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You all are probably expecting me to start out with some explanation as to why I haven’t written in so long. (And by “you all,” I mean my mom and the other three people out there who haven’t given up on poor ol’ Jeez-o-petes.) I’m not going to. I’m not going to go into the crazy that’s been going on, about how a ton of people I’ve worked with and truly like and respect were laid off and my employment future is a little uncertain, and I’m not going to talk all about how my dad was in the hospital but was finally released today.

No, I’m just going to dive straight into the fact that I might kind of love New York.

Yes, I know, I know, way to be original. I KNOW. But hear me out.

The first time I went to NYC, it was basically Big and Cool and Scary. I was with Jared, who’d been there as a child but not as an adult, and we really didn’t go anywhere without either a guide or very specific instructions. I think we used the subway once. I found it to be an amazing city, but I had a hard time understanding the concept of living there.

After going there a couple of times last summer, I started to get it a little more. It still absolutely wasn’t for me, but I got outside of Midtown and rode the subway by myself and visited more friends who really lived the NYC lifestyle. It wasn’t so scary anymore.

This was a whole different trip. For starters, I was there for a week (Jared was working a trade show, so I went to a few meetings and lunches and otherwise did my normal work thing, except that instead of sitting in my office without pants on, I wore a dress and boots and makeup and worked from a Starbucks in Soho. I have never seen a busier bathroom than the one there, let me tell you.) I had some amazing experiences — going to the top of the Empire State Building, attending a Knicks game in a suite courtesy of Jared’s work, attending and photographing a charity event on behalf of Paw Nation (not something I generally get to do in Gainesville), and eating what might have been the World’s Best Lunch with Metalia.

No, seriously, I might not have great pictures from the fancy basketball game, or any actual pictures of myself with friends I visited, but food? You know it!

avocado toast

Avocado toast with lemon-infused olive oil

crispy artichokes

Crispy artichokes with magical dipping sauce

Read the rest of this entry »


Moving to Florida made me feel adventurous and daring, and, if I’m being honest, a bit special. I didn’t know many other people my age who’d moved across the country like that, and I think that was part of the appeal.

It was also my way of formally breaking ties with where I grew up. It was never a fit for me, and, as I’ve mentioned, none of my close friends were surprised to hear I was leaving the state. When I left Woodland behind, I really thought I left any part of me that identified with that small town behind as well.

A friend of mine from high school came to visit last weekend, someone I haven’t seen in years — I saw him a couple of times when I went back up to Michigan for weddings and such, but, shortly after that, he packed his bags and left the area, too, and now lives in Arizona. And it was so interesting to see the little things that we both seem to have hung onto despite the fact that we’re in totally different parts of the country.

There were little things, like the fact that we had basically the same shoes (gray Converse All-Stars) but, you know, in vastly different sizes (seriously, it was comical), and he brought along a Detroit Tiger hat — a staple in any Michigander’s closet, including mine. But there were a lot of other things, like views on finances and homes and family, that were still remarkably similar even though we’ve ended up with totally different lives in completely different communities.

I don’t know if those things remain in common because of where we grew up, or if they’re just things have always made us who we are and are probably why we became close friends in the first place. Or maybe some of it has to do with the fact that we’re both only children. I really have no idea. But I do know that, for as far away as I tried to run from the girl I was in Woodland, there was a bit of comfort in knowing that at least a little piece of that small town Midwestern girl survived.

Several thousand miles above Georgia (or maybe it was Ohio, or possibly North Carolina), the idea of home hit me. I lived in the same house in Woodland, Michigan, until I went to college. When I was at Michigan State, just an hour away, home was obvious — it was the white farmhouse on a tree-canopied dirt road, across that road and up a steep hill from a lake, with a view of forest and fields and ponds and deer. It was where I had sleepovers and parties and watched movies and basketball with my parents. It was where my childhood dog was buried.

In about a month, I’ll have lived in Florida for 10 years, and my notion of home is a little hazier. My parents moved out of that house the same weekend I moved south, and, honestly, once they were no longer there, it was just a house. The small town in which I grew up, though I know every inch of the park and the school and the Dairy Queen (especially the Dairy Queen), well … it’s just some small town in Michigan there. A town where my dad used to have a store. I’ve been back a couple of times, but I feel like a visitor.

In a lot of ways, Florida feels like home, but it doesn’t feel like where I’m from. I’ve changed and grown in a lot of ways since I arrived, but my foundation was set before I ever paid a cent toward rent. Yes, I have history here now, but it’s not a history that really formed me.

