Posted in PostaDay

Beacons

We climbed my favorite lighthouse today, the one that’s tattooed on my arm with my daughter’s name (which means “shining light”)…

The headland was shrouded with fog, the lighthouse a barely-visible landmark as we pulled up on the motorcycle, and the wind whipping so hard we were grateful for the wind-proof construction of bike jackets! 

Halfway down the cliffside steps to the tide pools and “cobble” beach below, a gentleman invited us to look through the two telescopes he had set up—one trained on nesting cormorants with chicks, the other on harbor seals lounging on the rocks. Gazing at the indigo-edged wings of a cormorant, I was wishing I could take a photo… And then started to wonder at my own apparent need to “capture” everything that happens. 

Jon already teases me for snapping photos of everything, and for blogging about everything—and here I am sitting by our campfire and doing it some more, reflecting on the page (well, on my phone-screen, if we’re going to get literal about it). I think it’s my way of making the most of the moments I’m having—getting the most out of them, finding their meaning, making them last.

The front of my journal says “Collect moments, not things.” I’m not at all a souvenir person—I’m the shutterbug instead, and the blogger. Photos and words are the best ways I know to make moments last as memories. 

So I have pictures today. The bacon cooking next to our coffee-pot on the camp stove in golden morning light. The geometrical black iron steps and whitewashed walls of the staircase spiraling up the lighthouse tower. The silhouettes of two friends we met for dinner against a sunset view of the harbor.

And words for the moments and things that don’t fit pictures. Like the telescope views, the harbor’s fog horn, the movement of anemones in a tide pool, the saltwater-spray on my motorcycle visor….

Today I’m picturing the “collected” moments as beacons that can shine forward as memories… maybe focused by words-and-photos like that lighthouse beam through its Fresnell lens. 

I guess I’m just a recorder by nature. I like to take notice of my own life.

Posted in PostaDay

Put it on a T-shirt: Klutz Edition

I’m not just a procrastinator; I’m also a total klutz. Some years back,my coworkers actually gave me a t-shirt that said “I do all my own stunts” after I fell UP an escalator at a professional conference. Yup, and that’s me Sober…

  • fa88cbc1e8cf82ae53b27907e87402a4
    my co-workers actually gave me this t-shirt after I fell UP an escalator…

    That awkward moment when you try to do something dignified and fall over…

  • May the road rise up to meet you to lessen the blow from smacking your face on the way down.
  • I am why we can’t have nice things.
  • That dirty look you give the sidewalk when you turn around after tripping over it…
  • I’m the girl who will burst out laughing in dead silence at something that happened yesterday.
  • I don’t trip. I do random gravity checks.
  • The awkward moment when you pull the covers up and punch yourself in the face…
  • It takes skill to trip over flat surfaces.
  • I don't trip I do random gravity checksI didn’t fall. The floor just needed a hug.
  • Don’t follow in my footsteps. I run into walls.
  • Lying on your back, texting, and dropping the phone on your face…
  • Today I will be classy and elegant. Or I will spill coffee on my shirt and trip over things.
  • Did I just fall? Nope, I attacked the floor backward with my awesome ninja skills.
  • If there were an award for falling up stairs, I’d probably trip over it!
Posted in PostaDay

Toothbrush Talk

image
I kept using his toothbrush by accident… So I labeled them!

Marital communication is one of those things that grows stronger with time and practice, and Jon & I have been at it for not quite a year…  Still, one of our stranger strengths is evident at toothbrushing-time….

Our electric toothbrushes run for two timed minutes, during which time we can’t speak without spraying toothpaste-lather, but we manage not to stop talking anyway. With sort of hummed inflections and plenty of pantomime (one-handed, since we’re holding onto toothbrushes) we manage to carry out fairly complex non-verbal conversations about plans for the day ahead or events of the day just finished.

