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The Homefire

September 30, 2009 1 comment

firepit fire

This started out as a Wordless Wednesday post, but I love the picture so much I had to Use My Words. Making this Wordy Wednesday.

This is our firepit up in the country. You can just make out my husband’s profile off to the left and though you can’t see it I recall that my son is curled at his feet, mesmerized by the flames. My 17-year old nephew took the picture and me, I’m just out of frame doing not much of anything at all.

The Catskills house has a pacifying effect on this family. We don’t bicker up there. I don’t know if it’s something magical in the air or well water, or maybe the mountain view changes our collective seratonin uptake. Whatever — I’m not complaining.

I was looking for a poem about campfires to accompany the post because poets haz pretty words and I needed backup. Happily, I discovered Linda Parsons Marion. Her poem is technically about a homefire but close enough. I love it.

I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed.
I left one house with toys on the floor
for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in…
Home where I sit in the glider, knowing it needs oil,
like my own rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed in light.
Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate.

(from “Home Fires: Poems” copyright ©1997 Linda Parsons)

PR Mama Guest Star: Scott Henderson

September 23, 2009 13 comments

Time for another PR Mama guest post, and what the hey, let’s hear it for the boy…again. I had such a good time hosting PR Cog last time, I decided to invite another one of my favorite social media dads over to discuss balancing family and work life in this crazy business of ours. And by the way, as I’m about to dive into a roiling sea of estrogen at the Type A Mom Conference over the next three days, this may be the last you hear about men and dads for a while.  

Scott Henderson is currently the cause marketing director for MediaSauce, an Indiana-based agency that helps corporations and non-profits create and implement online strategies to achieve transformational growth.  I first encountered Scott when he left an epic comment here at PR Mama that really should’ve been a full post – it was full of such great stuff, I printed it out and carried it around with me to meetings for weeks. I liked quoting Scott in discussions about cause marketing; it always made me sound smart. The post I had written that inspired Scott’s three-screen comment was in praise of his terrific work with Tyson Foods and the Pledge to End Hunger campaign (if you remember the Social Media Smackdown at South by Southwest last year, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Filling My Dad’s Shoes

What makes us so special? Moms and dads have had to balance parenting responsibilities with social and work duties ever since we created this thing called “civilization.”  Like most men, I judge myself as a father using my own dad as the gold standard.  I’ve been blessed with two loving, encouraging parents.  My mom and dad have given me a lot of love and attention in my life.  They’re not perfect, but they have done a great job.

My dad, “Dr. Bill” as everyone in the neighborhood called him, has always been in my life and there for some of my highest and lowest moments.  He was the all-time quarterback for the neighborhood football games we played in our front yard.  No matter what the sport, he made a point of showing up for my games and even coached when he could.

He and I tackled a number of projects for cub scouts and school.  While we didn’t win any blue ribbons, we did rack up a shoebox full of participation ribbons (this was before kids received a trophy for everything). The single proudest moment of my teenage years came when my dad was there to see my only first place finish at a swim meet in high school one early Saturday morning.  It meant so much to me that he was there to cheer me on and treat me to a post-meet celebratory breakfast.  

Grandpa Bill and Ethan: Scott's father and son reading together

Grandpa Bill and Ethan: Scott's father and son reading together

Unlike Dr. Bill, I travel a lot for my work and that’s something I have had to figure out on my own.  Don’t let me fool you – I’m still trying to find the right balance. Every job’ve had since college has involved a good deal of roadwork.  It’s not that I loathe it.  On the contrary, I enjoy traveling and couldn’t imagine having a job that kept me in one place all the time.

In fact, I am writing this post while on a work trip to Champaign, Illinois.  Giving my calendar a quick glance, I see this is my fifth work trip in six weeks.  That’s a lot of disruption for our three-person family.

For the past eight years, I have said goodbye and given that “one last hug and kiss” a lot to my son, Ethan.  He’s never known me not to travel in his eight years of life, but it’s not something he wants.

