Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Momocrats Exclusive with Barack Obama

So, the ABC Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, with its tabloid focus on tangential, media-manufactured campaign "controversies" that have nothing to do with the actual concerns of American citizens made me really, really angry.

But rather than expressing my anger by investing in voodoo dolls of Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulous, I decided to put that frustrated energy to good use by asking my fellow bloggers over at Momocrats what questions they wished had been asked at the debate. I organized those questions by topic, and edited some of them for clarity. At the suggestion of the group, I added in some reader questions that had been submitted to us previously. And then I wrote this post.

The rest of Momocrats crew thought it would be a good idea to forward our questions to the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

And today, you can read the Obama campaign's response.

Barack Obama answered five of our questions.

Hillary Clinton? The ball is in your court.

(And, ABC? I am available to host This Week, if you promise to provide on-site childcare.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

All Right, What Can I Say

I am a terrible blogger. Garden series still not finished. Partly because, well, I've been actually planting a garden. (Spring waits for no woman. And my some of my seedlings are busting out of their peat pots.)

And more because I've just been all out of sorts this week. It's not just the car break-in (and the shooting I witnessed a couple of blocks away AS I was standing in the dark street in a pool of shattered glass next to my car giving the police officer my statement about the break-in -- did I mention that here on the blog? No? Well, now I did).

Like I said in response to some comments on my last post, I'm actually kind of accustomed to violent shit like that happening, though it has been a pleasant while.

It's more that I just feel sort of cumulatively worn down lately by minor mishaps, unfortunate occurences and petty thievery (not just the car theft-- petty thievery like banks charging nonsense fees, insurance companies trying to retroactively deny claims they already paid half a year ago, etc., etc.-- I'm sure you've all had the experience.)

And then I feel really guilty for feeling worn down by this B.S., when some of my blogfriends have much worse things going on. Like Dana who recently lost her whole blog due to a server disaster. Or Andrea whose baby had some weird unexplained respiratory attack the other day that briefly turned her blue. Or Kim, who, as I type this, may or may not be watching the special investigative report that is on KSDK right now about the crash that killed two of her daughters. (The report they have been advertising, like, EVERY TEN MINUTES for days now with an image of the smashed vehicle. Merciful heavens, Kim. I hope you've been watching Channel 4 or something instead.) Or Rebecca, who just interrupted her book tour to go to one of her best friend's funerals, AND who had her car broken into, too, so somebody could steal an MP3 player.

I could go on, and on. It seems like a lot of people I know/read have had a pretty crappy couple of weeks (months, years-- fill in the blank) lately, actually. And that makes me feel like a whiner for letting the little stuff-- the tangled-in-red tape kind of stuff-- get me down.

I think I need to get outside more this weekend. And maybe drink a little. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

As If the Earthquake Weren't Enough Excitement

As my Twitter followers already know, my car was broken into last night at a blogger meetup.

(No, it wasn't a fellow blogger who smashed my car's front passenger window and stole my husband's semi-concealed MP3 player and its radio-broadcaster-hookup doohickey. At least, I don't think it was another blogger. I mean, after all, the officer who took our police report did say it was probably a troubled teen, but Dwight claims he was out of town.)

I will totally blog about this later in more detail. Perhaps when I'm less pissed off, so I can be all perspectivey. And I also plan to finish my gardening series. But, in the meantime, if you're hankering for some lengthy text, check out my mammoth new post on global food inflation over at Momocrats.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Earthquake Pansy was Freaked Right the Eff Out

We interrupt this gardening series to say:

At four in the morning my husband and I were awakened by 5.2 magnitude earthquake.

At first I thought my husband had gotten up and for some reason was shaking the bed. Then, as I noticed he was still lying silent beside me, and the rocking increased, and I realized that in fact my whole house was shaking, my thought process went thusly:

This is an earthquake.

But, we don't have earthquakes here.

Well, actually, we do, sometimes, but I don't want to think about that because that makes this even more scary.

