Friday, February 14, 2014

BlogHer killed my blog.

Wow! The last time you heard from me I was at the BlogHer convention, learning how to blog seriously, how to blog popularly, how to blog humorously, how to blog and make money at it...

That was six months ago.

What happened?

Good intentions happened.

And then paving the road to you know where happened.

BTW, here's a really lovely picture of me. And what were we talking about?

One day a friend told me about her sister who spends four hours a day in the garden.

Me: Blink. Blink.

Her: Four hours! In the garden! Every day!

Me: (In my head) What's your point? (Out loud) THAT IS INSANE! (In my head) Is that a long time to be in the garden?

Distractions! That's what I'm talking about. Distractions like my garden, where I have been known to spend all day. I mean days. But summer is short, right? I can cook, clean, bathe, make money, exercise, et cetera all winter.

Anyway, my point is, I'm back! I can't promise how long I'll stay on the blogging wagon, but at the moment, you have my full attention. Or at least part of it.


(P.S. Happy Valentine's day!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lessons from BlogHer '13

Wren at convention

BlogHer '13—my first blogging convention—was last weekend. And I learned a lot! For example:

#1 No Russians are reading my blog.
When I look at the statistics for who's looking at Smalltropolis, it's very impressive. For example, today I have 43 pageviews from Latvia. Switzerland is represented, as is France, Denmark, China. Just a world-wide appeal I have goin' on. (Gloat.) Thing is, as I learned at BlogHer, that's almost certainly because the analytics I'm looking at aren't very accurate. Lots of spam is included. To get the real numbers, I need to sign up for Google Analytics. Блин!

#2. Great photography doesn't come from the womb.
The kick-off keynote speaker was Ree Drummond. I'd certainly admired the beautiful photography on her blog, The Pioneer Woman multiple times, so it was pretty enlightening when she showed some of her early photos. They were, quite simply, dreadful. It really drove home how good writing and good photography aren't talents people are born with. They take work, which gives me hope, because this blog certainly isn't where I want it to be yet. I mean, what is going on with the photo-shopped quality of the pic above? And if no Russians are reading this, how funny is it really to throw in a (mild) Russian swear word that few American readers will get? No question, I have a lot of work to do. (Блин!)

#3 Make the small feel big.
At the "Newbie Breakfast" we were given thoughts on how to network: Be curious about people, initiate conversation, be the one who notices those hovering on the edge of a group and invite them in. Make people feel important—it's good advice. I vowed to try it.

Towards the end of the day, I was walking down a fairly empty hall. Lisa Stone, one of the co-founders and CEO of BlogHer, was walking towards me. As we came closer to each other, she said hello. Nothing surprising there, except in the way she said it. It was as though she knew me, as though she cared, as though, well, as though I was somebody.

"That's why she's the CEO!" I thought to myself. I need to learn how to do that. "Hello!!" I said back to her.

She smiled. My technique wasn't quite there. I guess it's something else to work on. (Блин!)


Sunday, July 28, 2013

A blogging convention? You'll need business cards!


Blogher 2013 was this weekend. It was the first blogging convention I've ever attended (I'll post more reports in the coming days.) Though I was excited, I wasn't exactly at my best about getting ready. I knew I needed business cards for it but I waited until, oh, uh, the night before to make them. And then I was super tired, having gardened like a maniac all day. I woefully asked Jay to help me.

For a few minutes we silently sat cutting. (Well, OK, I was lying on the floor. What can I say, I'm pretty adept with sharp objects.) Finally (irritated) Jay said, "How many did you make?"


"You're not going to need 200 business cards!"

"Alright. This stack will make 100. We'll stop there."

"I think that will be plenty."

"And I could take my scissors and cut up the rest while I'm there."

He stared at me for a moment, then—adopting a fake voice—"Yea, there was this really weird woman who sat in the corner all day, cutting up business cards."

Ah, the funniest lines cut so close to the bone, don't they? I mean sitting in the corner, cutting something up is...well, this wouldn't be a precedent.

So the next morning I headed to the convention center with my hand-cut, mildly-embarrassing but perfectly serviceable, xeroxed business cards. And no scissors.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Garden project: strawberry bed!

A better return on investment that tech stocks in the '90s, the six 50¢ strawberry plants I purchased five years ago have yielded probably a hundred pounds of strawberries.

They've also created a wild, unpickable bed.

In the photo below, you can see the bed in 2009. The strawberries are just above where it says "Smalltropolis".

Strawberries 2009

Here's what the bed turned into:


Time to show these things who's boss! I'm reigning this mess in, and and adding some paths for access!

IMG_2619 Day One:

I mark out the borders of the bed and where the paths will go. I clear the first section. It kills me to throw perfectly good strawberry plants away but I have a bazillion of them and trying to move them or give them to neighbors will make a big job even more monumental.

Globe arborvitae will make a little hedge in the back section, which will mirror the boxwood hedge at the front of this bed (not shown in this picture.) I mark out where the plants will go.

By the time I get them in the ground, it's way past lunch and I'm exhausted.

I come back after lunch, mulch them in, take the tags off, and I'm done for the day!

Day Two:
I get the bottle edging put in and add more mulch.

Day Three:
I get the second section cleared.

More bottle edging. More mulch.

Flagstone pavers go in and Elfin Thyme ground cover.

So, that's as far as things are at the moment. I'll post more updates as it gets further along.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Are we there yet?