This weekend, I was in Indiana, in a town called La Porte, for my Grandma Sara’s memorial (which was moving and beautiful, hard, but much-needed). What’s fascinating to me about La Porte is that, even though I’ve never lived there, it feels more like a home town than any other place on earth. My grandmother lived there until she came to live with us in Michigan in the ’80s, and we visited her often. I have family there — a big deal for someone who’s the only child of two onlies. There are businesses and plaques and gravestones marked with the names of people in my family tree.

Nobody knows me there, so it’s not like I go into a restaurant and am called by name, but there’s a strange sense of belonging, nonetheless. I know a lot of it has to do with who I see when I’m there — aunts and uncles and cousins who aren’t actually aunts or uncles or cousins (more like seconds or greats or twice-removeds). It’s because I go to the same house I visited on special occasions as a child, and because we talk about people like my grandfather, who I didn’t get a chance to know very well before he died.

What makes a place home? I think for me it’s partly the people, partly the memories, partly the actual location, and partly some sort of connection I can’t begin to understand. But it’s good to have, that much I know.

Just over a week ago, I turned 30. This is a big deal, but, on the whole, not exactly unexpected. (I’m no psychic, but this, I totally saw coming.) And actually, it was fun — my fabulous cousin flew down from Michigan to help me celebrate, and there was good food and drinks, and honestly, no room for complaint. I mean, hell, there was Mexican food and a tiara. Oh, and also? My husband was back from Hawaii and had bought me a really beautiful necklace that I didn’t even have to pick out. NO COMPLAINTS FROM ME.

Then, a week ago today, we sent Holly (our latest foster pup) to the vet. I suspected some hip issues, and I was right — degenerative hip disease, which will likely need surgery. Which means that her chances of getting adopted were, more or less, zip. Jared and I were both totally in love with her (big surprise), so, although the news was sad, it helped us make an important decision — we’re keeping her. So, yay! We’re back to being an official two-dog family!

That night, after I went to bed, the phone rang — it was my parents’ ring tone, and I just knew something was wrong. It was. My Grandma Sara had passed away.

Like the birthday, this wasn’t a huge shock. She had turned 91 the week before. She’d been battling Alzheimer’s for over a decade. And for the last couple of weeks, she had become more and more jaundiced. We knew the end was coming, but didn’t know if we were looking at days or weeks or months.

It’s never easy losing someone you love, whether you expect it or not. And though not everyone will understand this, in some ways, a sense of relief accompanied her passing. She died peacefully, in her sleep — she hadn’t experienced much pain, and someone had been at her bedside moments before she died. Our greatest fear had been that her death would be slow and agonizing, that the strength of her body would betray her and drag out the pain. It didn’t, and though I’m not particularly religious, I have no doubt that the prayers we had been sending up made that transition easier.

Additionally, though I wasn’t there for those last moments, I had seen her just days before — my cousin, who had spent lots of time with her as a child, was there as well.  I don’t think she truly recognized me, but I know for a fact she was happy to see us both.

In so many ways, we lost her years ago, but it’s still hard to know that she’s gone. No more visits. No more feeble hopes that she’ll say something, or give any indication that she knows who we are. No more stumbling over my words, trying to find something interesting to say to the grandmother I had spent so many afternoons with and watched as she deteriorated year after year after year.

Grandma Sara taught me so many things, but I think the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is this: It’s inner beauty that counts, and being kind is far more important than being gorgeous. But, a little rouge and some bright lipstick never hurt anybody, either.

This New Year’s Day is a particularly big one for me, both because of what this year will bring and because it brings a major, MAJOR decade in my life to a close. On New Year’s Day in 2000 (omg, 10 years ago!), I was a student at Michigan State, and had come down to Florida with two of my girlfriends to watch the Spartans play UF in the Citrus Bowl. And holy cow, did I ever hate that stupid Florida Gators “Gator Bait” chant (I’m still not a huge fan).

It was that trip that really set my life on its current path, and it blows my mind to think about it. I had no idea. We didn’t even plan on visiting Gainesville, but we ended up spending a couple of nights there, and that was all it took. And so, here are a few of the more noteworthy events of the last 10 years. You know, in my life, not in the world. Because I’m pretty sure that my accomplishments don’t mean too much to most of the world.

I packed my life into a car and drove from Michigan to Gainesville, Florida, where I (sort of) knew all of two people.

I met a boy at a country bar who wasn’t afraid to be goofy. He asked me to dance, then he asked me to marry him. I said yes to both.

