My 5 favorite free blogging tools

SEO, writing, imagesThe other day I realized I’ve been doing this blogging thing for almost 10 years. Sadly, it’s only over the past few years that I’ve found some tools that have helped take my blog to the next level.

Ok, some (most) of these tools weren’t around 10 years ago and I was in it more for the writing.  I had no idea what SEO was and adding a photo to a post was something I rarely did.

  1. Picmonkey – Speaking of photos, I love this site. Seriously, you almost always need to have an image in a post these days and I sort of suck at remembering to take photos. Picmonkey lets me make up graphics even though I don’t have any fancy tools. There is a free version and a paid version. I highly suggest using the paid version. It’s not that expensive and if you’re like me, you’ll get addicted to it anyway. The paid version has a collage with dimensions perfect for Pinterest. See the above image…made with Picmonkey!
  2. Statcounter – I’ll admit, Google Analytics confuses me sometimes (mostly).  This was one of the first free tools I found. It’s fairly easy to install on your blog.  I did it on my old blog. It shows you pretty graphs and tells you how people found your site.
  3. Triberr – If you want more people to see your blog, this is a great way to increase your reach.  You join a tribe and promote other people’s posts.  They return the favor for you. They also have a paid version (which I’ve not used yet).  I think it lets you auto post other people’s posts.  Also, they have campaigns available for you to get paid. I’ve not used that service yet…or been selected more likely.
  4. Shareaholic – This is a free plugin for your site.  It can add those fun little social sharing buttons as well as include other posts your readers might like. I have no idea how it decides which posts to show them, but they all seem fairly random.
  5. EverNote – I’ve heard people rave about this iPhone app for years and now I understand why. It’s a great way to organize thoughts, to do lists, and notes about post ideas. I like how it can use your calendar to help you take notes.  There’s a web version and desktop version and an Android version.  If you create an account, they all sync up.

Why I love Yelp

Being new in town, there are certain services for which I need referrals. You know, like where to get my hair cut. Since I don’t know many people, these recommendations are hard to come by and I’m not going to stop random strangers on the street, “I love your hair! Who do you go to for a cut?” Nine times out of ten they will freak out and likely not be able to tell me or just straight out lie.

So, I turn to Yelp for help. Sorry for the rhyme. Anyway, when I first moved to Sacramento, I had a hard time finding a good stylist. I went to the gal my mom and sister used. She was fine, but something was missing. When Yelp finally became a thing, I looked for and found a great hairdresser. I went to her for a good six years. Also, I found some doctors through Yelp. It’s not just for restaurants!

Now, to navigate Yelp, you have to look between the lines of a review. Just because a few people gave a place a bad review doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Has the reviewer written more than 5 posts? Do they have any friends on Yelp? Are the majority of their posts negative? However, also be wary of a place that only has a few reviews that are all positive. Apply the same rule of thumb and look at the reviewers.

Personally, I like to use Yelp not only to warn people of bad service, but mostly to promote businesses that I have enjoyed. I actually have received a thank you for a positive review from a business owner. Needless to say, this makes me want to use their services even more and tell my friends about it.

Granted, I’m not sure how popular Yelp is here in the Twin Cities. I have checked into a few places with two or three check ins and suddenly become Duchess (sort of like the Mayor in Foursquare). This tells me not too many people are using that aspect of Yelp and might not be “yelping” much altogether. I wonder how long it will be before I become Queen?

Get out of my mind!

video game, Facebook

Screen shot from iPhone

I’m not sure how it started, but I can’t stop playing Candy Crush Saga.  OK, obviously that’s not true because I’m not playing it right now.  But it has seeped into my subconscious.  I do know that it all began on Facebook.

Did you ever play Tetris as a kid? Then you had Tetris dreams like I did.  It’s not so much that I’m having Candy Crush Saga dreams…I have had them, but this game is odd. I’ll be doing something mundane (going to the bathroom) and suddenly an image of green, yellow and red candies appears in my mind.  Instantly, I look for a pattern and then realize I’m not playing that damn game.

What the hell is going on with me?  Is it some kind of sweet induced mind control? No, because I find myself hating those chocolate pieces that grow randomly.

I know it’s not just me.  Paul is having the same thing going on.  And that’s all my fault because I started playing that game first…he saw me and got hooked.

I’m trying like hell not to play that game.  There are tons of things to keep me busy, but I keep finding myself logging into Facebook and looking for those damn pieces of candy.

video games, Facebook

Screen shot from iPhone

Dreaming is always weird.  I don’t remember my dreams every night.  According to that article I linked from Scientific American, dreaming might be a reinforcement of a learned task.  It’s probably way more complicated than that.  Emotions certainly play a part in dreaming.  It also doesn’t explain why I suddenly have those images of candies pop up into my awareness at random while awake.

A “Pinteresting” Recipe

It’s a well known fact that I don’t like to cook.  Well, mostly, I’m afraid of cooking.  I have this fear of time management.  When do I start the side dish?  How long will the meat take?  You get the drift.

So, now that I have someone for whom to cook, I’m attempting to expand my culinary horizons…albeit a bit slowly.

food, meals, dinner, chicken, pot pieTonight, I made a chicken pot pie.  Not EXACTLY from scratch, but close enough.  I used this recipe I found by Googling.  I tried looking for stuff on pinterest first, but I got overwhelmed by all the shiny distractions.  But, since I’m trying all things social media, I immediately pinned it when I found it.  It’s a good way to stay organized and believe me, I need all the organizational help I can get.

