Calling all Blog Readers! Seeking Advice and a Giveaway for Readers

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I’m in a weird funk about my blog at the moment, but for odd jangle of reasons. I’m having difficulty writing or establishing a direction for my blog and yet I really want to blog. Below is a list of some situations impacting and influencing my blog writing.

Things that induce blog anxiety:

-Increased negative attention: Towards the end of last year I discovered that an individual (not a regular reader, but rather someone involved in my real-life life) was mining my blog and Twitter for negativity. We’re talking scrolling through weeks and weeks of posts and lifting a handful of sentences out of context. This led to much personal hell. On top of this I had a few headache inducing spots of antagonism: rando person bitching about pumpkin spice lattes, a few readers who decided to leave my blog due to my swearing (bye, Felicia), and the infamous news reporter’s boyfriend being a dick.

–Anomalous spikes in readership: If I blog about being fat, or raped, or mentally ill, I get LOADS of traffic. While I’m glad my personal life resonates deeply with other and it is empowering to write these posts, it takes a hell of a lot of effort and personal exposure. The sum of my existence is not that of a fat, sexual assault survivor, bipolar chick. I would say close to 90% of my blog reflects an existence rooted in exuberant joy: books, coffee, kids, fun dresses, more books. I do have steady and faithful readers who recognize that my blog is a patchwork quilt of my life: different colors, textures, and hues, but all the same quilt. But if you’ve started reading for the books and find me talking about rape or you’ve come for the mental illness discussion and find Ipsy bag reviews you may be confused and even put-off.

–Marketing shit:  I’ve started getting emails asking things like, “hey, you’re great! We’re a no-name car rental company. Blog about your favorite travel essentials and our social media team MAY look at it and USE it.” And use it how? Use it for free advertising? Do you even read my blog? With the exception of a single trip to Texas I am a broke-ass homebody. I will review books and products (anyone want to send me coffee?), but it is not the purpose of my blog and it has to be something I think is phenomenal and will use regularly. I’ve even gotten book stuff that asks me to blog about something that’s my favorite and they will share it. I’m not into advertising for free. Want me to write for you? Then you can pay me. Free blogging happens for charities and causes I think are worthy, not for cheap marketing hacks.

My Shiny Happy Blog Rainbow:

This is a case of the good greatly outweighing the bad.

-My Crew: Some of my closest friendships have been formed through blogging. I’m saving my shout-outs for BBAW, but I’ve had two separate blogger meet-ups last year (1,2) and it confirmed the importance of this community in my life. In addition to meeting folks in person, my book blogger friends have been there for me during my rough patch as much as my local friends. Cards, emails, Christmas goodies came regularly brighten my day and it made such a difference. Seriously, the love was radiating out of my computer and my mail box.

– Memories and growth: My courtship and marriage to Sam, all my babies growing up, the books read, the memories made. It is all here. I can look back at recipes and crafts. I marvel at how much I’ve grown and how much more I have to learn in this great bright world.

– Learning: Book recommendations, breastfeeding tips, recipes, strategies for life… I’ve learned so much from other bloggers and readers.

–Writing: I’m not going to spit out a novel or an award-winning essay, but good golly I love writing. My passion isn’t only for reading the words of others; I get a certain amount of personal understanding of self and  cathartic satisfaction from spilling my own words.
The Verdict:

If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m not leaving blogging. What I need to do is reach back to those writing basics and figure out my purpose and audience. My purpose is to write for myself and to connect with kindred spirits.

