Blog on Blog Action Meme: Round One...

This is the kind of post where I tag myself for a meme I created. It feels.. naughty. And yet so right.

Yes. well. anyhoo. After much hinting and stalling, the Blogrhet team is ready to launch it's first meta-meme. Not that's not a meme about memes (although there's an idea). It's a blog meme about blogging.

Our mission--select one or more of the questions and post a response (or series of responses--depending on how much you want to get up close and personal with that navel). Link back the original post, and then tag three people. I am going to give the first question a stab, and maybe come back to the others.

1. Go back to first or early post. How would you describe your voice back in those early days?Who were you writing to? What was your sense of audience (if any) back then?

Why did I ask that question? I hate revisiting old writing, for some reason. I am always convinced that I was talking rubbish at the time, which is not always the case, but a few glaring errors and trite turns of phrase, and that's all I see.

So my first post was the old "allow myself to introduce myself" one most of us kick off with. The immediate thing I notice is the "i will not use caps at all in my posts. this way i will look cool and edgy." A few posts later, when I realized that I was spending more time editing *out* the caps than anything else I gave it up. It seems really silly now, but I think I was working to make my writing style seem effortless and casual. Also, I think I had seen it somewhere, and I thought it was rad.

Good God.

Actually, now I reread the post, it's not half bad, although I remember thinking after I'd written it, and included a slew of edgy things about myself, "well now that's done. what the hell else can i write now?" This is evidenced by the next few tentative posts where I a) declare I am mommyblogger; b) write a cringeworthy post on Lost; and c) do my first meme and get all excited. (all in lower caps).

I do see the seeds of the kind of writing I enjoy doing now (when I have the time) --a mini-essay on my son's spidey valentines. (At the time I was thinking I'd start doing a series, Bill Bryson style, called "Notes from a Small Blog" that played up the I'm a Brit in the U.S. angle. Although I still do a few posts like that here and there, this shifted as I got a sense of audience and community--probably about two months or so into blogging).

Who was I writing for in those early posts? No one specific. Not even my husband knew what I was up to, and when he discovered it he was mildly alarmed that he and our son would become blog fodder. But I been reading a few blogs religiously, especially Tracey's--who I knew from Grad School--and thought "hey. this looks like fun. i can do that!" (I even thought in no-caps, see).

I liked the personal, self-deprecating, sharp and funny voices I was coming across, and I wanted to play too. I'd just completed my PhD, so I was used to writing pretty dry and dense prose and having it ripped apart by committee members. I'd become quite jaded and even crippled as a writer. Looking back, I realize I was still kind of reeling from that experience, and this was a way I could feel a sense of confidence and enjoyment about writing once more. I also liked the idea that I could write in this more creative and loose style, and instantaneously get an audience. (Yes. I was a tad naive. And egotistical).

In those early days I was slightly adrift in terms of who I was as a writer or blogger. I "tried out" different styles, topics, and felt a little like I was muttering in the dark.

2. Do you remember when you received your first comment? What was it like?

I think I had an almost visceral response to that first comment--it was by a blogger named "Sheriff" who had a (now defunct) blog called "MothrFkr" and another one called "Emotic*nt"--and I will confess, the first heady thrill of "someone is reading!" was swiftly followed by alarm when I clicked through to his site. But it turned out Sheriff was a very nice lad from Newcastle, UK, and he was a very kind cheerleader in those early days. I have great affection for him still, and take it as a lesson that even the most unsettling of blog-titles will most likely harbor mild-mannered and polite bloggers who are good to their mums.

Other early responders were Jon and Mike--also seriously nice blokes and excellent bloggers. It's interesting to look back and realize that for the first month or so, it was The Guys who were there for me. (I heart you guys... Sniff....)

And then I found myself tapped into the (largely) mommy community. A lot of women like me, who had only been blogging for a short while, and who were finding their feet as writers--and very nicely too. We were all writing and reading one another, and diligently commenting on each and every post. Oh sweet heady days.... When I look back, I can see a shift in my writing as I become more confident in who I am writing for, connecting with.

But more on that in another post (maybe). Right now, my navel's all wet from the open-mouth breathing.

Time to tag: Hmmm. How about the lovely Mrs Fortune (she's baaaaa-aaaack!!! WOOT!) Mad Hatter Mommy and Julie.


Light Iris. The New Google for Moms?