Before I left last night, I decided to interview him as part of this guest post.  Here’s what I learned:

  • He likes when I bring him home souvenirs like the small White House I picked up from a gift kiosk in Washington DC. 
  • He also likes it when I bring home sweet treats like the delicious goodness from www.thecrispery.com.
  • If it were up to him, he would make it a law that dads would never have to travel without their families.

When I take the time to think about it, I realize that my son is forming his gold standard for fatherhood by how I’m doing as his dad.  That’s an amazingly heavy responsibility, especially with all the traveling I do.  I hope he will feel one day about me as I do about my dad.

scottYou can connect with Scott on Twitter or at his personal blog.

 

 

 

Mom Blogging Goes Hollywood

September 17, 2009 4 comments


I’ve always liked Uma Thurman, but when she emerged as the central muse in the twisted world of Quentin Tarantino she stole my heart once and for all. Mrs. Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction? Swoon.

When I heard Uma was starring as a mom blogger in her next film, it was hard to shake the image of her as The Bride in the Kill Bill flicks – kick ass yellow jumpsuit, bloody sword, fiercely beautiful and totally lethal. Then I remembered that it was the ferocious drive to reclaim her lost daughter that drove her through the second film — so in addition to being a real-life mother, Uma knows how to play motherhood and then some.

Motherhood was written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann, who I got to  spend some time with this afternoon on a conference call with a handful of other NYC-area  bloggers. Couple of things you might want to know about Katherine and Motherhood:

The movie was made almost entirely by women. That rocks.

Katherine drew from her own life in creating it; in fact, the film was shot in the building where she lives. She said she awoke each morning to the sound of the crew setting up, got her kids fed and off to school, and went to work. Downstairs. Which also rocks.

Katherine’s kids loved the craft services. Anyone who’s been on a TV or film set knows what this is. It’s food, and lots of it. The kids called it “crafty” and apparently got obsessed with it because Katherine is not a “big snack giver.”

One of the reasons Katherine was inspired to make the movie is that she couldn’t find any authentic representations of motherhood on the big screen. She cites Baby Boom (Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, amazing) as one of the last movies to treat motherhood as the complex juggling act it really is. (That was 22 years ago, by the way.)

I can’t wait to see this movie. I love Uma playing disheveled. She’s incredibly endearing, and with Minnie Driver as her BFF and Anthony Edwards as her hub, what’s not to love. I also love movies shot on location in this city. I can’t help but wonder if Motherhood won’t be just a little bit of a love letter to the West Village, since it’s where Katherine makes her home.

Finally, I love that blogging — mom blogging, specifically — is in the spotlight with nary a mention of FTC guidlines or brand shilling controversies. Maybe this film will put the focus back on what’s been true about mom bloggers from the beginning: they tell it like it is about motherhood. Authentically, unfiltered, with some of the most beautiful writing on the internet. They are raw, passionate, angry, joyful, supportive, frantic, serene, hilarious, loving. Some times all at once. I am not surprised — and eternally grateful — that it’s a woman bringing this glorious cacaphony to the silver screen.

Motherhood opens in select markets October 23rd. Get more info here.

[Disclosure: There are no material connections between the makers of Motherhood and me. All they did was invite me to participate in a conference call. I realize I've just set a dangerous precedent as a cheap date. What I really want but am too shy to request is to go on a playdate with Uma, Katherine and their kids. I might even remember to bring my kid. Katherine says it's okay to drink wine during playdates, provided the children are not put in harm's way. So clearly we were meant to be best friends.]

How I Met the Russian

September 17, 2009 17 comments

I was a dancer for much of my youth. Good enough that as a teenager I started charting a course toward Julliard and beyond to what I thought could be a professional career. Then two things happened:  Got tall. Got boobs.  That might have led to a promising career as a Vegas showgirl but I had Balanchine aspirations. Somewhere around 1983, I gave up the dancing dream.

Fifteen years later, I got it back.

It’s Manhattan. I’m single. Me and the girls are tired of flirting our way past velvet ropes into tediously hip clubs which for some reason in the mid-90s all have one-word names: Jet, Wax, Chaos.  One night Doris (the creative one) plans an evening of Latin dance lessons followed by dinner at Cuba de Asia. (It was a theme, see.)