I got a college degree, and realized I didn’t have a damn clue what to do with it.

I was accepted into my husband’s family, and grieved more deeply than I knew possible when my father-in-law passed away.

I learned to golf.

I was a salesperson, a bridal consultant, a dj, an after-school counselor, a volleyball coach, an administrative assistant, a blogger, a writer and an editor.

I adopted two amazing dogs, lost one, then fostered and found homes for two others.

I was in seven weddings (eight counting my own) and attended lots more.

I battled depression and anxiety. For a while, with meds, and now, with running.

I gained and lost (and gained) 15 pounds.

I became a godmother.

I completed a half marathon and several sprint triathlons.

I bought a home.

I think I became a grown up, and I think I’m okay with it. But this past decade makes me wonder — if this much happened between ages 19 and 29, what in the world do my thirties have in store?

I can’t wait.

Tomorrow, as I’ve mentioned, I’m walking in the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk in honor of my Grandma Sara.

Grandma Sara, me, and Mom on Grandma's front porch.

Grandma Sara, me, and Mom on Grandma's front porch.

I’m about to go visit her now, but I’ll tell you, the visit is more for me and to make sure the nurses know she has family who visits her than it is for her. She won’t know who I am. If she’s having a good day, she’ll politely smile at me for a few seconds, and maybe say a word or two that doesn’t make any sense. She might laugh if I say something in the right tone of voice. But she won’t know I’m her only granddaughter.

She won’t understand when I tell her that, this past weekend, I went to the beach where she and my Grandpa Chuck used to vacation. They’d come down from La Porte, Indiana, where they lived all their lives, and go to Treasure Island, Florida. They stayed at the Trails End motel and ate at Gigi’s, which is now one of my favorite pizza places of all time.

Grandma Sara, Grandpa Chuck and me in Treasure Island, FL, 1983

Grandma Sara, Grandpa Chuck and me in Treasure Island, FL, 1983

She won’t remember the story about the last time they went, before Grandpa Chuck died. How I was three, and my mom and I came down for a week. How I jumped off the diving board into the deep end and nearly gave Grandpa a heart attack. How I fed bread to the seagulls and swam until my eyes were so irritated by chlorine I couldn’t open them in the sunlight for a whole day.

I’m nowhere near meeting my fundraising goal, but I’d still like to raise as much money for the Alzheimer’s Association as I can. I know times are tight, but if you have even just $5 you can donate, please consider doing so. It means a lot to me, and I know it would mean a lot to Grandma. If you can’t donate, but have a story you’d like to share about a grandparent or someone else special in your life, leave a comment — I’d love to read about it.

But, you know, if you want to donate, too, well, that would be swell.

This morning, I made the most difficult call of my life. I made an appointment to have Yuki — my Yuki — put to sleep.

The coolest dog I ever knew.

The coolest dog I ever knew.

As many of you know, she’s been having some difficulties — running into walls, panting nonstop and circling, circling, circling — and as it turned out, it was from a tumor or some other form of swelling on her left forebrain. Yesterday, we took her to the neurology department at UF, and, short of putting her through radiation therapy (which would have cleared out our savings and given us no guarantee that it would help or make her less miserable), we had just one option: Put her on a steroid to see if it reduced the swelling. We knew it would be borrowed time, even if it worked, but if we could make her comfortable for a few days, we felt like we owed it to her.

After coming out of the light sedation they gave her yesterday in order to do the x-rays and ultrasounds on the rest of her body, she was worse than ever. Jared and I spent the whole night holding her and trying to keep her from running (well, trotting) straight into walls and corners. She didn’t know us and didn’t seem to be aware of where she was. The decision was obvious to us — get her in to the vet as early as possible in the morning and put her out of her misery.

Still, it was the hardest decision either of us has ever made. The entire ride to the vet, I held her in the back of the car, and tried to memorize every bit of her. I love the way the white spot on her chest wasn’t symmetrical, and the way her black fur was actually kind of brown. Three paws had bits of white on the toes, while one was all black. And her tail had a slight upward curl that made her look so happy.

Cute as a puppy. Nothing changed.

Cute as a puppy. Nothing changed.

It was hard to walk in, harder to listen as the vet explained how the process went, and almost impossible to hold her and try to calm her as the medicine took effect and she slowly sank to the ground. By the time she took her last breath, her coat was wet with our tears — the vet’s included.