Last night Jon asked me (wordlessly) if I had printed out the lesson plans for this weekend’s Sunday school (not yet, but I’ll rev up the printer today). He told me my teddy bear will fight off the bad dreams so I won’t have a repeat of the previous evening’s nightmare…  (I think this mode bodes well for when we dive together; regular dive buddies develop their own underwater sign language, and we’re well on our way with ours. Though our dive conversations will no doubt be very different in content from the toothbrush-talk…)

This morning PBS aired a documentary about a tribe in Oaxaca, Mexico with a language of whistles. They have a spoken language as well, but they can communicate across the village or between foggy fields with an entire vocabulary of whistling. We’ve got a few of those too—the other day when Jon walked into a place where I didn’t expect him, it was his distinctive whistle that whipped my head in his direction. I know what he’s saying when he whistles “I’m here!” “Ready to go?” “Can you give me a hand?” “You look cute”… At the family campout this summer, his brothers laughed when I came trotting to a whistle “like a puppy,” but I know it’s a call for me and I’m happy to answer.

Jonathan Smith
yup, I’ll come for his whistle

I don’t think whistles or pantomimes are included among the official “5 Love Languages” (I’ll find out—we just added the book to our morning reading-rotation)… But for us, it’s in every whistle, and every grin when a toothbrushing charade becomes clear.

Posted in PostaDay

I’m sharing this reblog from J.Keller Ford because it made me laugh and laugh! I’ve read it aloud to everyone in my family, and wanted to share it with my blogging-family as well. I’ll be catching up tomorrow on our own adventures, but here’s a gem in the meantime….
:) Cheers, Kana

YA Chit Chat

True story.

Five-year old Paul and six-year-old Richard are playing in the backyard when Richard gets a wild hair up his butt to go fishing at the local pond.  They gather a couple of poles and a bucket and wander off down the dirt path to the pond.

A short time later they return with a bucket of fish.  Filled with excitement, Paul rushes inside the house.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Look what I caught!”

After getting a stern lecture from his dad about going to the pond without an adult, Paul’s dad praises him and tells him to take the fish out to the garage so he can clean them.

Paul returns to the garage, a smile on his face.

“So, what’d your dad say?” Richard asks.

“He said they have to get cleaned.”

“Do you know how to clean a fish?”

Paul shrugs.  “I guess in the washing machine.”

Paul…

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Posted in PostaDay

Expedition Journal #2: Fishing for a Photo Site

This is my second installment of playing with researching social networking websites and sharing the “field notes.” After my first installment (Expedition Journal #1: Prospecting on Pinterest), a couple folks posed the eminently reasonable question of why we go looking for more things to fill our time (and Inbox) when we’re already bombarded by so much social media.

Pinterest board
some of my Pinterest boards… Dragons, Celtic Designs, Pele–Volcano Goddess, Owls, Planning for our Hawai’ian B&B, Writing, At Home, Outdoor Adventures…

Part of my answer is the fact that there are some specific functions I’m looking for… Pinterest, for example, is far tidier and more efficient (not to mention more visually appealing) than my previous habit of copy-pasting stuff into a catch-all PowerPoint slide if I thought I’d want it later… Now I can “pin” an item with a single click, and pinning it saves the source website for future reference as well as the graphic itself. Works for me!

I’m actually on a mission to streamline and simplify my life, by finding the best tools for the things I want to do, selecting those few to use, and then re-evaluating and unsubscribing from any tools or networks that aren’t adding value to my day. My experience in the blogging-community has taught me to value the “social” aspect and the friends I meet online, so that’s a plus with other tools as well, though not necessarily a must-have. So that’s a little more explanation of my Expedition as a whole–but on to today’s topic…

One of the specific functions on my list-to-look-for is an online photo site. The crash-and-burn of my laptop (and its files) a few months back brought home to me the necessity of keeping precious pictures safely online. I have used Picasa (for photo editing) and the associated online Google albums for several years, but the online albums themselves have recently been “upgraded” to a new design which is decidedly user-UNfriendly, with fewer capabilities and worse navigation than the original, and I find myself needing a less frustrating option.

photographer, social network photography
Taking photos for one of my travel-magazine articles

And free. Our budget isn’t up for paid-membership sites.

