What’s the difference between a writer and a blogger?

Difference between writers and bloggers I'm so going to blog that SOBCON lanyard (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
I’m so going to blog that – lanyard from the late lamented SOBCON business blogging conference (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This question came up in a Facebook discussion … what IS the difference between a writer and a blogger?

As someone who has been a blogger since early 2006 and a writer before that, here was my answer:

A writer writes.

A blogger:

  • Writes
  • Shoots photos
  • Shoots video
  • Operates online publishing software like WordPress
  • Knows how to distribute and promote his/her work via email, social media, and savvy SEO (Search Engine Optimization.)

I’m proud to call myself a blogger.

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Posted in Blogs, Web Communications | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What even momentary Email Inbox Zero can teach you

Email inbox zero can bring clarity (courtesy Javier Morales on Flickr Creative Commons)
Clarity (courtesy Javier Morales on Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s a running battle for all of us, trying to quell the email beast.

All the best email management advice I’ve read can be summed up thusly:

  1. Stop the flow from coming in at all. Mercilessly unsubscribe from emails you don’t really want. Use phone calls or in-person meetings for complicated discussions.
  2. Keep unimportant, “nice to read” emails out of your main inbox by setting up filters to automatically route them into their own folders by topic. Read them when you have down time, not when they butt into your inbox on THEIR schedule, not yours.
  3. Do not use your inbox as a To Do list. Open an email, do something with it, and if more work on it is needed, move it into some sort of “work in progress” folder.
  4. Don’t forget to work on the items in the “work in progress” folder. You’ll need to adjust your workflow to get used to not working out of your main inbox.
  5. Batch process. Sit down and handle your emails for a set time, a few times a day, instead of a Pavlovian reaction/response to each one as it comes in, jerking you around hour after hour. Tip – Try to group them by sender,  then march through one by one. It’s easier on the brain to handle similar items/topics all at once.

I do pretty well with suggestions 1 and 2.

I am not making as much progress as I should on 3, 4, or 5, but I continue to try.

The tip about “group by sender, then march through them” has been a lifesaver for me.

Does it really matter if you achieve a relatively clean, empty inbox? A recent mistake showed me that indeed, it is a worthy goal to keep striving for.

Unintended Email Inbox Zero

I took some of my own advice from a Tourism Currents New Year’s productivity post about how to start the year off right, but by mistake I moved not just older emails, but every single one out of my inbox and into a Work In Progress folder.

Whoops.

They were all still there, nothing was lost, but I suddenly beheld the quiet, clean, slightly terrifying bliss of Inbox Zero.

You know the biggest benefit? Clarity.

In the days that followed, as new emails invariably flooded in, I was able to clearly see which ones mattered to me and which ones did not (there was a lot of unsubscribing going on.)

I could machine-gun through them pretty mercilessly, without ever feeling overwhelmed by a giant pile of things to read, reply to, make a decision about, etc.

Alas, since I have not taken my own advice to batch process, the pile has tended to build back up. Now that I’ve seen Nirvana and enjoyed a few days of sparkling email clarity, though, I’m not likely to give up on beating the inbox into submission.

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How to take 360 photos for Facebook using your phone

How to take 360 photos for Facebook like this one taken inside Magnolia in Waco TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Panorama 360 photo taken inside Magnolia in Waco, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

(Part of my “Better Online Content” series of posts: quick tips on creating more effective content that takes advantage of the social web’s unique publishing environment.)

For a more immersive online visual experience, you’ll be glad to know that it’s gotten a lot easier to shoot basic 360 degree photos with your phone, and then upload them to your brand/business Facebook Page, or personal profile.

In the photo above, I stood at the top of steps leading down into a big room, which helped with perspective. Even having people moving around as I was shooting didn’t cause any strange, blurry effects.

Check your phone camera setting for something named “Panorama” or similar, select it, then shoot in a slow, steady rotation from your far left to your far right, or far right to far left. The resulting photo will go into the photo gallery on your phone, but will have a little symbol on it, like a globe, that indicates it is panoramic.

