Time to “grow” my blog?

I haven’t done anything with the express purpose of “growing” my blog since I started it six months ago, but I’ve been thinking that that should probably be the next step.

I think my blog – like my writing, and like my life since I was downsized – has been evolving, and that part of my role, in addition to writing the blog, has been to observe its progress. That helps to affirm what I’m doing right, and lets me know what I need to work on.

Slowly, I have acquired some new followers beyond my initial circle of family and friends. A couple of people even posted links to my recipes on Pinterest – a social media site I don’t use. I didn’t recognize the posters’ names, and my first thought was that they must be friends of my kids – but no! It seems my blog is growing on its own, albeit slowly. I think I need to catch up.

A couple of days ago, I discovered that WordPress, my blog hosting site, has launched a program called Zero to Hero: 30 Days to a Better Blog. It’s already Day 13, and my priority is to post to my blog before I undertake the daily WordPress assignments. But I do plan to return to the guidelines, and see where they take me… and where they take my blog.

An open letter to my email list

For the past six months I’ve been distributing/posting my blog on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and through an email list to family and friends. As well, I have followers who have signed up for my blog on WordPress.

I love hearing back from my friends and relatives who receive my blog via e-mail. But I don’t want to be the person who sends unwanted email. Also, maybe people who are also my Facebook friends don’t want to be on my email list, and see a link to my blog twice. Or maybe they do, especially if they’re not on Facebook regularly. I think it’s time to find out.

So, to my family and friends who are on my list, please let me know if you would like to continue receiving updates – or not.

As well, since my blog has gone in two different directions, let me know if you are interested in continuing to receive only food and/or chocolate blogs, or only my writing/journalism/post-downsizing posts.

I think, instead of sending my four-day-a-week blog to the same list, it might make sense to have a “writing/post-downsizing” list for my Tuesday and Thursday posts, a “food blog” list for my Friday posts, and a “Chocolate Sunday” list as well.

Thanks for your support, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

 

Looking back – and forward – at my food posts

This week, I’m combining my Thursday and Friday blog posts – the post-downsizing/writing aspect that I focus on every Thursday, and the “food day” that I’ve created on Fridays.

When I started blogging in July, Tuesdays and Thursdays had a very specific focus for me: to help me figure out what was next in my life, and to keep a hand in the writing world. Friday, “food day,” was more for fun. In its own way, it was a coping tool too. For me, cooking and food are creative and nurturing – just what I needed after losing my job. In August, I added “Chocolate Sunday” to the mix.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the type of recipes I’ve been posting. Do they reflect the way I really cook? Are they healthy? Do I like them? Have I included them for the right reasons?

This morning I looked through the recipes on my blog, and for the most part, I’m pleased.

Before I started blogging, I’d thought about writing a cookbook for my kids, so that they would have my recipes in one place. In the meantime, I’m posting to this blog.  Maybe I’ll turn it into a cookbook some day.

I didn’t start with a list of criteria for recipes I would include in my blog. But, based on my analysis this morning, I’ve listed my food blog recipe goals for 2014. They reflect what I’ve already been doing, more or less.

1. For the most part, recipes should reflect the way I actually cook and eat. Mostly meat-free, mostly dairy-free, using “real” ingredients, not overly complicated to prepare.

2. My favourite recipes have included fruits and vegetables, sometimes in new combinations for me – like salmon stir-fry with asparagus and cremini mushrooms, green bean and pineapple salad, and fruity fennel salad. I want to do more of that.

3. I plan to continue including other ingredients that have health benefits – nuts, seeds, spices and certain grains.

4. More family recipes if I can find them. I want my kids to have them, and to know their history. I believe other people are interested in them too. My post about my grandmother’s camisbroit got more hits than anything else I’ve written.

5. Travel-related food stories and recipes are part of my repertoire too, whether I make them once in a while or on a regular basis. I started my chocolate blog with a recipe for brigadeiro, a lovely souvenir of a trip to Brazil and the celebration of a friend’s birthday there. But they’re too sweet for me to make on a regular basis, plus I’m lactose-intolerant (sweetened condensed milk is a key ingredient).

