Reflections on Blogging Contests

olympic podium blogging contests win lose victory defeatIn my day job, I’m the Managing Editor of VancouverMom.ca. For the past month and a bit, I’ve been busy running the annual Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger search. First there were nominations, and then I had to narrow the list down to just 30 (Not. Easy.). Then I got in touch with all those fabulous ladies, and collected photos and profiles, which I compiled into articles. Finally, we’ve just finished two weeks of voting for the top winner overall. I’ve let the Top 30 know about the results, but everyone else will have to stop by the site tomorrow.

I was on this list myself, back in 2010. I did not win. At the time, I took it kind of personally. It happened that I was nominated for a bunch of these contests at around the same time, and didn’t win or place in any of them. I wondered why people didn’t like me. I worried about voting rules and wondered how some people got so many votes. Eventually, I became jaded and decided that I wouldn’t participate in so-called ‘popularity contests’.

I’ve been on the other side of a number of these contests, now. In my conversations with the people I’m honouring, I see some of the same feelings in them. They’re excited to be included. They’re frustrated when the rules don’t seem to work in their favour. They’re sad when the results don’t go their way – and they’re really thrilled when they do. And all of this just kind of makes me want to give these ladies a big hug.

Here’s the truth, in my experience: these contests typically go to the best networker. You’re not going to win by voting for yourself as many times as possible. You have to get other people to vote for you, and advocate for you. If you’re not comfortable promoting yourself in that way, that’s fine. Many of us aren’t. We don’t want to pester people. I sort of feel that way, myself. And now I know that’s why I’ve never won these contests. Knowing that, somehow, has allowed me to make my peace with it. It’s let me know that it’s not that my writing isn’t that good, or that people don’t like me. It’s just that I don’t like to talk about what I’m doing, or ask people to do things for me.

Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with calling on your network for support. There’s nothing wrong with telling your community that you’re in this contest and you’d love for them to vote for you. There’s nothing wrong with putting it out there, and seeing what comes back. In fact, it’s a great thing to be a good networker. If you enjoy it, so much the better.

In the end, the truth is that your worth as an individual, or as a blogger, does not depend on where you finish in an online contest. The value of your voice is not diminished if you finish dead last, or if fewer people read you. Winning is great, but it’s not a prerequisite to a life well-lived. Losing isn’t much fun, but it doesn’t mean that you failed. That’s what I want to tell all of the members of the latest Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger list who didn’t get a special email from me letting them know that they had won. They’re still awesome, just as they are. My wish is that they can own that awesomeness, win or lose.

Have you ever been in an online contest? Did you win or lose? What was it like for you? I’d love to hear your stories of victory and defeat.

Ditching the Schedule

blogging schedules

For a few years now, I’ve scheduled my blog posts to run every morning at 6:00am Pacific time, five or six days a week. Sometimes, I wrote several posts all at once. Sometimes I sat up late at night, trying desperately to finish something to run the next morning. But I did it, because I feel pretty strongly that in order to get better at writing, you have to write. The other reason I did it is because schedules work for me. I’m a planner by nature, and knowing what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it creates the sort of order that I enjoy. It’s freeing to me, in fact.

Recently, though, things have changed. For one thing, I’m writing a lot more for work. A lot more. I enjoy it very much, working as a writer and editor. However, it’s leaving me feeling a little bit lost when it’s time for me to sit in this chair and write for myself. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m all written out. On top of that, having the structure of a specific editorial schedule to adhere to in my working life has more than filled my need for structure. My planning cup runneth over, and at this point having yet another writing obligation to fulfill is just a little bit too much. And so, I’ve decided to ditch my blogging schedule here.

I will still write here, more days than not. I will still sit in this chair and think out my thoughts and write things simply because I want to write them. But I will do that on my own schedule, and in my own time. I guess you could say I’m giving myself the gift of freedom. The freedom to write, or the freedom to not write, as the muse dictates. Or as my energy level dictates.

At this point in my life, my biggest fantasy is to be able to tuck my kids into bed, then head downstairs to do whatever I want. This isn’t a reality for me, for a couple of reasons. The first is that my four-year-old Jacob is giving his father and me a workout every night as he gets out of bed for one more drink of water, one more hug, one more thing he has to tell us. I’m getting my daily exercise running up and down the stairs every evening, more times than I care to count. The second reason I can’t just do whatever I want when my kids are in bed is that I don’t have enough time during the day to finish all my work. But by streamlining things, maintaining focus, and making sure that I meet my basic needs so that I’m efficient, I do better.

