Posted in Today's File

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 Family

The Curious Significance of STUFF

Yesterday I was stowing some papers in our fire-proof safe, and I paused for a moment to contemplate the odd assortment of items tucked into it.  In theory, an inventory of this little fire-proof box should answer the question people sometimes ask: “If your house were on fire (and the PEOPLE were all safe) what item would you grab on your way out?”  In actual fact, however, the things in the safe aren’t the items I’d grab on my exit in such an event.  Sure, they’re “important” in their own way–passports and social security cards and birth certificates and court custody orders and even my sailing certifications–but everything in that safe could actually be replaced. It would be a hassle, of course, but nothing in that box is truly irreplaceable.

my Irish great-grandma’s shamrock–older than I by almost a decade…

The burning-house query operates on the underlying assumption that there’s some stuff from which each of us couldn’t bear to be separated, and asks us to contemplate what stuff that would be. I’ve had one opportunity to answer the question in practice–though not on quite as tight a timeline as that proposed by the burning-house scenario.

After I left my first husband, he gave me a four-hour window in which to return to the house and round up my things. I had the advantage of being able to think it through in advance (as well as the assistance of several gentlemen co-workers and their trucks)–and the personal guideline that I wasn’t going to take away anything that wasn’t strictly mine.  What I came away with that day were my own books and journals; clothing and personal items; my lathe & pen-turning tools; my Scuba gear, snow-shoes, and hiking backpack; four pieces of furniture that had belonged to my great-grandparents; and (with the agreement of the soon-to-be-Ex) one of the two beds we owned.  A few other items were already out of the house and decorating my office–my favorite wall-hangings, and my shamrock plant, the seeds for which my mother bought on her 1965 trip to Ireland, as a gift for my Irish great-grandmother.

After fourteen years of jointly accumulating stuff–from camping equipment, canoe and tent-trailer to the furnishings and decor of the house we’d owned and improved for a decade–none of that community-property stuff seemed more important to me than simply getting out.  Despite the love and attention and emotional investment that had gone into hundreds of items I’d added to that household over the years, none of that stuff passed the grab-it-on-my-way-out test of attachment, or the test of being worth-fighting-for.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. My thesaurus doesn’t have an antonym for the word “packrat,” but whatever that nonexistent word would be, it’s a word that should be applied to me.  I have this almost compulsive urge to continually streamline, simplify, consolidate–and get rid of things.

several decades’ worth of journals… All digitized and stored in the “clouds”

“Cloud computing”–digitizing and storing things online–is a concept that seems positively made for me.  Where previously I had shelves and drawers and boxes and storage cupboards full of journals, yearbooks, photo albums, movies, and books, the digital copies of those things are now all accessible from the little iPad that fits in my purse.  So I suppose if the house were burning down, I’d grab my precious Mac and the iPad.

Although even if I didn’t manage that, I could log in anywhere to retrieve everything stored out there in the “cloud”… I’m becoming increasingly “portable”–and our next move should be far easier than the last.  (Which is just as well, since we’re actually intending to leave the continent when the kids are through with school here in Idaho, and move back to my husband’s native Hawai’i.)

Come to that, our last move was easier than the previous one, thanks to the “emergency yard sale” we staged as our house headed into foreclosure and our overall financial situation crashed around our ears…  Anticipating a move to a much smaller living situation (and trying to keep our power turned on and our cupboards from going bare in the meantime), we offloaded everything from furniture and wall hangings to movies and (for the first time in my life) books.  To my oddly anti-packrat nature, an intensely satisfying “purge” of extra stuff.

©Mark Parisi, image from offthemarkcartoons.com

My recurring urge to purge makes for an interesting dynamic in our home, because my husband definitely does fit the “packrat” category.  A few months back he was pawing and rifling through his bedside drawer, muttering over and over: “I know it’s in here somewhere.  It’s got to be here somewhere…”  I inquired what he was searching for, but he just went on digging and muttering the mantra, broken at last with a triumphant “HA! I knew it was here!” Intensely curious, I asked one more time what it was that he had finally found.

“The bottom of the drawer!” he announced with a proud grin. Later that day (with his permission) I staged an intervention, tackling the drawer with a garbage can. It was jam-packed with sales receipts. For things we’ll never be returning–like groceries and tattoos.

