Upcoming Chicago Mayoral Election: Digital and Social Campaign Tips

by Blagica Bottigliero


Like many, I’ll be keeping a close eye on whether or not Rahm Emanuel will keep his post as Mayor of Chicago. With so many candidates who may run, the primaries are going to be full of mud slinging, huffing, puffing, door knocking, fundraising and all other antics that go into Chicago’s unique election season.

Chicago is a big city. Huge. How huge? About 2.7 million. That’s big. So how does one use digital and social tools to reach 2.7 million people on an election year?

Here are some thought starters...

The Website

Goal #1 for the majority of candidates I’ve seen running for Alderman or Any Other Office is to raise money. 

->Visit to the homepage, BOOM!

->Click here to donate NOW!

Let’s back up. How about more details about why you are running, what makes you different and why Citizen X should give a damn.  Adding some fundraising links is still possible, but this is your chance to really spell out your platform.

Speaking of platform, let’s talk about Citizen X contacting you.  For the love that is all digital, please do not put a ‘contact me’ button on your site, expect to collect email addresses and NOT staff up enough to actually get back to people. Bring on interns. Bring on retired seniors. Bring on whomever you need to get the email, digest it, craft a response (even if it’s a THANKS or Let Us Get Back To You) and email the person who wrote the email in the first place.

Just like customer service expectations in the world of social, this is more paramount when it comes to a person taking the time to speak up, volunteer or advocate for an actual person.

Social Platforms

Twitter

If you don’t have a Twitter handle, get one now. If you do have a Twitter handle, are you actually responding to people or are you having someone post one-way messages about how many handshakes you delivered today or what ground broke at the new condo development? Exactly.

Just like the suggested cadence of responding to emails, voters each have their own way of reaching out to you.  This isn’t up to you.  The key is to staff up in a way that can respond to as many folks as possible, hustling into the wee hours of the night to ensure that every voter, every undecided person feels like they are part of your virtual campaign staff.

It wouldn’t hurt to have a standing weekly Twitter chat (everyday at a certain time would be even better).  Your followers (hint: reporters would be all over this) would have the chance to ask you one on one questions and see how you respond.  I’m not saying you should go as far as conducting a reddit AMA (it worked for President Obama). Be honest, be yourself. Don’t be canned.

Use Twitter to live tweet your town halls and neighborhood visits.

Facebook

Ok, set up a Facebook page.  Definitely use this medium to post updates like events, status of the campaign, things you need, etc. Don’t use Facebook as your website. Your website is your website. Your website is where you can receive campaign donations and collect email addresses/other information for voters.

Your website is the main event, Facebook is a traffic driver.

Speaking of traffic driver, you are raising a slew of campaign cash, so why not put some of that to good use and put together some custom audience buys on Facebook? This is where you’ll be able to target voters by zip code, gender, etc. 

Before you go out and unload thousands of dollars on messages, please think about what you are going to say. Instead of saying ‘Vote for Me Because the Other Person is Horrible’ how about putting together a series of ads that will appear to the same groups of people over time? These ads can layer in a story of what you are doing, who you are and why this person should cast a vote for you.

I know time is of the essence with the election, but you can’t shout at people to vote for you.  Connect with them.

Instagram

One of the best ways to connect with anyone in today’s short and sweet visual world is Instagram. Take pictures of the campaign trails. Yes, upload a few pictures of you kissing babies, but also include pictures of your volunteers, the staff, the late nights, knocking on doors, voters, neighborhoods, etc. In other words, show Chicago. Show how you really know Chicago. 

Video

I don’t care if it’s YouTube (instant Google SEO happy place) or Vimeo, use video.  Take videos of voters. Ask them what they are going through. See what they want. Post messages from supporters. Post their stories. 

Big Data

This can be its own blog post, but again, this writing represents a snippet of ideas. Do you know how much access you have to datasets? From census information to cars being towed, your campaign staff can sure use a heckuva lot of information to better inform your voters on a slew of things. Some ideas:

-See which lobbyists gave the most money to the city

-Understand what areas of the city are home to the most teachers and single people

-Track crime in real time

At the end of the day, we are all aware of the same rhetoric. It’s old. We can all see through it.  Instead, use the tools that are right in front of you and connect with the voter. 


The danger of siloing social media away from digital

by Blagica Bottigliero


It's almost impossible to look at social media as its own world. So many factors play a role in how people interact with a social platform. From the ad buy to the way a Google search landed on a corporate blog, it's all intertwined. 

Yet we appear to keep social in its own corner. The online media buying folks do their thing. The advertising people do their thing. The PR people do their thing. Yet the social person/team is expected to stay in their corner and focus on posting things to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, without much input into anything else. The few times the social person is asked for input and integration, it's at a minimum. 

It simply doesn't make any sense. It's not good for the consumer. It's not good for the company.

Which is why we will all finally see an end to the pure play department of social media.

The bar is finally going to be raised. The people who know the best things to post on Facebook and why will be expected to wrap their heads around a digital ad buy and what it means to weave in programmatic ad buys. People who know very little, if at all, about digital marketing are trying to quickly ramp up their knowledge. 

It will be an interesting next few years. 


Conversations with an agency content guy: ghost writers, owned platforms and clickbait

by Blagica Bottigliero


As I continue my summer of discovery, digital research and 'what's next', I chatted up Scott Smith. I offer anonymity to people I meet with, but Scott was a-ok with the transparency. So what did we talk about? Interestingly enough, the same hot topics I continue to discuss with digital/social professionals. It's almost as if the industry is maturing, yet people on the brand side are yet to catch up.

Here is an excerpt....

Let's get the elephant in the room out in the open. Clickbait. What say you?

Clickbait - or empty metrics - are definitely driving whether content is thought of as successful or not. Even as Facebook is saying you need to pay for reach and engagement, we still see clients who are obsessed with those metrics. It's time to stop measuring your brand's content by the same measures companies use to prove their value to investors. We should be measuring our content's success by how well it supports our brand's own internal business objectives like awareness or consideration. Or how well it creates an image of the brand in the consumer's mind. Those things take time and function in multiple channels simultaneously and shouldn't be abandoned just because you didn't get that many likes or retweets one month. "

There is a growing trend for ghost writing. Do you think it's here to stay?

And yes, some are reaching out to ghost writers but I see that more in brands that are doing B2B content marketing through trade publications and robust site content. They can afford it, obviously, so they do it.

All this talk about shared/earned/owned. Is anyone really doing anything on their OWN?

I'd really like to see brands think more about their owned platforms and how they can drive earned media. You have a whole publishing platform! Use it! Fund an interesting study about a category close to your customer's heart. Jump on the social detox trend and create a quantified self app that helps consumers track their reading habits or how much time they spend offline with friends. That's the kind of thing that gets non-trade news media to cover you and the sort of story that gets people sharing your content, not a cute picture of a dog with your product shoved into it.

Any brand doing interesting things worth taking a look at?

The brands that are really doing interesting things are the ones that are thinking like tech companies and creating products that innovate their core products (like Topps is doing with digital baseball cards) or create new revenue streams (like MLB is doing with creating a whole new company that serves online video). 


The Hill

by Blagica Bottigliero


We've started a new type of routine in our house. Around the lunch hour, I take my red bike and cycle the short distance over to a local cafe. It's a short ride, maybe five minutes. But it's one of the new things I look forward to everyday. And it's all because of a hill.

Do you remember being a kid? Riding your bike all over town, your friend's house and that new dirt mound at the construction site? I do. Pretty vividly. I had a red banana seat bike and took that thing all over my little neighborhood. If I felt adventurous and didn't think my parents would find out, I would take my bike over to the dirt trail that branched out to the main road. There was a sidewalk that was the perimeter to our neighborhood. I would pedal and pedal as fast as I could.  I had to be home at a certain time, but I was also full of adrenalin being in a part of town where I usually go with my mom or dad during ice cream runs. 