So if you wondered where I’ve been the last couple days, the answer is that I’ve been “test-driving” different photography sites looking for The One that I can start using for our family photos and photographic travelogs. Oh, and I had an eBook on Vitamins to write. (And I admit it–I was playing on Pinterest as well…)

In the event that anyone else is wanting to sift through the gazillion photography websites out there, here are my impressions of the ones I tested out. Obviously I didn’t devote tons of time to all of them, though I did stay to play for a while on the few that seemed to be likely prospects. I should also add that there are literally dozens more photography social networks to choose from–so my search actually started with combing through reviews to narrow down the list of likely prospects to check out. Here’s the run-down of my impressions (or you can just skip down to the Winner)!

  • MyShutterSpace.com—This site targets “digital photography enthusiasts,” but it’s definitely a showcase-space.  The blog and forum entries by members are mostly brags (“My work was on TV!”) or sales pitches for their own work. Doesn’t feel to me like a community experience–more like a bunch of people jumping up and down saying “look at ME!” without looking at each other. Not interested.
  • PictureSocial.com—Almost identical layout and offerings as MyShutterSpace, except this one seems full of floundering photographic newbies. Not interested.
  • jAlbum.net—I didn’t get to try this one out; the “validation email” never arrived to allow me to complete my login. I requested a re-send, but it still didn’t show. Negative score on customer service. Moving on.
  • SlideShowPro.net—Looks like a great resource if you want to put together a professional looking video-slideshow with neat effects… But it’s limited to that one use. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need a slide show, but it’s not what I’m looking for.
  • DivShare.com—Looks useful for online storage, and files can be shared, but there’s no “community” or social aspect, and it’s not specific to photos. That’s great if you’re looking for an all-purpose online storage option, but it’s lacking the specific tools for album-making and handling photos. Not interested.
  • Flickr.comThis was almost my pick! It’s a service specifically devoted to collecting and organizing your own photos, with easy drag-and-drop organizing, the ability to name and attach descriptive text or stories to each photo, and a healthy & active social  community. Flickr is also easily plugged into many other applications and websites, and it’s definitely the “big name” among photo websites. Its navigation is a little on the clunky side (moving among editing and album tools) but not so much as to put me off entirely. One thing missing from my wish-list: I could name photos, but there weren’t any “tags” that would enable me to grab a certain category of pictures (e.g. “fishing” or “Suzy-cat”) from across multiple albums.
  • Shutterfly.com—Very much like Flickr, but with a harder “sell” for purchasing prints, and is less used by other sites and apps. This one I might use, if I hadn’t already seen Flickr.

And I might use Flicker, if I didn’t go on to discover the Winner, which blew the competition out of the water.

And the Winner is…

PhotoBucket.com!  This is it! I can upload photos, organize them into albums, tag them with topics (yay!), title them, and add descriptive text or stories. The navigation is straightforward and intuitive, the tools easy to find.

PLUS, I can edit photos right here, as opposed to editing with a program on my Mac before uploading. Tons of editing tools and photo effects–purely awesome.

I can apply themes to the albums, and I can create slideshows, plug it directly to the iPhoto program on my Mac, and even connect it to my computer’s webcam.

I can share with Twitter, Facebook, or email, and choose whether an album should be public or private.

There’s an app I can download on my phone so I can use PhotoBucket directly from my phone, including uploading photos taken from the phone into any of my albums.

There seems to be an active and healthy social community here, and (oh dear) I can look at my statistics to see if I’m getting visitors.

PhotoBucket has all the stuff I was looking for–and some things I hadn’t even thought of.  I declare this expedition a success!  Here’s a page from my first PhotoBucket family album…

photo album page
here we go–a page from my family photo album!

Post-Script: A Bonus Find

I found one more gem this week–something I wasn’t looking for, but which I think I’ll use… Actually, I have to thank blogging-buddy Kathy McCullough, who posted a beautiful birthday post to her partner Sara, with a link to Sara’s photo-blog… And so (with lovely synchronicity, given the week’s search-topic) I discovered BlipFoto. Thank you, Ladies!

BlipPhoto is an entirely unique idea–it’s essentially a photo journal in which you’re allowed to upload one photo per day–and the photo has to be taken on that day. No cheating–when you submit a photo, the site checks your camera-data and rejects photos taken on earlier dates. (I actually had to correct my camera’s “date” setting after my initial submission didn’t go through…)  It’s straightforward–no themes, no widgets, no extras–simply the daily photo with your title and text (if you choose to add any). And the social aspect, with the ability to follow, comment, and rate photos just as we do with blog-posts here on WordPress.