My hope is that by easing up on the requirements I set myself, I can cultivate a greater sense of ease and spaciousness in my life. I can spend more time being present in the moment, rather than thinking about all the things I “have” to do. I can spend my evenings reading, or watching TV, or meditating, or taking a yoga class, instead of forcing myself to follow an arbitrary schedule. I have a long way to go, but it’s a goal, and it’s a big part of why I’m easing up on myself.

So, if you’ve noticed that my schedule has shifted, you’re right. It has. I’m not going anywhere – this space means to much to me to do that. But sometimes, I may be too busy living to sit in this chair and write. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, maybe it’s even better than okay.

I’ll let you know how this new approach to blogging works out for me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Do you set schedules for yourself, or do you find them constricting? And if you blog, when and how often do you write? Tell me!

Blogging: A Love Story

I never meant to be a blogger. I kind of fell into it, accidentally.

It all started in 2003. At the time, Geocities was all the rage, and many people were creating their own webpages. When I discovered that I had access to a free webpage through my internet service provider, I decided to get on board. Unbelievably, that web page still exists. (If you choose to click that link, please do keep in mind that I created it 10 years ago.)

At the time, I didn’t know the word blog. I was relatively newly-married, and working full-time as an engineer. I hadn’t written anything in ages. And yet, I fell into updating the minutia of my life in my life in the news section fairly quickly. When we decided to buy a house, I suddenly had more to talk about, and more to share with my friends and family. My husband Jon suggested that we could graduate from the free site to our own webpage, and I was on board. It would be like Geocities, only better.

blogging valentine's day social media

When Jon set up a blog, I was irritated. As I said, I didn’t know what a blog was. I didn’t feel that anyone else did, either. I made him put up a splash page, which linked to separate “weblogs” for each of us, as well as our photo album, videos and so on. And yet, in spite of myself, I fell into updating my blog regularly. I wasn’t good at it, and you probably had to know me personally in order to understand what I was talking about, but I did it. I blogged, once a week or so, sometimes more and sometimes less.

Things really changed for me as a blogger when my son was born. I decided that blogging would be my maternity leave project, and I got more serious about it. If you look through my archives, you can see the shift that occurred in late 2008. At the same time I joined Facebook, and later Twitter, which also shifted my perspective when it came to connecting with people online. I began to understand the power of the internet. I also began to understand what my inner writer knew all along – I have to write. Even if it’s badly-laid-out, three-sentence missives on an ancient webpage, once you give me the space I will fill it.

blogging social media valentine's day

And now, today is Valentine’s Day, 10 years after I started that terrible free webpage. In retrospect, I can see how that haphazard decision shaped my life, and set me on a course I couldn’t have anticipated. Through blogging, reading and connecting online I have once again reclaimed my identity as a writer. I have become a dreamer, and taken real steps towards creating a more meaningful and intentional life. I have met amazing people, been entrusted with inspiring stories, and danced my heart out. It isn’t extremely rewarding from a monetary standpoint, but I love it more than I can say.

I’m not a big fan of the romantic obligations that come with Valentine’s Day. However, I do see value in setting aside a day to let the people in our lives know how much we appreciate them. And so, today, I’m thanking you. If you’re reading this, then you’re making yourself a part of my community. That means so much to me. After all, I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. If I’m yours, in some small way, that’s the most rewarding part of blogging I know. It’s so much more powerful than I could have anticipated, when I tapped out my first entries 10 years ago. Sometimes, life has a way of making the unexpected adventure the best one of all.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Podcast: Talking Blogging with Annie of PhD in Parenting

If you read parenting blogs, the odds are good that you’ve come across Annie, the blogger behind PhD in Parenting. Thanks to her consistent writing, her strong voice, and her relentless advocacy, she’s gained a large and devoted following. When I ran the Crafting my Life online class I wanted to talk to someone about using your voice, and Annie was my first choice. I was thrilled when she agreed to connect for an interview. Today, I’m once again thrilled, as I share that interview with you in today’s podcast.