Could it be something else? Like a gas explosion or something in a nearby neighborhood?

No, this is definitely an earthquake.

And then my husband sat up and said, "This is an earthquake!"

Just as I was priming to jump out of bed and run to my son's room to take him outside or under a doorway or something, the earthquake stopped.

The kid slept through the whole thing.

Meanwhile, I couldn't sleep for another hour. I just lay in bed with my eyes open, reminding myself over and over again that the big earthquakes are supposed to come first and any shocks after that are supposed to be minor.

And before any of my California readers mock me, note that this Midwesterner faces down house-flattening thunderstorms, roaring tornadoes and rushing flash floods on a regular basis without batting an eye. But an earthquake? That's just NOT NATURAL.

(Except when it is. But let's not remind me of that. Okay?)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Victory Gardens, Part One

I started my first garden on my bedroom windowsill, when I was still a teenager in high school. A biology teacher had made a class project of repurposing clear plastic food takeout boxes as mini-greenhouses for starting seeds. It was supposed to nudge us to think of creative ways to reuse and recycle common waste containers; it wasn't meant to be an ongoing project.

But once those seeds had opened, and spread tiny green wings, I found couldn't abandon my little sprouts of rosemary and thyme. So I scrounged things resembling pots from around my home, and dug dirt from who-knows-where, and transplanted my seedlings, and prayed, and within weeks of creating my plastic greenhouse, I was tending my first tiny herb garden.

At the time, my family was struggling financially. My mother, my sister, my little brother and I were living in tiny bare bones apartment in a faceless brick apartment building in a post-industrial, semi-urban wasteland near the airport, right next to an infamous eminent-domain-created ghost town.

It wasn't really safe to spend much time walking around outside in that neighborhood. My sister had been shot at, once, while she was out after dark trying to coax a stray kitten into a box so she could take it to a shelter. The bullet had come so close, she had felt it brush her hair.

And there wasn't much to look at outside, anyway. The landscape was dominated by dirty parking lots, crumbling buildings, litter, and weeds.

It felt so nice to have something green in that place. Something growing and alive and scented of sunlight and good earth. I used to bury my nose in the rosemary plant and breathe its clean, spicy scent before I went to sleep at night. It seemed to clear my head. And to this day, the scent of rosemary calms me.

I don't know why those herbs grew so well on my windowsill, under my untutored care. I've had a lot of trouble, in years since, convincing herbs in general and rosemary in particular to thrive indoors. Herbs, for the most part, crave the sun, and a windowsill generally just won't do it for them unless it has excellent sun exposure.

I also don't know how I kept the cats we had from eating those plants, or knocking them over, especially given I was mostly at school all day.

But somehow, they managed to make it in those tough surroundings. After all, they had a gardener who needed them. And they had no place else to grow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

St. Louis Bloggers' Guild

There's a lot of talk these days about the power of blogs.

Newspaper editors, public relations executives and marketing gurus all chatter in stage whispers about bloggers and blogging, flashing to the world their newfound hipness to the view of social media as the latest Next Big Thing.

For ordinary bloggers and savvy internet users who follow blogs, of course, social media stopped being the Next Big Thing and became just The Thing to Do sometime circa 2002.

But those holding the keys to the Information Kingdom were bound to notice eventually that legions of formerly voiceless peasants seem to have acquired soapboxes and megaphones.

And now, huge corporations court bloggers' favor; newspapers snatch up blog content to fill out their coverage (and don't always bother to ask permission, or credit the bloggers they "borrow" from); advertising executives create MySpace and Facebook pages, begging people to make friends with brands, and marketing departments pay out millions to social media "experts" for tips on designing the perfect corporate blog.

Among all this talk of "harnessing," "leveraging" and "monetizing" the world of blog content, little attention is being paid to the rights and interests of the people who originally created that world of content: the bloggers themselves.

