Thursday, July 9, 2009

To Blog or Not To Blog...

For the last three or four months, I had been considering if I should write a blog or not. I have a close friend that blogs- she is a writer and editor though, and reads A TON. Other super smart people have blogs- and they seem to have so much motivation and really interesting information to report. Me, however, I wasn't sure if my enthusiasm over my obsessions would warrant a blog. Would my writing be interesting? Do I have enough to write about? I had many questions. After mulling it over for a few months, I decided (along with another friend) to take the plunge- see what it is like to blog.

Since then, I've been very enthusiastic about blogging. It is a BLAST!

Here is why:
  1. I find myself looking at my experiences with a blogger's eye. I am more apt to think about what is happening, and what kind of sense I can make of it.
  2. I feel like I am more accountable for what I (think I) know. If I am going to write it down for others to see, I really need to make sure that there is some research and "meat" to my writings.
  3. I don't usually write my ideas down, and now I feel like they won't be lost (because I forget A LOT of things). Wait, what was I writing about again.? Oh! Yea- blogging...

Here are some stats about blogs that intrigue:
--175,000 new blogs are being started each day. (Technorati)
--The number of active blogs grew from 56 million to 62.3 million between October of 2006 and January 2007. (Gartner)
--The total number of dead, abandoned blogs out there has exceeded 200 million.(Gartner). SAD!!
Found from: SFGate

There are some blogging basics to know however. I must admit, I have already broken some of the rules... oooops!! My information comes from an experienced blogger Michael Pick with info from by Robin Good.

What is a blog?
"The word blog is a contraction of "web log", a phrase not so commonly used these days. In the simplest definition of the term, then, a blog is a log of your thoughts, ideas, useful links, photos, videos, or the latest news."

Why write a blog?
"There is no single reason to write a blog, as it very much depends on your motivation. Nevertheless, blogging can have a number of benefits, whether it is to help boost the presence of your business online, or just to share and debate ideas with like-minded people."

What to write??
"While this will obviously depend on why you are blogging in the first place, one piece of advice you should definitely consider is trying to find yourself a niche. Unless you are writing for your family or a couple of friends, the best way to distinguish yourself and build a readership is to focus on a particular niche topic or interest."
"There is bound to be something that you are passionate about, that really motivates you, and that is in some way unique to you. That's where to begin your blog from."

If you want it to stand out:
"The most important part of your blog posts are the titles. Because that's what will make a reader that finds your content through a search engine decide whether to visit your website or not. This is the make or break point that determines whether you get read or passed over in favour of someone else's content. Robin Good, in his article on How To Write Great Titles And Headlines For The Web notes that: "Do not try to make the title "smart", by using irony, word play or other "journalistic" approach."
This is precisely the rule I have broken... My titles aren't really searchable....... I'll have to think about it- do I want to lose the cute titles?

How to keep a reader on your page??
Once you have a great title the next thing worth thinking about is what happens when your reader actually arrives at your website. A lot of readers will disappear from a site in seconds unless they are captivated and encouraged to stay.
Muhammad Saleem writes for CopyBlogger that: "Readers will often read content diagonally to determine its usefulness before giving it a proper read."
Robin Good (Information: Beginners Blog Design) writes that "chunking" is important in a blog:
"Chunking is an approach to the formatting of the text that strives to "modularize" contents into the greatest number of meaningful text blocks possible." So chunks of writing- not BIG blocks.

Be bold!
"In order to facilitate readers scanning page contents, it is a great idea to use some "bolding" to highlight the first three or four words of content paragraphs that are particularly important."

A picture tells how many words?
Use pictures- people love them.

Where to begin?
My suggestion is to start thinking about a theme and then decide if you want to keep up a blog. At that point, there are so many research tools out there you can run crazy and be a fabulous blogger! If you start one! LET ME KNOW!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Opposite of Enthusiasm?

I was reading The Happiness Project Blog and the author wrote about her term "Drift." I thought her definition was pretty interesting. As I was discussing it with a friend, it occurred to me that this could be the opposite of enthusiasm.

