myself to sleep every night. I have a core group of friends who were with me through it all, and they love me. Keep hold to your friends and family because they’re the ones who are going to be your lifeline when things are really bad.

I can't say it better than that. I simply can't. Rene is an amazingly powerful speaker, and I am inspired. Absolutely inspired by her.

After a bit of a break, Minnie came out to "talk" to us. She was dressed as Princess Leia, something I still can't tell Mister Man as he'll be too jealous - my little Star Wars lover! Disney officially announced the opening of the Star Tours II ride at Hollywood Studios, a ride that was closed when we visited over Christmas that Mister Man was still hoping to ride this trip. We were on the edge of our seats, hoping against hope that we'd be in the first wave to ride the new incarnation which was why Minnie was there. Sadly, not so much. The ride will open on May 20, and it still has a ways to go, but the next time we come, Mister Man will ride it. I promise.

The next speaker was Fran Capo, who has written fifteen books and is a standup comic. Not knowing this, when she appeared onstage in character mode, I wasn't quite sure what to make of her. She holds the world record for fastest female talker, and I understand how that's possible. Wow can she talk, and it's amazing what she's done in her life but being open to possibility and figuring out how she's going to do something she's finagled after she's finagled it - from speaking gigs to writing books. As she put it, “Just say yes, and figure it out later. When a door opens, just step through it." That may take more courage than I have, but wow is it working for her.

Chris Brogan was up next - and yes, he was again tweeting before he spoke, requesting topics. He was a conference favorite from last year, and he was just as entertaining this year, while still imparting wisdom.

Trying to find your space in the online world can be a challenge, but he has plenty of advice. One of the ones that resonated most was "Don't ask how, ask why all the time." His point throughout was that we are all in the customer service business - and sales and marketing - and we need to think and act like it. As he put it, "There is no magic in the old silk hat. It's putting the work into it and making it happen. Ask 'then what' always."

As the world and our connections to it are changing, there is a lot of fear, but there is also opportunity. He advises that we "create the new dial tone. Now we can connect with people where they are and tap into it in their language. That is so vitally important. You can track them down now! You get information, and then you can do something with it. And you can listen, too – that’s important, as well." And really, isn't that what we're trying to do now?

He gave a few bits of great advice that are definitely not always followed online. First: If you want attention, give attention. Retweet what they're saying. Give them linky love. Respond to what they're doing, and create that connection. It will be noticed. Second: Another secret? Raise other people up. This is something that he finds tends to be uniquely lacking in the mommy blogging sphere. His comparison is that of crabs in a bucket – you shouldn’t get out of the bucket because I’m in this bucket. Really, we're better than crabs, right? Find people who are doing something interesting and lift them up. I love it.

When people ask how to become valuable and sought after in a particular area, he knows what to do. Always be the go to person, the connector. If you’re always putting people together, you’re the one at the elbow and you’re the trust agent that people turn to. It’s less yucky than you just selling your stuff all the time. I don't think I need to expound on that, do I?

He suggests that we look at our websites as our home base. Engage people and make them interested on Facebook and Twitter so that they want to click over to your blog. The other places are outposts. Your job is to use the outposts to get people to the home. Per Chris, Use the Facebook Like Button to share your content but bring them to your home base (blog).
And remember, comments aren't currency. Comments are proof that you hit a note somewhere.

Chris also gave us some really great acronyms to live by. And yes, we all giggled at them - serious though they are in the end.

Always be connecting (ABC). Feed your network every day.
C = Connections everything I do lives and dies by my network
R = Referrals You need them so you can sell to the next person
A = Attention and/or awareness You have to be everywhere, doing great things and sharing it on your blog. Better to write it on the blog than to write it via email
P = Presence You want to be places. You want to be ready & available to be consumed. It's how people get noticed. Post more often, and you get more notice. Get your pics up fast. Post frequently. Be active.

I really loved his recommendations for productivity. Look for pockets of time. Write notes to yourself of things to do and then do them when you find those scraps of time. Stop saying "yes" to things. Stop keeping all your extra tabs open on your browser. It doesn’t work as well as you think it does. Uhhhh, guilty guilty and guilty? And yes, I write this with Twitter open, another four browser windows, and the Food Network on in the background. Ahem.

Did you know he writes his blog posts in 20-40 minute apiece? It makes me feel a whole lot better about the rapidity with which I write and post sometimes. That said, there are some posts - this one especially - that take far more time and effort, and it's important to put that into it when required. He isn't fast for fast's sake.