Which brings me back to the hill near my house. I live in a neighborhood full of hills - it's wild. There is one particular street that I can zip down, make a quick left and boom, I'm at the cafe. I get the same anticipation rounding the corner to get that hill as I did when I found that dirt road. 

My feet kick into a fast bit of rotation to keep some momentum, the street dips and I cruise.  Red backpack behind me, pants rolled up, I turn into that 10 year old girl again.  The street has a few speed bumps.  No matter what I'm wearing or who's outside planting their flowers, I edge up on my seat like a BMX rider and hop those bumps like a pro. With seconds, I hang a left, roll up to the cafe, lock my bike and go on about my to-dos.

Now and then, I wonder if someone on that street sees me practicing my daily ritual. It would be fun if there was a little kid glancing at this older person zooming down the hill. Maybe that little kid would laugh and point, showing their mom or dad the crazy lady who flies down the hill with her legs out to her sides. Maybe the mom or dad will get reminded that zooming down hills on a bike is fun. I hope so.

Go find yourself a hill. 


Why I won’t click on another Taboola or Outbrain link again

by Blagica Bottigliero


Updates below

A time not so long ago, I bought online advertising. A lot of it.  I also loaded those ads in an ad server, created tags and worked with publishing partners to ensure the ads ran properly.  Many of you who worked with me remember that our team wanted those ads to run alongside sites and content that made sense to the web surfer. There were battles with getting the names of all the sites our ads would live on. Daily battles of making sure our travel ads weren’t running on some porn site or site that had no context for the consumer.

I miss those days. The days of context and content lining up in the right way.

Which brings me to content. We are at a point where media sites and everyday brands what YOU to see that content. There are numerous reasons why traffic to a piece of content is key. Let’s break down a few:

1.     Increase in traffic to a media site means higher CPMs can be demanded for advertising

2.     Increase in traffic to a brand’s content hub means validation that the content is read by many people and they can’t wait for more

3.     Increase in traffic to any web property can assist with SEO rankings

4.     Increase of eyeballs to a website could mean more social sharing of said website which can increase both SEO and social engagement

In today’s new world of context and content don’t always need to match up, we have content amplifiers like Taboola and Outbrain. I’m almost certain you’ve seen these two forms of advertising.

You’ll be on a popular site like The Guardian or a local news site. You’ll be sipping your coffee reading about a serious issue and read the final sentence. As you take in what you just read and ponder a thought, you are presented with more content ‘similar’ to what you just reviewed. Underneath this ‘similar’ content, you are presented with click bait galore.

These articles, which may include anything from a top 10 celeb list to the reason why Kate Upton hates her breasts, are typically paid pieces of content brought to you by Taboola or Outbrain. The brands/media sites that wrote this content pay T & O a fee to drive traffic from the web back to the content.  In theory, the idea could make sense. The reality is, the Click Bait Rabbit Hole many of us fall into is a result of these links.

Has it come down to this?  Brands and media companies think that pushing out more and more content is a great thing, yet the content itself isn’t enough to drive traffic to the site. Instead of spending more time driving organic growth with communities who may ‘care’ about the content, it seems that we are left with random ad buys to Taboola  and Outbrain.

I think what T & O have done is simply genius. They are answering a market need and seem to be successful at it. As for us, the reader, no one is forcing us to click a link.  But it does make me wonder how the approval process of certain links is followed? If I was the digital person behind a reputable news site, do I have a say on whether or not that Kate Upton breast article appears? If I do, why aren’t I policing this more? Laziness?

Then there are the reports/analytics.  Companies that are creating content and use Taboola or Outbrain for traffic are getting traffic, but what kind of traffic? Is this repeat traffic? Is this the kind of traffic that really matters long term? When our team launched the former Motorola blog, we relied on the content of the site to bring the right audience to it.  We paid attention to search behaviors to write about the things the core audience, at the time, cared about.  We didn’t approach the blog simply from a pop culture standpoint. We wrote about things that were a blend of what the company was working on, but also what the user base was interested in.

Ideally, those Outbrain and Taboola advertisers can push back and review what types of sites are displaying their ads.  How great would it be if the content of each article lined up to a website that made sense? But that would take time and pushing back. In a world where it seems publishing links and driving traffic is first and foremost, I don’t see much push back happening.

And you, the reader. The person who may complain about reading the oddest things during the work day or wondering why the Taboola and Outbrain ads appear. You can ignore the ads or install an ad blocker if you wish.

As for me, I decided to refocus the way I spend my time online. Even if it was 45 minutes or so a day, I was getting lost down the Click Bait Rabbit Hole more than I wanted. I recovered five more hours or so a week to read things I really cared about.

Kate Upton, I hope you feel better about your breasts. I'm sure the world will know soon via an upcoming Taboola or Outbrain link. 

Update #1: Outbrain's CEO reached out to me via Twitter with some follow up comments:

  • Link to Outbrain's guidelines (looks like these guidelines were just updated, per a lawsuit against Outbrain
  • When I asked about content quality: "Not saying our links are always perfect- far from it! But we certainly try to make them valuable, and more importantly- trustworthy"
  • When I asked about connecting to the consumer and if that matters: "That's really up to each marketer. But whether it's traffic or a relationship, it all starts with getting a click."

Update #2: Scott Smith reminded me of a key piece of the Taboola & Outbrain ops model: publishers make money when they post links on their sites. 

"The thing is, T&O could be useful if publishers exercised controls over the kind of content they serve through it and what kind of promo boxes show up. You could make it specific to your other site content and block the crap but most publishers want the revenue more than the brand value, which is bad long-term thinking."

 


Conversations with a writer: 'Everybody wants to be clever…everyone wants that Oreo moment'

by Blagica Bottigliero


I'm on this mini search as it relates to the web, digital marketing and social media. I've been around for a long time - 16 years. It seems that things are getting more automated and more back slaps are given for the ability to dissect a link and knowing that Person X clicked on something 10 times. Yet we've seemed to lose the innate part of social media and the digital web - having the patience and the skill to really know who Person X is and what makes them tick. 

So I'm having conversations with people. Alot of them. Writers, designers, strategists, non digital people, content producers, executives, you name it. I'll be documenting a series of our chats on this blog. I will also be withholding their names, out of respect for their livelihoods. 

The first of these Conversations happened today with an old friend, solid writer, digital analytics expert music lover.  Here are some excerpts from the talk.

"There used to be a time when being a community manager was about getting to know people…today it’s just doing an ad buy. It’s not about listening to the audience anymore. It used to be a hybrid situation – a cross section between Marketing, PR and overall communications."

"Twitter takes time to build, get to know people, build a relationship. Today it's assumed that a Twitter ad buy can do that - it can't.You still need to time to cultivate a following."

"Big brands want some of the massive followings regular everyday people have. They have those followings because they took the time. They are also CREDIBLE. Brands try to just bought that type of following/traffic."

What say you reader, would you agree?

 


How Andrea Bocelli and a record store defined my early 20s

by Blagica Bottigliero


It’s funny how a song can open up a treasure trove of memories. I was with my family eating some surprisingly tasty Neaopolitan pizza.  Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Con te Partiro’ starting chiming on the speakers.  I started to smile for two reasons:

#1 My daughter loves that song and, thanks to YouTube, has seem Bocelli sing it opposite various divas like Celine.

#2  That song defined how I spent most of my 20 something years in Chicago

I did a lot of solo traveling over the years. The way I saw it, if my friends couldn’t go with me at the time and/or if I didn’t have a boyfriend or hubby to tagalong, why should I stop myself from experiencing a new place? I’ve had the good fortune to visit Miami, Hawaii, Vancouver, Switzerland, France, California and New York on my own. It was the trip to Vancouver that defined my weekends back in Chicago.

It was either 1999 or 2000. I decided to hit up our northern neighbor, Canada. (Being from Detroit, I was a Windsor expert. Get me in a good mood for my Canadian accent and my Hockey Night In Canada Don Cherry impression. It’s epic.)