(I'm crossposting this from my review blog, because I think some of you might be interested in this one...)

Last night I was trolling the internet for information on Rota virus symptoms, and trying to determine if I should be dashing to the ER or riding the tide as my six-month old entered the fifth day of Rota virus symptoms. (thankfully, as I write this, he is now showing real signs of improvement. phew…).

Light Iris is exactly the search engine for parents like me. Touted as “only the best of Google for new Moms,” the site’s creators certainly set up high expectations for users. But as a parent and as a web usability expert, I can say without reservation that Light Iris is an excellent tool for those new moms (and Dads) it attempts to serve.

Do a straight Google search for “Rotavirus” and “listless” (yes. I was a little panicked) and you immediately receive a dizzying array of results. First off the bat is a document by the Center for Disease Control, on some levels useful—presenting some basic facts about the virus and its symptoms--though likely to scare the bejeezus out of you with statistics on infant mortality, and also focused on vaccine development. Interesting, but not what I was looking for.

What I was looking for was help, reassurance, and information specific to my personal situation as a parent of an ailing child.

At Light Iris, a similar search for “Rotavirus” information immediately took me to a first tier of reliable sources for parents in my predicament—sites that, as a more seasoned parent I am now very familiar with, but as a new parent had little knowledge of: kidshealth.org, askdrsears.com, drspock.com, and information from the FDA. Of course, this is information I could have found through Google, though I would have spent considerably more time digging and sifting through the results before landing on what I was looking for.

More to the point, Light Iris returns effective results for less clear-cut searches, and this is where the site’s real strength begins to come into play. As a blogger, I often play the “check my search referrals” game. It’s normally cause for a bit of a giggle, but among the pursuit for “Ostrich Sleep Habits” (to mention one of the cleaner requests) there are other searches that speak of other stories, of other women, like me, who are not only in need of information, but also of reassurance and connection. Several of my posts deal with my struggles with breastfeeding and self image, my ambivalence towards to Dr. Sears, our familial trials with C.I.O., and it is these posts which repeatedly attract readers who find me through a google search, and who have paged through screen after screen of results before landing on one of my pieces.

As Mad Hatter Mommy put it so perfectly a few months ago, “the parenting blogosphere is big. It’s messy. It’s unwieldy.” On her own post over breastfeeding, she writes:

"I have often said that if I could save one woman even one of the tears I shed over breastfeeding then the absolute hell that I went through would be worth it. I don't know if the women who find my post find help. I hope they find solace. What I hope most of all, though, is that they find more relevant search results than Google is likely giving them. I know how much Google search hits lack relevance in this instance because I was that desperate, searching mom just two short years ago."

When we write posts about our experiences with parenting—mess and all—we provide something that the standard parenting sites to not. Light Iris, for understandable reasons, directs users first to those standard sites—and even in this, it is far superior to Google as a search tool for parents. But also among the results, users can begin to locate the voices of bloggers who might provide that solace that Mad so eloquently describes.

Don’t get me wrong, Light Iris is *not* able to do the deep mining of the parenting blogosphere that I (and Mad, among others) would like to see eventually, but I see clues that its creators are working towards that end. Right now quite a few blogs are showing up via the regular search, but the site’s blog-specific search produces very thin results. But this can change as content developers like many of us take the steps to submit our sites, as invited. (And this overall omission is partly down to us bloggers and our resistance to tagging, and our constant use of colloquialisms. For instance, my breastfeeding posts rarely use the “proper” terminology—instead they are littered with references to The Lactator, boobs and tits. I am not about to change that (thank you) but I could at least employ a few more standardized metatags so some poor soul with nipple thrush can feel someone shares her pain).

Before I conclude, I do have a few comments on the design of the site. I’ll admit, when I first entered the site’s URL, I was put off by a number of design elements, first and foremost a flash-animated splash page with no “Skip” function. (Tut Tut). While I understand that the splash works to “brand” the product, I do know that usability studies show that splash pages annoy the crap out of most users—including this one--especially if you are trying to do something simple and fast. Light Iris is not selling me an “experience” or “life choice,” so I strongly recommend skipping the flash splash.

I have to also say that apart from the flash, I was initially put off by the liberal use of pink (and hard to read) font, and the soft, fuzzy, slightly hallmarky and inspirational feel it emanates. Star bursts for “New Moms. Unique Needs” and such. A little too cutesy and even preteen for my tastes, but certainly not annoying enough to stop me from using the site.