What this means:
I’m rejigging my blog post calendar and how I create posts. I’m going to move to more batch posting. I’ll be focusing on my right now and my future. I’ve decided to let some of the heavier posts take a back seat and instead write about how I’m coping, learning, and growing. My posts may be more of the brief and visual variety and I hope to begin posting with more regularity.
I will be writing about heavy life experiences, essays about motherhood, and exploring life’s complications, but I’m working on developing those pieces as essays for other blogs and writing ventures. I have a few leads on some posting opportunities and I may share some of these essays at Fig and Thistle, but mostly they will find homes with targeted audiences at other subject specific blogs and websites. My words and my story can help those who need to hear it, but it will allow Fig and Thistle to be a chronicle of living my life to the fullest.
Survey:
I was going to craft a reader survey because I really want to know what you all like about Fig and Thistle, but I decided to keep it here in a public space. It will be.like a nice chat. Are you a new reader? Have you been around for a while? Grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat. What drew you to Fig and Thistle? What types of posts do you like to read? And most importantly, let me know if and where you blog (or another form of social media) so we can connect. I’m all ears eyes and eager to get to know you all.
Giveaway:
Let’s make this even more fun. Leave a comment with your thoughts and you will be entered to win a box of Amanda-ness. Don’t worry, I’ve no plans to send you a severed ear. It will most likely contain some of my favorite coffee, a loved book, and a few other trinkets and treats. I’ll leave this post open for comments until Saturday, January 23rd at noon (EST). I’ll announce the winner in before January 31st.

Ibotta App, or, how I fund dates by grocery shopping

Y’all, marriage is hard.

Buying groceries for five people when finances are stretched thin is harder.

Finding money to go out on a “for real” date with my husband is the hardest.

Our finances took an unexpected hit with my illness and a decrease in Sam’s work hours. I was worried before, but now buying groceries is major stressful. I shop mostly at Aldi, but there are a few things I buy at other stores. If I exclude diapers and non-food essentials, I spend a total of $100 to $120 a week on groceries. This figures to $3.43 per person, per day. My little kids are in the midst of an insane growth spurt, my teenager runs track and needs high protein snack, and my husband is built like Hagrid. I have to make my dollars stretch.

Once I pay bills each week there just isn’t money left to go out once a month. We try sitting cash aside – $10 or so a week — but that only covers babysitting. And we could really, really use the chance to get away once in awhile.

 

Here comes the Ibotta app to the rescue. This is how it works. You download the app and create a profile. Then you go through and “unlock” deals at various stores. It may be as simple as clicking “unlock” to earn $1 on a a gallon of milk or you may have to answer a question about your household (like how many kids you have) or watch a commercial to unlock a deal. Next go to the grocery store and shop. I like to check my grocery list against my unlocked deals and then decide which store to shop at. The trick is to use Ibotta for stuff you would use or that you really want. If you buy a bunch of stuff you don’t like for the money back, then it is really just pennies down the drain. However, I know that I always buy milk, cheese, bread, bananas, pasta, coffee, etc…

Okay, you have your list, your deals are unlocked, and you’re shopping. Keep in mind that you can totally use other coupons at the register and it will not impact your using the Ibotta app. Once you’re done shopping you verify your purchases within the app by submitting a receipt (usually you snap a pic of the QR code or barcode at the bottom). The program may take a few hours, but you’ll get an email alerting you to “cash” loaded in your account.

You can redeem your Ibotta cash in $20 increments for Paypal and Venmo OR you can redeem in $25 chunks for giftcards to various retailers, Starbucks, theaters, etc….

Y’all, I signed up on January 1st and I have earned $32.50. I’ve purchased a theater giftcard and now I’m on my way to purchasing a Starbucks giftcard. And there you have it. We use our tucked away cash for babysitting and then our monthly date consists of what we have giftcards for… I feel brilliant. Probably a misplaced bit of confidence, but whatevs.

Of course there are loads of other ways you can use your Ibotta cash. Perhaps you want to save for a TV at Best Buy, use the funds at Amazon for books, or binge on make-up at Sephora. Towards Christmas, we may use some of our Ibotta for Christmas gifts for the kids. It is a helpful, stress-free way to earn a little bit of cash.

There are also “teams” on Ibotta and you get fun little bonuses when your team verifies purchases or gains a new user. I’m serious, I got $5 because someone from my Facebook friends signed-up and verified a purchase. If you’d like to get started with Ibotta you can use my referral link and get $10 when you verify your first rebate and they’ll kick $5 to me. 

I should mention that no one at Ibotta has asked me to review the app; I just really like it. And I’d like to make my latte a venti. ;-)

My Antonia by Willa Cather

A brief synopsis from Goodreads:

“Through Jim Burden’s endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature’s most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia’s desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.”