Toronto was up there on my list of places I’ve seen, but I really wanted to go to a ‘faraway’ place. Vancouver seemed like a good mix of mountains, city and culture. Done.

Between the restaurants, hikes, walks, journal writing and overall culture observations, I found myself at Virgin Records. You remember Virgin Records, don’t you?  Massive store. Wicked collection of media, live DJ and perhaps an in-house café. I strolled through the wall of listening stations and came across Andrea Bocelli’s CD. Oh, why not. I gave it a listen.

I stood there, donning my brand new leather jacket of sexy thanks to the then strong exchange rate of the US dollar. Backback behind me, map in my pocket and the overly used Virgin headset over my ears. ‘Con te Partiro’ came on, I closed my eyes and I floated away.

I ended up in the spot for 90 minutes. I listened to the entire CD with my eyes closed and my head tilted up against the wall. I didn’t realize I was crying for half of the CD. I don’t even know why I was crying.  I just was. For the duration of those 90 minutes, no one told me to get away from the listening station. No one told me my time was up. No one nudged me. No one swiped something from my backpack. Thank you, Canada.

So how in the world does this relate to Chicago?

Before the Internet became too huge with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Tinder, many of us spent time doing ‘analog things’. Saturdays and Sundays were my most special times in Chicago.  I loved hopping on the #151 bus and zipping down Lake Michigan and hopping out at Ohio. From there, my frugal butt would settle in for a few hours of fun at Virgin Records.  I’d go from station to station, listening to top hits, along with my favorite world music artists. I discovered so many new types of music – it’s an experiment that I’m yet to duplicate in today’s instant world of Spotify, Pandora, iTunes or Google Music. Just not the same.

In between listening stations, I’d slide over to the DJ Booth to see what DJ Madrid was mixing up. I would decide which CDs I wanted, if any, then roll upstairs to grab a bite at the café.  At the café, I’d catch up on my reading, note taking, call my mom and relax over a cup of Italian coffee in a ceramic mug. By the time I was done, it was time to either meet friends, get ready for dinner and make the trek home for a cozy night in.

If I had more time, I would walk up Michigan Avenue and hit the Border’s. I would climb up to the top floor and sit at my favorite corner table, overlooking the rest of the Mag Mile. Some magazine browsing and journal writing later, it was the perfect bookend to my day. I would check my phone for potential texts from friends on where to meet up or who was dating who, but that was it. No smartphone just yet. 

$1.50 later, I was back on the bus heading home.

I consider these memories a glimmer of ‘Old Chicago’ as I remember it.

All of this was possible because of the experience I had in one city in one record store. Every time I hear ‘Con te Partiro’, a big smile comes across my face.  I fell in love with that song as a single gal trying to figure out life. Here I am with a four-year-old mini me who loves Bocelli as much as I do.

Some place in Italy, Andrea Bocelli is having a glass of Prosecco and will never know the impact he’s had on me because of one song.

I feel bad for the majority of today’s Gen Y. There are less reasons to lazily spend their days dreaming, writing and getting lost in a new percussionist from Africa.  There are limited amounts of selfies one can take in a day.

It’s a part time job, don't ya know?


Dating App for Women Gets Marketing Push By a Woman...and She Gets Railroaded

by Blagica Bottigliero


Why the story of Whitney Wolfe's lawsuit against Tinder is important for any female startup founder.

I just read the entire complaint against Match.com's Tinder app. Line by line, I read through the way in which Tinder started out as a Hatch Labs incubator and grew into a concept formalized and pushed by Wolfe. Ms. Wolfe, according to the lawsuit, was the one who pushed for a pivot and to take the initial idea and craft it into Tinder. Ms. Wolfe also named the app.  She also saw the potential to market the app to women, a key missing piece of most dating apps. 

Wolfe put some midnight oil into a marketing plan and presented all of those ideas to the other people on the team, all men.  They dug the concepts and Wolfe was off to a few college sororities to get the app some exposure.  That's right. She hopped on a plane and did some IRL meetings with people who could benefit from the app.  College after college, things were working. People were signing up. Success. 

I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty details on the complaint, but a few things were a reminder as to how easy it can be to be in an incubator environment where 'everyone is in it together' to national press coming around and things getting more serious.  Aside from the misogynist and racist comments passed through texts, here are the other watch outs, based on the complaint:

  • Mateen was first a contractor for a few months, then became the CMO. Wolfe had to report to him even though she was the force behind the growth and marketing of the app
  • The developer of the app, Munoz, gave 100% credit to Wolfe for growing the app
  • When more national press was coming, Wolfe wasn't included.  Asking why this was the case, her male team responded with 'you're a girl'. Wolfe's age of 24 made her seem to young and having her listed as co-founder would mean too many cooks in the kitchen. Er, how old was Zuck when he started Facebook? 
  • Wolfe's co-founder title was officially stripped at someone point and the excuse Mateen supposedly used was that Facebook and Snapchat had male founders. Including Wolfe in the current co-founder mix would make things appear like an accident.

During this entire time, Ms. Wolfe was getting disgusting comments and threats from Mateen, someone she once dated after Mateen pursed her for some time. Rad, the CEO, didn't seem to want to do much.  The complaint ends with a story of Wolfe and Match.com's CEO having a coffee. Wolfe went on to detail all of the horrible things she endured and the CEO appeared to do nothing. His ending comment to her was 'I can still sleep at night.'

Why is this so important for female founders? Because the vast majority of you are thinking about ideas that can apply to women and/or the vast majority of you may be on male dominated teams. The story of Tinder proves that some ingenuity and insight from a woman can make or break an app.  Wolfe hustled. She got on planes, both here and internationally, to demo the app to real users in real life. 

This story also displays the sad state of startup life as we know it today.  As much as incubators, cities, organizations and conferences try to be overt about supporting women, those support groups aren't living in between the text messages that are sent in the middle of the night. Those organizations and support groups aren't right next to a woman when she's getting berated in public at a company party. 

How strange it was for me to read that Rad, the CEO, is dating the daughter of a well known tech exec. How strange it was for me to see the supposed breakdown of a friendship between Wolfe and this woman. How could this daughter of a well known, powerful tech powerhouse not know what risks could be involved with treating women in tech this way? I saw the exhibits documenting the texts between Wolfe and Rad's girlfriend. Yet, silence.

Ladies, keep creating your ideas and pushing for change, however, there is one more elephant in the room worth taking about - cattiness. In order for you/us to feel comfortable sharing future wrongs similar to what Wolfe experienced, there needs to be a culture and camaraderie among female founders, tech types and those who touch the world. I would also call on the more seasoned women in the room who are either VCs, angels, founders or influential women in business to serve as a sounding board.

As for me, I'm here and available for Skype chats, Hangouts or phone calls. I'll offer up my time to let anyone blow off some steam about the frustrating experiences or scary startup situations.

Lastly, keep creating your lifestyle/warm and fuzzy ideas. We know they work. We know they can make money. Most of the people who may fund your idea just don't get it - yet.

 


If the data is there, why don't companies listen to it?

by Blagica Bottigliero


Studies show that consumers are more inclined to be loyal to a brand if messages are more about customer service, relationship building and storytelling. This is usually the case with Twitter activity. Responding to consumer messages and relating to their interests, versus pushing another product link wins every time.

The reality is, companies are big and have tremendous layers. And the long game isn't always first and foremost around a quarterly plan. 

Until that junior/mid level manager on the brand side and/or up and coming agency strategist has the freedom and comfort level to be heard, things won't change. Data and insights are typically found by the people who are closest to the information everyday. And then those numbers are broken down and scrubbed for a higher level look.

This process may take weeks or months to pull together, analyze, scrub, insert in a presentation and handed off to someone else. Even then, a decision may not be made.

