Blog a Day Challenge: February Report

January was all about convincing myself that I could indeed find something to write about and produce a blog post every day.

In February I turned my gaze outward and looked at other blogs and bloggers instead of just my blog/myself as blogger. I found a number of blogs that I learned a lot from. I also began reading more articles online about how and why to blog.

Here are my stats for February:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 215

Longest post: 1,880

Total words written: 20, 455

Average post length: 660

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

What I Learned in February

  • Despite February’s being three days shorter than January, I wrote the same number of posts, 31, this month as last. However, my total word count in February was 1,340 more than in January. My average post length went up, from 617 in January to 660 in February. And my longest post in February was 520 words longer than its counterpart in January.
  • One thing I was surprised to learn in my reading about blogging is that some people advocate writing posts longer than the 500–750 words I had long ago read was the optimal post length. So instead of trying to limit myself to 500–750 words, I tried to write longer rather than shorter in February. In January I wrote only four posts of 1,000 words or longer, whereas in February I wrote six posts of 1,000 words or more. But I’m still not convinced that more than 1,000 words is an optimal post length. I’m more comfortable with posts of about 800 words. Although there will inevitably be shorter posts, I’m going to work on writing more posts of about 800 words from now on. And I’m going to think of posts of more than 1,000 words as occasional occurrences, when the subject warrants, rather than as ideals to aim for.

Last month’s featured posts:

1. An Ode to My Bracelet, in Memory of Frayne

Over the last two weeks of February I participated in the WordPress Writing 201: Poetry course. I learned a heck of a lot, even though grinding out a poem that fulfilled three specified criteria didn’t always produce top-quality results. But I’m happy enough with this one to share it.

2. What Your Favorite Books Tell You About Your Writing

Most writers are also avid readers, because the only way to learn about good writing is to read a lot of writing by others. This exercise helps writers to discover what their own areas of passion are by analyzing the books that appeal to them the most. I found it an invaluable discovery.

What advice do you have for me about blogging? I’d especially like to hear your thoughts on the best length for a post.

Cliff House Restaurant

Val DayMy husband F. and I often try to celebrate Valentine’s Day a day early to avoid the restaurant rush. This year F. made a lunch reservation at the Cliff House in Northeast Tacoma:

6300 Marine View Dr, Tacoma, WA 98422
(253) 927–0400

According to the restaurant’s web site, “Since 1925 the Cliff House has been a landmark in the Pacific Northwest.” The Cliff House sits high on a bluff overlooking Commencement Bay and offers lovely views of Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the skyline of downtown Tacoma.

One of our neighbors, a native Tacoman, told us that a few years ago the restaurant got quite run down, then was closed for a while before finally reopening with its current decor. This article of March 23, 2012, from our local Tacoma paper, The News Tribune, explains the problems and hails the current decor and food. In another article dated March 31, 2012, the same reviewer goes into more detail about the menu: “The food is precisely what you’d expect from a restaurant with a legacy as the go-to restaurant for celebrations for every generation.”

Like The News Tribune reviewer, we enjoyed the “this-is-why-we-live-here views” from the Cliff House’s upstairs dining room. Here’s the view of Mount Rainier we saw from our table, with Tacoma’s industrial waterfront in the foreground:

Cliff House mtn view

F. and I shared an appetizer of steamed clams, always one of our favorites. We both ordered the grilled salmon, which came with a cucumber-dill yogurt topping that contained small half-slices of cucumber. The salmon was grilled just right: cooked through but not dried out. The whole meal was delicious.

I didn’t discover the historic photos depicting Tacoma’s past until I went to the restroom after lunch. As a newcomer to Tacoma, I always love seeing such old photos to learn about the city’s history. F. and I were both particularly interested in a photo showing people boarding the ferry in Point Defiance Park, since we live very close to the park and often walk past the ferry landing.

An added benefit of this Valentine lunch trip is that it took me closer to the Port of Tacoma than I had ever been. It’s an impressive sight, but I wasn’t able to get any photos because there isn’t any good place to pull over along the road. We were, however, able to get this shot of logs being floated to one of the local lumber yards:

logs

Logs are ubiquitous here in the Pacific Northwest. Another fact I noticed on the drive to the Cliff House that I wasn’t able to document photographically is how logs get stacked. I guess I just noticed this because driving by a stack of logs allowed me to see the stack from the end rather than from the side, looking at the length of the log. The end of the stack clearly reveals that a few rows of the larger end alternate with a few rows of the smaller end. The result is that the stack lies relatively flat. It had never occurred to me to wonder about that before.