We descend upon the dance studio in a silly, cosmo-fuelled gaggle. While my friends laugh and stumble their way around the mambo lesson, I feel something flutter to life inside me.

I am dancing. I haven’t set foot in a studio in two decades but here I am. There is a gazelle of a girl inside this 30-something body and she’s ready to move.

I go back for private lessons.  I casually mention that I’d appreciate a tall instructor. No problem, I am told. We have just the teacher for you.

I hand over the registration forms, am led to the dance floor and there he is.

The Russian.

It’s not exactly love at first sight, though he’s certainly easy on the eyes. It’s not the looks or the accent or the sexy baritone. What strikes me is his kindness. This is a sweet man. He will be gentle with me as I fumble my way around the dance floor.

In his hesitant English the Russian reads to me from a questionnaire: “What are your goals for these dance lessons?” Without blinking I respond that I want to learn to surrender to my partner, to follow a lead, to move with another person as one.  

I could have said – oh, I don’t know – lose weight, meet people, learn how to swing dance like that cool Gap commercial…but I go straight for the metaphorical stuff and I do it without hesitating.

He looks at me intently. “You are susceptible.”

I learn later he means sensitive. He is groping for the words to say he understands how dancing touches me. What he doesn’t realize yet is how deeply-felt my answer really is. I am 33 at the time, not over the hill but badly worn down by the Manhattan dating scene. I’ve been in serious relationships, co-habitated, longed for wedding proposals that never came. I have pretty much given up on finding The One. Until the Russian asks a simple question that unlocks the truth. I am ready to move as one with a partner, for real and for good.

The first time my mother sees us together she says, “You will marry this man.” It’s performance night at the studio and she says this after watching us dance a rhumba together.  I wear a flame-red dress, he is sleek in head-to-toe black. Mom tells me that together we give off light.

That was September 17, 1998. The day we became a couple. We were married exactly one year later. Somewhere along the way Mom introduced us to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”  She’s no longer with us, but this song — like her premonition all those years ago — stays with us like a gift and a reminder.

 Happy 10th anniversary, my darling.

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on wedding 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very longwedding 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

wedding 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance me to the end of love.

wedding 4

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: , ,

Blogging in the Pee-Wee League

September 15, 2009 3 comments

I feel kind of inept at blogging sometimes. I’m playing in the pee-wee league for one thing, by which I mean I’m not self-hosted. If I were self-hosted, I’d have lots more neat widgets on the blog and zippy graphics and my very own domain name. I don’t even know what all else it means to be self-hosted. But I figure I’d finally have a blog that’s a bit more polished and functional and also by the way wouldn’t look like every other wordpress blog with the “Cutline” theme. And best of all, I’d be able to invite people to e-mail me at stephaniesmirnov@stephaniesmirnov.com. How cool is that.

I work with a very patient guy named Jon who is our Director of Digital Strategy. He looks just like a Director of Digital Strategy should. He has a beard, lives in Brooklyn, drives a Mini and is married to a talented artist who’s also French (which makes her an artiste). In other words, he’s cool, as digital people often are. Unfortunately for him, his office is within hollering distance of mine and also, he reports to me. So although he has actual work to do — with clients, for example — he does double-duty as my go-to guy for Stupid Blog Questions. Like when I was setting up PR Mama last year, stuff like:

Hey Jon, so what’s the difference between a category and a tag?

Do I need both?

How come my tag cloud doesn’t look as cool as the one on your (self-hosted) blog?

What do you mean 2000 words is too long for a post?

Where do I get nice pictures for my blog posts?

Is it stealing if I find it on Google images?

What should I call my blogroll?

Do I have to call it a blogroll, is it breaking the rules not to?

How do I get the Twitter widget on my sidebar?

What if I want the little bird icon, how do I do that?

Am I allowed to hyperlink more than one word, or will I get in trouble?

Can you get kicked out off WordPress  if no one reads your blog?

 

And so on.