Open your Facebook Page Manager app, select Add Photo, then pick that one, or do the same for your personal Facebook profile from the regular Facebook app. Facebook will then “auto-magically” post it, with a helpful little note on it to “Tilt or drag to look around” so viewers will know to use a finger to scroll the photo back and forth.

People won’t be able to look up and down as they would with a true 360 photo, but they will still feel as though they are standing right there in your destination, hotel, attraction, restaurant, or business.

There is a Facebook Group for 360 enthusiasts, and you can learn more (including about 360 video) on Facebook’s 360 microsite.

Is your tourism organization or partner business using 360 yet? What have you learned so far? Leave a comment below and let us know….

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Posted in Better Online Content series, Facebook, Photos and Images, Tourism Marketing on the Web, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel Post Friday: a guide to travel gift guides

Guide to gift guides when in doubt eat Texas pecans from Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company near Austin TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Someone is getting this tin of Texas pecans from Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company near Austin TX, but if I get too overwhelmed by Christmas shopping, I’ll probably eat them myself (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Holiday gift-giving was a lot easier when my Navy ships went on six-month deployments.

I’d do leisurely shopping for gifts in ports across Asia or Europe or the Middle East (depending upon where the ship was deployed and how much time I had off duty) and the biggest problem when I got home was finding a place to hide it all, time to wrap things, and not missing package shipping cutoff dates.

Even though I still travel a lot today as a civilian, I don’t seem to have as much interest or inspiration when I walk out of random conference centers or hotels.

If you’re like me and starting to get that “deer in the headlights” holiday feeling, I’ve got a round-up of gift round-ups here – 2016 gift guides from some of my favorite travel blogs.

Of course, the best option is to shop your local stores and support your local retailers (pay cash or check to save them the merchant credit card fees, too) but you can also use these gift guides to at least start a list and get moving….

**  Holiday Gift Guide for Families Who Love to Travel, from family travel experts Trekaroo.

**  2016 Holiday Gift Guide for Travel Lovers, from my longtime friend and “value luxury” travel specialist Mary Jo Manzanares.

**  Great, Affordable Gifts for Travelers from Jodi Ettenberg, former corporate lawyer & now with Legal Nomads. PS. If you’re a celiac traveler, her blog is a godsend.

**  2016 Travelers Gift Guide, from fun PR maven Angie Away.

**  The Tim Ferriss 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, from the 4-Hour Workweek/Body/Chef guy Tim Ferriss, who also has a new book, Tools of Titans.

**  A Holiday Gift Guide for Runners (and check out their tours while you’re there) from Wanderlust and Lipstick.

**  They don’t have a gift guide per se, but Practical Travel Gear is loaded with reviews and ideas.

Bonus Ideas

**  If you know someone who loves tea, my friend Andy’s Plum Deluxe tea subscription service might be just the thing.

**  When in doubt or totally stumped, try gifts under US$50 from Uncommon Goods. They have such a mix of offerings, you’re bound to find something that works.

Best of luck in your shopping quest!

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Facebook Interest Lists are going away

Screenshot of a Facebook Interests List we set up for some Tourism Currents clients. Very handy for tracking what folks were talking about on their Pages.
Screenshot of a Facebook Interest List that we set up for some Tourism Currents clients. Very handy for tracking, in one place, what folks were talking about on their Pages, rather than manually going from Page to Page to see their latest posts.

 

Boy, I hate just stumbling without warning on the demise of a favorite feature….

I was a big fan of setting up Facebook Interest Lists of the Pages run by Tourism Currents clients and prospective clients. Such lists meant that I could click one link on my News Feed left sidebar, see all the latest posts from a certain group, and Like/Share/Comment on each one as appropriate.

It was an easy way to keep in touch with folks, stay visible to them, and give their posts a little algorithm help, too. It was smart business. We showed people how to do it all the time in our social media workshops for tourism.

Now, it looks like Facebook is removing the Interest List feature. I discovered this when I went to confirm the list setup process – in case it had changed, as things do – and I couldn’t find the “Add a List” feature on my News Feed left sidebar any more.