6. It’s sometimes a challenge to come up with healthy recipes for chocolate. I think the criteria for chocolate recipes is that they have to be fabulous, healthy and/or interesting. Ideally, all three!

Feedback is welcome. Best for 2014.

 

New Year’s Eve assessment – my 88th post

I started this blog almost six months ago, shortly after I was downsized, and I think it’s time to assess how far I’ve come, and what I’ve learned from the experience.

1. Time is relative. I posted my first blog entry July 9, two and a half weeks after my last day of work. In retrospect, I think I got it up and running pretty quickly. At the time – when I was researching blogs, learning WordPress, and figuring out how I wanted my blog to look – it felt like it was taking forever.

2. Blogging does everything for me that I hoped it would – it keeps me writing, brings structure to my day and week, and is helping me figure out and/or evolve into what’s next in my life.

3. Cooking is therapeutic, creative and nurturing. But I knew that already.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of fun. What started as my “fun” blog day (“Friday is food day”), in contrast to the two more “serious” days when I focus on writing and being downsized, has turned out to generate the most interest, judging by the number of views and amount of feedback.

5. I have some ideas for my blog (particularly food and chocolate days), and it will be time to start implementing them in the New Year.

6. Small, consistent efforts make a difference. So does being accountable. I’ve been working on my book much more consistently since I joined a writers’ group on LinkedIn.

7. Going through the paraphernalia I brought home from work has been a big effort, and getting it out of the dining room was a big accomplishment. Continuing to work on the house (deciding what to keep and what to get rid of) seems to propel my work-related post-downsizing “journey” too. I see them as parallel and intertwined.

8. Online groups are a great idea! I’ve joined several on LinkedIn and one on Facebook. I’ve found lots of information and support that I wasn’t expecting.

9. Since I began blogging about food, people have been asking me for cooking advice. It seems I have much to share, and not just with my kids.

10. Starting a blog was more a matter of following my instincts than following a plan. So far, my instincts haven’t led me wrong.

11. I’ve put serious job hunting on the back burner, but haven’t ruled out a conventional job. Blogging as a “pseudo-job” and working on a book have helped fine-tune my ideas about what I want and don’t want in any future job.

12. It takes time to regroup after losing a job. But regrouping doesn’t necessarily mean not moving forward.

13. Working at something you enjoy is the best! I did that for 22 years as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, and I’m doing that now working on my blog. But, so far, the blog isn’t remunerative.

14. Sometimes the answer – or at least the next step – is right in front of you, if you just look for it. In a concrete way, that’s how I got many of the ideas for my blog posts, especially about cooking. Speaking generally, I believe it’s important to be aware of what’s around you, and how it might be relevant to whatever else is going on in your life.

15. I’ve taken small steps outside my comfort zone in the past few months, leading to more progress on the post-downsizing path. Being downsized is a huge step outside of the comfort zone – “a kick in the pants,” as someone described it to me. But I do believe that new doors will open, and that some already have.

Happy New Year, and hoping that the right doors will open to all who need them.

Food or writing – which one is the “real” blog?

It’s funny – I started this blog after being downsized as a way to keep myself writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – the next stage in my life.

For a change of pace, and because I like food, I decided that Friday would be “food day” on my blog. One day for food, two days for the “real” blog.

Then I added a fourth day – “Chocolate Sunday.”

The funny thing is, I’m getting a lot more feedback about my food writing than my other writing. More views, too.

Another funny thing – I thought my blog was fairly restrictive in terms of subject matter. Now I’m starting to think it’s not restrictive enough. Maybe I need to have two blogs, or a website.

Another thing when it comes to blogging about food – I like how my life propels my blog, and my blog propels my cooking. Yesterday, I spent most of the morning making a pot of vegetarian chili. I won’t be blogging about it this week, but it’s given me some ideas that I hope to blog about in the future.