I’ve wised up a bit over the past year. I hardly ever bother Jon anymore. But today I decided it would be a good idea once and for all to just pack up the whole PR Mama show and schlep it over to WordPress.org. Because really, enough with the pee-wee leagues. I’m ready for some midget football (do they still call it that, by the way? Why am I guessing not?)

I find myself in need of Jon’s help again. I call him into my office and this is what goes down:

Me: I need a domain name, right?

Jon: Right.

Me: I wanted “PR Mama” but someone took it. It’s something having to do with Puerto Rico.

Jon: You really should consider registering your own name.

Me: Is that important?

Jon: Well, it’s really all about building your personal brand these days so…yeah, you probably should.

Me: But how do I do that?

Jon: [directs me to Yahoo Small Business]  Let’s see if stephaniesmirnov.com is available.

[We're told that it's not.]

Me: How weird is that? Some d-bag took my name. Now what?

Jon: Go ahead and click on it and let’s find out what bozo is sitting on your name.

[A few clicks reveal that in fact, I am the bozo sitting on my name.]

Me: Oh, right. I forgot I did that. So I own the domain name, even though the Puerto Ricans own PR Mama.  That’s okay, right?

Jon (inching towards door): Right. That’s good.

Me: Does this mean I can get better widgets and a cool Twitter bird and an awesome e-mail address?

Jon: Yeah, sure, you’ll be able to do a lot more with the blog now. Did you say you’ve got some WordPress designers teed up? I’m  sure they can help you take it from here now that you’ve got the domain registered [translation: my work is done here, can I go back to my office now?]

So stephaniesmirnov.com is primed and ready for action. I am ready to assume my rightful role as a Big Digital Kid, at long last. The moving van hasn’t backed up just yet but stay tuned for news as I make the leap over to WordPress.org. (Question is, will my go-to guy come along for the ride?)

Categories: Agency Life, Digital, Work Tags: , , ,

How I Told My 6-Year Old About 9/11

September 11, 2009 24 comments

My son and I have a bedtime ritual where we play with his “question cards.” They’re flashcards, really, questions on one side and answers on the other — math, science, social studies, vocabulary — designed for first and second graders. We were at it last night.

He’s tucked into the old blue glider (the same one I nursed him in, tatty and faded but I can’t bear to give it away), I’m on the floor quizzing him.

How many quarters in a dollar?

Is a continent land or water?

What four things does a plant need to grow?

And then this:

What U.S. city did terrorists attack on September 11, 2001?

What?

It stops me cold. My eyes fill, my stomach turns. In the flash of a card, I am hurled back in time. 

There it is. A social studies question on a first grader’s flash card.

My son pokes me with his foot, wanting me to continue. 

I look up. Carefully: “I need to tell you something important.”

He’s listening. He knows when I’m serious.

I breathe. “Tomorrow is a special day. I’m not sure they’ll tell you about it in school, so I want to tell you myself.”

Still listening.

“There used to be two amazing buildings in New York City – huge skyscrapers, we called them the Twin Towers. You would’ve loved them, they were really cool and you could see them from all over the city.  I used to look for them when I was lost because they’d help me figure out where I was supposed to be going.”

He’s liking this. He’s into big, cool buildings. He wants to know if I was ever inside them. I said no, but Daddy was once, in a beautiful restaurant at the top of one of the towers where you could practically see the clouds.

Hard part. “One day eight years ago, some bad men got on airplanes and flew right into those towers. The airplanes exploded like bombs, and that made the towers catch fire and fall down.”

My son takes this in. I’m not even going to mention the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. This is enough. He frowns.  “But…were there people in the towers?”

My heart hurts. His first concern is the people inside. I get it out: “Yes, there were people in the towers. A lot of people of died that day.”

His eyes widen. He clenches two small fists, angry. “THOSE JERKS.”

Oh, my baby. Jerks. A playground word. A playground world. That’s what life should be for a six-year old. “Jerk” is just about as bad as it gets in his reality. Am I right to invade it with the ugliness of this story?

Too late now. He wants to know why the terrorists chose the World Trade Center. I’m startled by the thoughtfulness of the question. I tell him the towers were symbols of New York City, of America, of a way of life the bad men hated.