Chris also spoke last year about not liking when people put their RSS feed directly into Twitter. He expanded on that a bit this year. Don’t put your RSS feed automatically into Twitter. Ask an interesting question or make a point with the answer to go to your blog. Don’t (HootSuite) post the same thing on all social media, as they’re frequently the same audience. What will they do? They will unsubscribe in one or more channels. Likes are more powerful than retweets. Give people a maximum of 2 social media options on your site. Why? Because too many choices leads to inaction – the user pushes nothing. And how many people do you know who do this?

He also chatted briefly (ha! - the joke is coming, sorry) about vlogging. While I don't vlog often, I do put video on my site. Video is the next thing (as he’s said since 2007). Be brief. I’m constantly amazed by people who think I have 11 minutes to watch their video. Talk clearly. Speaking with umms and uhhhs doesn’t help. And edit. Editing is good manners. Brevity brevity brevity – it makes all of those much easier. I'll keep to my three minute maximum. Phew.

Last up for the day were Georgia Stitt and Susan Egan. I'll have to admit that I'd never heard of either before that performance. I know them now. Georgia is a lyricist and composer who plays a mean piano - and sings! Susan was the original Belle in Beauty and the Best on Broadway and was also the voice of Meg in Hercules. They sang, and they chatted. And they were wonderful.

I loved the lyrics of so many of the songs by Georgia Stitt from "The Me of the Moment" to "Nina Doesn't Care" (which almost brought me to tears) to "My Lifelong Love." There was even a song about social media that had us all giggling and nodding our heads sagely. Susan's voice is incredible, and we were treated to her singing "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules - with the screen showing the scene from the movie in sync with her singing. So cool!

They were a hoot, and I would have loved to have sat and had coffee with them - or better yet - dinner and drinks. I'm so glad they were invited to share an hour with us, especially since they ended with "The Mom Song" - one that the wee ones insist sounds just like me. They tell me it's because I sing. I hope that's the only reason why!

After our day at the conference ended, we headed with our families to Hollywood Studios for a Disney Junior party on the set of "Lights, Motors, Action" - complete with band and dance floor for the kids. There was a fantastic buffet where Mister Man learned he loves prime rib (whoo?) and Little Miss got a whole plate of desserts just for her - dairy free cookies and tons of great fruit. Everyone was in heaven as we heard about the rebranding success of Playhouse Junior to Disney Junior.

Then the band appeared - from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. The music was so fun, and from the show, I believe (shhhh, we don't really watch tv in our house, so we've yet to see this show), as most people seemed to recognize each song. Regardless, they were absolutely age appropriate, something sorely lacking in many family events I attend.

As we continue through the evening, various Disney characters come out to dance with us. It started out with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee - with really only the kids on the dance floor.

The parents quickly jumped in, and more and more characters kept joining us from Daisey to Donald to Handy Manny to Agent Oso and more.

The wee ones were in heaven, and Little Miss continually threw herself at one character after another for a hug. And then she danced. A lot. And didn't want to leave when it was time to go - not that I could blame her!

Mister Man was not a fan of the "bad buys" at the event, but he had a blast nonetheless. He enjoyed dancing, but he was absolutely entranced by the giant television screen overhead. He had a hard time looking away from it to follow along with everyone else. That said, he did his best to dance along with the leaders and following the song's commands. So so cute - I love watching him dance!

By the end of the day, my brain was tired. Really tired. Thank goodness for fast typing at the conference events, or I wouldn't have had anything to write about at all, as my brain got overfull! The next day of the conference was less intense, though we had some great opportunities to interview some chefs and some who are focused on health and nutrition. More on that tomorrow!

First "recap" post on my family's take of the conference here
Day One recap here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. The conference ticket also included discounted hotel stay, park tickets, and some gifts for myself and my family. I was not compensated in any way, nor was I asked to write about the conference. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Recap Part I

This past weekend, I was in Orlando with my parents and the wee ones at Disney World, being feted by Disney at their Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. I was thrilled to have been able to attend, and I love all that I learned and the opportunities we had.

This year, the vast majority of the conference activities happened at the same location as the hotel, making logistics much easier for me. I was able to sleep a little more and get to conference sessions much easier. The first event was even onsite, making it easy to meet up with my family for that portion of the evening.

The first event for us attendees was in the Disney Wedding Pavillion, where we were able to chat with some of the other attendees in a reception-like atmosphere. And like any good wedding reception, there were favors. We were all given little Chinese takeout containers to fill with candy from the tables out front.