He generally doesn’t object to a purge–he just can’t bear to do it himself.  He leaves the room and busies himself elsewhere whenever I go into clean-out mode and start tackling drawers and closets with my give-away bin and a garbage can.

I should take a moment for a disclaimer…  You might expect, given my habit of regularly getting rid of stuff, that my house would be spotless, spit-shined, and utterly uncluttered. Not so! For one thing (for reasons unknown even to myself), I’m more often moved to target drawers, cupboards, closets, boxes, bins, and storage units than the things that are out in the open.  For another thing, three kids live here (and a pack of teenage boys spend a lot of time here)–and it’s okay with us that the place looks as though we’re LIVING here.

At any given time, you might find the living room floor dotted with segregated piles of Legos for some building project, the coffee tables invisible beneath Beyblade battle arena, Bakugan pieces, doll clothes, stacks of kids’ books, an in-progress game of Monotony (pardon me–Monopoly), Crayola markers, and pieces of unfinished kid-art…  The corner of the living room has been draped in blankets for some time now, as the semi-permanent “tent-fort” in which Christian has taken up residence in preference to his actual bed.  And because we have no one to “impress” but ourselves, we don’t ask the kids to interrupt their kid-living or clear away its evidence for the sake of a clear coffee table.

But back to the subject at hand…  Given the tendency on my part to offload stuff, any item that still remains with me through several years’ worth of clearing-the-decks episodes must be something that tugs on me in some way.  I may have a tendency toward offloading stuff, but I’m not immune to stuff-attachments either.

I just went wandering through the house (not a time-consuming stroll, as we live in a double-wide trailer now) with this question in mind, and I conclude that the things of which I’m most fond aren’t the useful things.

Willow Tree carving mother with childrenThere’s a bowl of dried rosebuds from the first summer we were married, when Keoni used to cut a bud from our backyard bush every morning for me to tuck into a pigtail.  (On the left side, according to Hawai’ian culture, signaling that I’m married.)

And the Willow Tree carving of a mother with two little ones, which I bought when my own Squirts were precisely that size and shape.

A memento booklet I made when my favorite poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, gave a reading here in town. Her reading coincided with my daughter’s sojourn in Neonatal Intensive care, and the book’s pockets contain items from the hospital and some of my own verse, along with Nye’s “Different Ways to Pray”…

Great-Grandpa’s camera, my frog, and Great-Grandma’s teaching certificate hanging behind
prayer beads
prayer beads & hiking hat

There’s my great-grandmother’s New York teaching certificate, dated 1913, and my great-grandfather’s camera, which he took with him on a tour of Europe about the same time.  A little frog with a book, which my parents gave me. The turquoise prayer beads Keoni strung for me, and my straw “hiking hat,” which I like to wear when we go adventuring.

These are all things to which I’m attached, and which won’t be subject to my clearing-out impulses.  But if it really came down to it, I’d be content enough to have photos of these things if I lost the things themselves. (And I guess I’ve just taken care of that by including pictures here…)  There really aren’t that many things from which I couldn’t bear to be separated.  Only two items actually come to mind.

The first, I wouldn’t be in danger of leaving behind–it’s my wedding ring.  A traditional Hawai’ian-style band, with “Keoni” engraved among maile leaves on the outside, and “We will be amazed” (from the A.A. Ninth Step Promises) on the inside.  I wear it with my great-great-great-grandma’s diamond–one of a set of three, with the other two on my mother’s and my sister’s hands.

Toots & Co.

And the second, my battered teddy bear, Toots, about whom I write in “(Used) Lions & Bunnies & Bears, oh my!”  And yes, Toots is definitely a “who” rather than an “it” (despite his puzzling physiology), which is no doubt why I can’t imagine leaving him behind.  That raggedy item has a little piece of my soul in him… not in a creepy Voldemort-black-magic-horcrux kind of way, but in an I’ve-loved-him-till-he’s-real kind of way.  Toots is the stuff I would grieve if I lost him.

In contrast to my stuff-collecting window of time at the end of my previous marriage, Keoni experienced the loss of everything at the end of his. He exited his last marriage by ambulance after hanging himself, and when he left the hospital a few weeks later, he had literally the clothes on his back, his eyeglasses, and the iPod he’d had in his pocket.  (He jokes that I married him for his money–he’s sure he had thirty-seven cents in his pocket.)  Despite the court-order requiring his Ex to relinquish his personal items, he never got so much as his wallet back.  And while there are a number of sentimental items he dearly wishes he had, we have proof that Life goes on without the stuff.

wedding rings
The ring I love–but the GUY I need!