That’s part of what makes this so damn hard. I know, everyone thinks their dog is special (and of course, they are). But man, Yuki was something. She touched the lives of so very many people, and I can’t imagine how many tears have been shed today. Without any training, she was a wonderful companion when I took her to my grandmother’s nursing home and visited with the Alzheimer’s patients. She was calm and gentle and let them pet her at their own pace. But, she was also a fantastic running buddy, and immensely entertaining at the dog park and at home.

Are you going to throw the stick? How about now? Now?

Are you going to throw the stick? How about now? Now?

Above all, god, was she ever a good girl. All she wanted was to please us, and she brought us such joy, such happiness. She loved wearing bandanas — I think she liked the extra attention people paid, and she would just prance around like a show pony (although maybe this took it a little too far).

Our family portrait, shortly before Rudi came along in 2007.

Our family portrait, shortly before Rudi came along in 2007. Photo: David Bowie Photography

As a puppy, she was absolutely fearless. She would run full speed and jump off of docks or dunes or anything. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. She played so hard, as puppies are wont to do. Shortly after we got her, we took her to a friend’s get-together where she played for hours with people and pets. I had to carry her tired little body to the car and put her on my lap, and she was so worn out that she peed in her sleep. All over me.

Her first birthday party was attended by tons of people — it didn’t take her long to worm her way into anyone’s heart. We held it at the dog park so the dogs could play and the people could eat. She might not have appreciated effort that went into making the homemade dog treats, but she ate them with gusto, just the same.

All dressed up for her first birthday party.

All dressed up for her first birthday party.

And she loved the water. When we took her to Canada, to my parents’ old cabin, we were wondering how to get her down to the lake — the house was on the lake, but there was basically a small cliff leading down to it. Within moments of arriving, Yuki found some way to climb down and was happily splashing in the water. Fortunately, she found a way up again, too.

For seven years, almost to the date, she’s been by my side. She was in our wedding, she attended my graduation (which consisted of me, my family and friends sitting outside at The Swamp after my last final), she moved from apartment to condo to our house with a yard.

I couldn't have found a cuter flower dog.

We couldn't have found a cuter flower dog. Photo: Aaron Lockwood Photography

I had planned on another seven years of her chasing tennis balls and sticks and squirrels, barking at the UPS guy, and licking our faces endlessly (particularly when sweaty). She should have had another chance to climb in the chair with my dad and clean out his ears, and there were supposed to be more trips to the dog park. I wanted more walks and treats and time to cuddle. And even though I held her as the last bit of breath escaped from her mouth, I just can’t believe she’ll never be here again.

Diving in head first -- that's my girl.

Diving in head first -- that's my girl.

To Yuki: The dog who taught me so much, brought smiles to so many faces, and asked for so little in return. You’ll be missed more than you can possibly imagine. Your circling has stopped, but my broken heart is just getting started.

If any of you have a favorite story about Yuki, or any dog for that matter, I’d sure love to hear it about now.

The death of John Hughes brought with it a flood of memories for millions. Who among us didn’t try to do the lipstick trick? (Turns out it doesn’t work so well when your cleavage consists of a training bra stuffed with toilet paper.) And it’s hard to find someone my age (or five to 10 years older or younger) who doesn’t have an important adolescent memory closely tied to one of his movies.

While some of those memories are sure to be happy, some are certain to recall pain. But at least we have them. Not everyone does.


Grandma Sara and me at my high school graduation open house, 1998.

When I was in sixth grade, I remember getting so annoyed with my Grandma Sara for asking me whether I had homework multiple times on the way home from school. “God,” I thought, “why doesn’t she just listen and pay attention?”

A few years later, after she’d been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but was still well enough to live on her own, I remember being frustrated that she’d forgotten to make the pie for Thanksgiving. She made the best pies, and when I’d asked her whether they were done (as a helpful reminder — I wasn’t a completely terrible child), she assured me they were. People with Alzheimer’s sometimes tell you what you want to hear, not even realizing that they’re lying.

The following month, I tried to get out of going to her apartment because OH MY GOD, if I had to hear that poinsettia story ONE MORE TIME I would definitely die (in the way that teenagers often die). Yes, Grandma, I know they used to be all tall and spindly and kind of ugly, and you’re right! Now they’re so lush and full and beautiful! It is amazing.

I would give anything — ANYTHING — to hear that story from her one more time. Or any story, for that matter.