It’s also buried in this post about changes to Facebook metrics and reporting:

“Interest Lists – Follower Counts.

Interest lists are a way to organize and view content on Facebook. Given low consumer usage of interest lists, we have decided to retire this feature, [emphasis mine] which will result in a drop in the total number of followers for profiles that created interest lists or were featured in lists. There are two reasons for this: 1) For people that created or were featured in an interest list, profile follower counts include the followers of the interest list; 2) People can follow someone from a profile and through an interest list, which means a profile’s follower number could double count that person. This update does not impact News Feed distribution or Page Insights. The impact to profile follower counts will vary, depending on the number of interest lists the profile created and was featured in. Most profiles will see a drop in followers of less than 5%.”

 

I am NOT happy about this; it was super-handy to be able to show a CVB, DMO, Chamber of Commerce, or Main Street organization how they could see tourism partner Facebook updates all in one place.

This is another reminder that Facebook controls Facebook, not you, so don’t get too fond of any of its features.

 

—->>  Update December 2016  –  First, I’ve found that I can still see my old Interest Lists, but only on mobile, in the Facebook app on my phone. I can’t see the list of List members, but at least I can see the latest updates from them. It’s all gone from my desktop.

Second, thanks to suggestions from the comments on this post, I’ve been experimenting with adding Pages to a Facebook Friend List. The Friend Lists are supposed to be for grouping together certain people/personal profiles. You find them in your left sidebar. Facebook may have already auto-created some for you, with names like Family, or ones with people from your high school or college. When I created a new Friend List, it would not let me add a Page to it unless I had at least one person already in it. So far, this has worked for me. Since I can still see my Interest Lists on mobile, I’ll try to re-create them as Friend Lists as quickly as I can before they totally disappear.

 

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Posted in Facebook, Tourism Currents, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

This is how hotels and tourism folks screw up social media

I’m in a big city for a conference.

My original hotel plans for my last night in this city fell through – a local college football game drove up prices in my preferred area to insane levels that I would not pay.

There is another hotel available not too far away. It is reasonably priced. Reviews look pretty good. I book a room there for a Friday night.

I love the hotel. I love the location. The staff is cheery and friendly.

I love my room so much that before unpacking, I set my suitcase aside in the entryway, turn on all the lights for a better presentation, and take photos. Even the Do Not Disturb door hangar gets a photo, because it is unique and funny.

My room’s balcony has a nice view; the next morning at sunrise, I roll out of bed and get out there to take a photo of the tranquil scene.

I paid for the room myself – about US$200 with a AAA rate, one of my standard tips for traveling like a pro. The local tourism board has no idea that I’m in town. This wasn’t a freebie press trip or influencer gig.

I post about the hotel to a couple of different social media channels, simply because the place is awesome and I want people to know about it, and taking care to include photos and tag the hotel so they’ll see my positive mentions of their lovely property.

Nothing.

No response from the hotel’s social media accounts, except for a Like of my photo tweets on Twitter two days later.

No friendly greeting in response like, “Hey, so glad you’re in town and enjoying our hotel; thanks for your business.”

Nothing.

And this happens all the time. This is unfortunately the norm in my travels, not the exception.

So much effort is expended to bring people to town – to get them to book a room and spend money – only to ignore them when they actually visit.

I try to be understanding. I know people are busy, but this lack of attention to basic online communications is pathetic in this day and age.

It happens with hotels. It happens with tourism partner restaurants, attractions, and merchants. It happens with organizations whose entire reason for existence is destination marketing and making visitors feel welcomed.

I don’t want a response because I work in the tourism industry, or because I’m fortunate enough to have a few followers on social media.

I want a response because I am a guest and that is the hotel’s JOB – to be hospitable to guests. They should be especially hospitable to guests who, without any quid pro quo or handouts, are enthusiastically telling friends and family positive things about the property.

Too many otherwise smart people still do not seem to understand that social media is a powerful way to connect and communicate – publicly – with visitors, guests, and customers.

Ignoring social mentions is like turning your back on your front desk, or ignoring your business phone when it is ringing.