Keoni has been putting away a clean load of laundry while I write, and (not knowing what I’m writing about), he just paused in the doorway to offer the bemused observation: “You know, those towels have been with us a long time. When I see those striped towels hanging there, I just know I’m home.”

So there we have it–we DO get attached to Stuff, even seemingly insignificant stuff like our towels.

But we also know that “Home” can be recreated in a new place, or with new Stuff.  At the end of the day (literally), I’ll be HOME if I fall asleep with his arms around me–wherever we are.

Posted in Family, Writing

Mother-in-Law or Fairy Godmother?

Actually, I’m writing today about my mom-in-law and my dad-in-law, but “Fairy Godfather” just has a wrong ring on several levels…  I’m getting ahead of myself, though. This is a story about the tool of my trade–the laptop–and a miraculous magical rescue.

leopard-print duct tape on the power cord

Since I took to writing full-time, I’ve spent anywhere from ten to twenty hours a day with my fingers on the keyboard of an ancient PC laptop.  It’s a cheap one I bought years ago, just basic functions even when it was new, and if computer-years run like dog-years, this thing is older than I am for all practical purposes.  And it was beginning to show its age.  Some of the keys would take a few taps before I’d get the corresponding letter to show up on the screen, the “click” button on the tracking pad only worked about three quarters of the time, a virus had wiped out all the .exe functions and made it almost impossible to open new documents or the internet browser, it regularly overheated and ate the files I was working on, the battery was shot (so it had to be plugged in to function) and the electric cord was getting too loose to hold.  I’d have to wiggle it around to find the “sweet spot” and then jam it against my leg while I worked to keep it in place.  We tried duct tape, but the machine was clearly limping along on its last legs.

my Mac-compatible (comPAWtible?) iPad

So I’d been nursing it along and praying it would hold out until we could afford a replacement.  My hubby Keoni is back to work after his December knee replacement, but he has the second knee scheduled for April, so we’ll have another couple months of living on just what I make at the laptop–no room in the budget for a computer until after that.  And Keoni was very insistent that we’d be choosing a good computer when the time came.  “This IS your office,” he reminded me.  I’d been thinking of making the switch to Mac–knowing there would be a steep learning curve, but also knowing the Mac would be great for website creation and editing my photography, and not susceptible to wipe-out by virus…  And compatible with my iPad, which I “live in” when I’m not on the computer.  So we’d been doing a little “window shopping” on Amazon, picking out the computer we’d get… later.

Out of the blue a few weeks ago, Keoni’s parents called us from Hawai’i to say they wanted to buy me a new computer, and which one would I like? I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so stunned. My in-laws aren’t Christmas-and-birthday people, but they occasionally step in–generously!–when they perceive a need.

two days early, and just in time!

Did I mention I was stunned? I stammered out the specs of the Macbook Pro I’d been looking at, and they called back that afternoon with the tracking number for shipping.  I instantly became the impatient kid who can’t wait for Christmas! I knew I’d have my face pressed to the front window on delivery-day, waiting eagerly for the UPS truck to show up.

God has a sense of humor and timing–have you noticed that? Two days before the new computer was due to arrive, the old one breathed its last breath.  No amount of computer-CPR could revive it again. I’ve used the iPad for back-up before (like the day that virus hit, when I had 8,000 words due before I could take the time to resuscitate the thing)–and I’ve been grateful to HAVE it as a back-up–but the iPad really isn’t designed for flipping between research websites and word-processing, and I can’t work nearly as efficiently… and I had another ten thousand words due that day.  I don’t mind admitting I was pretty stressed.

Less than two hours later, the UPS truck pulled up. Thank you, God–and thank you, Mom & Dad in Hawai’i! As my mom-in-law said to me on the phone when I was stuttering my stunned and sincere thanks: “God works in mysterious ways, Kana. Today, this is how God is working.”

Making the tech-leap! Compared to the Mac, the old laptop might as well have been cardboard…

Wow.  So I’ve been happily “moving in” to my new Mac–and relishing the fact that for the first time, all of my music library and photo library and software and apps and documents and calendar and to-do list and everything else are actually compatible across all my devices, synced up and available whether I’m on the laptop or the iPad or even my phone.  Too slick for words–I’m loving it!  My OCD-organizing-impulses are intensely satisfied by this tidiness.

