A little blog grooming

Ah, nothing like some sprucing up to feel refreshed! Today’s assignment helped me take a look at some widgets I’ve been neglecting, ignoring, or had lost in the transition from one theme to another.

The great thing about WordPress is that there are so many customizable features, many available for no extra charge. The longer I’ve worked with the dashboard options, the more comfortable I am with experimenting, moving things around, using my choice of words or position for the features I want to add. Thanks, guys, for making it simple and giving me a more polished look!

The main focus of today’s assignment is on branding…what is my brand, and how do I stay consistent in everything I publish? Well, that’s going to take a little more thought to define. But asking the questions is a great beginning. And for now, I’m content to let thoughts of brand percolate a bit while I work on some of the more concrete elements.

For anyone reading who hasn’t checked out blogging, dive in! I promise you’ll find your horizon expanding and your knowledge growing. (You’ll learn what a widget is. :) )

And you can’t beat the price!

~ Sheila

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A Vision for my Blog

 On my way!

Today’s assignment: consider what you want to accomplish with your blog. Write down three concrete goals you want to achieve. 

I started blogging because I was intrigued with the ability to have a place (even a place among millions) in the digital world. It was an outlet for creativity, for connecting, for self-expression. I was surprised at the community that grew out of blogging. Almost overnight I found kindred spirits I had never known, and re-established connection with friends and family who found their way to my site. Blogging has challenged me and grown an interest in technology and writing that I didn’t have before. It’s turned on the light for me in so many ways I didn’t expect.

So now, a little over three years in, where do I go from here? What’s the point?

My site has and will be free. It’s meant to be a little ray of light and optimism (most days I hope that’s what it is!) Some of my posts are personal, some more philosophical; sometimes I share good things I’ve stumbled across, or recipes I’ve tried. I’ve considered trying to narrow the focus, and maybe that needs to happen. But for today’s assignment, I’ll stick to answering the question. What am I trying to accomplish?

  1. I want to grow my readership. It’s fun to enlarge my circle, and as my readership grows, in turn, that introduces me to other bloggers. So it’s a mutual thing in many ways. I’d like to increase my followers by 50% by the end of the year. I think if I post more regularly that will help. I’ve also tried to keep up with visiting the blogs I follow, because turn about is fair play. So consistent give and take is important as well.
  2. I want to improve my photography skills. I love beautiful photos…well, who doesn’t? And whether the photo is a portrait of one of my grandchildren, or a delicious dish I just pulled out of the oven, or a landscape shot from a floatplane, photos are enticing, they tell their own story, and they make the written word more interesting. I bought a Canon DSLR a few months ago, and I’ve played with it a bit. But I need to own it, claim it, capture the amazing shots it can give me.
  3. I want to improve my titles to make them more interesting. Sometimes I see blog titles that are quirky, or obscure, or draw me in because they sound so curious. I need to find a way to title my posts with more imagination.
  4. And just for a little extra, I’ll go one more. I don’t understand SEO. I understand the concept, but I’m not sure how to translate what I think I know into functional changes for my blog. So that’s on the list too!

I’m sure this isn’t all I need to do, or want to do. But it’s a beginning, and that feels good!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

 

Next

Can’t get it out of my head.

I never do post prompts. But this one caught my eye.

Like a song I go to over and over on my play list, here I am, still, or again: learning, exploring, wondering, and waiting…all these things I can’t get out of my head. I feel like there’s work I’m waiting to discover, waiting to begin. I see potential. But the gap between where I am and where I think I belong is some invisible thing that I struggle to bridge. I don’t even know how to define the pieces I’m missing. What exactly will it take to move me from where I am to where I would like to be?

I work, and then I research. I read about content marketing, about apps, about business platforms, I listen to podcasts, I watch videos. I bookmark. I’ve narrowed my focus a lot; but often, I know I’m still in the mode of “ready, fire, aim.” Still wandering around in the wilderness doing discovery by accident.