In the meantime, consumers continue to get a slew of promotional content pushed at them via multiple brands on a given day. It's not surprising to me that the general sentiment of the consumer is to be turned off by 'most' brands via social media.  A few brands are getting it right and focusing on the storytelling and relationship building with the consumer. It doesn't change the fact that consumers 'think' that the majority of messages are one sided.

Long game. This is about the long game. Either companies need to let decisions be made by those who see the data daily and/or companies need to change the way they enable non digital colleagues to dictate what is best for the social consumer.

 


My mom once tied my leg to a table. I turned out fine.

by Blagica Bottigliero


I've been spending more time with the kids. Over the weekend, I was a solo parent as the hubby went down to Chicago for some work and play. I found myself incorporating some 'old school' methods of watching the kids, namely around my household chores. 

Which brings me back to a story my mom once told me.

My sister was out playing with the neighbors and their kids. Mom was watching me in our little ranch house in Warren, MI.  The laundry was running in the basement. Mom had to change out the load and I was highly engrossed in whatever toy I was playing. She thought for a second and weighed her options:

#1. She could pick me up out of my happy play place, whisk me downstairs to put the clothes in the dryer and see me go ape crazy for 45 minutes

#2. She could take a belt, loosely tie my leg to the table, run downstairs to change out the clothes and then come right back up

Mom opted for #2. She said that she was up and down in 4 minutes. I was still working on understanding the make up of the doll's fingers. She didn't think twice about it. 

Going back to my time with the kids this weekend. I was driving myself crazy with the heightened need to take my kids with me in every crevice of the house, especially the 17 month old. I had the gate locked upstairs and still brought the little one in the bathroom with me. Why? Because I had this vision that he may decide to climb his crib or somehow break a jigsaw piece and swallow it. 

Am I promoting the mothers and fathers and caregivers of America to leave children alone? 

Nope.

I am saying that there were things our parents did back in the day that would be considered neglect or child abuse today. I've realized that my imagination sometimes extends out to real life. I have fears and 'watch outs' for the kids that could using some easing back. I know these fears are a combination of me + the world of helmets and knee guards.

I lived in skin knees, bruises and cuts. My daughter gets a little scrape and demands us to go to the closet and get her a Doc McStuffins Band-Aid. Everything is a major boo boo. A little hangnail or blood from an over scratched mosquito bite means she is very sick and needs to go to a doctor. Or, better yet, I receive the 'Mama, I should've put on a Cars helmet + knee pads like in that commercial.'

Right. 

 

 

 

 


For two and a half years, my name wasn't Blagica. It was Barb.

by Blagica Bottigliero


You read that right, Jack. 

Before the days of the social web and today's version of online bullying, we had the typical setup for a pre-teen: face to face communication with other pre-teens. Back then, we all had our versions of labels.  In many circumstances, we never had the choice to pick the label - it just appeared some place between your locker and the bathroom. 

For me, it was gym class. The day I became Barb.

My family moved to a new neighborhood when I was 13. I was to start a new year at a new school, 8th grade. In my eyes, we were far far away from the little street I loved in Warren, MI. We went from 10 mile to 21 mile - a whole 11 miles! To me, that was another planet. A planet set in the middle of farm country. Fast forward to today and my dad calls it suburban mecca. Strip malls and outdoor shopping galore, car dealerships, more restaurant chains to shake a stick at and even a new community center with an indoor pool! Oh and let's not forget about the insane amount of choices as it relates to getting fruit, veggies and any other ethnic food. Having lived in Chicago for 16 years, I challenge any Chicagoan and Little Italy-ish area goer to visit Vince & Joe's, Randazzo or Nino Salvaggio.

So there I was, new school, the first day.  I vividly remember sitting on the gym floor and the dreaded routine of roll call was looming. I hated roll call.

I  waited for the typical song to begin:  

"Jane, Amy, Katie, Michelle, Lisa, Laura, Bah, Buh, what IS that name"?

"Blah-gee-tsa"

"Say that again?"

"Blah-gee-tsa"

Snickers began and the teacher's face curled up. Memories of what life was like back in my old school flashed in a blur. I spent my 7th grade year in utter hell. Leaving the safety net of my K-6 elementary school friends was horrible. Blending with the surrounding schools made for a year of constant fear, getting bullied on the bus and not wanting to leave my house. 

As I got caught up in my 7th grade brain, someone in the gym suggested:

"Let's call her Barb."

Then someone else piped up:

"That's easier. I like Barb."

I froze and didn't want to say no. I didn't want to start my new school year and build a rep for being that girl with the difficult name to say. So I agreed. I was Barb.

For the next few years, most people called me Barb. I made new friends and settled into our new neighborhood. I began this crazy obsession with dancing to music videos at home, then mimicking those moves at school dances. I wanted to dub myself Barb the Dancer. Anything to keep attention away from my real name. 

By the time sophomore year came around,   I had grown close with alot of people. The same people I'm going to see at my 20 year high school reunion in a few weeks. I don't know the exact day I decided to go back to my actual name, but I do remember a few friends asking me why I didn't just use my real name. No one asked me that before, well aside from my relatives. This feeling of complete acceptance washed over me. 

Looking back to that day at the gym, I know now that whomever suggested the name Barb wasn't doing it to be spiteful. They just didn't have too much exposure to someone who had a unique name. Today, we have names like Schwarzenegger, Obama, Oprah, Lupita and Apple. Do you know how excited I was to watch Oprah as a kid? I kept telling myself that if her name can get a TV show, then who KNOWS what my name can bring. 

I don't know what life would have been like if Facebook and cyber bullying existed. I had some dark moments hating life and not wanting to leave the house. Why do you think I read so many books and memorized the Presidents, dad? :) I was lucky to have parents who paid attention to how I was feeling and shared their stories of immigrant life in the U.S. to keep my head held high. Eventually, I had a solid group of friends who didn't care what my first name was. 

Now and then, I think about Barb and wonder how she's doing. Though I wasn't too keen on her name, I was thankful for the motivation she gave to push me to try new things and find a lifelong  passion for music and dancing.

I guess you can say this story is a core reason for why Michael and I decided to name Lily, Liljana and Niko, Nikola.  We tell Lily that this is her short name. Liljana is her long/real name. She knows who she is and has that second name to give someone on the first day of school.

Because we all deserve the chance to create our own labels and our own names. 

 

 


With all this buzz about content marketing, why are we forgetting about context?

by Blagica Bottigliero


I was running errands yesterday. In the car, seat belt on, drive to one place, finish the errand and then on to the next place.  In and out of the store, pick up the things I need, browse a few aisles, wait in line, pay, etc. One thing was consistent throughout the entire course of the trip - I was checking my phone at different intervals. 

  • At one point, Michael texted me to get XYZ items that weren't on the list.
  • As I was waiting for my cup of coffee, I decided to flow through my friends' Instagram feeds.
  • Someone tweeted me after I parked the car, so I checked it and looked up the name of the business they mentioned in the DM (they were following up on a request I had for a nearby place of biz).
  • Within every store experience, I was checking my phone for deals. I was also scanning bar codes and price checking.
  • In one store, I decided to take a picture of the outfit idea. Something for my evening Pinterest scanning.
  • Finally, I quickly skimmed my Facebook feed as I was waiting to get checked out by one of the stores.
  • When I unpacked everything at home, I plopped on the couch, put my feet up and used my Moto X's remote to change the channel on my Google TV. 

Every example above was about context. I was using different platforms for different needs at different times. Let's take some of the instances above and add a 'What If' element:

  • What if the outfit I snapped had some kind of sensor or device that would know I took a picture. What if that display encouraged me to take a picture of the ensemble? Could it have been possible for that brand to reach out to me later that night and send me a special deal and/or reminder on what I snapped?
  • I was in the checkout lane of a store and hopped on Facebook real quick. I was killing time and checking in on those friends I know the Facebook algorithm throws at me. Could a brand have sent me a targeted message knowing that I'm in my late 30s, it was evening time, Central time, I had two kids and had a few minutes to spare for an update? If so, how refreshing it would have been for that brand to show me an ad that went something like this: 'Hi. Enjoy your mini break/solo time. We like to enjoy by doing X.' Even better, if a brand just acknowledged that I was out and about versus trying to tell me to do something or buy something, bonus. Because I would leave that store with not only my goods, but a reminder of who Brand XYZ is and what they stand for.
  • What if Twitter knew that I was searching for that place of business as a direct result of the DM I viewed (with my permission, of course). Would they then be able to send that data to their advertisers to hit me up with more targeted content later?

