Note: We love having our sweet friend Alison Chino write this week’s Foodie Friday post for us. We’ve missed her while she’s been exploring faraway places, but we’ve loved reading all about them on her blog and in her newsletters. XOXO
Our family has recently returned to Arkansas after living a year in Germany. One of the fun things we have done as we have lived in and traveled to different places is to try all the local foods. And it’s always interesting to me how what I think of as German food or French food or Chinese food has been influenced by how we prepare those different kinds of foods in America.
Eating German food over the last year, and not just any German food, but specifically Swabian food, has made me recognize the recipes we already make that came from Germany. Like this long time favorite at my house, the German Apple Pancake.
I actually got this recipe from the junior league cookbook in my hometown and have used it for over twenty years, baking it in cast iron skillets on cold mornings for my family. But it wasn’t until I lived in Germany that I noticed that in the cookbook, the author wrote: “My German grandmother used to make these for us!”
I met several German grandmothers during my time in Swabia this year and even was gifted a cookbook with recipes for some of the treasures we tasted this year. Most of these sweet ladies have apple trees growing in their front yards. Right now the grandmothers and grandfathers, mamas and papas will all be gathering apples in wooden crates to keep for the winter. This time, last year, the whole town smelled like apple cider.
It makes me smile to think we spent a season walking through German apple orchards and eating apples straight from the trees.
These are the sweet gifts I remember as we slice apples for our version of this German recipe. READ MORE
Alison Chino has spent the last four years living and traveling with her family in Europe, but she will always call North Little Rock, Arkansas home. She loves it when there are faces from all different cultures gathered around her table.
Our family moved to Germany in September, so we have once again found ourselves adjusting to cooking what we can find in a new country.
It feels as though I had just gotten used to the grocery stores in Scotland, but now I am wandering stores where all the packaging is in another language.
I was super excited to find large white beans, because I am a big fan of hearty bean soups. Black Eyed Peas and Petit Jean Ham used to be a regular at our house, as well as French Lentil Soup. But lately we are enjoying a tomato and spinach broth with these butter beans.
I love a good vegetarian dish that is hearty enough to be dinner for a house full of boys!
2 cups of cooked butter beans or 2 cans of any large white beans
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
1-2 large leeks, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon tomato puree
12 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Pour the olive oil into a medium sized frying pan and heat gently. Add the leeks and garlic cloves and fry over a gentle heat for five minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan along with about a cup of water. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add more water if needed. Serve hot with a splash of vinegar or tabasco sauce along with some crusty bread.
By Alison Chino
Arkansas Women Bloggers http://arkansaswomenbloggers.com/
We are finding that there is good bread in abundance here in Germany so I have not been making it as often, but here’s a recipe for a simple wheat bread that I have used for years.
Combine flours in a separate bowl and mix loosely with a fork. Then stir into the yeast mixture and mix with a fork and hands until the dough comes together.
Knead for about 5 minutes.
Cover dough in oil and set aside, covered, to rise until doubled, for 45-60 minutes. (less if you set it near your simmering soup pot).
Form dough into one large loaf or if you have a very fast baking tiny oven, form into three very small loaves. Place on parchment lined half sheet pan and allow to sit about 20 minutes.
Cook at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until browned on top.
By Alsion Chino
Arkansas Women Bloggers http://arkansaswomenbloggers.com/
Alison Chino is a born and bred Arkansan who recently moved to Germany from Scotland, where she is learning to walk everywhere and to live with tiny appliances. She loves hiking with her husband and kids on the weekends. She blogs at the Chino House and she’s pretty much obsessed with Instagram.
PS This quote was tweeted in 2011 by Emma Coats, as part of Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling. I heard it again this week in the midst of a writing course I’m taking. It was a pleasant reminder to continue to try new ideas, and not to worry so much about whether or not they actually work. 🙂
I’m just back from a trip to Paris with my mom and sister which was super lovely.
I’ve been playing catch up this week, but I have a lot on my brain regarding blogging and writing lately.
I’m taking a new writing course and doing some new projects to breathe a little life into my blog.
Because new inspiration + new adventures = happy blogging!
So, here are 5 great things about blogging + writing + storytelling that I have read lately.
I think they are all super helpful!!
Why + How to Update Old Blog Posts. If you have been blogging for a long time, this is post is for you! Sarah explains how she waaaaay upped her page views using these easy tips. Yay for increased traffic to old posts!