I have to say (despite my familiarity with the iPad, which turns out not to afford much advantage in “learning” the laptop) that Mac was a Mystery to me!  It was time to bust out the climbing-gear, because this was a STEEP learning curve.  Even the most basic of functions–like scrolling or right-clicking–take a different action on the Mac.  As I figured out how to do each individual thing, I was thinking–without exception–that the Mac approach makes better sense. Mac was definitely designed with usability in mind. At this point, it’s still just a matter of learning how to do everything. Everything. I consider myself pretty “techie” (I used to teach online and design online curriculum, I design websites on the side, and when we owned a restaurant, I handled all of our internet marketing myself) but I have zero formal education in technology.  I’m simply stubborn enough to keep “playing” until I figure out how to make a computer do what I want it to do. So that’s what I’ve been up to–gleefully getting familiar with an all-new environment.

That’s a partial explanation for my absence from this space over the last few weeks (and I’d like to thank all of you who pinged me to say you missed the posts, and hoped everything was okay).  There has actually been a lot going on–including a lot of writing work. (Last weekend: thirty thousand words in two days–and this from the girl who didn’t even manage to finish NaNWriMo…) I’ve been thinking the last few days of the “complaint” I often have when traveling: When you have the most stuff to write about, THAT’s exactly when you don’t have enough time to write any of it! True in regular life as well, as the last few weeks go to show..

Steve Jobs would be proud… calling tech support on an iPhone and tech-chat on the iPad, getting the Macbook up and running

But.  I’m re-evaluating my writing-priorities, and what comes to light today is my previous insistence that writing in THIS space on a regular basis is what keeps writing FUN.  I don’t want to get so “ground down” with writing-on-demand that I lose the joy-in-writing that made me want to do it full-time in the first place.  So my pledge to myself is not to treat my own writing (here) as “lower priority” than the writing that comes with deadlines.  To borrow from Hamlet‘s Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”  I don’t think Polonius was referring to blogging, but that’s how his advice applies in my life today.

And I recognize on a daily basis how blessed I’ve been in the support of the people around me. I chat on IM daily with writers from our team, and a regular theme of those chats (including with our editor, and my boss) is spousal resistance to time-spent-writing.  I’m thinking, in contrast, of Keoni nudging me to take the leap into writing full-time, even before we knew if I’d be able to make any money with it. “You’ve wanted to do this for years–you need to do it.”  Period, end of discussion.  It probably helps that I’m not away from him when I’m writing–my “office” is our bed, which we treat like a couch in the daytime, and he’ll stretch out beside me and read, or we stream Netflix movies while I write. I’m grateful every day for the supportiveness–and that extends also to his parents and the vote of confidence represented by the generous gift of this computer.

Pue’o on his perch

My writing-mascot is the owl–I have a little guy (named Pue’o, the Hawai’ian word for owl) who perched on the old laptop’s screen while I wrote… In Hawai’ian culture, the ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit, is represented by an animal of the islands.  My husband’s family is guarded by Mano, the shark, and he remembers learning about the ‘aumakua from his Tutu Pa (grandfather), Hawai’ian musician Kamuela Ka’anapu, who also taught him traditional cooking, and to combine his love of music with his love of cooking. (When Keoni is singing in our kitchen, I know that all’s well in my world!)  Tutu Pa told him that whenever he saw a shark, “either something good or something bad will happen.” Kid-Keoni’s irreverent response (which earned him a cuff across the back of the head) was, “Well, Tutu Pa, that depends wheddah you IN da watah or OUT!

Anelahikialani & Kapena with their brother-sister matching ‘aumakua tattoos

Our son Kapena, who turned sixteen on Valentine’s Day, has been wanting a tattoo for a couple years, and we told him we’d sign for one when he reached legal age (sixteen with parental consent in Idaho), provided he went to our artist (whose art we love and whose judgment we trust), and that the tattoo itself be something meaningful to him.  So this week he got his tattoo: the family ‘aumakua with our last name printed in the curve of its body. Our second daughter Anelahikialani and her wife Sarah were visiting from California this last week, and she and Kapena went in together to get matching ‘aumakua tattoos.