I have such a varied response to the book and I’m afraid explaining myself will make this a spoiler-laden review. You’ve been warned.

The first half of this book was amazing. It felt like a beautifully written Little House on the Prairie for adults. Jim’s move out West to his grandparents’ home, daily chore life, the plight of immigrants, and beautiful descriptions of the prairie made this portion of the book a delight. It was lovely, deeply moving, and truly made me feel that I was on the prairie battling the elements. It had a very East of Eden feel to it. I was invested in the characters and their lives.

That’s the good part of the novel, the next half gets tricky. I want to mention that I read this novel my freshman year of college and hated it, but for a very personal reason. Towards the latter half of the book Antonia is tricked by a douchebag, moves to marry said douchebag and he leaves her preganant and disgraced. She moves back home and her family is upset, but she handles things as she should; she doesn’t show her face, she is humble and meek, she continues to work hard in the field, and she silently gives birth – unassisted – to a baby girl. I read this book when I was four months pregnant with Hope. Her abusive bio-dad was out of the picture, but I was deeply ashamed to be pregnant and unmarried. I was starting college and had already endured questions about my “husband” and I knew there were students gossiping about my “condition.” My Antonia struck a nerve with me. Of course this book was published in 1918, but in a small Southern town the reactions to my pregnancy, my choice to remain unmarried and not contact the father (only my parents knew of his violent behavior) and my drive to go to college was antithesis to what many people thought or expected me to do. I hated Antonia’s “perfect behavior” and bristled at Jim Burden’s condescending and disappointed tone.

As I approached this book a second time I was better able to separate my situation from the fictional situation in My Antonia. Hence my enjoyment of the first part of the novel. HOWEVER, I still bristled with disdain at the last half of the book and I think I’ve figured out why.

Jim Burden is a snobby prat who objectifies and “Others” the bejeezus out of Antonia. As a child and even as a young man four years her junior, his fascination with her culture, appearance, and life as an immigrant makes sense. Jim is curious and learning about the world. Antonia still seems very much alive and her own person.

When Jim begins to grow intellectually there is a split. He avoids seeing Antonia when he visits home because he doesn’t want to see her different or aged. He is afraid that she has lost her spark and beauty and then there is the whole baby out of wedlock thing. When he finally visits Antonia he is an established attorney and Antonia is a wife and mother of eleven kids. He spends loads of time talking about her toothless grin, or how he can detect some beauty still in her, and all the connection to the land and the maternalness and the gosh-darn beauty of these earthy, maternal immigrants! Antonia is a stock character. A symbol of the prairie wild that has been some what domesticated, but never tamed. Her voice and spark no longer drives the narrative and the reader no longer cares about Antonia as a complex person, but rather humorously appreciates “well that ended well.”

I know, I KNOW, it is part of that time period, but it still bugs the hell out of me. I wish I knew Antonia’s story from her true voice and not the slathering, condescending narrative from a pretentious attorney.

Let me know, did I get this all wrong? Am I reading too much into it? Did anyone else have this reaction? Let’s talk about it! Talk me out of my 3 stars for the book, because I really, really wanted to love this one.