Traditional Publishing vs. Self Publishing. I have really been committed to traditional publishing for my first book, but this post (and several others) have me thinking that maybe it’s time to self-publish. Good stuff.
Free Writing Webinars from Leigh at the Creative Revolution. Also, she’s hosting a writing retreat in Nicaragua. (Yes please!) Leigh is forever putting helpful information out into the world for those of us who are trying to make a living as writers. Thank you!
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I have been slowly working my way through this brilliant book. Mary Karr is is the queen of memoir. Her (THREE!) memoirs are some of my favorite books in the world. Reading about how she pulled those stories out of her brain and edited them to bits is making me pay closer attention to the world and tell my own stories better. Here’s a great quote from the book:
“Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life.” ? Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
I would love to hear what you’ve found lately that is inspiring or helpful for you in blogging (and in life)!
What adventures are you taking in blogging in 2016?
I’ll be back next month with a new column about blogging, after I finish editing all my photos of Paris!
There are few things that bore me more than email newsletters.
Unroll.me has saved my life from the tedium of having my inbox constantly interrupted with the inane announcements that fill most email newsletters. Just in case you don’t know about it, Unroll.me is a brilliant service that a) helps you efficiently unsubscribe from everything you don’t want and b) rolls up the rest of your subscriptions so that you only get them once a day.
When I read my Unroll.me roundup, I delete almost all of it at barely a glance. I don’t even bother opening most of the emails, and when I do open one, I am usually irritated that I bothered.
Because they are so boring.
15% off sales. Lists of things I MUST have. Articles that EVERYONE ELSE has read. Places that I MUST TRAVEL THIS YEAR.
DELETE. DELETE. DELETE.
So, friends, I ask you…
WHY should we even bother having an email newsletter for our blogs?
Do we just hope that everyone else is not like me and they read rather than delete most of their emails? (I doubt it.)
Even if only 2% of the people who receive it open it and read it, should we just be glad that those 2% are reading? (Maybe.)
Do some of us have the ability to convert an email newsletter into sales if we are using our blogs to sell products? (Perhaps.)
Do we continue to try to collect our blog readers’ email addresses in the hopes that one day we will write a book and when that happens we will be able to email them all and beg them to buy it? (Just me???)
Actually, I am not sure why we are supposed to have an email newsletter. I think that maybe the answer to that question is as individual as each of our blogs. When I asked myself this morning why I have an email newsletter, in addition to the above and rather unlikely scenario, this is what I came up with:
When someone subscribes to my blog via email, they are saying to me: Hey, I like what you do! Keep doing it. Oh, and I don’t want to miss it when you do some more.
And I like that kind of feedback. I am delighted if someone reads something I write, and likes it. And wants to read more. It feels good. And it encourages me to keep writing.
Sidenote: However, it doesn’t happen very often so I have to find other encouragement to keep writing. If I was relying on email subscriptions for my motivation to write, well, let’s just say I would never write anything. Ditto comments and social media likes/shares.
So, that’s my reason for having an email newsletter. It’s probably not the greatest, but for what it’s worth, it seems like a good enough reason to keep having one.
What’s your reason for having an email newsletter?
I think it’s a good idea to come up with an answer to that question before you go any further.
But I’ll move on.
How do I get more subscribers to my email newsletter?
Let’s talk about how to build that list. Get those subscribers.
Here’s what I have surmised are the best ways to get email subscribers.
Pop-ups and Opt-ins.
Personally I have not used either of these methods because I really, really want people to subscribe to me out of a sheer sense of delight in reading my blog. (I live in a fantasy world.) Not because I interrupt them with a pop-up or because I dupe them with a free PDF of Camping Menus or Travel Tips. In my head, I am afraid that if I dupe people with these methods into typing their email addresses into a box, that they will be inclined to quickly unsubscribe when they have the option the next time they receive an email from me. (Because again, Unroll.me.)
But people use these methods because they work. And depending on the goals you have for your newsletter, you might want to grow that email base, so you should probably use them too.
Pop-ups and Opt-ins are relatively easy to add to your blog via plugins. Of course, if you want to use an Opt-in (something you offer for free in exchange for someone subscribing to your blog), you have to write it first. But after you have your Opt-in material, you can easily distribute it with the help of a pop-up.
Ok, now that you have all those email subscribers, what do you do with them?
Of course, that depends on what your goals are in the first place. See again: Why should I have an email newsletter?