On the other hand, I appreciated that the interface, a la Google, is stripped down and uncluttered. This was Google’s strength, after all, years back when the standard search interface was crammed with text and browse functions (remember Lycos and Excite?). Light Iris retains the Google feel, but makes the site different enough conceptually to reassure users that this is something new.

I am extremely impressed with what Light Iris accomplishes, and realize—as a metadata expert--that the “behind the scenes” work going into this tool is no mean feat. (And I’d really like to know how they do it!) Since I started using Light Iris a week ago, I have been surprised how often I have already used it for my personal needs. Overall, it is an excellent tool, worthy of much attention and investment on the part of people like us who want to provide other voices and perspectives on the experience of parenting.

This review was part of a Parent Blogger's Network campaign. Interested in going to BlogHer but wondering how to afford the registration? Check out the PBN's Blog Blast Contest, enter, and they, along with Light Iris, might just pick up that tab for you.


Where'd She Go?

Posting has been thin on the ground of late. I know, I know, I'm sorry. There are several reasons for this.

1: The Plague. In the space of one week my gorgeous baby boy has had conjunctivitis, dual ear infections (Nice when you go to the doc for eye goop, they check your still-smiling babe's ear holes, and inquire... "did you know he has an ear infection in each year?" Uhm. Nope. Please commence flagellation now. I really don't mind. In fact I'd prefer it) and now some sort of puking/diarrhea, crying-all-the-time-because-he-is-so-miserable thing going on. He is at Home With Daddy right now, who, as he reads this, is resenting the shit out of me for having the time to sit at my desk, sans kiddies, and write this sloppy post.

2: I have been cheating on this blog, with a couple of fluffy posts about Briddish PopCulture over at Mamapop you might have seen (Pop Britannia, Mondays! Check it betches!). And also behind the scenes with planning for new launch of BlogRhet. More on that to come for sure, but team BlogRhet has been hatching plans, and you will invited to participate in our mission for world domination very very soon (we've got a bloggy game/activity in mind). This week, if it kills me.

3. Real Work at Real Job. And lots of it. I could tell you what I am doing, but then I'd have to kill you. Also, people in my workplace are beginning to get a whiff of this blog, and though I am never likely to be dooced, I am likely to be continuously harangued by the geek squad we've got going on over here if I misrepresent anyone or any event. (And by "harangued" being mercilessly ridiculed to where "it's NOT FUNNY any more guys!!!!").

4. Being invited to speak, here:

OMFG! Yes sirree. I am speaking on Saturday at the session on "The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion of Online Communities." I am there as a blogger and an academic. So I am both thrilled and mildly shitting my pants. Brain power is being devoted to this dual state, and not a small hint of Writer's Block (as I think about the politics of inclusion/exclusion I enact just with this space, and wanting to write about it in meaningful and productive way and not do something idiotic like create an unmitigated us-vs.-them minefield).

I am in no doubt that I will end up boring you to tears over enlisting your opinion on this topic very soon. Yes. This here blog is going to get seriously meta on your ass over the next few months. Lots of banging on about "community" and "identity" and "online spaces." (btw--I don't think all the speakers are announced or finalized for BlogHer yet, in case you were wondering...)

And, of course, for all this I need to focus. (See 1, 2 & 3). I am seriously inspired, seriously schitzo, and seriously stinking of baby vomit.


School Fundraiser...The Damage

I realized I promised to post on what happened on Friday. I've been flooded with emails since then, begging, literally begging to know what happened.*

It's frightfully gauche to talk about money (and yet I still do it...). But let's just say we managed to get ourselves the "plum" items from each of our children's classes, and were in some serious bidding wars. It did get ugly, but we were triumphant as the ugliest of them all. I am even considering charging a premium for the unbearably adorable pictures of other people's children (and their babyfootprints) that I now legally own as they grace the pages of the highly prized Baby Room Scrapbook (because, frankly, I could care less about their kids, and this might help recoup some costs).

I now feel that I can safely spend the next year without participating in one single School Read-a-thon, Pizza Fundraiser, Cookie Dough Fundraiser (actually, I rather like that one) Scholastic Book Drive, Zoo Field trip, or anything else nice for our daycare. ever. And if the teachers think they're going to get end of term, christmas, or valentines gifts, they can think again... I've done my part. License to be the school curmudgeonly asshole, granted.