I’ve blogged about this before, and I continue to look: under every rock; sites I come across that seem to have answers; books that fill my Kindle, begun, but rarely finished. I think I’ll know the answer when I see it, or when I feel it. Or when the universe opens up and rains it down on my head. Or will I? Maybe the rain has fallen already and I was protected from the answers with my umbrella of questions. Is it right? Is this the beginning? Do I have what it takes? How will I know?

My search for entrepreneurship, solopreneurship, authorpreneurship, has been on for a while now. And I struggle with one of the most daunting barriers: I have work, and income, and commitments. How do I jump from what I know and what is stable to something shaky and risky? I’m no 20-something ready to embrace my first failure on the road to success.

No, I’ve done it backwards. I’ve had all the traditional trappings of the good life: family, home, work, stability. So why am I looking for more, in my 50s? Wasn’t I satisfied? Wasn’t I fulfilled? And since I’m making a living doing what I’m doing, if this is just about money, what difference will it make to exchange one way of earning an income for another?

Yes, I was satisfied. And yes, I have had many good things in life. I’m not trying to fill a hole, I’m trying to express an ambition. And the ambition is not for money, although I can’t leave that out of the equation. The ambition is to create something of my own, something that has my stamp on it and my sweat behind it.

Now I dream of building a consulting business to offer writing services. I love the validation of seeing my blog name on the screen, and seeing my logo on my business card. I love the feeling of empowerment that establishing a digital home has given me. I’m not vain about it, but I am proud of it. It feels like the emotions I experienced with my children. I knew that they were not solely of my making, but I had a hand in the process, and a mother’s fierce protectiveness toward them and their journey.

Turns out, it was a lot easier, in the short run, to birth a child than to birth a business, at least for me. Or maybe this is still just the incubation phase, the pregnancy phase, and I’m waiting to see the results of three years of thinking, and exploring, and obsessing. And I don’t feel hopeless: just obsessed and curious. Like someone looking on from the outside, I wonder, when will it happen? And what will the story be, when all the pieces come together?

In defense of Pinterest

It seems there’s a lot of strong opinion out there about Pinterest and its impact on everything from use of time (aka waste of time) to fueling competitive birthday parties to adding new musts to the already jam-packed to-do list of the average American woman. (Notice I’m confining my opinions and observations to the narrow borders of my own country…I haven’t been authorized to speak for all women of the world just yet.)

I was going to be productive today...

I was going to be productive today…

No doubt many of the criticisms are justified. I’ll admit it’s addicting and time-consuming to scroll through my favorite Pinterest theme pages. However, I am still in control of the clocks at my house, and that super power extends to my keyboard as well. So it is within my ability to set an alarm and limit the time I spend on Pinterest.  A little Pinterest surfing is often my reward for finishing a project or task. It doesn’t have to gobble up whole evenings or weekends.

One of my favorite things about the site is the at-a-glance appeal…I only check out a recipe or project if the image is appealing. I think this is an enormous time-saver. After all, if the finished product doesn’t look enticing, why would I waste time trying to duplicate the taste or the look? And I love the links that give great step-by-step instructions with photos…no guessing about how to do the tricky parts!

Often when I’m looking for a recipe or product I begin with Pinterest. I’m rarely disappointed…much quicker than checking out links through Google.

As to feeling that I have to decorate amazing cookies or have elaborate theme parties…well, I get to make these decisions too at my house. I understand peer pressure, and I’ve had my share of mom-guilt motivation. But I’m also able to appreciate good ideas and copy what will work for my needs without feeling that I must do everything to the nth degree. I like to think of Pinterest as an engine to fuel my creativity. Actually, a site like Pinterest is perfect for me because I have almost NO inherent creativity. But I know what I like when I see it, and I can copy like a pro! Knowing when to stop is up to me.

I read a post today about the increasing tendency to turn events into spectacle: gender reveal parties, theme parties, holiday celebrations, and biggest and most intimidating of all, engagements and weddings. No one can use every great idea, and few parties are perfect. No one needs the pressure of one-upping or living beyond means to achieve. That’s no fun at all. When the details of the party become the focus more than the birthday child, or decisions about wedding arrangements create stress and tears, something is certainly wrong.