But, as far as your future email missives to your readers go, I have some suggestions. These are not proven to work. They are based solely on my personal preferences, so you can take them with a grain of salt. But if you’ve gone to the trouble of creating pop-ups and opt-ins and collecting email addresses, I feel that at this point, you don’t want to lose those same subscribers by having a boring email newsletter.
Also, I have been playing around with a newsletter for my blog for a couple of years now. I use Mailchimp to send a little hello out into about 90 inboxes about once a month, and I am just beginning to get a feel for what makes people decide to hit the eject button. I still only have a 50% open rate (Mailchimp’s fancy statistics are free), but I keep trying to hit my email stride.
So here are my top tips for keeping your newsletter NOT BORING.
Keep it short.
I am a fan of Longform. And I am a big believer in blog posts being as long as you want them. (OBVIOUSLY! As I drone on and on here…) But emails should be short. Very to. the. point. Lately, I have even been experimenting with leaving photos out of my emails. Just one less thing for people to have to wait to load. However, if I do use a photo, I use only one. Not a collage my last 18 Instagrams. Simple is best.
Be consistent, but don’t overload.
I vote for once a month. Or less. Be succinct. Choose the best of your blog posts to highlight and let your readers wander around to the rest of them once they are on your website. Don’t include a bunch of partial feeds. I don’t want to read the first paragraphs of four different articles. Just tell me about the best one. Oh, and maybe tell me a little bit about you. It’s been a minute since I subscribed and maybe I can’t remember who you are. But briefly. (Remember, keep it short.)
Keep it delightful.
Every time you land in someone’s inbox, they are giving you their attention, even if it is only for a second. I want to be the email that is a “Daymaker.” I know I am just one person writing my heart out in one little corner of the internet, but I still want to use my words to bring light and love and joy into the lives of whoever reads them.
So when I sit down to craft something that is going to land in someone’s inbox, I am going for delight. One thing that helps me is that sometimes I pretend I am just writing a quick email to a very dear friend. Of course, I don’t want to bore my friend!
So go forth and write email newsletters friends! (If you want to.)
Oh, and if you want to subscribe to my blog or email newsletter, well, you can do that right here.
(See what I did there? Tricksy.)
I think it would be super valuable for all of us if you were willing to share in the comments a few words about your experience with or questions about email newsletters. Do you have one? Does it work? What service do you use to write it? How do you get your followers? How do you keep your followers? Tell us all about it. Collectively, we probably know LOADS about email newsletters!
A few months ago I had the great pleasure of sitting down face to face (via Skype!) with one of my internet heroes, Alexandra Franzen.
We had no big agenda for our conversation.
Just chat + inspiration.
We covered a lot of topics.
From writing and creativity to time management and social media.
We talked about a few road blocks I was hitting in current projects and my summer long obsession with the Enneagram.
It was a delightful hour.
Here are a few things I learned from my time with Alex.
1. If you really want to have time for writing, you have to schedule it.
Like in your calendar with red ink that indicates to you and everyone else in your life that this block of time is not negotiable. If you schedule your writing hours, then the time is yours for writing.
2. You can run a successful business on the internet without maintaining a presence on social media.
Before I sat down with Alexandra, I had been wondering for a while if this was true. I had been experimenting for about a month with being off of social media and was trying to decide if I wanted to stay off. We talked about how there is a lot of fear mongering around making sure you keep your social media profiles constantly updated. And that it is a great tool for folks that love it.
But if like me, you have a little voice telling you that you really wish you could give it up, but you just need a little encouragement, Alexandra has got you covered.
3. Skype sessions with other creatives are a good idea.
We need people to ask us the questions we don’t have to answer on a daily basis. You know, something besides, “What’s for dinner?”
We need someone to ask us the bigger dreamy kinds of questions.
And then we need that someone to hold space for us while we answer those questions.
Or to sit with us in the uncomfortable silence while we listen to our hearts long enough to answer those questions.
We see these questions all the time.
What are your biggest dreams?
What do you wish you could do?
What is holding you back?
What are you afraid of?
Methods for following your dreams and overcoming your fears are the topic of about 1008 blog posts. Weekly.
We skim those blog posts and save them and tweet them and file them away.
But often we don’t get around to saying anything out loud.
Because no one is listening.
Maybe the best Christmas gift you can give to one of your Arkansas Women Blogger Gals is an hour face to face.
Just for dreaming. And listening.
What if you gifted a creative soul in your life with these same words Alexandra sent to me the day before we sat down together?
We’ll just have a delightful conversation about words, stories, and how to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and hopefully… you’ll walk away feeling happy & inspired.