Grandma Sara has been in a nursing home for the past eight years and has dealt with Alzheimer’s for close to 18. She can no longer put together a sentence or tell us what she’s thinking. At 90 years old, her physical condition remains mostly good, but mentally … she’s mostly gone. On rare occasions, she’ll light up for a second when she sees one of us. Whether she recognizes us or is just happy to see a smiling face, it’s impossible to tell. She hasn’t responded in a way that makes sense to anything I’ve said in years. Mostly, she just tries to be polite to these people who come and sit with her. Sometimes she laughs, sometimes she’s weepy. We never know why — we’re just thrilled when we visit on a good day.

This is a woman who used to put on lipstick to get the mail. She had her family convinced she liked the wings of the chicken best because she knew everybody else liked the other parts better. One time I asked her if she’d ever sworn in her whole life, and she responded, “Don’t tell anyone, but I might’ve said, ‘Oh, hell,’ once or twice.”

She made the best cookies and pies, as well as the most beautiful formal gowns for my mom’s high school dances, and she took care of me after school for years (always making sure I had a snack). I taught her to shoot baskets, but never took the time to let her teach me how to sew.

Yuki has raised a lot of money in past years. She's not too keen on the UF mascots, though.

Yuki has raised a lot of money in past years. She's not too keen on the UF mascots, though.

On October 24, I’ll be walking in the Gainesville Alzheimer’s Memory Walk in her honor. I’m looking for people to walk with me — if you want to raise money, great. If you just want to show support, that’s great too. I’m also taking donations — you’ll see a small button over to the right if you want to donate online, or you can contact me if you’d rather do it in another way. Or, if you just want to share a story about how Alzheimer’s has touched your life, I’d love to hear that, too.

**Ed: I forgot to mention that anyone who lives in the area and wants to donate or become a part of Team Go for Grandma is TOTALLY invited to a par-tay at the Seymour residence following the walk. There will be food and booze — what more do you want?

You might be under the impression that, at last weekend’s conference, all I did was eat and drink and laugh. And while that truly comprised a huge portion of the weekend, I was actually really busy. I swear!

Watch out, women drivers

On Thursday, I attended the Ford What Women Want event, where we learned a lot about Ford’s efforts toward sustainability. I’ll write more on this at GreenDaily, but I have to say I was amazed and impressed. They’re working to reduce emissions and waste from start of production until well after the car is in our hands, and they’re using incredible new technology to create new fabrics that get rid of the need for nasty chemicals and plastics. Awesome.

(Plus, they let us drive around some phat cars — one had a refrigerator inside. Can anyone say tailgate? Actually, no, they can’t, because everyone else was a mom and excited about the juice box possibilities …)

With Jessica in front of the car that HAD A FRIDGE. I want.

With Jessica in front of the car that HAD A FRIDGE. I want.

A Hair Affair

After cruising around with Ford, I headed out to a little boutique called Sparrow, where some lovely women were gettin’ their hair did (plus, the salon was serving champers and cheese — score!). It was an amazing salon, and I have no doubt that, if I lived in the area, that’s exactly where I would go. It’s a beautiful old barbershop, and it’s updated enough to be modern, but retains enough of the original to be oh-so-classy.

Bottoms Up

I wouldn’t have minded spending more time at Sparrow longer if it weren’t for the fact that there was a cocktail party that night, and holy moly, I met so many people that I actually ran out of business cards (not entirely, just out of the ones I’d taken for that evening). This was the first of the incredibly late nights, ending with a cheesy enchilada at, uh, 2:30am? But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been moving the next morning without it.

Susan and Cat -- two of my favorite people, and not just on the Internet.

Susan and Cat -- two of my favorite people, and not just on the Internet.

YTBA, represent!

Due to my predilection for cheesy goodness (see above: cheesy enchilada in the wee hours of the morning), I don’t have the flattest tummy. So, when I was asked to be a Yummie Tummie Brand Ambassador at BlogHer, I didn’t hesitate to do a cartwheel and spell out HELL YES with my pom poms. I already had the strappy tank, but at BlogHer, I tried out the boyfriend tank. It’s shapewear, but it’s comfy, and it’s actually okay for people to see the top and bottom, so it’s perfect for layering. And for hiding an enchilada belly. (Oh, and because I did SUCH a great job as a YTBA, you’re totally eligible for a 30% discount if you order by August 8 and use BLOGHER30 as your code. You’re welcome.)

Suave and Degree Party at The Wit

You know how, when you were a kid and you imagined a cocktail party, you had a distinct image in your mind? This party was exactly my image. Stylish couches, amazing views, fun music, a fireplace, delicious food, wine and cocktails. Oh, and the company wasn’t so shabby, either.

