Friday, September 21, 2018

Building My Own Personal Brand as a Writer

I've been blogging here since November of 2004 when my youngest was seven months old. So much has happened to me since then. I started the blog as a writing outlet and somewhere to be an accountable for my writing. My goal then was to get my novel written and I talk about it in that first post.  I did get my novel written, and even edited a few years ago, but in the almost 14 years since I started this blog not much has happened with the novel. But a lot has happened with me and this blog became the  chronicle of my life.

Me reading part of my novel at a Nuestra Palabra showcase at MECA, March, 2004, 8 months pregnant.
The reason I'm going down memory lane like this is because for a long time now I've been beating myself up about this blog. I beat myself up when I don't write often enough. I beat myself up when I forget to promote it. I beat myself up because it doesn't have one set theme. For a while I was told that I had to have one main subject, like shoes or make-up or one of those other subjects that people blog about and make money selling ads or getting sponsorships. I stressed because I never took the blog to the next level, I never put it on it's own website. I own the name but it redirects to Blogger.  I finally got over all of that. I had an AHA! moment.

Last Friday I attended Houston Social Media Breakfast, a monthly breakfast that always discusses a a different social media topic. I learn so much at these breakfasts and it's a great place to network. The speaker was Mila Clarke Buckley, AKA "Hangry Woman." and she said so many things that resonated with me. The topic was "When Building Your Personal Brand Isn't Your Day Job."

So to keep it short and sweet these were my main takeaways and part of my AHA! moment.

I don't necessarily have to blog to build my brand. As long as I'm creating content online on a social media channel and creating a following. Her social media channel of choice is Instagram. I'm not sure if that's exactly what Mila said, but that's what I decided from what I heard.

Instagram is all about these 30 hashtags and if you have good hashtags you can gain more followers. So I came up with these 30+ hashtags that may change from time to time, depending on my post. (Instagram only allows 30 hashtags.) Why are these hashtags important? Because these are the topics  I write about on my blog and when people see them on Instagram, and they are something they are interested in too, they are more likely to follow me and get to know me as a writer.

#shoegirlcorner #shoegirl1970 #loveHipHouston #workingMama #coparenting #momofteens #singlemom  #writer #pelotonmom #lacrossemom #booksandcocktails  #healthynotskinny #myinnerjourney #newspaper #publiceducationadvocate #HoustonCemeteries #typewriters  #traveler #alchemy #recommit #evolve #gratitude #fashionmom #almost50 #artlover #innercityliving #oldarchitecture #nativeTexan #80smusic #4yearplan #sacredhearts #swatchwatch #vodkaconnoisseur

And most importantly I finally came to terms with my blog being about all these things. It just is. This blog is all about my life and the many things that make me who I am. So I may blog about getting a Peloton, about gratitude, old architecture, being a single mom and so many other topics. The goal of my blog and of building my personal brand is to build a following and readers, not to sell advertising or sponsorships or to promote a brand. So when I finally publish my book I'll have a community of people who will want to read my books. 

It's that simple and it goes back to the original reason I started this blog. It was to help me write my novel and to keep me accountable. Technology has changed a lot in the past 14 years since I started this blog and social media has been a big part of that. So it's only natural that my blog has had to change too. I'll probably only blog once a month and I'm okay with that. As long as I keep promoting myself and my writing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter it's all good. Follow me and read my book!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sometimes You Just Have to Calm the F Down and Go Back to School

I've been stressed. Like really stressed or as I like to say, "EXTRA stressed." I'm not going to lie, that damn City of Houston violation has been a big part of it. Of course it couldn't have come at a worse time. Back to School is always stressful for me. This year I opted out of school shopping and I ordered everything online. SO MUCH easier! But an expense none-the-less and I also had to pay someone to cut the grass and weeds in my ditch. I have to pay him to do some other things in the yard later this week too.

The Kids in 5th and 2nd Grade at Oak Forest Elementary

It's hard to believe that the kids are going to be a freshman and a senior at DeBakey HS this year. They were just in elementary school. Miranda was in her last year of elementary in this picture and now she's going to her last year of high school! I was just doing all the applications for Vanguard for them and now here they are, they are almost done. Four years of school left for Seth and one for Miranda. Now it's time for college applications.

This past week was extra stressful with all the things that have to get done before they start school. They had to go pick up their laptops and of course on different days, Seth on Tuesday and Miranda on Friday. They had their yearly physicals and Miranda had her doctor's visit, follow up to her surgery. She's all clear! Seth wasn't as lucky. We have to have some follow up x-rays for something they saw in his back.

Add on top of all the things that I had to do that my lap band is not adjusting well to a small fill that I had on the 16th. I hadn't had a fill in almost a year and I thought that I needed one so I went in. Apparently my body/stomach didn't think I needed one. It's been rejecting food, even liquid. It's been very frustrating and I can't see the nurse to fix it until mid week. So meanwhile I'll starve and take advantage of it for a weight loss boost. I hadn't even been feeling well enough to do the Peloton the last couple of days, but I felt better today and I did 50 minutes. It felt good!