I’m all in favor of reflection, introspection, and honest confrontation here. I’ll admit, as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, I’ve sometimes been guilty of acting out of pride and perfectionism. But the scenario I picture in the planning stage doesn’t always hold up in the light of reality.

Hopefully I’m wiser as well as older now, and I’ve pretty much given up pursuit of perfection if it includes humans of any sort. And now when a dinner flops in a spectacular way, or my holiday dazzle doesn’t quite achieve the double spread gloss of a Southern Living magazine feature, I’m still content. I’ve learned to value the heart beyond the image, and to know that trying and intention count at least as much as any result I could pin on a Pinterest board.

Naughty, naughty!

Naughty, naughty!

So, to my fellow Pinners…let me encourage you to be mindful about this amazing tool. It can be a wonderful source of inspiration and delight. But remember, if you are fortunate enough to live with other humans…short ones, tall ones, young or old…they’ll likely derail your carefully laid plans, and your photos may not be perfect either. You’ll likely not finish all the crafts you plan for the holidays; your amazing new dish may look nothing like the exotic photo you tried to copy.

Never mind: all is well! It’s all about learning from others, enlarging our creative borders to try things we hadn’t thought of for ourselves. And it’s about coming to terms with messy reality: looking around at the kids you love; the person who sometimes is your soulmate and sometimes is just a fellow warrior in the battlefield; the home that isn’t perfect, but is yours, warts and all, and knowing that you love it anyway.

Not sure how to capture that image for a Pinterest pin, but that’s the one I would be most proud to share with the world.

Why I blog

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” ~Gene Fowler

It’s been a quiet Saturday in Metlakatla. That is to say, Rob is on call, and I’m online. I’m contemplating creating another site for business use, and I’m feeling drawn to the WordPress.org side of the universe for the new venture. As much as I love the ease of WordPress.com, (this blog will stay on the .com side) there’s no doubt that the .org option provides more flexibility. You can use plugins that aren’t available for the .com. I’m learning about a whole new world that exists, if I’m willing to do a little more of the set up myself.

Sometimes when I find I’ve spent pretty much my whole Saturday poking around online, following this link and that link, I begin to wonder…is it worth it? Am I neglecting real life for a fake digital version? The answer could be yes, if you look at a specific day or period of time. I tend to dive in and stay in the depths for long stretches, until I have to come up for air, food, bathroom or bed. Other days I don’t live there at all…my digital forays are confined to sites I’m viewing for work, or for life needs…travel or orders or the like.

The reality is that blogging started as a distraction for me. It was a good way for me to learn some new skills and take my mind off things that I couldn’t face at the moment. Some of that has changed in the past couple of years. It’s no longer an escape. It has become a joy, and a pleasure, and it keeps me on a learning curve with no end in sight. I didn’t foresee the connections I would find, or the sense of kindred spirit that I feel when I read someone else’s blog and feel an instant bond. Because I’m out there too, in the digital world, sharing my voice, my thoughts, my days. Not life-changing, not prize-winning…but connected, in the fragile way that on-line connections are formed.

Sometimes I’m intimidated. There are a lot of smart people out there with amazing sites; blogs with humor that seems to pour out of every syllable; writers with insight, calling, passion…you name it. I recognize, with honesty, humility, and just a touch of envy, I’ll never measure up to a lot of what I see. And yet, part of the fun is in the variety, the challenge to improve, learn, grow. Sometimes I feel like I have a tiger by the tail. Keeping up with technology…no, I’m not keeping up, I’m just barely on the cusp of using what’s available…sometimes I think the biggest hurdle is I don’t even know what I don’t know. Sometimes the challenge is making time for a self-imposed chore that isn’t even generating income. But I don’t really see blogging like that. It isn’t a chore…more like my own little baby that is nurtured with my time and attention. As to income…well, not all payments are in the form of money. Maybe I have three tigers in hand. Or maybe it’s just one tiger with three tails…I don’t know. But I do know that though there’s nothing demanding that I blog, I’ll keep doing it. It stretches me…lures me into technology I would never learn about without this impetus; makes me think about new possibilities…surely not a bad thing for my early 50s?