Perhaps.

The theme here is context. We go to different online platforms for different purposes. I haven't used Tumblr in a while, but it seems to be the holy place for animated gifs. My Instagram feeds are full of gorgeous food platters. It's only a matter of time where Instagram/Facebook team up with some recipe site and enable direct linking and Instacart shopping. 

I'm all for lovely, gorgeous content. But we need to remember that what goes through a person's mind, especially the multi-tasking wizardry of a woman, is what drives platform use. The sooner we respect this intimate detail of a consumer's life, the better we'll all be.

And you can stop putting that same gif on 10 social media platforms. 

 


My mother in law was given four months to live - she died in two.

by Blagica Bottigliero


Her death taught our family lessons for years to come. 

It was around Christmastime of last year.  Michael came home from the hospital and his face was grim. If you know my husband, you know he's a quiet man. I knew something was terribly wrong. The routine hospital check ups his mom had for her cancer and post double mastectomy procedure wasn't so routine that night.

Ann was given four months to live, max.  My mother in law didn't want to hear her fate. The doctor, Michael and his brother left the hospital room and spoke in the hallway. Ann knew she was sick, but she didn't want to know the truth. 

The following months were a blur.  Imagine for a second, you are in your early 60s.  You check into the hospital for a check up to discover that things are so grim that you can't return home - ever.  We had to keep Ann in the hospital while finding hospice care in the area.  She couldn't go home, take things she needed or even say goodbye to her memories.  Michael found a reputable hospice facility and the boys checked her in.  This never felt right with us. 

Lily's birthday party was the weekend of December 17. Ann was able to attend, but barely had the energy to walk.  I know she wanted to see Lily hopping and skipping around the playroom. My mother in law was Lily's best friend. They sang songs, told old jokes from the 60s and talked about animals.  It was a bond that is only reserved for grandmothers.  We are grateful for that day.

Ann spent a short amount of time in hospice. We decided it was best that she was surrounded by family. My brother in law stepped up and took my mother in law in.  He made room in his apartment and took care of Ann 24x7.  Nurses visited and did their jobs, but it was my brother in law who made sure Ann had everything she needed. I can't see too many bachelors doing this. 

Our collective family priority was Ann. Michael took the kids to visit as much as he could. Lily would sit on Ann's bed, watch TV and eat hot dogs. Ann had the chance to spend more time with Niko and see his baby progress. Throughout this time, I was cranking on the business. From where I saw things, I wanted to make sure Michael and the kids saw Ann as much as they could. My job was to keep the business running and keep the household in tact. It soon became clear that we were running out of time. I needed to say goodbye.

It was a Saturday morning, February 1.  Ann had a rough night and was unresponsive. Michael came home after staying up with his brother by Ann's side. She was breathing slower.  They didn't know if she'd make it through the night.  I called a friend to see if she could watch the kids for us.  Without missing a beat, my friend said yes.  As we gathered our jackets for the car, Michael's brother called. Ann passed away 30 minutes earlier. Less than two months passed since the doctor gave us his prediction for Ann's life. We weren't prepared for how soon this day would arrive - but it did.

After dropping off the kids, we made it to my brother in law's. A priest was waiting for us and delivered Ann her last rites.  My body left me that day.  I couldn't believe that I didn't visit Ann earlier. I couldn't believe that she was gone so incredibly fast. I held on to Michael and didn't remember most of what happened that weekend. 

I do remember the Illinois Cremation Society finally arriving to the apartment. Ann's request was to be cremated. It takes about 10 days in the state of Illinois for the appropriate papers and approvals to go through for someone to be cremated. How terribly final it was to see two men arrive with a stretcher. I couldn't bear to look in the bedroom to see my fantastic mother in law lifted out of her bed and zipped in a bag.  I heard the sound of that zipper and just about lost it. I didn't want Michael to see me crumble. I needed to be strong for him that day. 

Losing Ann was a wake up call for our family.  Never again would my work get in the way of any family obligation - even though I thought the 'work' was important for the family at the time. Michael and I don't argue as much as we used to - especially for the small things.  We've spent more time putting effort into doing simple things like going to malt shops, playing with dirt and letting our kids explore the world. I began exercising more and being OK with taking more time for my well being. The outside factors like jobs, personalities and environments that we can't control no longer tick us off. 

I haven't written for a while because I wasn't ready to share again. I wasn't ready to process what I was feeling about life in general. I didn't think it was OK to talk about these things. With Michael's blessing, I did. And so it goes with the future of this blog. I'll be sharing a wide variety of thoughts on life in general, whether it's about the digital world or why Ted Cruz scares the heck out of me. 

We miss you, Ann. Thank you for helping us remember what is always first and foremost in life. 


Moving forward in the Twin Cities

by Blagica Bottigliero


One thing I learned about life is to take leaps, embrace change and try new things.

A few months ago, we all moved to Minneapolis.  I took on a job with Target. It recently became clear that the gig wasn’t a fit for Target and me. I decided to move on.

So what’s next? I’m not sure. Are we moving out of Minneapolis? Not any time too soon. The Bottigliero clan enjoys discovering new places and sinking our teeth into new experiences. We can’t get enough of the lakes, cycling paths, new restaurants, rivers and people of the Twin Cities.  And the Dairy Queens. There are Dairy Queens all over the place.

What I do know about the next few months is that I’ll be writing more. I stopped for a long time for reasons that will be covered in a future post. 

For now, we’ll be here.  We don’t know how long ‘now’ is going to be.  Book those plane tickets, gas up your car and know that you have friends to visit the next time you are in Minneapolis.  We’ve got a backyard BBQ setup waiting for you and an assortment of wine that continued to grow after our Chicago move. 


Opinion: Chicago Incubators, VCs and Co-Working Spaces Should Come Together

by Blagica Bottigliero


Over the last few days, my email’s been blowing up with feedback on a discussion that started over the weekend and now poured over to IRL.

The topic:  do startups and would-be startups feel left out if they choose one incubator/co-working space over the other?  Is there a perception that if you want to build something, you need to get in to one of THE best co-working spaces or know THE right people – or you’re toast.

I’ve heard both sides.

‘Blagica, that’s not true. We all work together’.

or

‘It’s true. I’m new to the city and the feeling I get is that if I’m not in the right crowd or right space, my idea is worthless.’ Then there is 'I have a great idea, am self funding it, but no one seems to care.'

So, here is an idea.

Let’s have all the Big Guns get together once a month or quarter and chat about their progress.  A meeting of minds, if you will. A way for the top VCs and incubators to share their objectives and keep the spirit of entrepreneurship and startups alive in Chicago.

Is this happening now? Nope.

If it were, the perception many people feel right now wouldn’t exist.  Why not add some transparency of actual change versus only sharing which company got funded or bought another company? Share the status of how we are working to attract the best talent and unknown idea out there.

I’m sure the community and would-be Chicago startups would appreciate it.

 


Why My Kids Won’t Be Allowed to Use Social Media Until Age 13

by Blagica Bottigliero


A chat with Tracy encouraged to finish this post. I started the topic back in November.  Thanks for the push, Ms. Schmidt! 


image c/o Wikipedia 

image c/o Wikipedia 

As much as I’ve worked in and around the tech industry, there is one tech innovation where I won’t budge - forbidding my kids to use social media networks until they are 13. This includes any online gaming sites or networks that are geared towards children and are safe, monitored and managed. I know plenty of experts in the world of community managing children’s games – they are fantastic and intelligent people.