There are three robin fledglings in the garden. When Jay and I noticed them (probably one of their first days out of the nest), they were each hiding in a different shrub. The mother was nearby, making a very loud, very high-pitched sound, over and over.

It was the highest alert sound for a robin—what they use when a predator flies overhead. Jay was quite amused that we were on par with a hawk, but to me it was interesting that the sound clearly meant: "Be very still!" And the little fledglings did exactly that.

Perhaps it was how motionless they were, but they seemed terrified. So small, so fragile, they were both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

That was only a few days ago. Now they fly up into the giant tree in our neighbor's yard and come back to land on the telephone wire with a whoa-oa-oa…as it swings back and forth. It's funny to see them, frantically flapping their wings, trying to keep their balance. They've come so far, and yet they clearly have a few things to learn.

I can relate. Last year I decided to become a fitness instructor. After six months of aerobics teacher training and studying for the certification test, I still feel, well, ridiculous. I'm too old. I'm not athletic enough. I feel horribly insecure about it all. Maybe I'll just stay right here in my little spot and hope nobody sees me.

But that's not how it works, does it? At some point, you have to make your move...even if you're not ready. Or as Jay tells me, "You've got to give yourself room to be bad for a while."

I don't like that. I want to be a great teacher. I want to be confidant. I want to fly to the treetops and then land gracefully! And I want it now.

Isn't that the worst part of learning something new? The time it takes, the patience it forces? Ugh.

With hard work and perseverance, I know I can be a good teacher. Just not today, little bird. Just not today.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's my blog and I'll post if I want to.

Wren helps with a post

Over two years now I've been blogging. No, that's not right. Over two years now they've been blogging: the dolls, the puppets, the opinionated inanimate objects that populate my world. That's how I set up the "rules" of Smalltropolis. Readers never see or hear from me. It's all them: their diatribes on pollution, their how-tos on baking, their musings on the world at small.

But now, increasingly, I want to speak. It seems some of the most interesting, funny, even enlightening thoughts are not from them, they're about them. Or maybe they're about me. Or maybe I'd just like to think I'm at least as interesting as a tiny version of myself!

But what about my readers? Will they be confused? I mean, all along we've been pretending there are no adults home, there's no meta in my micro, right? Why the sudden shift? Will it put people off?

My husband, (you'll know him as "Jay") got an earful of this over breakfast: "I'm starting to have followers! It's not into double digits or anything but there are people out there, reading what I write. And some of them aren't even related to me! So is it wrong to change my "rules?" Maybe I should start a new blog. But would dolls post on it too, or just humans? "

"What's Rule Number One?" he sighed.

"Do what you want."

"And Rule Number Two?"

"Pay attention to Rule Number One."

"OK, then." He got up to carry his bowl to the sink.


"Just pretend you're Wren and write a post about it."

….and that, dear readers, is how Smalltropolis just got a little bit bigger.

Jill Holly

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You are not a Jedi yet, young gardener

Wren in the garden
Corner house + double lot + 10-foot parkways = whole lotta lawn. And that lawn had been ignored for years when we bought the house. Moving in, we admired the pretty white flowers covering the grass.

Uhhh. Yea. Those would be bindweed flowers. Bindweed, nicknamed "Devil's Guts," is an invasive weed with roots 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide. Or more. Even the tiniest bit of root propagates a new plant. Not that that's necessary: the seeds are viable for 60 years.

Once I realized what a monster it was, I knew I had to get rid of it. So, being a devout organic gardener, I tried heavy mulching, black-plastic solarization, clear-plastic solarization, hoeing, tilling, pepper spray, vinegar spray, weed torches, salt, soap, hand pulling, and ultimately hair pulling. I kept reading cheery accounts of how these methods worked on any weed, but my 7,500 square feet of heavy, well-established infestation gave not an inch.

So I began reading up on chemicals.

It's a classic tale of how one goes to the dark side. I was desperate and both 2,4-D and glyphosate, ingredients in common herbicides, lured me with magic bullets — they supposedly killed bindweed. So I dutifully researched what these chemicals do once released into the environment and decided it was OK; I could indeed bed down with Monsanto.

One trip to the hardware store later, I was suiting up in full haz-mat gear. In the flower beds (I wasn't yet growing veggies), I delicately painted Round-up on bindweed leaves with a brush. The lawn I sprayed.

Bindweed leaves started turning brown within hours. And, after a couple of applications, the plants died. They DIED. Jay dubbed Round-up "Die Mother F*%#@~*!," which I shortened to DMF.

DMF became a big part of our lives, and our vocabulary. It could be a noun: "I need to buy more DMF." A verb: "I just DMF'ed that." An adjective: "The DMF'ed leaves are already brown." You get the drift. It got to the point where I forgot the actual name of the product. When friends asked how I was finally winning the war on bindweed, I just went blank. "My ally is the force and a powerful ally it is?"

I started this fight over ten years ago. Almost all the bindweed is gone. Yea, "almost all." I don't think I'll ever be completely free of it and I don't think I'll ever be completely organic again. But I'm OK with that.

Perhaps I'm older and more mellowed or perhaps I've learned that gardening, like life, offers little perfection. You get things as good as you can and you try to enjoy the process. You know, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And when life gives you bindweed, you get our your rubber gloves, your raggedy foam brush and your jar of DMF.