Sometimes I think all this is leading me somewhere. Some day I’ll look back and connect the dots. Or not. Maybe this is nothing more than self-expression, and a little engine for vanity and fulfillment. Except that doesn’t feel quite right either. While I don’t kid myself that I’m speaking to anyone else in particular, I don’t think I’m just writing to see my own words. Well, at least I have the angst that goes with writing…and the questions. Is anybody out there? And if so, is my writing worth reading? Or just empty words?

One thing I’ve learned from reading other blogs…a lot of the things that I wonder, others wonder. My questions and feelings are rarely unique. I suppose there’s value in recognizing that a) I’m not alone and b) I’m not often original and c) there’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie that comes over me when I read something that I could have written. Or maybe just wrote…the funny thing is, sometimes that happens, no plagiarism involved or intended. I think there are so many writers putting out content online…it seems inevitable that some of us are  thinking and writing similar things.

There’s a quote  (of course, a quote!) I like that resonates with me. From the movie, You’ve Got Mail, the character, Kathleen Kelly says:

 Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void.

See you out there!

My One Word

I’m trying a new approach to resolutions this year. Following the ideas outlined at MyOneWord.org I’m choosing a word to focus my energies and goals for the year.

My one word for 2013 is “momentum.” Last year, I used the term “re-vision.” My intent was to revise myself…to embrace change in how I work, and the rhythm of life, and I believe I’ve been successful in doing that…I’ve created a beginning, and now I need to fuel it. I’ve done a mini-launch…now I need to find my power and really get going.

In 2012, I worked just like my husband does…full-time in blocks of two-to-three month increments, then I take block time off. I didn’t gain ground financially, but I didn’t lose either. I proved to myself, for the first time ever, that I can generate work that works for me…at least in terms of pace and timing. I’m still working on generating work that is creative and self-directed. But that’s a longer process, and a larger goal, so I’m content to take my time to get it right.

That’s what this year will be about. I’ve demonstrated to myself that I can survive in a non-traditional work life. Now I need to take the things I’ve learned…am still learning…and find a way to translate a non-traditional work life to a more entrepreneurial role. That’s the next level for me. I want to create my own work, to be my own employer.

I’ve got lots of ideas, but so far most of them would require a physical presence. I’ve thought of everything from a bakery to a personalized “to-do” service to digital editing, writing and project management. But the reality is that I need to create a flexible and portable vehicle…not something that will tie me to a brick-and-mortar business, or a clientele that is specific geography-based.

I’ve explored writing and digital publishing, and while that continues to hold the most interest for me, it is also intimidating. I need reliable income. I don’t mind it being a little erratic. But the writing business can be very slow indeed if you don’t measure up…and you can invest a lot of time and energy before you have that reality check. So while I’m not losing sight of this one, I’m not putting all my eggs in this basket.

Regardless of direction, the important thing is movement. That sounds counter-productive. Don’t I need to know the exact goal I’m working toward rather than seeing movement itself as a marker of success? But I believe I’ll define my direction as I progress. I don’t know if I can explain it clearly in words. But in my head, it makes perfect sense.

Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.  ~ H. Jackson Brown Jr.

So…a year of momentum. Got my dancing shoes on!

Passion for reading

I’m a reader. I’m one of those strange people who prefers to read over watching tv or almost any type of recreational activity. I also love pithy quotes. Some people have the gift of choosing just the right words with the perfect blend of wit and wisdom, or truth-telling with clarity as piercing as an arrow.