Newcomers to the blogosphere seeking to cash in on the value of blog content need to be reminded: It's not just blog content that has value. It's bloggers who have value. Without the people who write blogs&mdash without the skill, dedication, and talent blog authors tap to draw in their audiences&mdash there would be no value in blogging.

And occasionally bloggers, too, need to be reminded that they themselves, as content creators, have value. While many seasoned bloggers have come know all too well how important it is to be vigilant about defending one's work, some casual bloggers find it hard to fathom that their little amateur online journal project could really be worth something to anyone other than themselves. They don't understand why big-time publications might want to exploit it, why mega corporations might want to buy it, or why sploggers might want to steal it.

So I'm pleased to announce the formation of a new organization, founded by a group of local bloggers who care about building and protecting the local blogging community: The St. Louis Bloggers' Guild. Dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights and interests of St. Louis bloggers through education, community outreach, and cooperative community-building, The St. Louis Bloggers' Guild will be accepting new members shortly.

Go check it out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Someone Call Mike Huckabee

And tell him there's come good eatin' in my back yard if only he'll bring his own BB gun and a BBQ grill.

In one week, our friendly neighborhood squirrels, in some sort of spring-induced frenzy, have chewed off HALF of one of our trashcan lids (which, mind you, already had a convenient squirrel access hole that had been chewed last season), and gnawed a four-inch by three-inch hole through tough, quarter-inch thick acrylic to get to about a quarter cup of seed inside a bird feeder (seed which they then apparently chose not to eat, preferring to dump it on the ground).

Apparently, they're just not getting enough plastic in their diet.

They weren't nearly this bad last year. Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Business of Blogging at Camp Baby

So, I know it's been a couple of days since I said "I'll post more tomorrow" . . .

I blame my librarian, who made me check out this book, and Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote it. And Spring, for making me need to start seedlings, for my garden.

(And I blame Barbara Kingsolver for making me feel guilty about not starting even MORE seedlings for my garden. All while sort of mocking me for being a vegetarian even though she used to be one. SHAME ON YOU, Barbara Kingsolver. SHAME ON YOU and your glorious descriptive passages and your superior gardening skills. May you be cursed with mountains of zucchini and enough Juliet tomatoes to start a tomato canning factory. Which of course you will never start, because that would be encouraging people to eat processed food. Mwa ha ha!)

Anyway, on to my post.


I went to Johnson's Camp Baby with an agenda. And it wasn't just to escape the family, jump on sleep in a big comfy hotel bed, suck down free booze, snag some fabulous (and trust me, it was really fabulous, as in, free Nintendo DS fabulous) swag, and fall into a fangirl swoon in the celebrity presences of Catherine and Kristen.

(What? Did you think I was going to say Ted Allen? Hah. As if I have time these days to watch Bravo. He IS a sweetheart, though. He's recently started a blog, and he asked us all for blogging advice even though he apparently gets paid two dollars a word writing for Esquire. I thought that was rather noblesse-oblige-y of him. In a good way.)

(Can you believe it? Two dollars a word?

Do you think I could convince Esquire that I have a penis?)

(Where was I? Ah, yes.)

I went to Camp Baby with an agenda, and that was, to ask whatever Johnson and Johnson executives I happened across some serious questions.

As the mother of a young child, I wanted to know what Johnson and Johnson has been doing to address the controversy regarding synthetic estrogen mimics, such as paraben preservatives, and phthalates and BPA leached from plastic packaging, in children's cosmetic products.

I wanted to know what Johnson and Johnson plans to do to reduce the presence of potentially dangerous contaminants, such as the carcinogenic petrochemical 1,4-Dioxane, in soaps and lotions for babies.

I wanted to ask where Johnson products are made, and how factory workers are treated, and how the products are tested for safety.

I wanted to ask whether Johnson's has considered introducing a line of plant-based cosmetic products with organic ingredients to offer eco-conscious parents more options.