Strocel.com Podcast Blogging PhD in ParentingNot everyone will agree with what Annie’s opinions on controversial issues. But anyone can see that she does her research, creates a well laid-out argument, and then promotes the issues she cares about. That’s not easy. If you’ve ever tried your hand at blogging, you know that it takes work, and risk-taking, and time. You also need to have a bit of a thick skin to tackle certain subjects. Annie does all that, and through it all she maintains a voice that is unapologetically her own. You don’t have to agree with her opinions to see strength of her voice and the integrity of her work.

More than a year after I recorded this podcast with Annie, I took part in her study of parenting blog analytics. She gave me some suggestions that I actually implemented here, like listing my categories and my popular posts, and creating a Facebook page. If you’d like to know more about how your own blog’s stats compare, check out her post Parenting Blog Analytics: How Do My Stats Compare?

If you’d like some inspiration for using your own voice, or some ideas for building a platform of your own, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

Next week on the Strocel.com podcast I’ll be switching things up, as I share a conversation with Van Clayton Powel, author of You Are NOT What You Eat. If you’re still trying to get over your holiday indulgences, or if you’d like to learn how to improve your digestive system, you’ll want to tune in. Van is very passionate, and I learned something myself for sure. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

*Image Credit – Mike Licht on Flickr

The Power of We: A Blogger’s Musings

Power of We Blog Action DayI’ve been blogging for over nine years now. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in this computer chair, tapping out words. The computer has changed, the room I sit in has changed, but the chair hasn’t and the solitude hasn’t. (Well, actually, the solitude kind of has, in that I’m rarely truly alone anymore, but writing is still something I’m doing by myself.) When I saw that this year’s Blog Action Day theme is The Power of We I was kind of at a loss. What am I part of? How am I joining forces with others to effect change?

There are many bloggers who do a fabulous job of advocating for – and creating – positive change. They’re activists who put themselves out there, calling out corruption, inequity and unethical behaviour when they see it. I admire them, but the truth is I can’t take the heat. I’ve written posts that garnered controversy and it quite honestly kept me up at night. Looking back on it now I feel anxious just thinking about it. The truth is that I would really like to just join hands with everyone and sing “Kum Bah Yah”. Then maybe interview them about the experience of holding hands and singing for my podcast. I’m a storyteller, not an activist, and I’m comfortable with that.

At the same time, we can no longer ignore the power of the Internet. The role that social media played in the Arab Spring, for instance, is well known. When we break down the barriers to connection and communication, people can organize and share ideas in new ways. Anyone, anywhere can share their message with the world. Amid the funny cat videos and the celebrity blogs and the Gangnam Style spoofs, there’s some great stuff. Online you can learn how to knit or be inspired or join a political party or learn about history or share your story so that someone who reads it feels just a little bit less alone. While blogging may feel like a solitary act, the truth is it never is.

Power of We Post Hurricane Ike (6)
Photo Credit: Michael Glasgow on Flickr

Every time that you reach out to someone else online to share a piece of information, offer support or create community, you’re exercising the power of we. You’re creating something that you could not create by yourself. You may not be taking on powerful CEOs or building non-profit societies to save the world. That’s okay, we don’t all have to contribute in the same way. But I choose to believe that when we do contribute, by offering the best of ourselves to the world, we’re building something.

My circle of influence isn’t large, and yours may not be either. But if having kids has taught me anything it’s that I don’t have to change the world. I can change one person’s world at a time. Sometimes, a single word delivered at the right time can make a huge difference. We just need to have the courage to show up and speak it, in the way that no one else can. If we all do that, online or offline, we’re making the world a better place to live in. We’re engaging the power of we.

Using your voice isn’t always easy. It’s an act of trust, and sometimes it still makes me nervous. I choose to do it all the same. Will you join me?

Shanti Uganda’s Birth Partners Push

Shanti Uganda Birth Partners PushIn September I shared a post about Shanti Uganda’s Birth Partners Push. The concept was simple – moms with blogs would use their platforms to help create positive change for women in Uganda, through Shanti Uganda.

Based here in the Vancouver area, the Shanti Uganda Society imagines a world where birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS are supported, empowered and able to develop to their full potential. They provide safe woman-centered care and support the well-being of birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. In 2010 they opened their Birth House, which is a solar powered maternity center on one acre of land in the Luwero District of Uganda. The centre is staffed by a team of Ugandan Midwives, a traditional birth attendant and a lab technician. From the Birth House, Shanti Uganda also runs prenatal education classes, a Community Garden Program, a Teen Girls Program and a Women’s Income Generating Group. The latter is a collective of HIV positive women who produce bags and jewellery, which are sold throughout North America.

