From time to time, I just get super “YES TO BLOGGING! THIS IS THE MOST AWESOME THING EVARRRR!” And since I spent my weekend in Boston/Cambridge, MA at the Healthy Living Summit, a conference for health bloggers, this is one of those times.
This is the fourth year for the HLS and my first time attending. Heather invited me to speak on a panel earlier this summer and I was so in, despite the fact that I was the last blogger anyone expected to speak at the HLS. While the panel was what got me there, I got a lot more out of the conference than just the opportunity to hear the sound of my own voice.
The HLS had honestly been the last thing on my mind in the weeks leading up to it (August just felt so far away!), but on Thursday, when I realized, Oh, hey, it’s probably time to start packing, I started to get really excited. I was mostly excited to meet all my “imaginary friends” — the bloggers I’ve been friends with for 2-3 years but have never met in person. After a long-ass day of traveling (left my house at 5:15 AM, got to the hotel at 4:00 PM) I walked in to registration and was thrilled to see all these familiar faces for the first time offline.
Things were so easy with the bloggers I’ve “known” the longest. (Also, I’m about to get real AOL circa 1998 and give lots of “shout outs to my peeps!” as we kids used to say.) I roomed with Emily (whose blog I feel like I’ve been reading forever), Kristin (who I met at SXSW), and Dori (my longtime blogging buddy who I’d still never met in real life). [Photo of Emily and me via Kristen's blog.] After I arrived on Friday, I picked up my (OMG HUGE!) bag of swag and hung out with my roommates while going through all the stuff the HLS sponsors gave us. The highlight was definitely a cute new pair of Reeboks, but I was also really excited about the small branded colander from Driscoll’s (brilliant marketing!). A bit later, Kristin, Emily, and I (Dori hadn’t arrived yet) met up with a bunch of other bloggers in Meghann‘s suite to have pizza and then headed back to our room to finish doing our hair and makeup for the party. And that’s when I got super nervous.
The strangest thing for me this weekend was being with this group of people where I wasn’t sure who I knew (because — surprise surprise! — people look different from their avatars and I don’t always put a face with a blog title anyway), who I was supposed to know (I felt like an asshole when I didn’t know people), and who knew me (there were a ton of newer bloggers and also — surprise surprise! — not everyone reads my blog). Walking up to a new group of people was a little awkward, and, as a result, I felt a lot more shy and reserved than I expected to throughout the weekend.
I was definitely feeling that way at the beginning of the party, but having a couple drinks helped. Dori arrived mid-party, which was exciting, because it was just like How did I not know you in person until now?! Later in the night, I tracked down Teri, my other fellow panelist. Teri is another person I’ve been blog friends with for a few years, and we hit it off even more in person. I had a great time talking to her and Holly during the cocktail party and throughout the weekend.
I was really tired from getting up at 4:30 AM two days in a row, so I was ready to call it an early night. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep very well (sharing a bed with another woman who is kind of a stranger was new to me and I was vaguely worried that I was going to start spooning her in the middle of the night) and was pretty sluggish the next morning. Breakfast was put on by Wild Harvest, who, I must say, was an awesome sponsor. Last month, they sent all the HLS attendees a HUGE box of swag to our houses. While it was all pretty good, the animal crackers and cherry vanilla granola were both like crack (or so I’m told from my fellow healthy living bloggers who also smoke crack) and I’m hoping Wild Harvest brings its products to the Texas grocery stores soon. They also took really good care of us when it came to breakfast. The plates were surprisingly small (Meghann later told me that was a mistake on the hotel’s part but she was afraid people would think it meant they shouldn’t eat a lot) but I had no shame in loading up two plates with food and then going back for a softball-sized banana nut muffin plus some extras.
After breakfast, we did some icebreakers in small groups and then it was time for Reebok’s team of trainers to lead everyone in a Crossfit class. Crossfit is so not my thing, but luckily, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to avoid doing a million squats; Emily, Kristin, and I went for a walk instead. (I heard nothing but good things from the people who took the class, but I don’t regret opting out at all.) Post-walk, I was feeling pretty tired and crappy, and rather than struggle all day, I decided to take a nap. Sadly, I’m a terrible napper, so I just lay in bed for 35 minutes. Still, the little rest helped a lot and I felt recharged by the time the next sessions started.
The first session I attended was Blogging with Brands, which featured both…bloggers and brands! We heard things from both perspectives and got some tips on finding new partnerships, when to say no, and knowing what you are worth and what your expectations should be. After lunch, I went to I am the Blogger in Your Neighborhood, which I loved. Doing more locally is something I need to be better about and this panel left me feeling really motivated. (Also, it just totally solidified the girl crush on Holly that had started the night before at the cocktail party.) After a short afternoon break, it was time for my panel, The Fuzzy Gray Areas of Blogging.
I think Dori, Teri, and I were all a bit nervous — Dori took a shot before we started which got a big laugh from a table of our blogging friends that happend to notice — but once we got started, I was kind of in a zone where I wasn’t thinking about anything but the conversation. It was more of a casual discussion than a presentation; I threw questions out to them and they answered and we all kind of discussed. We had created/discussed the questions a few weeks ago via a group video chat, but it wasn’t until we were discussing it with an audience that I realized how different all of us are and I felt like I was learning a lot as I was discussing with them. It was hard to get a read on what the audience was thinking, but blogging friends told me it was good, so, ya know, that tells me everything I need to know! Seriously, though, the tweets that were coming out of it were positive and I felt like I learned a lot from my fellow panelists as we were talking, so I hope that’s a sign that we did well.
Once the panel over, I was ready for a drink! I met a small group of bloggers for drinks in Meghann’s suite and then we headed out to a private dinner hosted by Chobani. I really love the Chobani brand. I have been working with them for a while and I like how they do things; they didn’t do any traditional advertising until after they got big and they built their brand mainly through social media and blogger outreach. Whenever I see them grow or become more successful — like seeing them as an Olympics sponsor this year — I feel that sense of ownership, like, Yeah! Those are my friends! I knew them before they were popular! When I told them earlier this year I wanted to ease up on giveaways for a bit, so as not to overload people and also because Eric and I are happy to spend our own money on Chobani, they totally got it, which I really appreciated.
The dinner at EVOO was probably my favorite part of the weekend. The food was all made with Chobani yogurt and it was pretty delicious (though the lobster-vanilla succotash was not my thing) and our servers were very attentive when it came to refilling our wine glasses and cocktails. I sat closest to Julie, Meghann, and Ashley, and had a great time chatting with them, but everyone mingled quite a bit. I just loved this part of the weekend. It’s always fun to hang out with people who are into the same thing you are, and the fact that we’ve been imaginary friends for so long made it even better. There’s only so much you’re going to learn about people through their blogs; getting to know everyone in person and being able to see their faces (and hear their accents!) just added a whole new aspect to the community for me. I felt totally hopped up on blogger love by the end of the evening. [Photo from EVOO via Brittany's Instagram.]
Stuffed, tipsy, and happy, the group headed out from the dinner and back to the hotel. As we looked for a cab, one blogger thought she saw “The Situation” on the street outside the restaurant and then declared that she would like to “eat ‘The Situation’ for breakfast.” I asked her if she planned to photograph this for her blog.
I was up dark and early the next morning for my 6 AM flight and was back in Houston by noon. It was a quick trip but I’m really glad I went! The whole weekend felt like a fabulous combination of sorority life and summer camp that left me feeling rather excited about blogging.