*remember, I am a liar.


Morning Rant of a Hungover Mother of Two Who Should Know Better...

You know you're in trouble when it's 11pm and your Stitch N Bitch group should be wrapping up, but instead you decide (upon seeing the empty bottle of Pinot Grigio) "Nev' mind..I'm switchin' to red..." You also know you're in trouble at midnight when your husband calls "not to hassle you or anything, but to just check you've not been mugged or are lying in a ditch somewhere..."

Oy... I feel...fragile.

I reserve my main sympathy for my good friend who kept me company, and who has to be all peppy, social, and organized this evening at our Preschool Fundraiser because she's in charge. An Auction. Do your schools participate in this seventh-circle-of-hell type activity? Have you ever found yourself in a bidding war for a step stool with your kid's (along with a bunch of other kids' you could care less about) footprints on it?

Does your preschool/daycare take the most adorable pictures of your preshus baby all smiling and chubby, pop it in an album (along with a bunch of other baby pics you could care less about) and force you to pay upwards of $100 for the thing (just because the idea of another parent getting that preshus portrait is simply too much to bear...)?

It's Dog Eat Dog out there, people. Sure they feed you pizza, and watch your kids for free, but in the end it's an all out frenzy by bourgy parents like us who haggle ferociously over stuff our clearly superior children made. It can get ugly and very, very expensive.

(And: SULK. This year I have been informed by MrDrGinga there will be no bidding on various "Vacation Retreats" that come up, because this year he'd like to not come home a thousand bucks or so lighter. Although I will counter, what is the use of Big Fuck-off Minivan if one is not to vacation-retreat in it?)

All right. I'm a tad jaded this morning. It's the tannins and searing headache. Entres Nous, I enjoy a good haggle (as you know). I will report the damage to you Monday morning.

Also--Mother's Days plans. I know you're dying to know what I have lined up. Well MINE (HINT HINT) involve being brought breakfast in bed (bacon sammich on french bread. crammed with bacon. crammed). Cup of tea. Laptop for a little recreational activity, perhaps. Trip to the garden center (because yes. I am becoming my mother...) in search of devastatingly beautiful plants that flower all summer and that do not require watering or taking care of in any way (i.e. am becoming mother, expect part where green things actually remain alive...). Possibly an afternoon trip to Spiderman 3 with my Big Boy (possibly).

How will you beat your husband and children into servitude for one day? What're your Mother's Day plans?


I Heart [tag] Geeks [/tag]

I also love that I work with clever young 'uns who wear "I code so you don't have to" T-Shirts. Awwww! Bless.

Currently gracing their collective workspace as a poster:

From XKDC, A Web Comic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language. Click here for Big View.


I'm Awesome (But Then You Already Knew That...)

This last week or so there's been quite swell of "I am a Good Parent" declarations going on, all triggered by Rebecca of Girl's Gone Child who suggests that this new trend of confessing one's self as a bad parent is the new form of saying "I'm so fat."

Interesting. And she's definitely onto something. But what? Like Her Bad Mother, I am very aware that most of my "parenting" posts relate tales of chaos and questionable mommy skills. Even in this last one here, I am regaling you with how I did not leave the house with my children as a well-prepared mommy of two should.

Let me tell you a secret. I did not get my kid to eat cheetos off the floor.

Also. There was a teeny weeny plastic dinosaur in my purse, which Big Boy played with quite nicely for a while.

Also. Although I had no snacks, we did have a couple of singles and there was a vending machine. Filled with candy and granola bars. I opted for the granola bars, though he begged begged begged for chocolate. And he had water to drink, not pop.

Also. In moments where he was really bored, when we were waiting for paperwork and all that other time-consuming stuff that happens when you spend your life away in one morning, I found a pen and paper, and we worked on his letters, and drew pictures and made up little stories and rhymes.

Why did I not tell you these things? Why did I lie? Well, as HBM says, it's not as much fun. Good is. Well. Good. Nice. But I can't get my comic jollies off it. Also. I'm not so much interested in telling you the minutiae of my day as much as picking a moment, and telling a story. And you know I like to tell a story with a bit of comic effect, normally with myself as the butt of the joke. I select some details, omit others, and even fabricate a touch here and there for the sake of literary effect. (yes. I said literary. shut up).