Liz wanted me to ask an excellent question about whether Johnson and Johnson has any plans to introduce more eco-friendly product packaging.

And of course, as I mentioned before, given the early controversy about the invitation process, I planned to ask about what Johnson and Johnson's plans to do going forward to make sure nursing mothers don't feel discriminated against at future events.

This may not seem like a particularly long list of questions to ask over the course of three days. But, considering that there were 55 or so other outspoken bloggers attending this event, and considering that the event planners had scheduled the event down to fifteen minute increments, packing each day of the conference with speakers and activities, getting my two ten cents in proved to be a little challenging.

I was able to talk with Lori, the person from Johnson and Johnson's communications division in charge of organizing the Camp Baby event, immediately upon arrival at the hotel regarding the nursing mothers situation. And I do mean immediately: having read my blog post the night before, Lori was actually waiting for me in the hotel lobby, ready to have a conversation.

I must admit that I was so surprised by her eagerness to speak with me that, for a minute, I was fairly certain she was about to lead me out the back door and stuff me into an unmarked van bound straight back to the airport for rousing too much rabble about a free, expenses-paid (and did I mention totally free? Plane ticket, too?) three-day conference/vacation.

However, Lori was actually quite gracious, and spoke with me for a full half hour about what she feels Johnson and Johnson has learned about working with mothers of babies from this inaugural event. She also happily accepted my offer to send an emailed list of suggestions to her (which I have, and which she actually read, despite its being, in typical Jaelithe style, about three pages long).

So, mission fairly well accomplished there.

But what about my other questions?

Luckily, I quickly discovered I wasn't the only blogger there with an agenda.

People like Kristen, Izzy, and Karianna wanted to know about synthetic chemicals and contaminants in Johnson's products, too. Plenty of other bloggers besides myself were interested in asking questions about product packaging, product testing, and product safety. Questions about environmental sustainability. Questions about working conditions. Questions about corporate vision, and corporate participation in efforts to improve local communities.

During every single question and answer session I witnessed, my fellow bloggers did me proud, with many intelligent, well-spoken women asking the same sort of questions I wanted to ask, and offering the same sort of feedback I wanted to offer.

Okay, so I still did hog the mic a little.

On the whole, I think the bloggers in attendance presented a fairly united front in favor of:
  • Better product labeling, with full ingredient lists available on the internet
  • More information about company history, factory locations, employment practices, and production processes on the internet
  • Safer, more environmentally-friendly production and packaging methods
  • More transparency in all corporate communications with the public regarding product information and product safety
  • More options for consumers, including fragrance-free products for children with allergies or sensitive skin, and more eco-friendly, plant-based options for environmentally conscious consumers
  • More corporate recognition about how production practices affect the surrounding communities
Honestly, it seemed to me that some of the Johnson and Johnson execs and guest speakers were a little taken aback at just how much thought most "Mommybloggers" really do put into their everyday purchases.

During one presentation by a Johnson and Johnson scientist focused on product safety, the presenter quipped that by the end of her presentation, she'd have turned us all into amateur scientists. And I had to stifle a laugh, considering that I was sitting three feet away from a former neuroscientist, and couldn't glance in any direction without my gaze falling on current or former nurses.

To be sure, the non-scientist, non-health-professional members of the group were a majority. But many of them, I am sure, were teachers, or lawyers, or reporters, or professional freelance writers, or ad execs, etc., (and many others, I am sure, had been such, before they became stay-at-home-moms).

The type of people who read Newsweek in addition to People and Vogue.

The type, in other words, who are in fact already pretty comfortable with bar graphs.

During one feedback session, when a PR expert asked the crowd what they look for when visiting corporate websites, I said, "I go to corporate websites to find out more information about the philosophy of the company. I also try to find out where the company's products are made, and how the company's employees are treated, and whether the company tries to use eco-friendly production practices. I also look for ingredient lists, and product safety information."