But I won’t change my mind.

I have a four year old and soon-to-be one year old. They are both exposed to various forms of displays, tablets and videos in more ways than I can imagine.  Going against my anti first generation anything, my husband and I purchased Google TV. I love it. Yes, the UI is horrible, but at the time, we needed a flat screen. We also wanted an interactive experience.

Today, my daughter expects all TV to be paused. She is able to navigate her way to her favorite Netflix Kipper videos or DVR’d episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Then my little one became savvy enough to know that our Amazon connection enables her to see larger chunks of Daniel via Amazon Prime’s On Demand service.

This technical prowess is extending to my baby boy.  Before dinnertime, we have a hysterical rendition of Family Dance Party.  My kids know that the YouTube app is on the TV and I can call up any video I want.  Once YouTube is over, I typically switch over to Pandora and we put some light music on in the background for dinner.

Then there is the sweet little request from my daughter to call up her games on my Nexus tablet.  I have a parental lock on the apps, but it didn’t take long for my toddler to understand that there were certain games that I needed to purchase for her.  Today, she uses a reading app and sits with her brother and listens to stories being read to her by the magical lady.

To balance things out, my husband and I are adamant that there is more time spent reading, writing, drawing and literally destroying our house with non tech things.  Our daughter loves her Chicago Park District Pre-K class, but loves her weekly Kids Science Labs class more. She comes home with the most inventive experiments. Today she came home with a DIY eye. The other day she brought home a makeshift muscle and was telling me about blood going to the heart. She’s four.

Look. I already know that my kids will be using tablets, laptops and other fantastic gadgetry in school. I’m all for it.

But with all that time spent learning and interacting with something digitally, the last thing I want my kids to balance is building virtual connections and friendships with their peers. I’m also well aware of what images, messages and expectations can be delivered via social networks. I want my kids to be kids and grow up naturally. 

The ultimate social networking for a pre teen should be meeting at the bus stop, playing foursquare and running around the neighborhood.  Social networking should be the trials and tribulations of playground arguments, crushes on first loves and other ups and downs of adolescence.

That’s quite enough for my kids to deal with, let alone going online to get bombarded by more messages to process.

I am a realist. Technology changes daily. I have no idea as to what advancements may be out there in 2022. I will say this - I’ll be pushing the ideaof ‘IRL’ communication and interactions like a broken vinyl record until then.


How we did it: Two weeks in France with two kids under four.

by Blagica Bottigliero


(clickable picture gallery below)

When I began telling people that my husband and I finally booked a trip to France. I received warm smiles and high fives of congratulations. When I also added that the kids were coming with us, many of the smiles turned into ‘oh no’ faces.

Did I mention that I booked the airplane tickets before my son was even born? Yes, that was me alright.

Here’s the deal.  Life is short.  For us, we knew that going to France was a major bucket list item.  Before marriage and the kids, we spent a few weeks traveling around Italy and missed the experience and the food terribly. Of course, gallivanting around France with two babes isn’t as exciting as effortlessly hopping in a rented Mercedes and zipping down to Positano. For us, time away from everyday life in Chicago and getting a breath of much needed new culture was in our to-do list for 2013.

I am going to break down exactly HOW this whole trip happened. From the plane tickets to the apartments to what I packed.  Take any tidbits you’d like, if at all applicable.

The Plane Tickets

I was still pregnant with my son when I was on the phone with United booking the tickets. My Orbitz trained mind (I worked there for three years) told me to book early and book early again. With the husband’s blessing, I researched flights and decided to flight direct. One of the best decisions I ever made.  I wanted to have a completely European airline experience (Lufthansa, for example), but that means I would have to connect through Frankfort. There was zero way I was going to take two kids off a plane, then walk through an airport and attempt to board a plane again. Negative, Captain.  

We ended up going with United, direct into Paris.  I made sure I had three seats, in the middle of the plane. The baby was going to be eight months at that time so I arranged for a bassinet. (I won’t go into the back and forth drama when we arrive at O’Hare, but let’s just say that United made a mistake, we all had to be moved and I almost lost my mind thinking I would be split from someone helping me with two kids. Luckily this didn’t happen, but almost did).

Because of the mishap on the way TO Paris, we didn’t have the bulkhead like I wanted, but we did have it on the way back. This meant no one sat in front of us and I was able to have the kids’ toys on the floor, change the baby without going to the bathroom and, if needed, could have the baby ‘sleep’ in the makeshift bassinet the airline gave us.  Again, I was disappointed when I was told our seats were set up in an area where the bassinet attached to the WALL, but no dice. Good thing is, I mentally prepared for anything to go wrong and went with the flow.  That is a key here: go with the flow. Another tip: bring those plastic bags from the grocery store..they come in handy when you need to wrap up diapers. 

The Train Tickets

We spent one week in Paris, then took the TGV down to Dijon and stayed there another week. Then we came back up to Paris for one night and left. Do I recommend this? No. I would recommend staying in ONE place, but since my husband never saw Paris, I just couldn’t spend two weeks in a smaller French town without giving my husband the experience of Paris.  What was more amazing? Our then three year old girl had been studying Paris with me for some time and went nuts when she saw the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa and other Parisian sites. 

I booked the tickets via RailEurope.  The process was easy, BUT there was confusion at BOTH legs of the train trips because I was trying to find the confirmation # on the tickets and acquire our final tickets from the auto machines at the train stations.  I finally had to ask for help each time. I recommend going right to the ticket window if you have time pre train ride.

I did NOT buy our daughter a seat and wished I had.  My husband and I ended up carrying a child on our laps each way.  I regret not going ahead and telling the RailEurope system that I was buying four tickets for four adults.  The booking process of the site asks for children’s ages and decides if you can buy a ticket or not.  Had I bought four seats facing each other, we could have taken over a whole section with toys and what not. Lesson learned. 

The nice perk of the trip was booking first class on the way to Dijon. Not that much pricier and the seats were definitely bigger and made carrying the wee ones easier.

Next up, transportation methods. We did NOT take a specific baby car seat. After assessing our gear and how much we’d be afoot, I made the decision not to take one. Playing ‘pass the baby’ on the flights to and from Paris was a little rough, but even if the baby had a seat, he needed to be held. Boyfriend was teething and my breasts were a saving grace on the entire trip.  As soon as Mr. Teeting became upset, I nursed him and all was well.  Special shout out to the French women who told me to throw my cover away and just enjoy nursing my kid.  

Transportation from Charles de Gaulle to Paris Apartment

We hired a driver to pick us up from baggage claim and drive us to our apartment.

It was pricey, yes. A few points:

1.     I was not going to deal with two little kids who needed more rest while navigating our luggage through the airport. It wasn’t fair to them, either.

2.     I love the Parisian metro system. As a matter of fact, most trains get you right to city center with zero problems.  I do know that the main RER line to Paris tends to get targeted by pickpockets.  I didn’t have the energy or awareness to watch two kids, ensure the luggage was together and make sure someone wasn’t trying to get the best of me. Oh sure, I have a streetwise southsider for a husband, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  We landed, we found our driver, he found our luggage, the car was steps outside the door, he had a car seat for the baby and we were off. And yes, traffic getting to Paris was plain awful. Not going to sugar coat it.

Transportation from Paris Apartment to Gare du Lyon (which was the outpost station to Dijon)

We had the gentleman who was our house manager call a taxi for us.  It was a short ride to the train station. I held the baby in my lap and Ms. Toddler was buckled in the back alongside me. Michael sat in the front.

Transportation from Dijon train station to Dijon Apartment

Another short taxi ride. This time, we had to wait outside of the terminal for a ride. Dijon is a small town and taxi cabs aren’t as frequent. This is a situation where I took out my phone, called the Dijon cab company and, in broken French, managed to order five cabs for the people who were in line with us. Yes, I felt like a rockstar.  We also took a cab back to the Dijon train station.