Chocolate Sunday – Do you believe in chocolate?

Last weekend, I ran into cookbook author and Canadian Jewish News contributor Norene Gilletz at a wedding. I’ve joined her Facebook group and have been posting links on it to my food-related blog entries. We’d only met a few times, but when I re-introduced myself, she knew right away who I was. “Chocolate Sunday!” she said.

chocolate

Double fudge euro tarts are one of the decadent chocolate treats for sale at Loblaws on Carlton St., in Toronto’s former Maple Leaf Gardens.

Of all the blog posts I’ve written, the “Chocolate Sunday” entries seem to be the most popular.

I’ve spent the last couple of days at a social media workshop at Ryerson University, where the instructor, Kris Alexander, told us, among other things, that “everyone has something they believe in.”

He urged us to think about our ideas – whether it’s a business or product we want to promote, or in my case a subject I’m blogging about – before focusing on which social media platforms would best serve our needs.

So I’ve been thinking about chocolate, and about blogging on the subject of chocolate. I have new ideas now about how to develop that theme.

And I found myself wondering in the middle of class, do I “believe” in chocolate? I hadn’t actually thought of it in those terms, but I found it to be an interesting question. Here are some reasons why I’m enthused about chocolate:

1. A decadent chocolate truffle is an affordable indulgence, compared to – say – a new outfit.

2. Dark chocolate has antioxidant effects.

3. Chocolate contains contains phenylethylamine, a “mild mood elevator,” according to Psychology Today online.

4. Chocolate has all kinds of positive associations, from the comfort implicit in a snack of milk and chocolate chip cookies, to the chocolate factory scene in one of the top episodes of the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy.

Enjoy!

Measurable progress

Before I stopped working in June, I borrowed three cardboard bankers’ boxes from a friend, and filled them with notes, pictures and other items I’d accumulated over 22 years at the same job. This morning, I was very happy to return one of the boxes.

Emptying out the last few items yesterday, I felt like I’d reached a milestone in my post-downsizing journey.

Although I’ve been chipping away at the other two boxes as well, having a completely empty box means that my progress is now measurable in a new way.

I didn’t give myself a deadline for going through everything, and sometimes I wonder if it’s taking longer than it should.

But, deep down, I believe that it will take as long as necessary, and the important thing is that I’m moving forward.

I didn’t blog on Tuesday (the other day that I post work-related thoughts) because I spent the day traveling home after a family wedding in Sacramento. It would have been easy not to post anything today too.

In my first post, on July 9, I wrote that I was starting the blog as a way to keep writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – what’s next in my life. As well as focusing on writing/journalism and career paths, I planned to write about food, which I do on Fridays and Sundays (food in general, on Fridays; and chocolate specifically, on Sundays). I realize now that the blog is also keeping me accountable, and serving as a means to measure my progress while I figure out what’s next.

Another step on the post-downsizing path

I’ve been thinking about this blog as a way to move forward after being downsized, but I’ve also been hoping – and actually feeling, in some instinctive way – that the blog itself would serve as a vehicle to move me forward. Writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps me figure out what I want and need to do next. Also, blogging provides structure to my week, keeps me writing, and keeps me focused on moving forward, writing and journalism (the subjects of my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

But recently, my blog moved me forward in an unexpected way.

After reading an entry I wrote in late August, the ritual director at my synagogue invited me to speak at a Rosh Hashana service he was leading. He thought the subject of my post – the 80/20 rule, as it applies to time management – would be appropriate for the Jewish New Year.

I accepted his invitation, and he suggested that I talk for seven to ten minutes. I expanded on what I’d written, noting in my talk that this is a time of year for reflection and reassessment, and perhaps for making some decisions about how we want to spend our time in the year ahead. I also asked for input from congregants on some of their priorities for the coming year, and ideas for strategies that might help turn intentions into reality.

I finished by sharing some priorities and strategies of my own.

Aside from the content, a couple of other things were significant to me, on a personal level, about the talk.