I can tell we’re moving into deep waters and frankly, am not equipped to explain why radical Muslims hate the West. I don’t understand it myself. Besides, my son has friends named Mohammed and Abbas whose moms come to the playground in long skirts and head coverings. All I want my son to know is Muslim is something some of his friends just happen to be — the same way Daddy is Russian Orthodox and his best friend Sebi is half-Jewish. I don’t want him to care or even notice the difference.

I can see I’ve got a few seconds left of his patience before he’s ready to go back to easier questions. “So tomorrow, sweetheart — you’ll think a special thought for those people who died. Yes?”

Yes.

PR Mama Guest Star: It’s a Boy!

September 8, 2009 12 comments

I like this guest posting thing and am officially on the hunt for other mothers working in PR, especially those who work in offices. Is it me, or are we underrepresented in the blogosphere? We don’t even have a proper acronym. There are SAHMs, WAHMs…what’s the label for broads who squeeze into Spanx and schlep to offices every day? WOOHMs (moms who work out-of-home)?  Maybe WIOMs (for moms who work in-offices)?

I prefer WOOHM (rhymes with womb).

So while I’m off scouring the internets for PR-focused WOOHMs to guest post here (’cause they’re my tribe and I learned at BlogHer that I gotta find my tribe) I thought you might enjoy a little gender-bending diversion. That’s right: a guest post from a PR Papa.

As PR guys go, it doesn’t get much better than PR Cog. As many of my social media pals know, “PR Cog” is the pseudonym for a PR practioner here in NYC who chooses to blog anonymously about our industry because, as he’s said, “someone’s got to.” Cog is smart, funny, accomplished (I think…if only I knew where he actually works) and always there to lend a digital helping hand to a colleague in need. And he’s a dad, father to two young “coglings.”  So without further ado, I give you this view from the other side, that of a working PR dad:

Same Conversations, Different Audiences 

I’m relatively new to the world of PR.  Most anyone who follows me knows I basically came into it because I previously worked in my area of PR specialty — the clients feel comfortable talking to me and I did a significant amount of writing in college for an extra-curricular project, so I’ve got most of the necessary tools in my toolbox.

Needless to say, it was trial by fire — learning as I went along.  I still do, in fact.  Some from my colleagues and more recently, the wonderful group of people on Twitter and (specifically) my cohorts at [shameless plug] PRBreakfastClub.com

As my responsibilities grew over time at my agency, I found it increasingly difficult to balance the time at home with the Coglings (an hour or so in the morning and another in the evening before bedtime) and work.Inevitably as soon as I’d arrive home, there was some sort of crisis — a lost briefing book for a client on the west coast, the limo service for the desksides has to cancel because of Fashion Week and I need to track down a Town Car to play driver, or (one of my favorites) Client A sues Client B and both call us for the work.

Recently, based on a tweet  from the exceptional Heather Silverberg  I’ve realized the balance problem isn’t caused by the schedule, but because I’m having the same conversations at work as I am at home.  You doubt it?  Try this conversation on for size:  

Cog [to child]: Cogling, do you want to wear your red shirt or green shirt today?

Cogling: Yes.

And now this:

Cog [to client]:  Did you want to start the meetings at 10 or 11 during your visit?

Client:  Yes.

Same conversation, different audiences.  Same result, too.  Unanswered calls (one across the room, one across the country) seeking an actual answer and a look (or sound in the case of the client) of confusion that the question was an ‘or’ proposition and that both can’t be done simultaneously (ok, I guess Cogling could’ve worn two shirts, but we’re not letting him know that’s an option).

Think this is only a one time problem?  How’s this?

Cogling [playing next to Cog while he reviews some emails]:  Daddy, can I have your little thing? [He was referring to the iPhone, people....the perverted jokes are my territory.]

Cog: Sure [handing over phone after loading one of the games].

Cogling [after Cog moves to the laptop to continue reading emails]: Daddy, can you show me Moon pictures on that?