Transportation from Paris hotel back to Charles De Gaulle Airport

Our last night in France, we stayed at the hotel right NEXT to the Gare du Lyon. It was also a pretty family friendly hotel. They gave us a sleeping blanket for the baby, along with a pop up crib. Our toddler had a fun play space (not so large, but something).  This meant that when our TGV train rolled in from Dijon, we were steps away from the hotel. Easy.

To get back to Charles De Gaulle, I pre-booked an airport shuttle via the Airfrance shuttle. You do NOT have to fly Airfrance to use their service. Another plus to the hotel location is that the Airfrace pickup stand was literally around the corner out front. Pay in advance, show driver your voucher, done.

Where We Slept

Apartments. Apartments. Hands down, if you travel for a length of time with little kids, the best option would be to rent a house or an apartment. We stayed in Paris and Dijon. In both places, we found amazing, spacious apartments. We were able to cook meals, have space and really feel like part of the neighborhood.  It’s France so bakeries were within a stone’s throw of each home.

Paris Left Bank

Though Paris’ 6th district is considered the most expensive to live in all of Paris, we managed to find a gorgeous and lovely apartment at the base of Luxembourg Gardens. It.was.perfect.  Located near a university and ample playgrounds, we had green space and places for strolling right outside our door. WiFi included.

We also used this as an easy home base when we walked all the way to the Louvre. I calculated it. We were 1.5 miles away. And we walked all of it.  On that particular day, we walked to the Louvre, then hit up Notre Dame, made our way to the other side of Paris, and came home. Our daughter was a trooper, but we also realized how much she relied on the stroller in Chicago. This changed as soon as we go back. Here is the website we used to book the Parisian apartment.

Dijon

We stayed in the City Center, with cobblestone steps and a bakery outside our door. No, we didn’t want to leave. WiFi included. Our apartment building was popular with American tourists. We loved our apartment.

Our Typical Daily Schedule

7 am – Get up, someone go grab croissants if we didn’t already have them

7-9 am – Eat, play take showers, pack up for day out

9 am – Toddler walks, baby in stroller. Explore.

Late morning – Baby hopefully sleeping, prep for lunch and/or go to market

Lunch – Usually at a café. And yes, we took the stroller. We ate in at small tables and made room for the whole family. One lunch, we actually had lunch in a pish posh, but casual Anthony Bourdain choice. I was hesitant when they saw us with two wee ones, but we were determined.  Our wardrobe was very French (I think this was the key to getting treated so well with kids) and me speaking some French was tremendous in getting great service with the kids.

Afternoon time –  If not back at an apartment, check out park/other part of town. Notice toddler getting whiny. Switch to toddler in stroller and baby in carrier. Baby and toddler potentially nap.

Pre dinner – Go home, have a snack. Unwind.

5/530 – Join the rest of the French and go out.  Pick up fresh protein for dinner (if you didn’t already do this at the market) and/or walk around, see who is selling what and watch the neighborhood walk home with their kids from school.

6-7  Family dinner, bath, playtime

730-on Wine, cheese, email French TV

Going Out at Night

No, this didn’t happen.  Meaning, we didn’t go out together at the same time.  As I mentioned before, this was a working vacation for me.  The updates, coupled with the baby teething meant that I needed to be close to home. That was OK for me – I anticpated this would happen. We checked into babysitters before going to France, but no dice. I was happy to see Michael go out and explore Paris and Dijon.  He took our daughter on a lovely Crème Bruele date one night. She came back with the biggest grin on her face. I did have the chance to meet a friend for wine. She’s an American now living in Paris with her boyfriend. It was lovely to hear about her transition into French life and have some one-on-one girl time.

 When We Took the Metro

Seeing the Eiffel Tower required use of the Metro, but that was also easy.  A quick jaunt north and some walking and we were there.  As soon as we go there, we had zero chance of getting to the top of The Eiffel Tower, lines were too long and we couldn’t secure tickets in advance.  We used this time to walk around, eat lunch, etc.  The four of us managed to leave The Eiffel Tower, make our way to the 5th, get to the Champs Elysee, visit the Arc de Triomphe, walk the entire Champs Elysee back to Concorde, hop on the Metro and come back home.  This is a day where I did quite a bit of Ergo carrying. 

The Gear

Ok, this one was tough. I started packing clothes and writing to-do lists two months before the trip. I was still nursing the baby and began supplementing with formula. He was also starting solids, so I needed to think about bringing extra food. Now, of COURSE you can buy food in Europe (I ended up buying formula and baby food in Dijon towards the tail end of the trip). With the Euro, I decided to bring as much as I could, knowing my load would be heavy on the way THERE, lighter coming home. I was right.

 

The Packing List

·      A single stroller. I decided to invest in an Uppa Baby G-Luxe. So well worth it. It was light enough to carry everywhere, sturdy enough for either kid and folded in a snap.

·      Ergo baby carrier.

·      One large red Longchamps bag and one leather large cross body bag.  The Longchamp bag because my food storage bag. The black leather bag became the everyday, walk around town bag that had the essentials for changing and feeding. The black bag was also basic enough and ‘nice’ enough to go in and out of restaurants, museums, etc. The key? It was a CROSSBODY bag. Easier to hold across my body if needed, especially when babe was in the Ergo.

·      One large rolling duffel bag and one carry on bag. That’s it. I stuffed all of our clothes and shoes in these bags. Since we had a direct flight, the duffel bag was considerably ‘safe’ for the trip. The carry on bag had a change of clothes for everyone, along with immediate gear/backup

·      One large red backpack. This contained the tech gear, cords, etc. We run our own businesses and though this was a vacation, it was also a working vacation. (Hey, drinking great wine and eating amazing cheese at night while checking email isn’t so bad.)

·      Two tablets, one wireless keyboard, two smartphones

·      One kids’ backpack which contained all of the toddler’s toys..but mainly busy things like coloring books, crayons, etc. I bought all of this a few days before the trip and she was exciting to try everything out on the plane and train trip.

·      A few books

·      Two containers of formula

·      Various packets of organic baby food

·      Bottles

·      Numerous Ziploc bags.  From potential bathroom accidents, diaper explosions, to storing used utensils, these bags came in handy the entire time

·      Mini toddler portable potty. I kid you not, this thing was amazing.  It compresses flat, but then opens in a little standing fashion so your child can go to the bathroom wherever needed. My daughter had to use the restroom in Paris, middle of the street. No bathroom in sight. We simple unfolded the seat, stood around her, she did her business and we threw the bag away (there is a bag that goes over the seat and is absorbent). In another instance, we were in the middle of a small wine town outside of Dijon. Public bathroom closed. No problem. Without flinching, I whipped out that little toilet sit and had my daughter do her business in the middle of the street (covered by us of course). Toddler bladders cannot wait for the bathroom that is too far away.

·      Small thermometer

·      Small nail clippers

·      Nasal bulb

·      Baby shampoo

·      Toothpaste

·      Diapers

·      Small spoons

·      Easy toddler snacks

·      Adult energy bars

·      Two child friendly fleece/throw blankets (one for each kid..on the plane, in the stroller, random naps on bed, etc. Gave a true sense of home and came in handy during chilly walks)

·      Outlet converters (this was KEY for charging all of our devices)

·      Copies of all credit cards and passports (in a separate Ziploc bag in a separate bag)

·      Copies of all credit cards and passports AND detailed itinerary sent to my parents’ house. This included names of apartment contacts and phone numbers, should we need to get stuck in a pickle.

·      Addresses of phone number of U.S. consulate

·      Phone numbers of nearby hospitals, doctors and doctors on demand (Paris sends docs to your house)

·      Pre set, downloaded maps of every neighborhood via Google maps. This trick came in handy A LOT.  Every major hot spot or walking path to museums, parks, etc. was already in my device via PDF. I would deactivate the WiFi and access the pre-saved PDFs.  The GPS was still active in my Nexus 4.  Bonus. We would open the PDFs, see our little blue dot and go on our marry way.