You might just make her day!
PS A big thank you to Alexandra Franzen for gifting me with an hour of her time after I did her online course Unstoppable, which I highly recommend. And also big love to Paige Ray for talking me into doing the course with her in the first place. Paige has started a podcast since we did the course and she is pretty dang Unstoppable herself!
In keeping with the this month’s theme at Arkansas Women Bloggers, I’ve been contemplating RISK.
Thinking about the risks I want to take in blogging and in life makes me excited!
So here are some ideas for taking a risk with your blog this month.
Because taking risks and having new ideas make blogging so much fun!
1. Write a public letter to one of your internet heroes.
Is there a blog or a column you have been reading for years? A person whose ideas you could not live without? Someone who makes you laugh. Or cry.
Write them a gushing letter full of compliments and heartfelt thanks. Then publish it on your blog.
(Bonus points if you find your hero’s address and actually snail mail the letter as well!)
2. Write exactly what your readers want.
Do you have an email newsletter? Maybe consider sending this letter out to your subscribers:
Dear beloved readers,
Will you do me a quick favor? Hit reply to this email and ask me one question you’d love to know the answer to. It can be anything!
I will use your replies as my next several blog posts.
Thanks so much for reading!
You make blogging so much more fun!
Even if you only get four questions back, that’s four more blog posts/writing prompts than you had before.
You could also ask this question on Facebook if you don’t have an email newsletter.
3. Write an advice piece.
Is there a skill or hobby or craft you’ve been learning about lately? Even if you don’t feel like you’re an expert, you probably know more than I do. Tell me how to repair my wood floor. Tell me how to get started on quilting. Or how to narrow down the massive number of paint color choices for a room. How do I dress for an interview? Or start a podcast?
If you’ve been working on a project of any kind over the last few weeks, you have acquired knowledge that someone needs to know. You could be the answer to someone else’s Google search!
Putting yourself out into the world via video can feel like a HUGE risk if you have never done it before. It also can seem daunting, but a one minute video of you doing something as simple as introducing yourself can help your readers connect with your personality.
So dig out a cute outfit, set up your phone and give it a go!
We want to see your pretty face.
If you’re in a rut or looking to take a risk this month, give one of these options a try.
Or tell me other risks you are hoping to take this month! I’m super curious!
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.
Last year at AWBU, the conference for Arkansas Women Bloggers, I took a lot of notes. I had a lot of conversations. I laughed a lot. I cried a little (or a lot). I hugged a lot of ladies (and a couple of fellas). And I ate a lot of food.
But after the conference.
After I flew back to Scotland from Arkansas.
After the dust settled a few weeks later…
I still had this one thought or idea floating around from keynote speaker Alli Worthington.
Her talk was called Editing Life.
She told the story of how she had to let go of running a very successful blogging conference (BlissDom) in order to start the business that she is doing (and loving) now.
She asked us to think about all the commitments we have.
And then she said,
What can you let go of that feels like a relief?
The first thing that popped into my head was Social Media.
And I breathed a little sigh of relief even at the thought.
If I could stop worrying about Social Media, I would be so relieved.
However, I did not immediately stop using Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Pinterest and Instagram.
I was afraid that my blog + writing would fall into oblivion.
It’s a bit of a Catch-22. The brain space that I need for writing is often taken up by social feeds, but if I leave the streams, will anyone know that I am writing? Will anyone read it?
But I had felt the cool breeze of possibility blow by when Alli asked her question,
the hope of the relief of letting go of something I no longer wanted to do.
So I decided to do some experimenting.
I got off of Facebook in November for #NaNoWriMo.
Then I went back on in December with limited access, giving myself fifteen minutes a day.
I tried to carry that into January.
By February I was back to checking All The Things All The Time.
So for the spring I tried to scale it back and return to a daily time limit, and I tried to keep myself to the same time every day, using alarms.
I learned some things from all of these experiments.
Here’s what I learned:
I deeply struggle with time limits.
A little bit of social media interaction is still a big distraction.
My blog readership does not vary greatly because of my social media activity or lack thereof.
In May and June, I did some work for a company and part of my agreement was to provide Social Media coverage. I worked hard to keep everything updated and even to create videos from the day. But then in July I was going on vacation with my family and nothing we were doing was sponsored by anyone. (Nor for a lack of trying + asking!)
I realized that I was under no obligation whatsoever to keep up the kind of Social Media coverage I had done in May or June.
