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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Mormon moms connect through blogs

SANDY — They're women of all different sizes and ages — some pushing strollers, others cradling a Diet Coke and many of them typing on phones and laptops, updating a constant stream of Twitter blurbs, Facebook statuses and blog posts.

They're bloggers, specifically the Mormon mommy variety, and 375 of them met in Sandy over the weekend for the first-ever Casual Blogger Conference.

"We're mothers first and bloggers second," said Eliza Scharton, who founded the conference. "Blogging brings back that neighbor element from the '50s, where you talked to your neighbor over the back fence, but this time your neighbor is across the country."

Scharton, a Kaysville resident, also is a co-founder of Mormon Mommy Blogs, which she describes as a content-clean hub for Christians — men, single women and childless couples regularly contribute, too. It's exploded since its start 18 months ago, now with 2,000 blogs listed.

The blog conference was Scharton's brainchild, as she wanted an all-female blog event that focused on the craft — the art of storytelling, taking great photos, balancing an online life and writing through pain. Hence the conference theme: "Live. Laugh. Blog."

"So many women say, 'I'm just a mommy blogger.' There's no such thing," Scharton said. "It records your life, enhances it and inspires others."

A growing trend

Nationwide, more women are going online and changing the way females communicate. Half of the women in the country interact through social media, and 23 million interact with blogs, according to research by BlogHer Inc.

That number is arguably higher among Mormon women, where it seems to be a rite of passage after the honeymoon to start a blog.

Casey Mullins of mooshinindy.com describes the Mormon blogging world as a variation of the "6 Degrees" game. Open up a blog of one Mormon friend, click on the side links of their friends and keep going until you find someone else you know.

"We found out my husband's cousin was pregnant that way," Mullins said.

A Salt Lake native, Mullins moved to Indiana in 2006 and she started her blog to keep in touch with family back in the Beehive State. One of the biggest names at the conference (she's reviewed products for HP and Frigidaire and has spoken at dozens of blog events), Mullins wouldn't define herself as a Mormon mommy blogger but as a woman who blogs and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her business card proudly proclaims her motherhood role, with "mom" between her first and last name.

Her wit and candor — she's blogged about infertility and a suicide attempt — has made Mullin's blog unique among Mormon bloggers.

The blogging community amongst Mormon mothers is one-of-a-kind, she said. Mullins describes a blogging conference in Indiana where roughly 10 percent of the attendees are women. Even fewer write about their lives as mothers.

"You could never get this anywhere else," she said of the Utah-based conference.

Targeting bloggers

With 85 percent of bloggers and their readers making the household purchasing decisions, companies are taking notice of blogs.

"When we tell them, 'We're having 300 people here who do the household shopping, and they'll be hostage here for two whole days, do you want to come?' They went, 'Ding ding ding!' " Caroline Bingham said of securing the 28 sponsors and 22 vendors for the conference.

Bingham, who blogs at thebinghamdiaries.com, is the co-founder of Mormon Mommy Blogs and the Casual Blogger Conference.

Mom bloggers are the niche for the site Blog Frog, where bloggers can set up forum pages to interact with readers. There are 35,000 mom blogs on their network, reaching 2 million women every month.

"Mom blogs were a perfect fit," said Blog Frog creator Rustin Banks, who started the company in 2008 after watching comments on his wife's personal blog spur into various tangents. "Naturally, they're a very sought-after market for these targeted communities because they're so powerful."

Religious lifeline

Many Mormon bloggers can trace their blogging start to a talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard in which he encouraged Latter-day Saints to blog about their religion.

"When Elder Ballard gave that talk in 2008, it exploded," said Scharton, who's better known as "Motherboard" in the blogging community for her blog wheredidiputthat.blogspot.com.

"I really see (blogs) as a way the church will move things forward," she said. "It's a way to make our religion more about the individual and less about the institution."

Jenny Proctor, a North Carolina mother of five who blogs at mommysnark.blogspot.com, doesn't find many young moms in her small LDS branch. Instead, she finds that online.

"I'm certainly a mother, certainly a Mormon and certainly a blogger. And I'm proud of that," Proctor said. "It's the deeper meaning of why motherhood is important, why womanhood is important. It makes us feel like what we're doing is valuable."

These women have built a community of friends to share deeper life topics — infertility, the death of a child or postpartum depression.

Logan resident Loralee Choate, who blogs at loraleeslooneytunes.com, found a support base in the blogging world. Choate posts about her grief process over the death of her 4-month-old son.

"I wish I had a blog when I was a younger mom," she said. "I attempted suicide after my son's death, and I don't think it would have happened with this community around me."

Choate is not active in the Mormon faith, which she said made her nervous about speaking at the conference.

"But it's so important in this community to have it talked about," she said.

e-mail: astowell@desnews.com

Casual Blogger Conference by the numbers

2,000 — Blogs registered on Mormon Mommy Blogs

375 — Conference attendees

55 — Speakers

28 — Sponsors

250 — Pedicures and manicures given at Girl's Night Out