Susan, Whoorl, Metalia, me, and Chris getting ready to take shots. Yes, really.

Susan, Whoorl, Metalia, me, and Chris getting ready to take shots. Yes, really.

But seriously, this was low-key done right. The time flew and we all had an amazing time. Perfection.

Yep, those are glowsticks. When aren't they a perfect accessory?

MamaPop Sparklecorn Extravaganza

Yep, those are glowsticks. When aren’t they a perfect accessory?

If two out of those three words don’t make sense to you, don’t sweat it. Just know this — those MamaPop folks? They know how to throw a party. The music was great, particularly the excellent selection of Beastie Boys, and the dance floor was hopping. When it was over, a bunch of us ended up in my hotel room for 3am pizza. Good lord, no wonder I need the Yummie Tummie.

BowlHer, CheeseburgHer, I’m a BoozHer

Saturday night had several more events. A cocktail party at the hotel (natch), then BowlHer, a party at which they handed out hot pink boas at the door, so I immediately knew it was my kind of place. Unfortunatley, said boas turned out to be wicked itchy, and only beer was free, not wine, so we didn’t stay as long as we might have.

Another party, the CheeseburgHer party, was happening back at the hotel, and you know, when you first go to college and you go to that house party that’s all whoa? Yep, this was a bit of a flashback to that. It was packed, and hot, and there were cheeseburgers abounding. I made a loop through and headed down to the lobby bar.

The evening, and hence the weekend, ended quietly. Surprising, considering the insanity that had gone on every other night. We all made our good-byes at a reasonable time and there were no crazy late night snacks. I did, however, find I was a little tipsier than I thought when I tried to finish packing my suitcase. That’s a job best done stone sober.

Tomorrow morning, I’m off again to Chicago, this time for a Tropicana event (have you entered to win a fruit and juice basket from them yet?). I don’t anticipate the weekend being quite so wild, but I’m hoping to have just as much fun with it.

I’ve started this post about 50 times. I’ve been reading posts about BlogHer all day long, and I’m having the hardest time addressing a huge issue — the swag and freebies that marketers sometimes throw the way of bloggers, particularly at a blogging conference. So I won’t, other than to say that, if you’re not blogging to share ideas and find a community — if you started a personal blog in the hopes of earning millions and getting free cameras or strollers or trips — you’re probably going to be disappointed, whether you’re a mommyblogger or something else.

I’m going to address something that impacted me, personally, far more and in a really positive way — the community I found at BlogHer.

Okay, so I’m not a mommyblogger for obvious reasons — I’m child-free. And, despite the fact that I write for a living, I’m not a terribly experienced blogger. I don’t have a huge following here on Jeez-o-petes, and that’s okay (although of course, it would be great to have more people here and more interaction, but that’s not why I do this). I’m in no way “blog famous.” And so, I was nervous — would people accept me into their groups? Would my online friends and coworkers still think I was funny in person, when I wasn’t hiding behind a keyboard and spending several minutes on my witty responses? Would the fact that I’m not the same age as most of them be an issue?

I shouldn’t have worried. I mean, yes, I had a few moments here and there of feeling like the new kid in the cafeteria. There were thousands of people there, and I was bound to lose track of the people I knew from time to time. And I dealt — when I felt too freaked out, I went for a run and came back refreshed. Or, I looked for someone with a similar look of panic and sat with them and made some wonderful contacts.

I was blown away at how willingly I was accepted into so many groups. I met, in person, folks I’ve known for a year or two, and pretty much all of them were exactly the way I’d imagined — funny, smart, and often with a drink in their hand. By the end of the weekend, I couldn’t believe we had all just met. And I definitely can’t believe I won’t see most of them for another year, at least.

And people I didn’t know before the conference were just as friendly and open. Many of them I was familiar with from reading their blogs, but they had no knowledge of me. It didn’t matter. We sat and talked and some of them stared at my cleavage (girls, if I find that bra for sale anywhere, I’ll let you know because trust me, it was all bra). We drank crazy amounts of wine, danced and laughed and took pictures, and ordered food really late at night as if we were freshmen in college. Only, when I was a freshman in college, it was a lot harder to make so many friends.

I get how the experience can be different and less positive for somebody who knew nobody coming into this. But as for me, it was nothing short of incredible. I networked without feeling like I was networking, I listened to people with an insane amount of experience, and I was inspired to be a better blogger. And maybe a better person, too.

Screw the swag. What I brought home was worth far more than you’re going to fit in a gift bag.

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