I remembered again what it would feel like to give it up. Relief.
Before we left on July 3, I deleted all the social apps off of my phone. I went radio silent for the whole month.
I went on walks with my family without thinking about what would be the most perfect pic for the Instagram frame. I played cards in the evenings. I read six books. I wrote lengthy journal entries instead of my usual fragmented phrases to later jot my memory. I went out in the evenings without even carrying a phone or a camera. One night I felt so free I did cartwheels in a giant field with my daughter. Another night I watched the sunset without taking a single photo. I bought a new set of watercolors and a sketchbook.
On August 1st, I asked myself if I wanted those apps back on my phone.
And I was almost surprised to realize that I did not. It really was a relief.
I’m still not sure I’m done for good with Social Media. I may find I need it again for a project, but for certain I will approach it a new way if I decide to re-engage.
And at the moment, I am enjoying the benefits of silencing that social buzzing in my writing life. Uninterrupted, less distracted time to write my heart out.
Friends, a year ago at AWBU, I walked away with a notebook full of ideas and thoughts.
I later narrowed those down to one idea. I let that idea sit with me and turned it into a goal that took me almost a year to even seriously consider. This journey of blogging (and life) is slow progress for me, y’all.
Listening to and connecting with other bloggers in person has been a huge gift to my growth as a blogger and a writer! I’m grateful for a place to continue to try on new hats and experiment from my tiny corner of the internet!
Can you remember something you learned at AWBU last year? Share it with me in the comments!
What are you hoping to learn this year? Are you going? You can still sign up to attend AWBU this year!
I encouraged you to think about what you really want. Dream big, make goals and then ask for the help you need.
So this month I want to talk about what those asks or pitches could look like.
Lots has been written about pitching on the internet. And you can even use Google to find templates for the specific kinds of things you want to pitch.
But for what it’s worth, here are the five things I’ve learned about pitching:
5 Tips For Writing Pitches
1. Keep it short.
Your initial email to someone should walk a fine line between including enough information to peak interest but being brief enough to be glimpsed in about five seconds. The bottom line is you don’t have much time in someone’s inbox to get their attention. If you ramble on, you’re going to lose them.
Imagine you are actually receiving this email you are writing.
Is it clear? Are there parts you can leave out?
Go ahead and write out your whole idea but then boil it down to just what they need to know.
A few times a year, Stephanie (who runs Arkansas Women Bloggers) asks for pitches for articles that are paid. She always says, “Please review the website so as not to pitch me something that has already been done.”
If you pitch a magazine with an idea that was in their last issue, they might think you are not actually reading the publication you want to write for.
Are you trying to work with a company? Follow them on social media and pay attention to what they are promoting. Then write your pitch to include their goals as well as your own.
3. Flatter with sincerity.
For years, every email I wrote began this way:
Hi. My name is Alison Chino and I write a blog for a small, but committed audience about food, travel and family. Blah, blah, blah.
First of all, see Rule #1.
Secondly, it’s just boring.
Now I try to start my email with a brief statement about something specific I love that the company/magazine/person is doing.
Of course, it needs to be sincere. But if you’ve done your homework (#2), you should be able to easily recall something great they are doing that you want to be a part of!
4. Pitch often, but don’t blanket pitch.
If you want a lot of work as a blogger, especially when you are first starting out, you will have to write a lot of pitches.
But at the same time, it’s not a great idea to send out the exact same email to fifty people. It is much harder to write specific emails/find out peoples’ names/be sincere and personal, but it’s so much more effective.
Set a goal of how many pitches you want to send per month and then set some reminders to encourage you to get them out there.
(Side note: As far as goal-setting goes, setting a goal like “Send five pitches per week” is so much more tangible than a goal like “Work with so-and-so.” Because the first goal depends only on you! Tasks you can check off of your list are my favorite kind!)
5. Expect rejections.
All of these best-selling authors experienced rejection so you’re in good company when you get a “No” from someone or you don’t hear back at all.
One of the ways I’m learning to deal with pitches not landing is that I try to send my pitches at a time when I can close my computer up and not think about them again for a few days.
After you send a pitch, congratulate yourself (YOU DID IT!), check it off your list and then go work on something else. Instead of obsessively checking your email to see if you have heard anything, close your computer and go for a walk. Or send your pitch off right before you leave for your next yoga class.
I am trying to apply the same lesson in pitching emails as I do in prayer and meditation:
Learn the art of enjoying the space to dream during the seasons where I am waiting for a reply.