Cog: Sure [loading up some moon videos on YouTube].  Can I have the phone back?

Cogling: I want them both.

And now….

Cog: Client, great news, the Wall Street Journal loves your story.  They want it as an exclusive.

Client: Great.  What about the Times?

Cog: Well, if we give it to the Journal [with emphasis] as an exclusive, we can’t leak it to the Times.

Client: Why not?  I want them both.

So, for all the other PR Daddies out there, consider all the frustrating calls you’ve had with clients lately.  If they feel oddly familiar, it might just be because you’ve had the conversation with your own very special (and short) live-in client.

PRCOGPR Cog is a PR Pro at a mid-size Manhattan PR agency, and father of two Coglings. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and at two blogs: PR Cog’s Gear Grindings and PRBreakfastclub (of which he is editor).

 

PR Mama Guest Star: Valerie Simon

September 1, 2009 12 comments

It’s been a long-time goal of mine to include guest posts here on the outside chance that not everyone subscribes 100% to my particular worldview and wants to hear from other “PR mamas.”  There are certainly lots of them out there, women like me hustling to keep all the balls in the air while doing right by clients, colleagues, friends and family (and not losing their minds in the process.)

I can’t think of a better inaugural PR Mama Guest Star than Valerie Merahn Simon, Senior Vice President at BurrellesLuce and mother of two little ones (a seven-month old and three-year old). I first encountered Valerie on Twitter about four months ago while shamelessly offering free beer to whomever signed on as my 400th follower (and don’t ask why 400 was an important milestone because I just don’t remember. I blame the beer.) Valerie was the lucky winner and although she politely declined her prize (something ridiculous about not drinking while breastfeeding), she became a fast Twitter friend.  By her own description, Valerie is “a proud PR Mama who strives to learn something new (about both PR and motherhood) each day.”  She writes a national public relations column for examiner.com and is a co-founder and host of #PRStudChat, a monthly twitter chat between PR professionals and students moderated by fellow PR mom Deirdre Breakenridge. 

THE CAR RIDE

 valerie

Lunches? Check. Extra clothes? Check. Computer? Check. Purse, Cell Phone, Keys? Check, Check, check. I put the key in the ignition, only to realize that I forgot diapers. Again. “Wait just one second,” I say to the sleepy faces in the back seat and run back inside.

“Mommy forgot,” the 3 year old tells his 7 month old sister. “What’d you forget ‘dis time mommy?”

Back in the car, pull out of the garage. 6:45 am. Whew. Still should be on schedule. “Mommy?” says the 3 yr old. “Where’s Daddy?”

“Daddy is in Miami” I explain for what seems like the millionth time. It has not been easy to explain to a 3 year old that Daddy got a new job and had to go to the company headquarters for 3 weeks of training.

“Your Ami?” asks the 3 year old. “Why’s Daddy in Your Ami?”

“Not Your Ami. Miami…” I start to explain. Then I stop. New approach. “Daddy got on a plane, just like in the story we read.”

“Daddy can’t go in ‘da plane mommy.”

“Yes, he can”

“No he can’t!” (repeats for 5 minutes before child starts to cry) “There are pirates on da plane. They’re bad guys! Daddy can’t go on da plane! ”

“Pirates?” Huh? “No… the Pilots go on the plane. Not pirates. The pilots are good guys.”

Silence. Acceptance. Just in time to realize the light is turning red. And there’s a police car on the corner.

“Red means stop mommy!”

Step on brakes. Hard. Antilock brakes kick in.

“What’s ‘dat noise mommy?”

“Don’t worry, mommy’s just having a little trouble with the brakes in the car.”

“Uh oh!” (turns to baby sister) “Oh no, mommy’s in trouble. She’s breaking the car!”

“Mommy’s not breaking the car. “

As for whether or not mommy’s in trouble… I glance at the clock. 7:05 am. We have arrived at “school” with plenty of time. The blackberry is quiet. All is well at the office. I look at the sweet faces in the rear view mirror. Happy faces quietly smiling back at me. No, I’m not in trouble. Not today.

 

You can find Valerie Simon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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