Hawai’ian families have ‘aumakua, and an individual can also have a personal ‘aumakua. You don’t choose one–it chooses you, and a person who pays attention might recognize the relationship.  Last summer when I began writing for an Idaho travel magazine, I was seeing owls every time I was out on the road on assignment. Daytime, night time, it didn’t matter–owls were crossing my path every time I hit the road to write. I can take a hint–the owl is my ‘aumakua. And if I reach back to my own Irish roots, the owl is a common personal totem in Celtic culture as well, so that seems suitable. This is why my Twitter handle is @KanaOwl, and why the literary magazine I’m launching (more about that in an upcoming post) will be at ThirteenOwls.com, and why the protective cover Keoni ordered for the new laptop is adorned with an owl (in “my” colors, no less)..

On the Owl-Mac with my “office staff”–Christian (holding Pue’o) & Elena Grace…

Our ten-year-old Christian just registered for junior high, and as we watched Harry Potter the other night, he was lamenting the fact that “speaking Owl” isn’t among the available electives.  He’s quite enamored of Harry’s owl, Hedwig, and whenever he’s in the house, you can guarantee that Pue’o will be somewhere on his person.  (He doesn’t know it yet, but his birthday present in 10 days will be a full-size Hedwig look-alike made by the same company that created Pue’o…)  He also points out that the owl on my Mac is an appropriate symbol for what I do, since owls in Harry Potter’s world carry written correspondence.

Christian and I agree that the UPS man was really a brown owl in disguise.  And as for his delivery… well, even Harry Potter getting his Firebolt broom by owl-post was not more excited than I was when this Owl-Mac arrived.

To Mom & Dad in Hawai’i: THANK YOU for enabling this writer to keep writing so happily! And I hope you know that this isn’t the first time God has worked through you to provide a blessing in my life…  I thank him every day for my biggest blessing: the man who married me. Thank you for “authoring” that gift as well…  And my thanks again for providing me with such an awesome new “office!” If I haven’t needed a fairy godmother, it’s because God’s always got my back.  And yes–as Mom says–he works through other people.

Posted in Writing

‘Can your family does?’ YES!

WordPress BlackOut Jan 18

This morning as I was scanning through the free apps newly available for iPad (my daily “shopping” spree–but only in the free category), I was also indulging in my daily ritual of giggling at some of the written descriptions of the apps.  Clearly these aren’t all written by English speakers, as evidenced by this write-up for AirBookReaderFree: “You would be the one who knows well about PC and can convert files and transfer the files to your iPhone or iPad. However, can your family does?  Can your mother convert ebook files? AirBookReader is a perfect ebook reader for the such people.

Can your family does?  This morning we have an answer! Our internet “family” of THIRTEEN MILLION activists just drop-kicked the threatening SOPA/PIPA legislation right off the U.S. Senate floor!  Here’s an excerpt from the email I just received from the Fight for Freedom group:

A big hurrah to you!!!!! We’ve won for now — SOPA and PIPA were dropped by Congress today — the votes we’ve been scrambling to mobilize against have been cancelled.

The largest online protest in history has fundamentally changed the game.  You were heard.

On January 18th, 13 million of us took the time to tell Congress to protect free speech rights on the internet. Hundreds of millions, maybe a billion, people all around the world saw what we did on Wednesday.  See the amazing numbers here and tell everyone what you did.

This was unprecedented. Your activism may have changed the way people fight for the public interest and basic rights forever.

The MPAA (the lobby for big movie studios which created these terrible bills) was shocked and seemingly humbled.  “‘This was a whole new different game all of a sudden,’ MPAA Chairman and former Senator Chris Dodd told the New York Times. ‘[PIPA and SOPA were] considered by many to be a slam dunk.’”

“’This is altogether a new effect,’ Mr. Dodd said, comparing the online movement to the Arab Spring. He could not remember seeing ‘an effort that was moving with this degree of support change this dramatically’ in the last four decades, he added.”

Tweet with us, shout on the internet with us, let’s celebrate: Round of applause to the 13 million people who stood up  – #PIPA and #SOPA are tabled 4 now. #13millionapplause

So now we know: our internet family CAN does make a difference!