And although this isn’t what I went looking for this week, I’m intrigued.  At the end of the day, what’s the one photo that represents your day? Or, if you don’t take pictures every day, what will move you to grab the camera with the daily post in mind? I’m giving it a go–here’s my first post earlier today:

blipfoto post
my first BlipFoto post…

Dragon Surgery. Our son Christian brought his injured dragon to my husband for surgery–his stuffing is coming out, and it catches fire when he sneezes! All prepared for surgery–and a dragon recovery-drink for afterward.”

Happy Snapping, All!

Posted in PostaDay

Blogging Tips: Growing a Readership

Pearls Before Swine blog
©Stephen Pastis, image from gocomics.com

Blogging isn’t intended to be a numbers-game, but most of us would be lying if we said we didn’t note our own numbers. (See “Confessions of a Statistics Slut” for proof of my own profligacy in this regard…)  A blogging-friend asked the other day about growing a readership on WordPress, so here’s what I have on the topic… (As I learned in my teaching career, if one person asks a question, a few other people are usually quietly wondering the same…)

The followers of this blog haven’t accumulated as a steady gain; the “growth spurts” in readership are measurably correlated to my own online activities–which means you can deliberately grow a readership, if numbers are what you’re after. Or even if numbers are part of what you’re after. The blog-numbers are undeniably fun–but at the end of the day, it’s the blog-relationships that are rewarding.

1. Be a blog-READER

©Dave Whamond, Image from cartoonstock.com

If you don’t do anything else on this list, do THIS.  Because it’s not just about the numbers–it’s about your own experience of the blogging world!  There are so many terrific and interesting people to meet here–you can travel around the world over your morning cup of coffee.

On the main page of the WordPress site (where you “land” when you first log in) there’s a “Topics” tab which allows you to browse blog posts by subject. I’ve met some of my favorite people (and favorite story-tellers, and favorite writers) by browsing tags like Family, Writing, Travel, and Humor. When you follow another person’s blog, “like” a post, or leave a comment, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll follow your trail back to your own blog and check it out.

It’s also the most effective, organic, and generous way to increase your own readership. At its best, Readership is a two-way street.

2. Participate in the Blogging Community

This one really goes hand-in-hand with the first. The blogging world is full of interactions–surveys, quizzes, contests, give-aways, awards, book clubs, projects, posting challenges, and various memes (pass-along activities like question-tag, or even blogging awards). Get to know your blogging community by jumping in! You can re-blog (with that nifty little button at the top of WordPress) when someone else’s post really grabs you, or link to favorite posts, ask someone to “guest blog” in your space, or even start a blogging-award yourself… As with any type of social networking, you can remain nearly invisible in the blogosphere if you don’t participate.

3. Make Sure Your Blog Design is Reader-Friendly

If the navigation of your blog is confusing or the font difficult to see, you may lose readers before they even get to your content. Are there formats or design elements that bother YOU when you read? Think about those, and make sure your own blog isn’t making those mistakes that can be off-putting for potential readers. Here’s my own list of irksome design elements that impede my reading…

  • ©Denise Dorrance, image from dorranceweeklycartoon.wordpress.com

    A landing-page that’s not the blog. Whether the landing-page is a “sticky” post or an “about the author” page or other static content, I have to go looking for the blog I want to read. And some WordPress themes make that search more difficult than others…