According to Shanti Uganda, maternal health in Uganda is in need of critical support. 1 in 22 women in rural areas die giving birth, and 18% of new HIV infections occur from mother to child. In contrast, in Canada in 2010, approximately 1 in 13,000 women died in childbirth in 2010. Women in rural Uganda are 590 times more likely to die in childbirth than I was. According to one study, the most common causes of maternal mortality in Uganda were sepsis, hemorrhage and ruptured uterus, while the most common factors contributing to death were lack of blood for transfusion, lack of drugs and intravenous fluids and operating room problems.

Shanti Uganda Birth Partners Push

Those statistics hit home for me. With my daughter Hannah I went into labour at 34 weeks, and while the birth was mostly uneventful, after Hannah was born I hemorrhaged severely. I ultimately required a D&C to remove a piece of placenta, which hadn’t delivered properly. While I was being prepped for surgery, the anesthesiologist told me I’d lost about half of my blood volume. Keep in mind, I had access to excellent medical care and drugs to reduce my bleeding. Following my surgery, when my hemoglobin had dropped again, I was given a transfusion. Some weeks later we got the pathology results from the placenta that had been sent for testing, and we learned that I had been suffering from an acute amniotic infection. Fortunately, thanks to the antibiotics I received in labour and after, my daughter wasn’t infected, and I recovered well. I’m not so sure the outcome would have been so positive if I’d been giving birth in rural Uganda.

I’m grateful to the other mothers who joined with me to raise their voices on behalf of women in Uganda. Please take the time to read what they wrote:

If you care about maternal equality, and you’re able to help, I’d also like to encourage you to consider becoming a Shanti Uganda Birth Partner. Your regular donation helps ensure that they have stable funding to do their important work. I’m not being compensated for writing this, I’m doing it because it matters to me. I bet it matters to a lot of you, too.

Now I’d like to turn the tables back on you. What does safe maternity care mean to you? Did you encounter any complications in birth that made you feel glad to have access to quality medical care? Please share!

Want to Help Moms? Shanti Uganda’s Birth Partners Push

Shanti Uganda Birth Partners PushWhen I found myself on the same email thread with Natalie Angell-Besseling, Founder and Executive Director of Shanti Uganda, I knew that I wanted to find out more about this local mama. She helped start a charity that provides safe women-centered care and supports the well-being of birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Their projects include a Women’s Income Generating Group and a Birth House, among others. Shanti Uganda’s Birth House offers educational workshops for midwives and traditional birth attendants, as well as preventative care, birth supplies and assistance for birthing women. They’re also working hard to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates from mothers to their babies.

I interviewed Natalie for a podcast, and I was even more inspired. I encourage you to take a listen for yourself. I decided that I wanted to do what I could to help Shanti Uganda achieve its vision. So when Natalie got in touch with me and told me about the Birth Partners project, the Birth Partners Push was born.

Uganda is a country where poverty has left its mark and millions of children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. With a tremendous shortage of health care workers, maternal health in Uganda is in need of critical support. 1 in 22 women in rural areas die giving birth and 18% of new HIV infections occur from mother to child. The Birth Partners program helps ensure that the Birth House receives stable funding, ensuring that women have access to a dedicated team of midwives. We’re asking mom bloggers to help us spread the word. Natalie says, “Not only is Shanti Uganda providing a safe, empowering environment for women to give birth, but we are defying the statistics. Of the over 100 women who have given birth at our centre in our almost two years of operation, 100% have left healthy, happy and supported by our dedicated team of midwives.”

Shanti Uganda Birth Partners Push

When I look at what Natalie is doing, I feel kind of sheepish about all the time I spend whining about how I don’t want to clean my kitchen.

Through the Birth Partners Push we’re inviting bloggers to stand in solidarity with birthing mothers in Uganda. Help us create awareness about the challenges facing pregnant women in Uganda and use your voice to inspire others to work with us to create better birthing conditions and in turn, save lives. If you could write a post between September 17-30, 2012, featuring your personal passion for maternal health and sharing information about the Birth Partners program we’d be very grateful. Contact me, and I’ll pass along the info.

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