 

~~~ Stats ~~~

Started: 03 January 2016

Finished: 05 January 2016

Pages: 272 pages

Challenges: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks, Back to the Classics (college re-read), Virago Project

Owned/Borrow/Library: From my stacks

Stars: Three out of Five

Works in Progress: 6 January 2016

works in progress

New year and a new commitment to make things. I’m STILL working on Sam’s scarf I started in January of 2015. I’m determined to finish tonight; I have two sweet babies to make blankets for and they are already out of the womb. In other words, I AM SO BEHIND ON MAKING BABY BLANKETS!

Getting organized is the first step (duh) to making more things. Today I sorted my yarn stash and moved a vanity Hope isn’t using into the living room for thread and embroidery storage.

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Next week, HOLD ME TO IT, I will show off Sam’s completed scarf and my progress on a new project. I also think I may have some crafty bullet journal pages to show and tell!

Let’s Talk Bullet Journaling

First of all a bit of background. I heard about bullet journaling from Amanda at The Zen Leaf and promptly checked out the original Bullet Journal site and videos. I couldn’t wait to get started and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to another journal and planner system.

Before using the bullet journal system I had a journal for writing down thoughts and reflections, a planner (I never found one I loved and would alternate between big and small planners), a notepad of work notes, a blog binder, a spare notebook with various lists (Christmas gifts or books to buy for example) and index cards or scraps of paper for quick “to-do” lists. Not a very effective way to plan. With the bullet journal I have all of this in one portable notebook. ALL OF IT. Okay, I don’t put my grocery list in there, but that’s about all I leave out.

In my bullet journal I…

  • do daily, monthly, and longterm planning (for myself and the family)
  • track meal plans and favorite recipes
  • note goals and progress made towards goals
  • track bills, spending, and debt
  • keep tabs on current projects and ones I want to try
  • focus my TBR pile, but also track challenges and future book goals
  • schedule and jot down blog posts and calendars
  • write down outfits and makeup details for future clothing and make-up purchases (price, what I like, need more of, etc…)
  • monitor my sleep and medication, which helps keep the Bipolar II in check
  • write down details about my kids and Sam
  • journal my day roughly five times a week
  • track letters sent and received
  • paste in receipts, stickers, drawings from the kids, and other memorable items
  • keep letters received in the back pocket

As you can see it functions as a catch all for everything. It is organized, easy to use, and I get to have fun with office supplies. WIN!

I spent November and December refining my method and was super stoked to start with January. I’m sharing a few of my pages today, but I’m planning on making a separate bullet journal for work sometime next week.

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First off, tools. My journal is a Leuchtturm 1917, hardcover, lined volume. The paper is a glorious weight and it has a back pocket, bookmark and band for keeping it closed. I like to use fine tipped sharpies for most of my planning, tabs for monthly dividers and to mark other pages I turn to often, and fun tape and stickers for jazzing things up.

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My key notes what various symbols mean (more on that at another time) and my index is handy for keeping track of my months and collections (aka lists). When I do an individual journal or writing prompt I simply write down the date.

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This next page is modified from the original BuJo method. I have a yearly calendar for quick planning. Next I have next three months (not my current month) for bills, school dates, and doctor appointments. These things I have dates for months in advance and needed a place to write evertything down. I also have a column for the rest of the year for other dates. This is essentially my “future” log.

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Next I go into my monthly spread. I have each day in January on the far lefthand side. All day events include things like birthdays or my work schedule. Then I have a space to record morning, afternoon, and evening activities. If it doesn’t fit on the line then I don’t have time for it. I’m bad about over-scheduling myself and this helps me keep things manageable. I do put important work meetings on this calendar so I can avoid scheduling kid appointments when I have work meetings.

The right hand page also contains my key tasks for the month (super important for keeping me on track when I’m not feeling well), my portion of the bills, our “cash” envelope system, creative projects I’m working on, and my monthly To Be Read pile.

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There are a few other pages after my monthly calendar that I don’t have toally figured out to my liking. I’ll skip over to my daily page. I usually set up a week at a time as far as writing things out and looking over what I accomplished the previous week. I have my “must do” list that contains daily chores and essential items, the middle contains secondary tasks (i.e. stuff I need to do, but may be able to wait), and the third column is filled with stuff I want to do (reading, blogging, knitting…). The health column is also important as it helps me stay healthy and balanced.

At the end of each night I take about 10 minutes to journal about the day. If I don’t have anything to write I may put a quotation or a memorable event from the past. I also like to think about what I can do to improve the next day. I do write longer journal pages, but the brief end of the day summary helps me to stay mindful.

 

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This last collection is one for my book nerd friends! I’m keeping track of all my reading challenges in my BuJo and I think it will help me stay engaged and aware and not drop off the reading challenge wagon. I’ll let you know if it works.

Let me know if you BuJo or have another system or if you have anything else you’d like to know about the process. I’m planning on featuring my journal every few weeks with more details on specific pages.