The silence is deafening. Your visitors and customers (and their social networks) notice it.

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Posted in Hospitality and Hotels, Tourism Marketing on the Web, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Does B2B marketing on Facebook make any sense?

Add B2B marketing on Facebook to your To Do List (courtesy Geneva Vanderzeil A Pair and a Spare on Flickr CC)
Does an active Facebook Page belong on your To Do List if you’re a B2B business? (photo courtesy Geneva Vanderzeil A Pair and a Spare on Flickr CC)

Is it worth the time and effort for a B2B (business to business) brand, consultant, or staff team to maintain an active Facebook Page, on top of other social media demands?

It might be, if you get a lot of good business from personal referrals and word-of-mouth.

Here is a recent question from a friend and professional colleague …

“I’m considering bringing my business Facebook Page back online. It’s been dark/unused for several years, because I felt like it was a time suck since potential clients aren’t looking for me on Facebook. Over time, I’ve started thinking that while they may not be looking for me, they are on Facebook for their own work, so maybe it makes sense. Doing this [social media] for others is easy. Doing it for myself – not so much.

Two questions: (1) does it make sense? (2) how do I jumpstart and not look lame that it was dark so long?”

My advice back to him:

1)  Yes, it makes sense to have an active brand Facebook Page, because Facebook is where everybody on the planet spends their time right now, including your current, former, and prospective clients.

I think there’s too much focus on B2B vs. B2C business communications – it’s kind of a silly differentiation especially when it comes to social media. Most B2B communications advice seems to consist of, “Stop being so boring! Do stuff like a B2C business would!”

People prefer to work with people they like and trust. An active Facebook Page highlights your business as human, fun, smart, and worth people’s hard-earned money.

2)  Nobody really notices that you’ve been dark, so don’t worry about it. Frankly, because you’ve been dark, no one will notice that you’re posting, at least for awhile, because the Facebook algorithm will ignore you. 🙂

Most people only interact in the News Feed anyway, less so directly on Pages. If they DO go directly to your Page, as long as a few of the most recent posts are not from 2011, they probably won’t scroll back far enough to notice that you “came alive” fairly recently.

3)  To jump-start your Page – make a list of the top 5-7 questions people ask you all the time, or problems/issues you come across all the time in your business. Make a simple editorial calendar addressing each one – on Mondays you’ll share updates about X, on Tuesdays the topic is Y, on Wednesdays it is Z, and so on.

Re-share evergreen blog posts from your archives. It’s OK if they’re a few years old as long as they’re still accurate (check and tweak them first.) You can get more elaborate and organized later with some sort of content marketing editorial calendar that ties in email newsletter, blog posts, tweets, Page updates, etc.

Be prepared to drop a little money on a few Sponsored posts, to get back in front of followers.

Once your Facebook Page is reasonably lively, it will have a lot of “Google juice” authority – like all social profiles do – so it will come up high when people search for your brand name. That’s a nice SEO benefit.

Don’t forget to add a Facebook Page social button to your website, and make sure it’s linked correctly. You can also send a note to your email list that the Page is now active, announce it on other social media, and invite your personal profile Facebook connections to Like the Page, if you think it makes sense for them (don’t blast all of your connections.)

Did I miss anything? Am I way off the mark? Let’s talk down in the comments!

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The 2 things you must do for online marketing

The two things you must do for online marketing
Advice brought to you by the number Two

What if your time for online marketing is incredibly limited, and the boss or powers-that-be simply will not budget for another staff member, or even part-time freelance/contract assistance?

What do you absolutely HAVE to do to avoid being invisible online?

What can you absolutely NOT ignore, or blow off because you’re “too busy?”

Here’s what I’d recommend:

1)  Claim your business profile on Google My Business.

Why  —  This will help your visibility when people search, for example, for “antique shop in XYZ town,” and it also helps to literally put you on the map – Google Maps.

How  —  Fill out your brand profile as completely as possible – including adding photos – and make sure that your name, physical address, and phone number are accurate and consistent across all online profiles. Respond to any reviews, positive or negative.