In addition to logs, boats are also all over the place around Puget Sound, such as in this marina visible from the Cliff House parking lot:

marina

My wonderful husband earns 5 Valentine hearts out of a possible 5 for arranging this Valentine luncheon trip.

3 Things Thursday

Once again it’s time for the blog challenge Three Things Thursday, the purpose of which is to “share three things from the previous week that made you smile or laugh or appreciate the awesome of your life.”

three-things-thursday-participant

Today is birds’ day Thursday in Tacoma, WA

Here are a few birds we’ve seen on recent walks around the neighborhood. Thanks to my husband for supplying these photos. (He’s the one with the huge telephoto lens.)

Information below comes from the following sources:

We are very amateur bird watchers, so if you find anything here that needs correcting, please post to the comments. (Of course, you’re also welcome to post even if everything is correct.)

1. Pileated Woodpecker

Woodpecker

These guys are big: 16.5–17 inches (42–44 cm) long.

If you’ve ever been walking in a wooded area and heard a sound like loud hammering, you may have been around these magnificent woodpeckers. Another indication of their presence is large holes in dead trees. Woodpeckers feed by pulling the bark off of dead trees to get at insects underneath. They also use large dead tree trunks as a way to announce their presence during courtship by hammering their bills against the tree’s resonating surface.

Woodpeckers are called “primary cavity nesters” because they excavate their own holes in dead trees for nesting. They do not reuse nesting holes but rather create a new hole each year. The physical motions of creating a new nesting hole stimulate reproduction. Their older holes then become homes for other birds, such as bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, and house wrens, which are known as “secondary cavity nesters.”

2. Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are tiny: 3–4 inches (10 cm) long. In Washington, both Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds live west of the Cascade Mountains. This is probably an Anna’s hummingbird, since that’s the only species that stays here year round; other hummingbirds arrive in western Washington in May and depart in October.

3. Bald Eagle

Eagle

These magnificent birds are 31–37 inches (79–94 cm) long, with a wingspan of 7–8 feet (213–244 cm). This one was soaring over the water, looking for fish.

Bonus. Western Grebe

Western Grebe

At least we think this is a western grebe. In Washington western grebes occupy near-shore marine waters during the winter. We saw this one on the rocks next to the water of Commencement Bay. Fish, which grebes pursue under water, make up 80% of their diet

According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, “Wintering western grebes have declined by almost 95% in Washington’s inner marine waters since the late 1970s (Puget Sound Action Team 2007). Recent data suggest that numbers may have stabilized since 1998 … Up to 20–25% of the world’s population of western grebes overwinters in Washington.”

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If you find anything here that’s incorrect, please let me know in the comments.

“If you don’t like the weather. . .”

I grew up in Connecticut, where I often heard the old Yankee saying “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a minute and it will change.”

When we moved to St. Louis, MO, right after getting married, we didn’t initially have a car. I had to take a couple of different buses to get to work. On my first day of transferring from one bus to another, I asked an older woman at the bus stop if I was in the right place to get the bus I needed. She told me yes, I was. Then she asked me if I was new in the area, and we began to chat. Out of the blue she said, “One thing about St. Louis weather: If you don’t like it, just wait a minute and it will change.”

Now we’ve retired to the Pacific Northwest, and guess what people say about the weather here. Yes, “if you don’t like it, just wait a minute and it will change.” But this time people are right.

I arrived in Tacoma, after a week on the road from St. Louis, the night before I was scheduled to move into my cottage at the retirement community. I stayed at a nearby hotel that night. When I arrived at my cottage at 10:00 the following morning, it was pouring heavily. I was thankful that I had an attached garage to keep me dry as I unpacked my loaded-down little hybrid car. By 11:00 I had all the boxes out of the car and placed in the appropriate rooms (though not unpacked). I was ready to head off to Costco, Target, and Safeway for additional necessities such as food, a coffee maker, a vacuum cleaner, and kitchen storage containers. And when I left to run my errands, the weather was beautiful: a sunny, clear, warm spring day. What a difference an hour had made.

After about a year and a half here, I’m still getting used to this changeable weather. In St. Louis the hottest part of a summer day was usually from noon until about 2:00 or 3:00. After that the temperature would usually begin to go down at least a bit. But here in Tacoma the hottest part of a typical summer day is from 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon until sundown. In the winter we do get quite a bit of rain here. (Have you ever noticed that when a movie or television show is set in Seattle, the indicator of the setting is always rain?) But even in winter a day often starts off with drizzle and fog that gives way to sun, or at least less rain, by mid-morning or early afternoon.

In fact, I find the weather here one of the attractions of the Pacific Northwest. I know that if I don’t like it at any given moment, all I have to do is wait a minute and it will change.