  • WordPress themes that are super-busy or confusing. This is a tricky one, because it’s really a matter of personal choice, isn’t it? The theme that makes me feel as though my eyes are crossing is a theme someone else loves. So I’ll just say this: if you’re looking seriously at attracting readers, at least consider a theme that’s crisp and readable, and finds that balance between “visually interesting” and “crazy busy.”
  • White text on a dark background–I don’t know why it’s so much harder to read, but I can’t get through a lengthy post with this kind of color scheme.
  • Confusing navigation, or page-names that don’t tell me what’s ON the pages–make sure your basic navigation links describe the things they link to.
  • No way to view older posts, aside from clicking endlessly on the “previous post” link. If I enjoy the post I read, I want to be able to browse through MORE of your writing! WordPress offers widgets that put some of your posts in the sidebar (either your most recent or your most popular), or you can even offer an “archive” page with the whole line-up. (That’s the “Kanacles–er, Chronicles” tab at the top of my own blog… And because that designation might be too “cutesy” to be meaningful–see bullet-point above–I added “The Archives” as a descriptor.)
  • No “Like” Button. It may sound silly, but I really like liking a great post, and it bums me out when the option  is missing. I also like to let someone know I’ve stopped by to read, even when I don’t have comments to add to the conversation. From the blogger’s point of view, it’s a useful measure of who’s visiting and reading.  Not everyone has time to comment (or has something to add) but when readers “like” your post, those readers’ blogs are a good place to start your own reading for the day–part of the community-building!
  • The “Onswipe” Mobile Theme is enabled. Speaking as an iPad reader-of-blogs, the mobile presentation of blogs is terrible–it removes all the theme and formatting, and makes navigation more cumbersome.  Happily, it can be disabled!  If you aren’t aware of the mobile theme setting, it only takes a minute to change it (easy instructions here)–and all-but-one of the iPad blog-readers I’ve ever encountered will thank you!

4. Make your blog easy to follow

WordPress users have the easy +Follow button at the top of the screen when they’re logged in, but you want to make it easy for everyone else to follow too.  Add the “Follow Blog” widget–which allows readers to enter their email and get your new posts in their email Inboxes–and put it near the top of the page where it’s easy to find. The “RSS Links” widget lets people add your blog to their RSS feeds. (If you need widget instructions, see “Blogging Tech Tips: Getting Started.”)

When someone follows your blog, you’ve just transformed a one-time visitor into a regular returning reader.

5. Make your blog easy to share

networking not gossipingThe “sharing” buttons you can add at the bottom of your posts let your readers pass along the smile or the thoughts your post inspired…  by posting your link with a simple button-click on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Digg, Google+, Reddit, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest… or even plain old email.

Whether or not you use these social networking tools, some of your readers do.  When someone enjoys your post enough to share it, you don’t want to stand in their way–make the tools available, and people will use them.

6. Share your blog yourself with social networking

early Facebook cartoon
My (OLD) husband says he remembers these days… ©Marty Bucella, image from cartoonstock.com

This isn’t an area I’ve developed well myself, although I keep meaning to do some “exploring” with some of the networking/interest tools like Pinterest and StumbleUpon, to see if they might integrate usefully into the things I want to be doing online…

If you do use any of the social networking tools listed above, you can set your blog to automatically post a link whenever you post a new installment.  My own limited use includes auto-posting to Twitter and Facebook, and both of those do bring readers here to the blog.  If you’re already using social networking, don’t waste the opportunity to share your posts with potential new readers.

7. Post regularly

I don’t mean that you should keep a rigid schedule, but maintaining and growing a readership involves regularly adding fresh content.  When I went silent for a few weeks after getting my new Mac, my daily numbers when I returned were significantly lower.  I didn’t expect to be getting traffic while I wasn’t posting, but I suppose I’d imagined my numbers would pick up at the same level where I’d left off when I did start posting again.  So there we have it–we risk losing our readers if we check out, even for a while.

8. Use pictures!

playing Sorry
Elena Grace playing “Sorry” with my dad. BECAUSE of my blogging, we’ve gotten better about snapping candid photos of daily life…

I’m betting your cell phone has a camera on it, so there’s no reason not to share some visuals along with your story-telling. (At least half of the pictures on this blog have been snapped with our phones.) In fact, my blogging has actually led us both to be readier to grab the phone or camera and snap away during the day–and we’re tickled by the lovely collection of candid family photos we’re accumulating as a result.

Many of my favorite blogs are those where people share their own photos along with their stories. There’s also a wealth of fun visual resources online for us to use (giving credit, of course). Pictures can enhance your story-telling, as well as catching readers’ eyes and interest when they land on your blog.