2)  Have a rocking Facebook Page.

Why  —  You need to be where your customers are online. I can almost guarantee that they are one of the over one billion people on Facebook….so don’t screw it up. Your Facebook Page URL will come up when people search for your business name, too, so it helps your search engine visibility. Even smaller destinations can have great tourism Facebook Pages.

How  —  Fill out your Page information as completely as possible, decide what sort of Facebook posts will support your overall business or organization strategy, and post at LEAST 2-3 times a week. Learn more here about setting up a successful Page. Budget for occasional Sponsored posts (ads) to ensure that you stay in front of your Page followers despite the recent drop in organic reach.

That’s my answer to Tourism Currents social media training clients who say, “What do I really have to do for online marketing?” (and you’d be surprised by how few tourism partners do either, much less both, very well.)

Do you agree with the two things I recommend, or disagree? The comments below are open.

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Posted in Economic Development, Facebook, Tourism Marketing on the Web, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A snapshot of Snapchat for tourism

My Spidey sense tells me that it is time for DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) to take Snapchat seriously as a way to connect with visitors.

It’s been more than two years since I wrote a post on here titled, Why Snapchat? Because they’ll open it, after attending a tourism summit in Philadelphia and hearing from the Philadelphia Eagles marketing team.

Then, about a year ago, I wrote about finding travel stories on Snapchat when I realized that I was checking it almost every day for the latest Story snaps from places and events around the world.

Team Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band at Bagpipe World Championships Glasgow on Snapchat
Team Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band at the Bagpipe World Championships Glasgow on Snapchat

Since then, I’ve played around on a personal Snapchat account and watched tourism pros figuring out how to use it to connect with people, especially if their marketing goals include connecting with a young audience.

If your market is not there or you don’t have the resources to take on another social channel, THAT IS OK. Lurking and learning is fine.

Claim your Snapchat brand name so someone else doesn’t get it, set up a personal account to experiment with when you have time, and don’t stress about it. Go write a blog post or Facebook Page update or send an email to your list or update your website. 🙂

Meanwhile, as college basketball coach Shaka Smart says, “take ownership of your learning.” There’s a How to Use Snapchat Guide that’s pretty well buried on their site; hat tip to Lauren Cleland from Visit Savannah for telling me about it.

Here are some ideas for you….I picked up my phone this morning and took a series of screenshots of snaps, to show you how different brands are using it across one, single day.

 

When in doubt, talk about the weather, like Adirondacks, USA

Screenshot of Adirondacks USA on Snapchat showing Lake Placid Main Street weather
Screenshot of Adirondacks USA on Snapchat showing Lake Placid, New York’s Main Street weather & open shops. They’re adirondacks usa on Snapchat.

Share upcoming festivals & special events, like Visit Savannah in Georgia

Screenshot of Visit Savannah on Snapchat sharing a music festival poster snap
Share upcoming events on Snapchat, like Visit Savannah is doing with this simple snap of a music festival poster. They’re VisitSavannah on Snapchat.

Invite everyone to the bar, like Nautical Beach Resort in Lake Havasu, Arizona

Nautical Beach Resort in Lake Havasu Arizona uses Snapchat to invite everyone to the bar
Nautical Beach Resort in Lake Havasu Arizona uses Snapchat to invite everyone to the bar. They’re nauticalresort on Snapchat.

Do some newsjacking; get involved with celebrations & National/International “Day of the….”

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto celebrates International Women's Day 2016 on their Snapchat account by featuring museum bees in the Biodiversity Gallery
The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto celebrates International Women’s Day 2016 #IWD2016 on their Snapchat account by featuring museum bees in their Biodiversity Gallery. They’re romtoronto on Snapchat.

 

Snaps on Snapchat don’t have to be long, complex multimedia creations. Start with just a still photo or two, add some text or drawings, and keep it super-short. That’s what people want anyway.

Finally, when in doubt, talk about your destination’s special food or drinks.