8 Lessons College Bowl Season Teaches About Writing

I haven’t talked much about my writing here before, but I’ll be discussing it from now on because of my commitment to my writing for 2015.

Watching the Rose Bowl recently got me thinking about how dedicated and committed to their work these college athletes are. What can they teach me about how to commit more fully to my work of writing?

1. Success requires regular and frequent practice.

To win, you have to put in the time and do the work. Every day. If you’re serious, there is no off-season. For a writer, this means not thinking or talking about writing, but actually sitting down and writing.

2. Sometimes you have to drop back to move forward.

A quarterback steps back to see where he needs to go. For a writer, this means looking at what you last wrote to see where the work needs to go. This is why many writers advise stopping in the middle of a section instead of at the end. And once the first draft is done, a writer steps back to look at revising and editing the work.

3. Small amounts of progress can add up to big accomplishments.

Two five-yard runs earn a football team a first down. For a writer, writing even a small amount every day will eventually add up to a finished piece. Don’t knock incremental progress, just keep working at it steadily.

4. You have to study the playbook.

A team has to know what plays are available and when and how to implement each one. For a writer, this means reading widely to see what techniques other writers use and how they use them.,

5. There’s more than one way to advance.

There’s running and passing and all kinds of trick plays. For a writer, this means knowing what writing techniques are available (see #4) and what effects each one produces.

6. You have to be open the opportunities that present themselves.

The best quarterbacks are able to see the whole field and to recognize what options for advancement are available. For a writer, this means not only knowing what writing techniques are available, but seeing which approach or variation of an approach is the best choice in a particular context.

7. Sometimes you have to abandon one approach and try something else.

Often a team has to improvise when the planned play won’t work. For a writer, this means trying technique after technique to find the one that works best.

8. A season is more than just one game.

Whether a team wins or loses one week, it must be ready to play again a week later. For a writer, this means that finishing one piece means that it’s time to start working on the next one.

Zoolights 2014

Every year Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium holds Zoolights, a fantastic display of color highlighting many of its animals and several local features (e.g., Mount Rainier, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge).

The weather has not been very cooperative lately, but last night we finally got a clear and relatively mild night, so off we went. Check our my SmugMug album. Keep in mind that it’s very hard to get good shots in the dark, at least for a non-professional photographer like me.

Zoolights is a glorious sight!

Personal Challenge: A Blog Post a Day in 2015

I woke up a couple of days ago with this thought: I should challenge myself to write a blog post every day during 2015.

I dismissed this thought right away because such a huge commitment seems like setting myself up for failure. Why not just commit to writing a post a day for the month of January? I asked myself. And if that works out, then do it for another month.

But the more I thought about the year-long challenge, the more it excited me. First of all, I know that some of my best ideas arrive just when I wake up. Sleeping allows my conscious mind to pull what it needs out of the chaos of the unconscious. I’ve learned to trust these awakening thoughts, just as I’ve learned to trust my intuition. Second, setting this goal certainly aligns with my recent decision to focus on my own writing. Finally, this challenge would allow me to distribute content across my three blogs:

On the day when I woke up with this thought, I looked throughout the day for ideas to write about. I was surprised and encouraged at how many opportunities I found.

I should emphasize that I don’t intend to write a post a day on each blog, just a post a day for any one of them.

Therefore, I’ve decided to go for it and challenge myself to write a blog post a day in 2015. I could just make a secret pact with myself to try to accomplish this, but I’m formalizing the challenge here to create accountability. I’ll be much less likely to let myself slide if I’ve made a public announcement.

Meeting this challenge will offer a lot of benefits for me right now:

  1. A writer is someone who writes, and this challenge will force me to actually write instead of just thinking about writing.
  2. Looking for something to write about each day will make me more aware of what I’m doing and of what’s happening in the world around me.
  3. Looking all around me for topics will help me distribute content among all three blogs; I’ve been neglecting my personal blog, and it therefore now badly needs some refreshing.
  4. I know from experience that the more I write, the easier writing becomes.
  5. Completing this challenge will demonstrate that I can write every day, not just when I’m in the mood or have nothing else to do instead.
  6. Keeping up with this challenge will help me to practice, practice, practice my writing.

I will allow myself this condition up front: I know there will be times when I can’t publish a post every day, either because I won’t have internet access or I won’t want to announce publicly that I’m not at home. My commitment is to write a post every day, even if I have to publish it, backdated, later.

So, who’s in with me?

Who will accept the challenge of a blog post a day in 2015?

Grab the logo here:

post a day logo

(Right click the image, save to your computer, then upload to your web site.)