How Did It Go?

I spent 12 consecutive nights with my family in another country. We had our ups and downs. Our tantrums and the in-the-middle-of-the-park diaper changes. There were grouchy moments and moments of sheer anger (i.e. when Hertz ‘misplaced’ my husband’s reservation, thus making him miss all of his wine meetings outside Dijon).  All and all, it was some of the most magical times of my life. 

Not having my phone active to a WiFi signal for the bulk of the day was glorious.  Aside from taking photos, our phones weren’t used much during the day. Can’t lie to you, however. As soon as we walked into our apartments we checked our emails and uploaded phones. Quick skims of emails took place, but there was nothing ‘pressing’.

I saw my kids in different lights. Our little boy changed. New teeth came in. He realized he ‘wanted’ to crawl, but wasn’t there just yet. My daughter couldn’t stop talking about how close she got to the Mona Lisa. My husband was reveling in the affordable prices of French wine (we went through 18 bottles between the two of us).

The four of us were this little clan of hilarity, navigating around France and its shops with open minds and happiness. There was an afternoon where we threw away our planned trip to Montmarte. We all needed a break, especially the kids. Since we were so close to Luxembourg Gardens, it was decided that we would take full advantage of it.  Our daughter was in heaven playing in its massive kids’ area.  My observant mind enjoyed watching little French kids yelling at each other. At one point, a few French mothers and I struck up a conversation about maternity leave, healthcare and soups. Then I was invited to push a series of kids on this mini tilt-a-whirl of sorts.

From there, we rented a little boat for our daughter to push around with a massive stick – a Lux Gardens tradition for years.   My son enjoyed naps under trees and nursing sessions with cool breezes hitting his locks.

As for me, my spirit was back where it felt at its fullest.  France represents a place where both of my parents spent time as children.  It’s a place that I always gravitated towards and vowed that one day, I would be back with my family. 

Throughout the lower back pain from the Ergo carrier, beads of sweat from a warmer than usual September, frustration attempting to quiet my toddler during a tantrum, it was all worth it. We came back with new memories, a few new pieces of clothing and an appreciation for being able to handle any situation as a family.

Would I do it again?  Yes, but not for some time. I think the kids were the ‘right’ age to be portable.  Many things were cheaper or free for the kids, which was a bonus.  As soon as children are four years of age, everything goes up – train tickets, museum entry, etc. 

If you are on the fence, I say take a deep breath and just do it.  

You only live once. 


Tips for Exploring Chicago's Eataly

by Blagica Bottigliero


My, my, it's been quite some time since I wrote. Leave it to the Saturday night excursion at Eataly Chicago to bring out the writer in me. I kid (kind of). This post is also to help you navigate the ins and outs the Batali/Bastianich Italian treasure of awesome.

I'm not going to tell you about 'what' Eataly is. You are visiting this post because you either know what it is or heard of it. You can gingerly visit the Eataly site for more details. Now, let's get to the how-to of visiting.

If you aren't taking public transit or a cab, you can drive. Parking at the 10 E. Grand Avenue (The Shops at North Bridge) garage is FREE for the first hour if you spend $20 within Eataly's monstrous, glorious walls. After that, parking for 1-3 hours is $10.  My husband snagged a rare gem of a parking spot on State St. so we walked. If you do decide to drive, I recommend the garage.  You are almost guaranteed to spend $20. Here's why...

Navigating Eataly may seem daunting at first, but you'll get over that once you see the space.  Upon entering, a well dressed door man/guard will direct you to the right.  The massive coffee bar and Nutella bar (separate) smack you in the face.  On the other side of the wall, an endless row of pastries and gelatos sit in front of Eataly workers, eager to get you started with a $3.80 gelato (that's the cheapest scoop...a Hazelnut Cookie/Nutella sandwich will run you close to $5.00...an espresso at the downstairs coffee bar is $2.80).  The prices won't phase you.

Your mouth will be agape as you look at the choice of white space, design and presentation. The rest of the first floor includes a marketplace (fruits, veggies, pasts, kitchen gadgets, etc.) and the checkout lanes. The middle of the first floor includes a handy dandy guest relations area. Now, to the second floor.

In the words of my husband, 'Santa Maria!' That's what he said when the elevator doors open and we poured out of the second floor. This was a Saturday night. Around 9 pm. The place was PACKED. Here is how the 2nd floor is setup:

The middle has what you would equate as 'high top' seating near a bar.  This is a casual spot to have some wine, eat bread and cheese, people watch, etc. We ordered a few glasses of wine and walked around with them (smart move, Mario). One corner of the upstairs is a beer/wine nook. Another part has a sit down restaurant, Carne.  I noticed some other ad-hoc benches/tables rolled up to counters. Smart. So imagine going to the Cheese Guy and hanging around and actually eating the cheese at the same time.  

From pastas to meats to cheeses, the second floor of Eataly has a slew of options for getting exactly what your Italian loving heart desires. We picked up some cheese and Michael decided to get some brandy from his birth year (see what I mean...walking around with alcohol and ooh and aahing around food makes the wallet jump out of the pocket easier). Oh, but there is more.

There is a casual pizza/pasta 'space'. It's not really a restaurant, but moreso a mini interior 'piazza' where you can sit down and enjoy some quality casual fare. Note, no reservations.  Other highlights of Eataly's second floor include a massive wine section, baby products, bakery, book store, butcher, vegetarian restaurant, beauty lotions and another high end coffee experience. It's amazing.  

On our way out, I asked about baby changing stations. I was told those are on the second floor as well. Bonus.   

What can I say? There are definitely some premiums as it relates to pricing, however, Eataly Chicago is a game changer. As a woman married to a bonafide Napolitano guy, Eataly passed the test - and then some.

Another interesting tidbit? Eataly is open EVERY day from 8 am to 11 pm - including Sundays. With the location in the cross section of Chicago's River North gem + tourist artery, Eataly should do well. 

And yes, I hope to have the majority of my future date nights there. 


When the private Facebook group becomes a business

by Blagica Bottigliero


 

Online relationships have a certain type of flavor. The majority of us (including yours truly) understands that what we put out their publicly is seen by anyone who wants to look up your handle.

But when we are invited to ‘private’ groups on Facebook, Google or Yahoo, we expect a bit of tact as it relates to what that group is today and how that group will grow.  What I really mean to say is: Upon inception of a private group, you should include every intention of what you ‘may’ want the group to be. In addition, you should check in with your private group every month and give them status on what is going on.

I’ve done this before. I ran a nationwide community site called Gals’ Guide. It wasn’t a private group. It was an open site that any woman could read, comment, etc. I also ran ads. I pulled together a live-streamed summit.

The site wasn’t massive, but the key is that my readers and community knew I monetized the content when I could. Simple.

When you start using the number of members in your ‘private’ Facebook community in interviews and press for your new startup that blurs the lines of trust in my book.

It’s these actions that make me hesitate in joining any online private group these days


Coding is not the only answer to tech innovation.

by Blagica Bottigliero


The powers that be, both business and political, need to stop addressing the same

mantra as it relates to growing innovation and technology in Chicago. So I’ll say it here.

Learning how to code is not the answer for everyone. 

The irony is, this is a well known fact, but every blurb or opportunity I have to hear the Mayor or Deputy Mayor speak, it’s about finding more coding (engineering) talent in Chicago.

Here is some food for thought:

What about finding amazing warehouse managers? I can only imagine how complex the systems would be to manage a massive inventory epicenter like Amazon’s.

How about teaching the art of technical project management?

What if someone doesn’t want to code? What if someone truly can’t stand code?

I do agree with the majority of thought leaders that we need more engineers in Chicago. I get it.  But if you think about the greater Chicago AREA, there is a talent pool out there and we need many of them for non code related things.

Today, learning how to code is sexy. It will be sexy for a long time.

But so is being in that back office, analyzing data or calling up a client and checking in on their needs.