Drift means "the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility." Per the authors own words. I think that this is a very key understanding in looking at what enthusiasm is not. I know enthusiasm isn't a direct form of decision making, but it can motivate a decision. Here are some definitions of enthusiasm I found on google:
  • Enthusiastic - With zealous fervor; excited, motivated.
  • Enthusiastic - having or showing great excitement and interest.
  • Possession by a god; divine inspiration or frenzy; Intensity of feeling; excited interest or eagerness.
  • Enthusiasm (ἐνθουσιασμός enthousiasmos) originally meant inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus (inspiration) or by the presence of a god.
  • Antonym: Indifference.

There are many areas we are indifferent in our lives- and for good reason. It would sometimes suit us better to drift more. Like when the neighbors are crackling their left over fireworks for days after the 4th. Or, the person who lets the door slam in your face while your hands are full. Things like that. Maybe when a relationship is tense and making no move or being indifferent to the bad (for a bit) is more healthy. I think the author has a point with considering where we are drifting and understanding if it is good for us.

After just a few moments I realized my area of drift is with my connection to people who are not in my immediate surroundings. I am SO bad at sending cards, calling people and regular communication- even electronically (I'm a VERY lazy facebooker). Unless there is a specific reason for me to reach out. This is where I drift, and I have no idea how to be better. I have completely lost touch with some people because of this- isn't that sad? I've tried making lists, buying bulk cards, making reminders on my PDA phone etc. It seems that I only can remember those closest to me, and then sometimes they fall through the cracks. It is a goal of mine to work on this- but drifting is so much easier. Doing what I always have done is what I continue to do.

Are there drift areas (where you are just indifferent) in your life? Do you have a way of working through them? Do you use drifting as a positive tool?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hmmmm..... Bread.

Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread, especially the rising yeasty kind. Hmmmmmm...

A while back, probably around a year now, I started hating what I was reading in my store bought bread ingredients. Take a look the next time you go to the store, many may have changed to a more natural sweetener, but most still contain HFCS, that is High Fructose Corn Syrup. It is a sweetener that has been the basis for much debate in the last few years. If you ask a lot of parents, foodies and nutritionists they would tell you that HFCS may just be the cause of childhood onset of diabetes these days. If you ask people in the corn industry, they say HFCS is completely safe in limited quantities and it is our culture that is causing the diabetes. The problem that I see with the corn industries argument is why is it in most of our processed foods that we eat on a daily basis- like bread? If you ask me, I say it is both, and regardless, I don't want it in everything I eat. Thus, I became the Maega bread baker!

I have never been a super big bread eater. In college I had a stomach issue and bread-y foods just made me feel icky. But the thought of warm fresh bread (with butter of course) was something I liked, and I like to try new things so I started learning how to make bread. Also, my DH is a carb consumer. You want him on board when selling carbs- he loves them. I thought it would be better for him too to have something wholesome and HFCS free.

So, my first, say, 5 loaves totally sucked. Seriously people. Bricks. It was worse than trying to make sandwiches out of large Melba toasts. And, to boot- they were completely wheat based- so try to swallow that. Uffda. Now, you are wondering, I can see the gleam in your eye, how did DH fare with this experiment of mine? Well, I happened to have married THE most patient man I could find, so he just ate the bread and said things like "great job" and "hmmm, fresh baked." At least our house smelled yummy, right?

Anyway, on to success. I figured out that, yes, it does matter what kind of flour you buy. Also, when the recipe tells new bread bakers to NOT start with wheat, they had a reason. Smart people! After a few successes with white bread, I tried my hand at wheat, and now can proudly say that I know some little tricks of the trade myself. It just took a few google searches, a Mississippi market trip, and some time and- voila yummy bread.

I must add a plug for the Kitchenaid stand mixer (I hated reading these when I didn't have one- sorry non-owners!). If you plan on making more than two loaves a year, get a dough hook!! It is like having a maid (I guess I wouldn't know, but it seems like it would be that awesome). I use the KA for all of my mixing needs- maybe I should just blog about that sometime.... adding it to the list.