9. Add Alt-tags to pictures for search engines

This is one I just figured out.  I’ve noticed for months that the Stats-page list of search-terms which have brought people to this site includes (on a near-daily basis) searches for “old suitcase” and related terms.  In one of my very first posts (“Packing Pro“), I included a photo of a bestickered old suitcase, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why THAT single photo was bringing in so much search traffic.  A couple weeks ago, trying to puzzle it out, I looked at the HTML coding for that blog post, and realized I’d added “old suitcase” as an alt tag.  Soon after that post, realizing that the alt tag didn’t “show up” anywhere on my post, I stopped bothering to add any text in that field when I added photos. Now I get it–the alt tag is visible to search engines!  I started adding alt tags to the pictures, and sure enough, I’m suddenly seeing search-engine traffic brought in by those tags.

Twitter Comics
image from twittonary.com/blog/

If you want to take it a step further, you can use a keyword tool like the Google Adwords keyword tool, where you can type in a topic and get a list of the most-frequently searched keywords or phrases related to that topic.  Including those keyword phrases in your text (and your alt tags) can increase your blog’s “visibility” to searches.  Just as an experiment, I used the Adwords tool to collect some top keywords for my “Girls with Guns” post, and sure enough, those are showing up daily among the list of search-terms that brought people to the blog.

What I don’t know is whether these searchers become regular readers, or whether they’re one-time hits.  I’d love a statistics tool that tracks that bit of information! (Okay, I just love statistics tools!)  So this may or may not be a useful tactic in building a strong or lasting readership–but it’s interesting to play with, at the very least.

10. Don’t get hung up worrying about what people want to read. Write what YOU want!

waiting for a blog topic
©Dave Walker, image from weblogcartoons.com

I’ve seen plenty of blogging-advice that boils down to “writing for an audience”–but that idea rubs me the wrong way. Whatever it is that YOU want to write about, there are people who will enjoy reading it.  And THOSE are the readers you deserve!

Some people will say that “nobody wants to read about your kids or your pets”… To which I say baloney!  (Well, that’s not actually what I say, but I’ll save my swear-words for when they’re really needed.) It’s true that not everybody will read our blogs when we talk about kids and pets, but blog-readers are a wonderfully diverse demographic, and there are readers interested in every subject imaginable.

Those same advice-givers might say that you should establish a particular type of content and stick to it so readers “know what to expect”… Baloney again! Real life is far more interesting than a single-topic rule could be, and I’d hate to think people were passing up the story-telling opportunities that Life hands them.

***

Look! I have Readers!

All of the above could probably be distilled into a single principle. The more you invest in the blogging community (beginning with your contributions in the posts themselves), the more readers will invest their time in you.  A little self-reflection to go along with this…  I’m considering how much I’ve enjoyed my time spent browsing and commenting and interacting and discovering new blogs–and how little time I’ve allowed myself for doing those things lately. Or even for getting my own posts up. Time to recharge the blogging-batteries!

Posted in PostaDay

One of the most amazing things about blogging is the network of FRIENDS I’ve found here–people I know and love even though I haven’t “technically” met them. One of those dear friends is Kathryn McCullough, whose post on a “Very Bloggy Wedding” (where blogging-friends PLANNED the wedding, and then attended, meeting the blogging-bride in person for the first time) is a perfect example of how blogging truly changes our lives and friendships… Click the link here to see her post–it’s a MUST-read. :)

Kathryn M. McCullough

God knows where she got the idea.

It could have been a case of matrimonial dementia.  Maybe a madness triggered by long hours of high-stakes toddler-tending and potty training.

Whatever its origin, it proved to be an episode of insanity whose symptoms included both bloggerly excess and bridal distress.

It took the form of something my friend Tori termed the “Very Bloggy Wedding,” destined to revolutionize the worlds of wedding planning and WordPress applications alike.

(Both blogger and bride-to-be, beware.)

So, it was that Tori asked readers of “The Ramblings” to plan her upcoming nuptials, selecting via weekly vote everything from bridemaids’ dresses to bouquets and launching both the traditions of reception ribbon walls and cowboy boot center-pieces.

And so it was, as well, that I, a virtual stranger, was designated the unlikely Very Bloggy Wedding correspondent and asked to report to Tori’s readers the Very Bloggy events I witnessed– to assure them their selections had mattered when it came…

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