When we visited Montreal earlier this month, we toured the city’s botanical gardens. One of the exhibits on display was a series of carvings that the artist had designed around the theme of reading and books. Each piece of art featured a quote that the artist had chosen to pair with that particular work. These are a few of my new favorites:

“Ideas are slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a [bunch of pencils] at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away.” ~ Adapted from Earl Nightingale

“The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.” ~ Samuel Butler

“My arms are killing me. I didn’t know words could be so heavy.” ~ Markus Zusak

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.” ~ E.M. Forster

” ‘Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.” ~ Francois Mauriac

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” ~ Victor Hugo

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.” ~ Jean Rhys

“To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” ~ Andre Gide

“Always live your life with your biography in mind.” ~ Gareth van Meer

“I wold sooner read a timetable or a catalog than nothing at all.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy reading! Hopefully you won’t find yourself reduced to reading a timetable or catalog, like poor Somerset Maugham, but hey, if that’s what’s available, better that than nothing, right?! Or, if you’re Canadian, eh?

And we’re off!

Let the summer begin!

It really did begin this week here in SE Alaska. Ketchikan has been mostly sunny, even warm, the past several days. I’m happy to report that my heat is off and my sandals are on! Of course it won’t last…this is a rainforest, you know…but we got enough of a break this week that doors to businesses stood open letting in cool air. My front bannister and stoop were painted, my hedge trimmed, gutters cleaned…it was outdoor work weather for a change! And for the first time in months, I didn’t want a blanket on my bed.

Tomorrow we leave for what I’m affectionately calling our “summer ramble.” This is partly an exploratory trip, partly a relocation for the RV, and we’ll get in some family time too. But mostly it is recovery time, and planning time. Working in bursts as we have been doing tends to be somewhat draining. The work is good, and of course we need income, so thank God we are able to work. But you do feel a bit like you’ve run a marathon when your work life becomes condensed. Working 40 hours a week for one organization, and doing projects in between for another one leaves me feeling pooped. It was good, all good. Energizing, busy, productive…but now I’m done, for another glorious stretch.

This time will fly by, I know. But I’m going to try to savor it, slow it down, not plan it all away. We already have some dates marked on the calendar. I want to protect the rest of the time and see what develops…see where we roam, see what we come up with. That’s really the best part of down time…the serendipity of deciding what to do, a day at a time, or an hour at a time.

We plan to resurrect our camping skills. And we need to strategize a bit. We’re making life up as we go, and we need to map out the coming months. Working episodically gives a lot of freedom. But it also limits income, and you have to balance both needs…need for down time and flexibility, and the need for income.

So we’ll talk, and plan, and recover. And then magically, the days and weeks will evaporate and we’ll be back, working again. That’s good too. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to take a few minutes to enjoy the thought…we’re off tomorrow…let the summer begin!

Summer day, summer planning

It’s almost 8:00 pm, but the sun is still bright. Here in Alaska, the summer sky stays light later and later, until you only have a brief time of true darkness. The summer evenings are long…really the afternoon is just elongated until 9:00, 10:00 at night, when twilight falls. Mornings begin about 4:00, with the light peaking in the bedroom windows, waking us up, causing us to turn into the pillows, burrow under the cover, block out the too-early dawn.

This is the season of activity, or increased activity, here in Ketchikan. The big cruise ships are once again in town on a daily basis, the seasonal businesses are open, and the fishing tourists are here in force. Not for nothing is Ketchikan the salmon capital of the world. And the fish know it. Soon I’ll be freezing salmon and halibut, vacuum sealing the fish I buy from local vendors, putting a little of this Alaska treasure away for coming months.

I look out and see the rain falling through the sun, a rainbow is on the distant horizon, and the sun and shadows fall mixed across my living room floor, even as I listen to the sound of the rain pouring out of the gutters. This is the season when the rain doesn’t feel too cold, and the showers are more gentle than the downpours we get in the fall.