The screenshot below from Pure Michigan tourism was a few weeks ago and not part of today’s one-day roundup, but it illustrates my point. It’s one of a series of snaps from a tour around the state eating pączki Polish pastries, a local favorite.

Pure Michigan on Snapchat sampling pączki pastries across the state
Pure Michigan on Snapchat sampling pączki pastries across the state. They’re Pure-Michigan on Snapchat.

Tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Update: Belatedly, I realized that I DO have a food example from today’s snaps – the San Francisco tourism folks (OnlyinSFTV on Snapchat) have a story up featuring La Urbana Mexican restaurant.

Pollo con Mole at La Urbana Mexican restaurant from San Francisco tourism on Snapchat
Pollo con Mole at La Urbana Mexican restaurant from San Francisco tourism (OnlyinSFTV) on Snapchat

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Posted in Mobile, Photos and Images, Tourism Marketing on the Web, Video, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thoughts after 10 years of blogging

Publish box in WordPress blog software
The Publish box in WordPress blogging software

 

“I should write a blog post about 10 years of blogging, but I’ll do it after I watch this basketball game.”

That’s how I was thinking tonight about acknowledging a decade of publishing online. No careful marketing plan, no organized campaign – only wondering if I can pop out a coherent post after a gin and tonic plus some hoops on TV.

For a moment, I worried about writing this. How long it would take? Did I have anything profound to say? Did I have a photo to go with it….because we can’t just WRITE any more; we must have images with every post or we’ve broken the visual storytelling “rules.”

10 years ago today, I published my first blog post – the next one was about (WTF?) American Express traveler’s checks, because who needs an actual blogging plan or editorial calendar – on my new family travel blog hosted on the BootsnAll Travel Network.

I had just retired from a 22+ year seagoing career in the U.S. Navy and decided to become a travel writer. An old friend, Dwight Silverman from the Houston Chronicle, told me that “a writer should have a blog,” so I went and got one.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Folks, if I had a $1 over the last decade for every time I’ve said, “I wish I knew what the hell I was doing!” I’d be a rich woman.

Here’s what’s changed in the media landscape since February 10, 2006….

1.  I worked in such isolation back then. I didn’t know anyone who did what I did, until I found a travel writer’s BBS bulletin board (now defunct) and got active on the BootsnAll travel community forum boards. When I told people I was a blogger, they looked at me like I was a complete nutball.

2. To get people’s attention, I linked to them in my blog posts. I couldn’t tweet to them or tag them on Facebook or LinkedIn – those platforms didn’t exist yet or if they did, I’d never heard of them or didn’t know how to use them. So, I was really big on outbound links as shout-outs, plus I commented a lot on other people’s blog posts.

3. Comments by actual humans on my own blog posts made my day (they still do.) I had conversations with readers of my blog via the email they provided when they left a comment, and I am still in touch with people like Kara Williams from the Vacation Gals who I met through their blog post comments.

4. WordPress software was not as easy to use as it is today. My early posts with photos were butt-ugly because I did not know the small snippet of HTML code that would nicely wrap my text around my photos. I had no idea about re-sizing photos or any of that, so I just sort of eyeballed things and jammed them in until they pretty much fit.

What is not very different in 2016…

1. I still get a thrill when I hit the blue WordPress “Publish” button. Hello, world!

2. My blog is still MY house; my personal web real estate. Mark Zuckerberg does not have any control over it. The Twitter people don’t either, and Lord knows the Google+ weenies can take a hike. For a perfectionist control freak like me, that means a lot. I will never give it up.

3. My most popular posts on here are often the ones that I least expect to get any attention; the ones that I toss off without much thought. They often reflect whatever I’m personally dealing with at the time, like how to set up a trade show booth when you don’t have any money.

4. I am still so grateful to have a publishing tool that reaches around the world, 24 hours a day, at a very small cost. If I have something to say, I always have a place to say it, and I don’t have to play “Mother, may I?” with an editor.

Thanks to Sean Keener and the BootsnAll team for giving me a place to get started.

Thanks to all of my readers over the years; you’ve made it one hell of a ride.

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Posted in What This Blog's All About | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments