Going Back to College – Kind Of

Recently I’ve been wanting to start something new during my free time. I didn’t want to be under pressure, but I want to grow as a human. And I found out about free college courses one can take. This is very cool. I learned about it at the end of last year, and today I got serious about it and enrolled on EdEx.

storm clouds GIF

Those who know me know I’m a bit obsessed with weather. I have three weather apps on my phone, and I track 3-5 locations at any given time. One of the great delights in my world is tracking whichever new weather front is heading my way (yes, Maya is hitting us tomorrow).

I know, I know. To each their own, right?

So I dove into my new adventure with full intentions of signing up for a course on weather. But a very important criteria for me is to take a course at my own pace. No pressure. This is my idea of constructive leisure, after all. And the only weather courses were ones on global environment or tornadoes. Neither of which totally appealed to me. So I branched out.

It was an interesting process — reading through courses and realizing what appealed to me. There were many computer coding offerings I was tempted by, but reminded myself this is for my leisure, and I want something quite different from my work. I looked into neuroscience and nanotechnology — all great stuff! And I might do those in the future. But then I found a course that is currently calling my name. It’s called:

The World History of Modern Wine

red wine GIF

Oooooh, yeah. Wine is my definite vice of choice, and thanks to my Uncle John, I have a fascination for history. This is the description for the course:

This course explores the growth of global wine production and trade over the past three centuries. You will explore key themes in wine history and learn about the methods and resources that historians use to understand the past.

The course is designed for both wine-lovers who want to know more about their favorite beverage, and for history-lovers who are curious about the growing field of commodity history.

Topics include the differences between the “old” and “new” worlds of wine, the changing nature of taste, and innovations in wine quality. We’ll discuss the historical development of appellation systems to classify wine, as well as the importance of global trade in creating the world’s distinctive wine regions.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-history-of-modern-wine

Is that perfect, or what? I was torn between diving in and blogging about it. You all in the blogoshpere won, and I hope some of you will be excited about courses you can take as well — I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Now I’m off to learn for an hour before I head back to work. I so love this technological era we live in where all this great info is at our fingertips. What a gift!

Grabbing HTML for an Image and Link for a Text Widget

In my job as a Happiness Engineer for Automattic, I often get asked how to add an image with a link into a widget area. This can be daunting if someone doesn’t know HTML. But that doesn’t have to deter you. There is a sneaky way to get that code, even without HTML knowledge. This is how to do it:

  1. Create a draft post and insert your image.
    a-insert-image
  2. If you want to add a link to the image, click on the image after it’s inserted and click on the paperclip icon to add your link.
    b-paper-clipc-url
  3. Click on the “HMTL” option at the top of your editing page (next to “Visual”)
    d-html
  4. Copy that code. Note that your code will look similar to what I have in the next image, but the words and links will be different – specialized to your own information.
    e-code
  5. Open your Customize tool and go to Widgets.
    f-customizeg-widgets
  6. Add the Text Widget.
    h-text-widget
  7. Paste your code and save.
    i-code-in-widget
  8. And you will see your image in your widget areas (click it to test your link) 🙂
    j-final

Customer Service and Life Tips

Those of you in my arena know there is no other way of saying this. I have the best job in the world. For me. I have the honor of providing tech support to WordPress users around the world. And I have an amazing company behind me (Automattic) that understands that the way to provide the best support is to provide support for the supporters.

Support gets tough sometimes. Like today. My brain just wasn’t up to par. My heart wanted to help people, but my brain wasn’t spinning at warp speed, and I was out of sorts.

I know why.

In the past two days I was informed that one young person in my world-circle had an untimely, unexpected death, and another person who is greatly loved, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

And I received a message about some unsettling behavior from others close to me. Behavior that dredged up a lot of past hurt and unfairness, making me want to retaliate, even though I knew that wasn’t the answer.

Bottom line? I was plain ol’ distracted, even while trying to focus.

I usually am very patient and have a knack for empathy. Today I was lacking in both. Really not cool for customer support. It was unsettling, and I felt like a failure.

But guess what?

My team had my back.

And my faith gave me support. By the end of the day, I was all right (and I even helped some people in the meantime).

How did this happen? By having caring people in my life.

When I was stuck (even on simple issues), my teammates backed me up, offering helpful answers and tips to help the people I was helping. And they never ridiculed me or made me feel sub-par. When I commented on the tough day I was having, they responded with cyber hugs and cyber coffee 🙂 (We work in places all around the world so it’s all cyber). No judgement at all.

This is an amazing thing in the work force, I am finding. In a world where the underdog is crushed, it’s incredible to find a space where everyone’s goal is to be kind and helpful. Amazing. And inspirational. I certainly hope I give that help to others.

While I never reached top-notch performance in the day, I was able to move on and provide quality support thanks to my knowledge that I had a team behind me.

I found out that one of the more difficult people I was dealing with today was really not mad at me personally. They were frustrated because of a work situation they were in. I really struggled to be patient with them as they swore at me through an issue they were having, and after we fixed their issue, they stayed on the chat line, venting to me about the pressure they were under. Thanks to my co-workers, I was able to have the patience and empathy to listen and support.

Because really, while we love WordPress and support it, the bottom line is that we care about the people who use it even more than the product itself. Thanks to my team and their support, I was able to dredge up the patience and understanding to convey that, even on a tough day.

When the work day ended, and the realities of life one again hit my brain, I went to my ultimate source of comfort. A daily devotional with Bible passages. Coincidentally, today’s section of reading was one of my absolute favorites, and it ties in with dealing with the harsh realities of life as well as customer service. Great stuff.

I have this color coded passage hanging on my wall at home. It’s from Galations 6 in the Holy Bible. I use the version called The Message:

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.37.29 PM

  • As always, thanks for helping me keep my sanity is also due to my greatest friend –my husband, Chris, who is always there to listen to me vent, remind me of passages like the one above, and point me back to the path of helping others when I go astray.

WordCamp Buffalo

It’s not even seven a.m. On a Saturday, but I’m up and raring to go. It’s time for another WordCamp! And this one is organized by the meetup group I attend every month so it’s super-fun. Last night we had a wonderful dinner at Bada Bings in downtown Buffalo. While it was a dinner for the speakers, we got to go since we are wrangling volunteers.

One of the speakers and I were talking about WordCamps and how we love them so much. To me, they summarize what the WordPress community is all about. You attend and learn a great deal. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a developer, there’s always something to learn. Once you’ve gone to a few, you suddenly realize that you are teaching others – answering questions and sharing tips.

People are very friendly and open for discussion wherever I go. And I’ve been to WordCamps in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Saratoga Springs, Hamilton, and New York City. So I think this is a common theme.

Anyway, I’ll probably write more about this later. I’ve gotta run and get to the venue to help setup. Maybe I’ll get to see you there! 🙂

2015. My Year as a Speaker

IMG_20150705_130437610We’re almost through January, and I’m still mulling over 2015, figuring out how I can move on and do better. This gets me thinking about my speaking endeavors. I’m much better at writing than presenting. I don’t even like it when people listen to me when I’m talking on the phone. So I decided to push my boundaries and become a speaker in 2015. I blame Kathryn Presner 🙂 She gave a very inspiring workshop on becoming a speaker while we were at the Toronto WordCamp in late 2014. To be honest, I’m kind of hoping that there will be an “After” post someday, with this acting as a “Before.”

I am a big believer in learning how to swim by jumping into the deep end, and this is reflected by the fact that I applied to speak at WordCamp Montréal. I have to admit, the auditorium was a bit intimidating.

Already shaking like jelly on top of an unbalanced washing machine, I learned a very valuable lesson five minutes prior to my speaking: When your computer decides to update, your presentation will freeze. Ack!!! Fortunately, a hard shut off can fix the issue, and I have prevented this from happening since then by shutting off my Wi-Fi an hour before I talk anywhere.

My friends and coworkers came to listen to me in Montréal. I wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or not. Part of me just wanted to pretend I wasn’t really doing it. However, I found their support to be an incredible bonus. Everywhere I looked there were friendly, encouraging faces. Not only did I feel as if I would have full support and reassurance if I completely screwed up, but I also knew that the people who came to hear about my topic would benefit in the QA time thanks to the font of info. my Automattic buddies brought to the table.

After Montréal, I spoke in Toronto. The 2015 WordCamp was a completely different story from the year prior. This time I knew what WordCamps were about, and I felt very comfortable. I worked at the Happiness Bar until the very last second then headed to the room where I was to speak. It was relatively small, and I felt extremely comfortable. My content was good, I had good images (thanks to the fact that I hired my son’s girlfriend to make my slides pretty — Lauren, you are awesome), I had friends there supporting me, and I felt connected to the people that audience. It was a very positive scenario, and I could see myself becoming a speaker on a very regular basis.

Then flash talks at the Grand Meetup, our company gathering, hit. I completely lost it. I was shaky and far from confident. I ran out of time, I muddled what I wanted to say, and I left the room feeling completely insecure about presenting on a whole. I attended Luca Sartoni’s fantastic talk on speaking, and it was encouraging. Most likely I failed that one due to a lack of practice. Knowing the cause of my downfall was a bit comforting, but I wasn’t feeling overly confident.

When I hit the stage in New York, I knew that I should have felt completely comfortable because it was the same topic that I felt strong about in Toronto. I knew I had practiced, I had quality content offer, I had worked the Jetpack table and the Happiness Bar so I was comfortable with the people I met, but it ended up being the worst talk that I had done to date. The screen was positioned straight next to me, a few inches in front of what I could see. I couldn’t point anything without getting off the stage, and I got completely discombobulated. I forgot to say a good chunk of what I had planned to stay, and I did not portray confidence. It was very disheartening, and as I drove home, I was determined never to speak again.

This was unfortunate since I was supposed to speak at another WordCamp a couple weeks later. It went alright, but not fantastically. I started the talk by accidentally winging my clicker across the room, and I still couldn’t prevent my voice from shaking. The topic presented was for real beginners, and the “beginners” in this camp were much more technologically savvy than other camps I attended. They already had customers they built sites for. It was the wrong crowd for the talk.

Here’s the thing, though. When you are pushing your boundaries by speaking, then there is no better audience than a WordCamp. People are so kind and friendly and supportive. I love helping people, and I know what information I can offer to help other people. I believe in the efficiency of speaking to an entire room so one can educate 40 or 50 people in the same amount of time it would take to educate one. The concept is exciting, I just need to work a bit more on making it more natural.

Lessons learned?

  • Turn off the Wi-Fi an hour before presenting.
  • Don’t panic! Like I did in my two trickiest situations. In Montreal I was so focused on the fact that my presentation froze that I forgot I had a backup of it on a flash drive. In NY, when I couldn’t see my screen and my presenter notes were covering my images on my computer, I totally could have used the copy on my iPad to see what others were seeing.
  • Keep a tight grip on your clicker.
  • As a co-worker says: If your voice has a tendency to shake, grab a mug of beer before you go on:-) Jk – I don’t really recommend that. Wine is much better in that situation. 😉
  • Figure out your style. Some people do better with larger rooms, others do better with smaller ones. In retrospect, I think I am best with smaller rooms, and I think I would feel more comfortable walking people through steps in a process or telling an inspirational tale rather than doing a “Top 10” sort of presentation.
  • Recognize limitations. I am not great at slide creation. I can provide the content, but I have no concept of how to make it pretty. Hiring an artist to do my slides was a great investment. I felt more confident in my presentations when I knew the slides were nice.

Speaking in my future:

No, I’m not giving up on it. I definitely see the value of sharing information with many people at one time. I just need to put some time and effort into making myself better at it. Perhaps I will try it for one more year, and if I am still uncomfortable at the end of that year, then I can accept the reality that I was not made for it. For now, I still think it’s worth experimenting with styles and tweaking my content to find my best fit.

I Got a 70% in Blogging University

Blogging U.
And I’m 100% okay with that.

As many of you know, I tried my hand at poetry writing a bit ago. I’m always telling people how much I love Blogging University, and I was taking full advantage of the coursework by taking part in the Poetry class.

So here’s the confession: I only did seven out of the ten lessons. And it really bothered me that I didn’t finish.

And here’s the catch: One of the benefits of Blogging University  that I always rave about is the fact that you can do the free course at your own pace. It’s totally okay to skip lessons or fall behind.

But I didn’t listen to myself, and it ate at me. My pre-holiday life was filled with personal and professional deadlines, my energy level was fighting a sugar-induced dip, and my brain was starting to spin towards next year’s goals. I had the lessons on my to-do list, but kept pushing them off until the lateness was getting pretty embarrassing. Headaches ensued, and I considered staying up hours later to catch up. Not an optimal choice.

Then it hit me. I had the freedom to let go. That’s what Blogging University is all about. I can always take the class over, or write those prompts another time. It will still be free so no $ lost. Only wisdom gained.

The fact that I was three lessons behind did not take away from the reality that:

  • I actually wrote poetry for the first time in forever.
  • I learned about different poetry styles.
  • I met some seriously talented writers in my class who are now my role models.
  • I received critiques that made my writing stronger.
  • I was greatly encouraged by the community.
  • And now I have some incredible poetry to read when I relax with coffee and my WordPress Reader.

What an incredible take-away! Yeah, I only hit 70% of the assignments, but I benefitted 100%.

Thanks for the free courses, Blogging University!

See you on the Commons if you are in Blogging 101 in January 🙂

Beloved – Poetry Day 7

Something about the very word “beloved” causes a frisson in us. Out of the people that matter to you, who matters the most? Whom do you love, or whom have you loved more than anyone else? What does the word “beloved” summon up in your imagination? What songs, poems, stories, movies spring to mind? Who is your beloved?

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I can’t look at this assignment without thinking of the Bible passage from Song of Solomon 6 and Song of Solomon 5:16. “I am my beloved and he is mine…”…”This is my lover, this is my friend.” I am nowhere near as eloquent as the author of the passage, and I realize that there is no way to verbally capture the intense love I feel for the one I was fortunate enough to marry. He balances me. I am strong and would be fine on my own, but he takes me to a better, higher, stronger, more passionate plane. For which I am thankful.

This poem is a Petrarchan (or Italian or Miltonic) Sonnet, according to http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/harris/Rom_Travel/Handouts/RomPoetryForm.pdf.

It’s written as a 14 lines poem with the first eight-line octave in abba, abba format showing a situation, followed by a six-line cde, cde resolution:

It has been twenty-four years
On this roller coaster we call life
Happiness, sadness, triumphs and fears
Since that day I became your wife.
Balance and love are the keys
Taking turns, being strong, showing love
Bolstering up the one who’s in need
Showing grace. You. My beloved.

An etching on my soul
You make me whole
And will ’til the end of my days
You’re the yin to my yang
The whole shebang
I adore you now and always.

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Fallacy – Poetry Day 6

Flat Earth

Today, let’s write poems that are wholly illogical.
Let’s see how miserably we can get reason to fail; both our reason and the reason that guides our readers.

Try not to consider this prompt as a call to nonsense but rather a call to use your good (creative) sense to arrive at firmly misconstrued ends. Surprise yourself!

Flat Earth
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/a_siegel/2356136219

The earth is flat and all that
I was told by the man in the moon
As he munched on cheese
Imported by mice
Who saw (in blinding belief)
The edge of the world
From their vantage
Atop the clock

This post is part of the Poetry 101 course from the WordPress Blogging University.