Honestly, this recipe was pretty easy.  I mean the ingredients were simple. I added a chopped up potato since Paul isn’t a big veggie fan.  Also, I doctored up the cream of chicken soup.  First, I got the less fat one.  Then, I added some garlic powder and basil.  I think it helped a bit.

I was a little skittish about the dough.  Being a perfectionist, I wanted the fluted crust to look as pretty as the stuff in the professional looking photo.  Heck, I’d even take two flutes looking right.  I just can’t seem to figure out how to do it.

Regardless, it was a tasty dinner.

I really wish there was a meal planning app.  You know something that I could plug in the stuff I want to make and it spits out exact instructions on what to make when.  That or I just need to take a freaking Home Ec class.

App Review: Waze

screenshot, traffic, GPSNormally, I have a pretty good sense of direction.  Now that I’m living in a new city, however, I don’t really have my bearings.  Maybe it’s because I’m used to living in a place where the ocean is in the west and the mountains are in the east.  Maybe it’s just stimulation overload.

Either way, I’m so grateful for GPS technology, specifically, Waze.

It’s this neat app for the iPhone and Android.  It not only gives you turn by turn directions, but also lets you and other alert the network if there are any road hazards or if the police are hanging out along the way.  I think it’s supposed to pick the quickest (or least traffic ridden) way if there are multiple ways to get to your destination.

My favorite feature in Waze though is being able to share your drive with people.

You input your destination and then you can send a link via email, text, or Facebook. FYI, the Facebook choice will post a link to your timeline.  You can choose who sees it, but if privacy is a concern, I suggest just using the first two communication methods.

app, gps, traffic, travel

The orange guy at the bottom shows you how many people are watching.

You can share this stuff with your friends.

You can share this stuff with your friends.

While Paul & I were driving half way across the country, we shared our drive with our family via Waze.  It was a nice way to keep some of their fears at bay.  Of course, you have to be prepared for dead zones in the cellular network, especially if you are driving through Wyoming.  (Shakes fist at Wyoming).

Also, you can also have someone send you their location through the app. It sends the request via text message or email, so your friends don’t have to have the app to help you out.

waze screen shot

pick up

This afternoon, I strayed from Waze.  Yes, I confess.  I used the iPhone map app.  I totally regret it. The data being spewed at me was incomplete, so I got lost…twice!  While Waze isn’t perfect, I trust it more to get me to my destination than the default app in my iPhone.

The only draw back I’ve found from Waze is that it gets a little wonky when encountering raised freeways.  It can get confused about three dimensions, but for the most part, I highly recommend this app.

This is not a diet (ce n’est pas un régime)

Diets don’t work for me. Well, they do for like 5 minutes, but that’s not going to help me with what’s really wrong. What’s really wrong? I am not thinking about what I’m eating. I know how to eat healthy, sometimes (most of the time) I just don’t think about it or want to…

OK, that’s not true. I do want to eat healthy, but it’s too easy to be lazy. So, in an effort to not be lazy, I’ve decided to track my food. It’s not a diet.

I just want to be more aware.

I’m still eating whatever the hell I want. If I deny myself everything I crave, it just spirals out of control. It’s about awareness, so I downloaded the My Fitness Pal application for my iPhone. It’s kind of awesome. The best part is the bar code scanner. You can scan that box of Wheaties and it will look up the food for you. All you have to do is determine the amount of servings you ate.

My Fitness Pal screenshot

It seems to have a lot of foods from restaurants already uploaded, which is nice, because I’m lazy. I don’t want to have to estimate if I don’t have to.  It also lets you input food if you know the calories, fat, etc. Plus, it tracks your exercise, so it will net out your calories.

It really helps me be more aware of what I’m eating. Do I really want that cookie? Not really. I’m just anxious or bored. Wait five minutes and I don’t care anymore. Plus, now I have a pretty good idea of how crappy or how well I’m eating. All I know is that I’ve lost a few pounds in the past two weeks. I know because my belt needs to be tighter to keep my pants up. I’m not on a diet. I’m just being more aware.

Party on, Twitter.

For you old fogies who don’t know, a Twitter party is where a sponsor gathers a bunch of people to talk about their product. Usually there are prizes given away. Once I got a $10 gift card for Subway. Hey, that’s a couple of lunches just for talking on the internet.

But wait, aren’t there chats on twitter? Well, my friend, I believe a Twitter chat usually does not involve sponsored giveaways. It’s usually just a bunch of people talking about a specific subject. Instead of a bunch of people talking about random subjects…

The problem I have with Twitter parties is when they occur. I’ve seen so many that happen while I’m at work. Hello, at 3:00 PM Eastern, I’m lucky if I’m having lunch. I suppose I could join in one while on my lunch break, but they aren’t easy to attend on an iPhone. You have to keep up with a bunch of chatting people, usually by following a specific hashtag. The host usually asks questions to keep the flow going. It’s interesting to see everyone’s answers. Plus, you can get some social media “clout” if you get a bunch of people sharing your tweet. Not that it matters…

Anyway, it just sucks that I can’t chat about makeup because I’m stuck at work making money. Whatever. I’ll just talk to myself about makeup. That’s what blogging is, right?