Posted in Travel

From Volcanic Hotspots to an Atomic Town

Third day on the roads of Idaho for the Western Byways Editorial Team (see ‘Western Byways on the Road… Carey, Idaho and Ice Fishing, Hot Springs, and a Duck-Hunting Writer)…

stopped for lunch beside the Lost River Range....

Lunchtime…  We’re parked on a dirt road in the narrow plain between the Lost River Range and the White Cloud Range of mountains.  Normally at this time of year there’d be at least a few feet of snow up this high, but it’s been a strangely snow-free year.  Even Ray the Rancher was commenting yesterday that he’s only just started bringing out hay for the cattle, and he’s never in his eighty-seven years seen a winter where the hay wasn’t needed until January.  Still, there’s not another vehicle or human in sight, and the picture-windows of the motor home are framing a stunning set of jagged Idaho peaks.

Somewhere in that Lost River Range is Mount Borah, the state’s highest peak, which the Editor has an itch to climb.  I suggested that what he really needs for such a mission is a base-camp cook (Keoni of course) who’d have a super-fabulous camp dinner ready when we got back down the mountain.  (Do you like how I so subtly invited US along on that expedition?)  The “Lost” River is so called because it vanishes into the porous flows of basalt and disappears for a hundred miles to reappear magically as “Thousand Springs” near Twin Falls.

one of Paul's old milk cans

Right now Keoni is cooking up cheese-and-apple crepes at the stove, and we’re feeling almost literally on top of the world.  On top of Idaho, at the very least.   Stepping out the door here to take photos, we had to hop over the pile of deer-poo atop which we’d strategically parked…  The wind really cuts up here, so none of us stayed outside longer than the length of a smoke, but in that short space of time Keoni the Rock Hound found a spearhead with the knapper’s marks still evident along its edges.  It still amazes me that a person can find an artifact–how many centuries old, I wonder?–just lying in the sagebrush beneath the mountains.  (Of course, it takes a sharp eye like his–I would have seen just a rock and kept walking…)

***

Keoni and I knocked on Vonnie and Paul’s door this morning before we pulled out of Carey, to hand over a hostess-gift of Hawai’ian sesame candy, and to chat for a few more minutes about the summer Fly-In event (for which we might come up and do a traditional Hawai’ian pig in the ground) and the classic Honda motorcycle lying in the sagebrush behind their shed, which hasn’t been registered since 1985, and which Paul is agreeable to having us take off his hands when we come back with the kids…  I was born not many miles from here in the spud-farming town of Aberdeen, but hadn’t set foot in Carey until this weekend—and now we have friends there.  As someone noted in the response to yesterday’s post , the old-timers must have stories…  and that, right there, is probably my favorite part of Travel.  People everywhere have stories, and I love it that my “job” now is to hunt those stories down.  Adding friends to our life is a lovely side effect.

Craters of the Moon area--including Carey and Arco

We drove through the lunar landscape of Craters of the Moon with its vistas reminiscent of Hawai’i.  Indeed, when we stopped at the visitor center, the footage and photos of current volcanic activity, used to describe the originating events of the bizarre landscape here, were all shot in Hawai’i.  Even the descriptive names of the different types of lava (the rope-like pahoehoe and the shoe-destroying a’a formations) are Hawai’ian words.  I can see my Hawai’ian husband getting homesick…

Of course, it’s a little colder on these lava flows than the ones at home…  The looping road through the park is closed for winter, and in a more usual winter of Idaho snow, we could cross-country ski through the park, but today we have to be content with the perimeter road passing from Carey to Arco.  And the geology buffs are more than content; both Keoni and The Editor are geeking out on the basaltic formations, and I had my own geek-out affair at the visitor center’s racks of shiny-covered books…  What actually jumped onto my hand, however, wasn’t a book at all, but a little owl-puppet—Pue’o, my personal totem.  A writing-and-traveling-mascot.

Although we’re slated to stay the night in Arco, The Editor wanted to use our extra time to drive north a stretch, through McKay toward Mount Borah (perhaps to survey the site of his upcoming conquest) and we’re grateful for the dramatic views of the detour.  A herd of antelope ran alongside us for one stretch of road; The Photographer slowed us down to about thirty-five miles an hour to match their pace and I wondered where they were headed in such a sprint, kicking up dirt with their hind hooves as they dashed the distance to wherever they were aimed.  We passed McKay Reservoir with a village of ice-fishing huts and sheds that made me think of “Grumpy Old Men”…

Pue'o (the owl)--my traveling-writing-mascot

I confess I finally “get” the appeal of RV-ing.  I’ve always seen a monstrously-unmaneuverable-gas-guzzler, and not thought any further.  In this instance, however, I’m neither trying to drive the beast nor paying for its gas, and I confess this is road-tripping more comfortable than I’ve ever had it!  Spending this afternoon stretched out on the couch snuggled in Keoni’s arms while that stunning scenery streamed by the “living room window”…  no complaints whatsoever!