So sometimes we just have to calm the F down and we make the best of a situation. There is nothing I can do about all the things coming at me at one time. Like the old grandma says in the movie "Parenthood," life is either a roller coaster or a merry-go-round. I'd rather have the roller coaster so I can learn patience and resilience. I think...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I Think the Universe is Trying to Send Me a Message

I have been on fire for a solid week now. I cleaned my house and I've kept it clean. I've been riding my Peloton bike. I started cleaning out and packing up my dad's things and I'm almost done. I've even cut my yard a couple of times, post injury.

I just cut my yard on Sunday night and last night I was finishing a piece when my daughter comes up to me with a sign that the City of Houston left in my yard. I don't mean one of those little yellow notes on my door. I'm talking about a big yellow legit sign with a wooden stake that they stuck in my front yard kind of sign. The kind that announces to the whole neighborhood and anybody driving by that you're a messy person, like they can't already see that for themselves.

My Half Cut Yard on Sunday Night

Apparently someone reported me because the weeds in the deep ditch that runs next to my house are too high. That same stupid ditch that I've told the City is too deep for me cut. It's a drainage ditch with a huge drain. They used to cut it and now they don't. There were some other things in my yard that I take full responsibility for, like a pile of branches. Those are me procrastinating and then cutting my ankle. I called the City of Houston today and discussed this all at length. The lady confirmed that a neighbor called it in.

My other theory is that the people who are always trying to buy my house think I'm poor and that they can bully me into selling by bogging me down with fees. I've heard that's a tactic. Or it could be the people trying to sell their house across the street. Whoever it was, the City is now involved and I guess I've been warned. I'm all out of time extensions in life to get this stuff done around my house.

As if all of that wasn't enough...when I went to help turn on the water for Miranda so she could take a shower (she had surgery on August 1 and she isn't at 100% yet) I found a mouse in the tub. Yes... a mouse.

Before you start totally judging me, since I just told you I got a City violation notice, and as if that isn't bad enough, I have an old house and it's Houston. My house was built in 1940 and it's on pier and beam. A mouse got in somehow and it found its way into my bath tub. Seth said the cats are just for show and I'm thinking of firing their asses. They did nothing when they saw the mouse and they ran out of the restroom.

It scurried around and around trying to get out to no avail. I freaked out and screamed. The kids came running with a bat and a golf club. We didn't want to bludgeon it or drown it, the only two possible options. We got the idea off the Internet to put glue across a cardboard. That didn't work. Finally I thought of emptying out my "Jar of Happiness" from 2017 and Miranda told me to put peanut butter in it.

It got so excited that it almost made the jump out of the tub and we didn't want it getting out and running around the house. Miranda thought of putting cooking oil around the inside of the tub. That way the mouse would slip when it tried running up the side again. That worked. We were at our wits end when the mouse finally got tired, or was trying to find a way to get away, and it ran into the jar. Miranda immediately covered the top with a piece of cardboard to keep it inside. She carried it outside and released it across the street.

The irony was not lost on me that we caught the mouse in the "Jar of Happiness." I thought about how we filled that jar in 2017, but once 2018 started off on the wrong foot I never started a new one. Maybe the Universe is sending me a message. Maybe that mouse was a sign and catching it in that specific jar was a sign that I need to start a new happiness jar to get on with this year.

I'm now halfway to 49, the last birthday in my 40s, and that in itself is significant. I need to stop keeping a list of all the bad things that have happened to me in 2018 and I need to keep a record of all the good things from now until my 49th birthday in February. I have literally been carrying a list around in my Franklin planner of all the bad things that have happened to me in the last 12 months. I pulled it out, ripped it up and threw it away today.  I need to hit the Reset button and put myself into a different mindset. Thank you City of Houston and mouse. Universe, I hear you loud and clear.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

It's Never Too Much or Too Long to Mourn

Is nearly six months too long to mourn? Different cultures have different traditions. Although there are the set days of mourning governed by society, be it 40 days or 3 years, your heart doesn't have a clock.

I was given three days of bereavement by my workplace and if I needed more I probably would have had to take vacation days. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the time, but in the US we are expected to get over it and move on. I wish someone had told my heart and my mind that too. I've survived because I had to. I had to jump right back into work because I'd already been off for about a week, when my father was in the hospital.

I also had to keep going with the kids doing all those things I had to do with them and being a mom. This summer alone has been busy with summer programs, a short vacation to the Hill Country, visiting colleges, Driver's Ed, and now senior pictures before school starts in three weeks.

I wrote about that in May and how I felt paralyzed. Then I was trying to get back into the swing of things when I cut my ankle. I haven't run in months and I hadn't really really cleaned since before my dad died. Forget about packing up my dad's room... 

Then finally something happened this week. The catalyst was this damn bike. After being targeted with ads, from billboards, to direct mail, to digital ads, and commercials on my Hulu, I broke down and bought a Peloton.