And the PR expert responded, somewhat incredulously, "Really? Do you really look for all that information before you make a purchase?"

To which not just I, but about half the women in the room, answered, Yes, of course we do, when we are looking for products we plan to use long-term for our kids.

And why wouldn't we? Bloggers tend to be intelligent, educated, curious, opinionated, and tech-savvy as a group. We like the internet, we're comfortable on the internet, and we know how to use the internet to pull up vast amounts of valuable information in seconds with the click of a mouse.

And most mothers I've met are concerned much more than the average childless person about things like product safety and environmental protection, and most mothers I've met make an active effort to educate themselves on such subjects.

After all, it's our kids' health we're protecting with information on product safety. It's our kids' future we're protecting the planet for.

I think most corporate marketing departments have a bit of an unfortunate misconception about Mommybloggers.

They see us writing about chronic sleep deprivation, picky eaters and potty training, and perhaps the prevalence of such quotidian subject matter leads them to believe such mundane matters are mostly what we think about.

But our brains are quite capable of multi-tasking, and many of us are well accustomed to typing research questions into Google with one hand while we rock a baby with the other.

And so it happened that, during the very last question and answer opportunity, this time at Johnson and Johnson corporate headquarters, when Ray Jordan, Corporate Vice President of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at Johnson and Johnson, asked the bloggers for final thoughts on how Johnson and Johnson can continue to build good social media relations, my last message to Johnson and Johnson was not something that had been on my original agenda.

I said, "Don't underestimate us. There are scientists in this room. There are health care professionals in this room. The bloggers in this room are smart, and educated. We like having access to detailed statistics and scientific information. We can handle it."

To which Ray responded, "So, are you trying to say that Moms have a branding issue?"

Which I think means he totally got me, actually.

So I'm feeling pretty positive about the business side of this event. I hope we bloggers who attended did a good job of representing the concerns of today's moms to Johnson and Johnson.

And I hope Johnson and Johnson was listening to our suggestions.

I really do think that Ray and Lori were listening.


By the by, here are some encouraging facts you may not know about Johnson and Johnson that I learned while attending the conference:
  • A founding partner of the EPA's Green Power Partnership program, Johnson and Johnson is one of the largest corporate users of solar power in the United States.
  • Johnson and Johnson sponsors the nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide, which promotes public awareness campaigns to educate children and parents on how to prevent accidental injury, and supports legislation designed to reduce accidental injuries in children.
  • Johnson and Johnson helps fund InfantSEE, a nonprofit public health program that provides free eye exams to kids under the age of one.
I especially encourage my readers to check out the InfantSEE program. The program director spoke at the conference, and I have never seen a man more sincerely dedicated to a good cause.

(I'm still using Burt's Bees lotion on my kid until Johnson and Johnson comes out with an eco-friendly, plant-based line in recycled plastic packaging, though.)

(Are you taking notes, Ray?)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Back from Outer Space

So, I'm back from Johnson's Camp Baby and I have lots and lots of thoughts about the business side of things there. But I'm trying to collect them into some sort of big picture assessment that will be both insightful and fair. As one of the invitees who does NOT have some sort of ad-related restriction on blogging about an expenses-paid event, I feel I have an obligation of sorts to cover this well. Hopefully I'll have a nice, lengthy, typically tortuous Jaelithe-Style post up tomorrow, but right now my head feels like it's stuffed full of cotton.

No, I'm not still hungover. Really!

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I came home to a house that looked like my son's toys had seen a better party than I had, and a kid who still insists the fact that I left him alone in the loving, perfectly capable hands of his other parent for a total of two and a half days is absolute proof that I no longer love him and am even now secretly planning to run away from home, never to return.

(So THIS the kind of appreciation, devotion and trust sacrificing a full-time career and social life for nearly four years so you can stay home with your kid gets you. NOW you tell me.)