***

Evening. After a couple hours parked among the mountains, soaking up the surroundings (and lunch!) we revved up the Roaming-Home once again and headed back to Arco.  It’s a friendly looking little town of just over a thousand people, with business names like “Atomic Lube” referencing the nuclear plant which powered this community before any other in the world. The nearby Idaho National Engineering Lab is Idaho’s still-active nuclear facility, cleverly located out here on a geographic fault line among volcanic hot spots.  I wondered what the high school mascot might be—something glowing?—but it turns out they’re the rather unassuming Pirates.

The Writer, The Editor, & The Photographer at Pickle's

Arco grew up at the junction of two stage lines, and originally went by the name “Root Hog,” until a postmaster objected and marshaled a change. We had dinner at Pickle’s Place, a local favorite, where Keoni tried the Atomic Burger and we all shared an order of fried pickles. The Mountain RV Park here is closed for the winter, but because they advertise with the magazine, they kindly flipped on the power for us to hook up here.  It’s a little cold to attempt the miniature golf course, but we’re already looking forward to a warmer-weather visit with the kids.

I have to take a moment to enthuse about my new toy, an iPad accessory…  The iPad is practically glued to my hand on trips like this–the map-apps and note-taking and recording functions “gathering” our experiences as we go–but I’d been wishing it really were glued to my hand, because it’s really not convenient to carry the thing around.  So a couple months ago I was searching for a handled case or something along those lines, and strangely enough, the first item listed on my Google search was a plastic beach-bucket.  Well, it did have a handle…

Amused by the search result, I posted on FaceBook that I could just see myself tripping along with my iPad in its little bucket–and my mom wrote me to say my cousin’s fiancee works for OtterBox and has outfitted her with accessories for her toys…  Not a week later a package arrived in the mail with the indestructible Otter “Defender” (definitely a wise choice for someone as clumsy as myself) and a full set-up of handles and straps allowing me to sling the thing over my shoulder, or strap it to my hand.  I’m LOVING it!  So here’s a shout-out of thanks to my mother and the cousin’s fiancee–journalism just got easier.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road–the Shoshone Ice Caves (another feature closed at this time of year) will be opening up for a private tour…  Don’t we just feel like the V.I.P. bus this week!

Posted in Travel

“Western Byways” on the Road… Carey, Idaho

Friday the 13th on the Road: da Kook (er, Cook), the Writer, & the Photographer/Driver

The Western Byways editorial staff is on the road for a few days!  The Editor has rented a motor-home, our teeny-tiny Photographer has designated herself Driver (which is kind of like watching a minnow steer a whale shark), my husband is reprising his road-role as The Traveling Chef, and I’ve had my iPad fired up all day with maps and note-taking and recording and photographing…

Before we headed out, The Editor stood up front in his best flight-attendant imitation and told us how to pull the air brake if the vehicle were to start rolling, and how to make sure the propane doesn’t blow up.  “There’s a shitload of other buttons,” he concluded, “but that’s the death-stuff, so I think we’re covered.

Carey, Idaho, pop. 604

The Editor is a fantastic ideas guy–although his strengths don’t always run to communicating his plans…  Case in point–when he asked me to do the writing for this trip, he said we’d be gone be through Sunday–but as we barreled out of town on the freeway this morning and he listed the scheduled stops of our “tour bus,” he kept right on going past Sunday night and into Monday.  “Um, hang on,” I told him–“I guess I need to call our kid.”  (Should the parent of a teenager be worried when the response to the message that we’ll be gone an extra day is a text saying, “Sounds Good“?  Hmmm…)  Happily for us, we lead a life where an unexpected extra day on the road really isn’t a problem. Our son is fine with his best friend, Keoni isn’t yet back to work after his knee replacement a month ago today (lucky 13!), and my my freelancing work can go with me anywhere.