The most thrilling part to me? In addition to all the "traditional" candy that I can't even think of giving to the wee ones (we don't do HFCS and avoid dyes wherever possible), they had some selections - clear rock candy - that I was able to bring to the wee ones, and boy were they thrilled.

Disney also used this opportunity to showcase their line of Disney Princess wedding dresses. I'd seen pictures of them online previously, but they were even more gorgeous in person. They were designed by Alfred Angelo and inspired by Ariel, Cinderella, Tiana, Belle, and more. I love how you can see the personality of each princess in each of the dresses.

This one was my personal favorite. I'm a strapless wedding dress fan, and I love the princess skirt that isn't too super fussy.

That said, I also loved the Tiana inspired dress with the one shoulder look - something I'd love to be able to pull off myself.

While I'd never thought of Disney as a wedding desination, plenty of other people obviously do - I already knew that it was the number one honeymoon destination in the US. There have been Disney weddings for the past 20 years, and more than 40,000 couples have tied the knott at Disney.

As we explored the wedding pavillion (before being ushered to the chapel by "Frank" from Father of the Bride and "Edna" from The Incredibles - both of whom were perfectly cast), we saw various place settings and cakes available to couples being married at Disney. My wedding cake pales in comparison.

It's a good thing Little Miss wasn't a part of this portion of the conference, or we would be eating Tinkerbell cake right now. I'm pretty sure this will be her wedding cake someday.

Regardless of an individual's taste, there was a choice available to fit - from the very Disney to the classic and understated to the regal princess.

After "Frank" and "Ednda" brought us to the wedding chapel, we learned about Disney weddings and trends in weddings in general from Carley Roney from The Knot and David Tutera from My Fair Wedding.

It was interesting to hear how The Knot has grown over time from a forum on the old AOL to having a brand new site for those who have gone through their wedding and are on to the next stage: The Bump.

David Tutera had some great commentary about the weddings he comes in to plan - three weeks before the wedding. He had the most inspirational story about a boy who's Make A Wish was for David to plan his mother's wedding. The whole town came together to rally for her, and there was the most beautiful wedding that meant so much to all the participants. And really... that's what the wedding is all about.

Interesting tidbits: purple and silver are becoming the new "in" colors for weddings (I was ahead of the times?). While budgets are still important to couples, they would rather cut the guest list than cut back on the cost of items in the wedding.

We also witnessed the vow renewal of a couple who was married at the chapel only two years ago. It was very sweet, but the best part had to be the actual carriage with miniature horses and liveried footmen coming to carry them off. It. Was. Gorgeous.

After the happy couple went on their merry way, it was time to meet up with our families for dinner. The lawn at the Grand Floridian - where we were staying - had been turned into a mini-carnival for the children to enjoy.

I was amazed at the food - thank you Chef Gary for walking me through the buffet to let me know exactly what Little Miss could and could not eat and for making it all taste awesome. We all ate our fill, and this was not your typical banquet food. The beef kebabs with chimichurri sauce was actually cooked on giant grills right there in front of us.

Once we finished eating, the wee ones sprinted off - with all the other kids! - to go play the carnival games. They had a blast trying to toss balls into a crocodile's mouth, throwing balls to knock down clowns, attempting the ring toss, and more. Their favorite - and a keepsake we're bringing home - was the spin art booth. The wee ones thought this was the most amaing thing ever, and I was just thrilled that we ended up with no paint on any clothing. How we accomplished that miracle, I'm still not certain!

Various characters also joined us during and after dinner. While Mister Man was too busy to have his picture taken, Little Miss was in heaven. She loved hanging out with Goofy, Mickey, Pluto, and more. Having characters come to us instead of waiting in 45 minute lines in the parks to meet them was amazing. I'm so grateful for this opportunity!

The other favorite of the evening was the balloon man. The wee ones waited in line for an hour and twenty minutes to get their balloons made - potentially the only down side of the night was the long wait here - and they were fascinated. The balloon maker did a great job of engaging the children, and the variety of balloons he was able to create - from Ariel to Mickey to a "horse" that kids could ride - was impressive. I loved his interaction with the children, and so did they.

It was a lovely first evening, and a great way to ease into the conference with the spirit that is Disney. And tomorrow? The meat of the conference - including some great tips on how to handle kids who think they're ready for Facebook.

And you can always catch up on my first "recap" post on my family's take of the conference here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. The conference ticket also included discounted hotel stay, park tickets, and some gifts for myself and my family. I was not compensated in any way, nor was I asked to write about the conference. All opinions expressed are my own.

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