I figured I would share my all time favorite recipe for everyday bread with you, with my changes and additions. The original is from a website called Hillbilly Housewife- because they are known for their baking skills... (I think)

Maega Bread
1-1/2 cups of White flour (plus a little extra flour for kneading)
1-1/2 cups of Wheat flour (NOT GRAHM FLOUR)
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet, or about 2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
1 cup warm water (not hot, just warm)
~2 teaspoons of soy lecithin granules (I got mine from Mississippi Market in bulk area)

1. Ingredients:-Put your 1 cup of warm tap water into a Pyrex type deal, put your yeast and soy lecithin in there as well, mix just a bit with a fork and let sit.
-In a large bowl (or Kitchenaid [KA] bowl) put your oil, honey, and salt. Then get all your other ingredients out of the cupboards (to give your yeast and soy lecithin a chance to get to know each other).
-Gently mix the warm water mixture together a bit with a fork, then pour it into the bowl of your other sticky ingredients, mix around with a rubber spatula until all the ingredients have "met each other."
-Now, add one cup of wheat flour and mix with a spoon (or hook on your KA) for like 60 seconds. Stop, add the 1/2 cup of wheat flour, mix for a bit, stop add the 1 cup of white flour mix for a bit, stop add the 1/2 cup of white and mix until all of it is mixed together as best you can.

2. Kneading: important note* If you are mixing this by hand be ready for a work out. Dump your dough (it is o.k. if it is a little chunky) onto a slightly floured surface and start kneading like you hate someone and knead to get that energy out... (WOW bad jokes... can't help myself). You will knead to knead (can't stop!) for 10 to 15 minutes, until the dough looks like it has started to string up a bit (see above recipe link for more info on kneading). For you KA owners, "alls you gotta do is" scoop the bottom ingredients to the top and set your mixer to a 2 or 4 speed for like 5 to 7 minutes. You should consider lifting some weights during that time to get the same workout though.... Just a thought.

3. Rising/Baking: Here is a tricky deal. Your bread kneads (k, last joke) to rise enough to be beaten down before the 2nd rise. Here is what I do: microwave a cup of water for a minute to warm up the microwave. Pop your little ball of dough into a bowl that has been oil sprayed or EVOO'd a bit, cover with a tea or drying towel and put it in the micro (micro will be unavailable for a while). You aren't cooking it in the micro, it just sits in there! If you have to use your micro for other things- stick it in the oven or a warm cupboard. I let mine rise for about 90 minutes before I check it. It will take longer in cool weather and shorter in warm weather. You know that it is ready to be punched down when you stick your finger in it and it leaves a hole (that doesn't pop back up).

-When the hole stays, you use your fist and gently/slowly punch it down so the air is pushed out. Grab a loaf pan, or whatever you are baking it in, spray it with the cooking oil/ non-stick stuff (don't use EVOO- the bread will stick). Take your dough, gently massage (yes- I used massage for a bread recipe) it to be similar to the shape of the pan, and put the dough in. Cover it up with the drying towel and stick it back in the micro for about 90 minutes again. When it has risen (indeed) put it in the oven at 350 and bake for 30-35 minutes. It is done when you take it out of the pan and a flick to the bottom sounds sorta hollow.

Now- if you are like me and have a job, you just don't have time to sit around waiting for bread to rise (let's start saying that- "She is so lazy she waits for bread to rise!! ha ha ha!"). So, this is my modification. Go back to step 3. Rising. Instead of letting the bread rise a second time in the micro- stick it in the fridge overnight and bake it in the morning. The max it should be in the fridge is 12 hours. Forgotten dough gets tough- this I know from experience. The people you live with will love you forever by the way. Fresh baked bread in the a.m. is awesome.

The whole process takes about 25 minutes of my time total. I usually double the recipe and make 2 loaves. I freeze one and we have bread for a week and a half. This bread goes bad in about 3 or 4 days unless you keep it wrapped in aluminium foil, then you have about a week with it.

So I thought I would share with you my enthusiasm for freshly baked homemade "everyday" bread, seeing as we will soon be baking in the July sun ourselves.

Happy baking!