My little front garden…my secret garden, I call it, because the small space in front of the house is enclosed with a shaped hedge…has blossomed with the warmer weather, and now looks a little overgrown and in need of a trimming. My rhubarb, tucked away in a corner of the little square, has flourished, and I’ve already cut it twice. There are small blue flowers growing, and the lilac has leafed out, getting so bushy it has hidden the street number mounted on the house. I’ll have to cut the lilac back if I want FedEx to find me with future deliveries. The clematis vines I planted (to replace the one that died from January’s week of single digit temperatures) are growing and already climbing the trellis.

I have painters coming this month to repaint the garage door, sand and paint the front step bannister, and touch up any exterior walls that are showing signs of wear. This is an old home, “historic,” built in 1920, and although it has been remodeled periodically, the exterior is still a wood siding. That translates to a lot of painting, over the years, and though we can get by this summer, maybe even another year, with touch ups, our turn is coming. Yes, we’ll get to paint, or pay to have someone paint, all three stories of this fine old place. Can’t wait for that one!

We now have two sump pumps and a dam in the back corner of the basement. I cautiously believe the episodic appearance of a lake down there has ended. We won’t know for sure until the fall rains, but we sustained some pretty wet weather this spring. The concrete dam joins the other great oddity of the basement, the huge granite boulder that the house sits on, jutting out into the unfinished portion of the bottom floor, reminding me that this island is indeed a rocky place, and some of the rock was too large for early builders to remove. So they built around it, and over it.

I make my list of chores to complete in the next few weeks. It’s June already, and summer is here. We leave to go “down” for a summer ramble (read rv road trip) July 14. We’ll be back mid-September. We’re hunting for “next,” doing some casual but focused exploring during the time we’re away. But first, my lists have to be made, checked off as I work through them. I’m working for income the next several weeks, storing up like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. But there’s more too. I have indoor and outdoor to-dos; weeding and writing; sorting, cleaning, thinning, organizing. I love this time of renewal, preparation, expectation. I’m not just cleaning out my fridge or trimming my hedge, or writing a blog post: I’m ordering myself, preparing for “next.” When I do the physical chores, or have a burst of creativity that allows me to write, I’m clearing my thoughts, centering myself. I’m rising, like the Alaska sun in the early morning, eager to begin my parade of adventures, wherever they take me.

Creative spirit

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”
― C.S. Lewis

I’ve been thinking a lot about time, and the spending of it. I go through my days, spending my time, as if there were an infinite supply of the stuff. I have periods of great energy, great productivity, and then I slump. I hit the proverbial wall. I do the minimums. Get through my days, do my basic chores, exist. This is a frequent lament.

Why do I cycle? I can’t point to any outside influence. There are times of hurriedness, of pressure, and periods of casualness. This isn’t solely about having weekend time, or time carved out of a traditional work life. It is about a cycle of energy and creativity.

I’ve finally come to see this cycle as a break in my ability to create. And I’ve come to recognize that my creativity thrives when I am writing or engaged (whatever the activity) for the pure pleasure and desire to be creative. I am not writing or creating for other purposes. Something more may eventually come from my creativity. Let it! I would love to experience new opportunities because of work I’ve done. But for me, the work should be done for its own reward, and stand on its own merit, first. And here is where I also acknowledge: I am my own audience. This is not an exercise in self-absorption; it is an exercise in self-expression. I am writing, creating, to express myself. Period. If something I write or create touches someone else, I am humbled and happy. But that is not the focus. It can’t be the focus. Because I am not a wise woman, sharing knowledge with others. I don’t have profound thoughts. I have thoughts. I am a woman, sharing my experiences. Others can determine if there is wisdom, or joy, or humor, or anything else of value. I have come to see that creativity is its own reward.

I began this year thinking that I wanted to create a new way to work, and that I wanted to channel my work through writing, through online opportunities. I still want that end result. But I am coming around to the realization that, for me, this process has to begin with the desire to write, rather than the desire to create income. The two may be connected. Or not. I don’t have the answer to that yet. But I know that if I am writing from the heart, the practical details will sort themselves out in time. That’s the nature of life. Maybe some people can make it work from the other direction: set a goal and create to fulfill it. I can’t, and it’s time I acknowledge that.