Nevertheless, Keoni teased that I’d better “call the office” right away–a joke actually signifying a celebration of the fact that we don’t live that life anymore–then picked up his own phone and dialed…  my number, as it turned out.  “Hello, you’ve reached the office of Kana Iguana,” he said to my voicemail, in his most serious business-tone. “Kana will be out of the office until Monday, January sixteenth.  Mahalo for calling!

Carey Idaho in the 1950s–when it still had cafés and stores… Photo from the town’s growing collection

Another scheduling-surprise for me was the fact that the Mayor and Town Council of Carey would be meeting with us when arrived in town.  This one alarmed me a little, as I’m dressed for rural Idaho winter travel–hooded sweatshirt, quilted plaid flannel, old jeans, hiking shoes, pigtails–not so much for a “VIP” introduction to the town kahunas.  As it turned out, I’m not sure they saw me at all–I think maybe they saw my expensive camera and the “record” light flashing on my iPad while I scribbled in my note-taking app as they talked…  And (through those tools) I think they saw the statewide audience they hope to entice into town.

As a general rule, I do my travel-writing “incognito”–I chat people up and ask more questions than most visitors probably do, but I don’t announce any publication-affiliation, and I’m unaccustomed to being greeted by a town as The Writer…  We met with the committee working to revitalize the town, which had pretty well died out after World War II (except for the Japanese internment camp, the barracks of which are now apartments) when the 40-employee cheese plant and its supplying dairies moved out of the area.  The committee’s go-to woman, Vonnie, offered us the RV electrical hook-up at her house because Carey doesn’t have a motel or KOA or even a café anymore.  Our driving instructions, coming into town, were to “look for the house with the milk truck out front.”  (Vonnie’s husband delivered milk in cans for forty years.)  It’s a one-road town, platted in 1919 along the highway, with no other road running parallel to the highway, so we found her easily enough.

GE pink kitchen–just like Vonnie’s

Before driving us to City Hall Vonnie invited us inside (an original1953 custom kitchen of pink GE appliances!) and pulled out stacks of old photos of the town, which she and the committee have assembled from the townsfolk as a reminder of the vital little town this once was, and could be again…

After City Hall, and a thorough tour of the schools conducted by the principal, we shivered our way back to the motor-home to warm up and eat the stir-fry dinner Keoni had waiting for us. After dinner, a local musical gathering Vonnie had pulled together for our enjoyment in her living room, guests including the woman who both delivers the mail and drives the town ambulance.  It’s that kind of small town–an eight-man football team town.

But then, given its proximity to Sun Valley, it’s also a town where you might run into Bruce Willis or Tom Hanks at the summer rodeo…  I’m looking forward to some exploring tomorrow–but I’d better finish organizing my notes and recordings…  Because the pull-out bed in the motor-home’s main room is looking awfully inviting right now!  Especially since my best cuddle-buddy is waiting for me there.  Till tomorrow, then!

Posted in Writing

Reprise: ‘Blogger Call to Action’

This is the "beautiful app-like experience" touted by WordPress for iPad viewers--no theme, no side bar, no way to "Like" a post or "Follow" a blog... (screen-photo of jennswondering.wordpress.com--hilarious post, btw)

For those of you who already saw this a few months back, I apologize for the repetition–but as I have many new readers (and many new blogs I read on my iPad) since the original post, I wanted to share this information again…  Since I first posted this, I have met exactly TWO bloggers who are pleased with the iPad “OnSwipe” view of WordPress blogs, compared to hundreds who have been horrified to realize how iPad users are being presented with their blogging efforts.

I’ve been making noise with the WordPress support team about this issue; they maintain that it’s the blogger’s individual choice to decide how their blog will be presented, and the settings are here to stay.  Never mind that they pre-set the settings to use the awful OnSwipe version, and bloggers who aren’t viewing from an iPad themselves have no idea what’s happening to their blogs when iPad users try to view them.  Interesting side-note: the WordPress blog itself has disabled these settings!  What does that say about them?

Enough commentary–if you haven’t already read it, PLEASE take a minute to find out, and PLEASE (I’m begging you as an iPad reader-of-blogs) take the few minutes to follow the directions I included to disable the ickiness of the OnSwipe settings.  Here it is:

Blogger Call to Action: Please Help Me Happy-Dance.