(see? I just did it, up there. in that parentheses. it's a rhetorical tactic--perhaps an overplayed one, but I like it, so bugger off!)

Rebecca is right to point out that this constant self-deprecation needs to be looked at a bit more carefully. On one level I see it as a kind of social gesture that says "I am not a competimommy! I do not judge! I am crap too. See see! Let's be friends!" There's definitely a specifically feminine discourse mode going on here, imbued with self-deprecation tactics in order to show comradeship and community. And in this way, I think it is actually extremely valuable. It's part of our community-building schtick. It's a form of rhetoric. It's a way we tell stories and engage one another. And within this context, I would even say it's empowering.



HBM asks: "Are you as good or as bad or as in-between in real life as you portray yourself on your blog? How much of your 'self' IS portrayed - revealed? exposed? - on your blog? Do you lay it all bare, and if not - what aren't you telling us?"

I know that HBM is a Good Parent. Even through her writing. Especially through her writing. Would we be reading her if we really thought she was a seriously Bad Mother. Course Not.

I also know you are an excellent parent, and you are, and you are, and you are. And I am pretty certain that you folks know I also rockit in the parenting department (as does my partner in crime, DrMrGinga).

What am I not telling you? The stuff I think is boring. The details that can make a post spiral out of control and lose focus. You lot have no clue how long it can take me to write some of these things sometimes. But I carefully cultivate an off-the-cuff style so it looks effortless and conversational (I hope). And I also omit the stuff that is too private, and that extends beyond me (which is a lot, also).

How much of my "self" is portrayed or exposed? Everything and nothing. Most people who know me say that this blog reflects my personality to a T. I've done well in creating an authentic "voice." On the other hand, there is so, so much that is not written. Sometimes because I simply don't have time to sit and process with words, and sometimes because to tell would be to tell too much, and to make this blog into a more confessional or journal form that I don't really want it to be. This is not therapy for me. And although I value all of you, when I need help or support I look to those immediately around me. Ones I can physically grab in my vice-like grip.

So do you know me? Yes. And I know myself better through writing here. But I am edited. And tweaked. Just like you. Just as we are, everyday. I really don't know what authenticity is. It's one of those concepts that crumbles as soon as I attempt to define it. But I will ask--Is saying we're a fiction the same thing as saying we're false?

Note: While I am on another metablogging tangent, you should know that HBM and I have been devising ways to shift BlogRhet to the next phase. We want to make it a group blog where some "thinky" writing can take place--not necessarily academic, but certainly more research and exploration in orientation. If you are interesting in collaborating with us on this project, shoot me an email at gingajoy [at] gmail.com. Please! If you've already stated interest, expect to hear from us soon.


But Actually, I am the Quintessential Ugly American...

And I've now got the minivan to prove it (Yes. Did It).

We went off to "just look" on Saturday morning. Two boys, no snacks, and "No! No I haven't got any toys in my handbag. NO! Here. Play with this key chain. Look. Eat those cheetos from the floor"

We come back nearly three hours later with a Toyota Sienna, a four year old who was nearly climbing the walls from boredom, and a Fat Chunk of New Debt. Yay! (it does get good gas mileage. relatively speaking. honest.)

I tend to handle "negotiations" in these situations. i.e. I barter. I have no shame or sense of dignity (unlike my Husband, who did manage to stop me from letting them add all sorts of "fabric, paint, and whatever "proofing' to the thing in my frenzy to BUY BUY BUY).

Here's how the "brokering" went:

Teenage Car Salesman: "If we factor in the blah blah rebate, and the blah blah interest rate, we're looking at [Insert obscene amount of $$$$$ here]"

Me: "Really. OK. Well let me just be upfront with you. Tell it to you straight. Let's not mess around here. We have a limit. If you can make that figure [Insert obsene amount of $$$$, less $5,000. Aim low, right?] we are ready to make a deal today

Teenage Car Salesman: (sits at his desk and makes show of using calculator and "checking figures." I am not fooled in the least. I'm going to hold my ground). "I think we can do that...."


Me: "Wha?" (thinks: FUCK!)

Yeah. I'm such a fricking hussler. Outwitted by a spotty youth. I think we got a good deal, but how can I be sure?

Ah. Who cares? I now have my minivan, and another American Dream is fulfilled....