I had been looking at the cost of gym memberships for the three of us and the cost was a bit much, unless I joined the local, one location, Y. I was on the fence about what to do when the Peloton ad on Hulu found me during a moment of weakness. They got me with their 0 down and 0% interest and I bought the bike.

Then the realization hit me that the bike was going to be delivered by human strangers who were going to have to enter my house and that I needed to clean. The living room had become a wasteland of junk and legos that had spilled out from their original corner. We had a lot of work on our hands, (seriously) but with the help of the kids I finally overcame my paralysis and I cleaned my kitchen, living room and dining room.

I feel so good now! It felt so good to come home today and to see clean rooms. It's like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders and  I feel like I'm on a roll. My goal is to start packing up my dad's room this week. Once I can do that I can move on to each task on my list and the list is long! It will be nice to set up Seth's furniture in that bedroom and to help him decorate it. Cleaning these three main rooms really makes me feel like, what are two more rooms downstairs?

I won't even talk about the second floor yet but there's a goal for those two rooms too. Yes, I'm still sad and I know that packing my dad's things is going to be hard, but moving forward in my life is healing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hill Country Vacation

We are home safe and sound but our vacation did not go exactly as planned on the third and fourth days. But that's the thing about vacations. Sometimes you have to be flexible for changes. It all started with my son having second thoughts about going to Jacob's Well. He pointed out that last time we were there the hole itself was really small and he didn't really see how we could swim around it. Then our host pointed out that the water levels were really low and he suggested that if the kids really wanted to swim that we should go to Cypress Creek instead. He recommended a wonderful restaurant called the Back Porch. As long as you order food you can get a table there, right next to the water. It's like the best kept secret and the food is awesome.

We had really nice hostess who seated us right next to the steps into the river. You have to purchase the beer or wine separately from the bar that's run by the Tavern. They only have cans because of the river and glass, understandable. This was a can of rose wine in a can that was pretty good. I loved that we got to eat right there and then took off our clothes, because we had our bathing suits on underneath, and we dipped in the river and floated around on our floats. Seth even jumped off that side of that cliff side across the way. This was by far my very favorite part of the whole trip. This restaurant really is a hidden gem because you have to drive through a neighborhood to get to it. I feel like mostly locals and people who know locals would know to go there. 

We drove to Johnson City on Sunday afternoon, after the Backyard and showers. It was a beautiful drive, like all the drives in the Hill Country. Miranda contemplated how we could own a ranch. How she could buy a ranch when she's older or how I could retire to the Hill Country and own a ranch.

Texas White House, on LBJ Ranch, outside of Johnson City

In Johnson City I had planned to go to the Pedernales Falls. Once again our host warned me that the water levels were low and that I should probably go to the Blanco State Park. But I already had a paid reservation at Pedernales and I wanted to check it out, even if we didn't go swimming.

This is what I have to say about Johnson City. It is such a charming town with so much to do! Like I would go back just to Johnson City for a weekend trip. What would I do if I go back? I would drive out to the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch and I would stop at every building, the school house, the home where he was born, the cemetery, and I would tour the Texas White House. We would also make time to visit the living farm on the same state park. (By the way, it's both a state and a national park.) I would stop at wineries and distilleries on the road. I would drive back to Johnson City and I would shop the antique shops. On a second day I would go to the Science Mill and do other things around town. If the water levels were good I would go back to the Pedernales River and I would see the falls and swim in the river. Seriously, there is a lot to do in this one town! Blanco State Park is only nineteen miles away if you want to swim in that river.
Where the Falls should be

What we actually did. We woke up late for starters. We thought we had time to go to the LBJ Ranch but we found ourselves rushed and we didn't even have time for a tour of the Texas White House. We just saw the ranch, the buildings from the outside, the Airforce One Half, and the White House from the outside. We did learn a lot of interesting things. Like the fact that Johnson had Airforce One Half made especially for flying to the ranch. He would fly from DC to either San Antonio or Austin and then he would take the smaller plane or a helicopter to the ranch. He and Lady Bird are buried in the family cemetery there. He spent 25% of his presidency at he ranch and invited presidents and dignitaries there all the time. For example, he had a big Texas barbecue for all the ambassadors from Latin American countries right there.

We rushed on to Pedernales Falls State Park, only to find that the water wasn't flowing. There was a record breaking heat wave that weekend so it was super hot just to walk down to the look-out point to see this much. The hike back was up hill and even worse. But I survived! By the time we were finished looking at the missing falls I was so hot and disgusted I didn't even feel like driving down stream to see the river. The park ranger at the front office said the water was barely ankle or knee deep in some places and was still water. It didn't sound very appealing. So we just drove home from there and we didn't get home until 9:30 p.m. or so.

It was a great adventure all in all.  I learned lessons of what I would do differently next time. I definitely see a trip to Johnson City in the future and a slow visit through the LBJ Ranch.