1. Although I’d spoken publicly at my congregation and elsewhere (not often, but enough times that I didn’t hesitate to go ahead), this was the first time I’d be speaking as “just me,” not as a staff reporter for The Canadian Jewish News.

I like to think I retained my sense of self during my 22 years at the paper, but leaving a long-time job isn’t just a transition in life, it’s a transition in identity. Often, when I showed up to cover an event, someone would refer to me as “The CJN,” as in, “The CJN is here.” Even now, sometimes I find myself saying “we” when I’m referring to the paper – talking about it as if I’m still part of it.

2. A couple of friends have suggested that I might want to teach adult writing classes, now that I’m moving in a different direction. At first, I dismissed the suggestion, finding the idea daunting. I started to consider it more seriously after my daughter said there might be workshops or classes I could take first, to learn how to teach adults.

As I was writing my Rosh Hashana talk, I began to think that if it went well – speaking in public and sparking a bit of discussion, albeit on a small scale – maybe I should be more open-minded about the possibility of teaching.

I think it went reasonably well… another step on my post-downsizing path.

Losing my nerve/the “clutter” post

Last week, I posted to my blog on Thursday, but lost my nerve when it came to letting people know about it via social media or the email list that I usually send it to.

In the post, titled “Too Much Stuff,” I wrote about the pile of notebooks, pictures and paraphernalia that I brought home from The Canadian Jewish News after being downsized – and how it was taking up too much space in my dining room.

Even though I’ve started to tackle the “stuff” more aggressively, it’s a bit daunting to write about it online. I guess it’s like announcing that you’re quitting smoking, or going on a diet. The pressure’s on to follow through!

It’s no big secret to people who know me that I’m not exactly ruthless when it comes to getting rid of things. I do know where things are, and can locate old articles and other items pretty quickly, most of the time.

On occasion, I watch Hoarders or Clean Sweep – reality television shows about people with serious clutter problems – and I’m reassured that my own stuff is manageable, if somewhat unsightly at times.

I mentioned to a few people over the weekend that I couldn’t bring myself to post a link to my blog last Thursday, and they were unanimously encouraging, reminding me how many people deal with the same issue, and telling me they’d be interested in reading what I wrote.

A couple of lessons/reminders for me from this experience:

1. I didn’t feel good about not posting the link to my blog. Even though I’m not accountable to anyone but myself, it’s important to me to follow through when I say I’m going to do something.

2. Sometimes I need to go beyond my comfort zone. Not only do people grow by stretching themselves that way, it can and often does lead to good things.

PS – No posts on Thursday or Friday this week. Will be back on Sunday.

Blogging as ‘pseudo’-work

I’ve come to think of this blog as “pseudo”-work. I don’t get paid for it, and I’m not accountable to anyone except myself.

But it has some elements in common with my former job as a reporter for The Canadian Jewish News.

I have deadlines, albeit self-imposed. I’m still writing, although most of the content is generated in my head. I haven’t had to interview anyone, take notes, or do much background research.

I have two main areas that I write about, and I guess they are the equivalents of the beats I used to have as a reporter. On Tuesday and Thursday I write about moving on after being downsized, including thoughts on writing and journalism; and on Friday and Sunday I blog about food, specifically chocolate on Sunday.

However, as a blogger, my responsibilities are broader than they were at the paper. I’m not just the writer, I’m also my own assignment editor, proofreader, copy editor, and (groan!) techie. Food photographer, too!

When I was first thinking about starting a blog, someone told me it could eventually become a source of income. That’s not why I started it, but I haven’t ruled out the possibility. I’m also aware that some books, and even movies, have grown out of blogs. The book Julie & Julia, which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, is probably the best-known example. It began as Julie Powell’s day-by-day account of cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I started my blog because some deep instinct told me that blogging would take me to whatever is next in my life, whether it’s because writing helps me clarify my thoughts, or because something about the blog itself would lead or point me in a particular direction. Time will tell.