Oh well. It was worth it, damn it. Dana and Lisa and I formed a St. Louis posse, and my two awesome wingladies made it much, much easier to pretend I was an extrovert for three days. Kristen braided my hair. Glennia gave me a hug, and a stack of Momocrats magnets to pass out, which made me feel all giddily official.

Carmen and Karianna and Christina and Lisa all talked with me about raising quirky kids, and in their group presence I felt for the first time since my son's diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder like I could talk to other parents openly about my son's sensory problems without providing a book's worth of explanation first. Because they'd all been there, or at least had visited a nearby town.

And on the way home I made it all the way through airport security wearing a Mominatrix t-shirt. Which I figure was practically like making out with Kristen and Debbie at the same time. And what could beat that?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reservations Made, with Reservations

So, I'm off to Johnson and Johnson's Camp Baby tomorrow. A two day conference, all expenses paid.

As any Mommyblogger who has been paying attention knows, there has been more than a little controversy surrounding this event, largely because of Johnson and Johnson's decision to ban all children, including nursing babies, from the event. Many better bloggers than I have already written in depth about this subject, so I find myself without much new to say.

Before the controversy broke, I had been getting pretty excited about going to this event. First of all, it's a free trip, and who doesn't get excited about being offered a free trip? And secondly, due to several random unfortunate events, I haven't been able to make it to a BlogHer convention yet, and so Camp Baby presented itself as a fine first opportunity to finally meet several of my favorite fellow bloggers in person.

I was a little disappointed, mind, that some of my friends who had also been invited hadn't been able to register in time and wouldn't be able to go, and I understood their frustration at being shut out before the registration deadline. But when I found out there had only been 50 spots available, I could understand why the event had filled up quickly, and though I wished J&J had been more clear to invitees about how limited the space was, I understood why they couldn't accept every reservation.

However, when I first found out that some nursing mothers (of very young babies) had been enthusiastically invited to the camp, had registered, and then had essentially been disinvited from the camp after asking that arrangements be made so that they could bring their nursling infants, I was seriously upset.

Upset enough to email my contacts at J&J to ask them flat out why a company that focuses on making products for infants wouldn't be concerned enough about the health of infants to want to encourage breastfeeding by treating nursing mothers with respect.

Upset enough, in fact, that for a little while I considered canceling my reservation.

But then, two things happened to change my mind.

The first thing that happened was that one of the women in charge of organizing Camp Baby, Lori, responded rapidly to bloggers' complaints. She responded to my email. She responded to other bloggers' emails. She sent out a general apologetic email to the entire list of invitees.

She started calling several bloggers in person to apologize for the missteps, and wrote about the problems on Johnson and Johnson's own company blog, openly admitting that the J&J had made a mistake in not making the event requirements more clear from the beginning.

It seemed to me that Lori did feel sincere regret that some invited bloggers had been offended, and it seemed to me that the event organiziers at Johnson and Johnson sincerely did want to learn from their mistakes.

And the second thing that happened was that I talked to my mom.

My mom nursed me, and my little sister, back in the early eighties, when nursing in public was far less acceptable than it is now, and nursing mothers had far less support. She nursed all three of her children past their first birthday. She was a lactivist before lactivist was a term.

So I was interested in what my mother would have to say about this issue. And when I talked to her about it, she said, "If this is an all-expenses paid trip, surely, if you cancel, Johnson and Johnson can find another blogger who doesn't care nearly as much as you do about making life easier for nursing moms to take your spot in a heartbeat. Since they seem contrite and willing to listen, why don't you go on this trip, and talk to them while you are there about ways they can do more to accommodate nursing mothers in the future?"

So, that's what I'm going to do. But I'd like your help.

What would you like me to say to the event organizers at Johnson and Johnson about ways to better organize future bloggers' events?

And are there any other queries you'd like me to shoot their way while I'm in New Jersey tomorrow?

(Don't worry about asking me to ask whether they plan to try to reduce the presence of phthalates and parabens in their baby soaps and lotions. It's already on my list.)