Fifteen Ways To Make Your Blog Irresistible

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait f...
Reporters awaiting news of D-Day. Are your readers this eager to read your next post? Image via Wikipedia

I search every day for an hour for new blogs to subscribe to, but, frustratingly, often come up empty-handed. As a career journalist and author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, I read and write for a living, so maybe I’m not the average reader in what I expect, or want, to find.

But all readers have limited time and attention.

These are the things that, for me, make or break a blog:

Is your blog overly personal? However fascinating your nephew or dogs or divorce feel to you, how much do they really interest your readers? What universal feelings or thoughts (fear, humor, embarrassment, sadness, anxiety) can you describe that we can all relate to and easily identify with?

Check your spelling, vocabulary and grammar. Messy copy shows a lack of respect for your readers.

I recently read a blog post using “pallet” instead of palate. Big difference. (Then there’s palette.) Spell-check is not your best friend. A dictionary is.

Is this post really worth sharing? Just because you saw or felt something doesn’t automatically make it interesting to others. Writing about it well to make a larger point does.

You’re being read worldwide — be inclusive. It’s easy to forget that the food, celebrity, neighborhood or issue you’re writing about isn’t necessarily a household word beyond your borders. Help us out with an explanatory link or some context.

Is every comment a big thumbs-up? Are you hoping to curate a lively conversation, (which, of course, doesn’t always happen), or just get a lot of “likes”? The best blogs aren’t about being popular, but compelling. Don’t be generic!

Are you playing it too safe? If, even behind a pseudonym, you’re not really saying something thoughtful and provocative, why bother?

Are you (even occasionally) funny? We all need a good laugh.

Move us! How do you want us to feel after reading a post? Sad? Outraged? Pensive? The determination to connect with us emotionally — and the skill to do so — makes the best blogs so distinctive.

Edit, revise, repeat. Do you bang out your posts in an urgent frenzy to share your views with the world, and hit “publish” right away? If this is your automatic habit, time to re-think. Very few pieces cannot benefit from a cooling-off phase, even a  few hours’ worth. Use every revision to make it tighter and stronger.

Grab us with the first few sentences. In journalism, it’s called the lede and it better be good. Hook ‘us in quickly.

Use paragraphs. A blog that goes onandonandoandonandon without a single line break, or paragraphs, is the written equivalent of the party bore.  Unreadable!

Visuals matter! A sea of text lacks imagination. Some of the best blogs are visual, whether a drawing (like the insanely, and deservedly, popular Hyperbole and a Half), photo or illustration.

Link to other people’s ideas. Share with us your finds: magazines, newspapers, radio stations, shows or podcasts, TED talks, websites, blogs, videos. This blog, {frolic}, is one of my favorites for all the links it offers: here’s a list of some cool magazines, some of which I’d never heard of.

The blog format isn’t sexy enough without great content. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s de facto fabulous. Just because it’s online and you have no editors to censor or control you doesn’t make it better than something in print. (Most editors improve our work, a lot.) It just means there’s no gatekeeper.

“Voice” matters most. You can write about almost anything if your writing voice remains consistent: funny, angry, wry, thoughtful, musing. Write with conviction and authority. Subscribers want to hear you.


Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River, ...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s about time!

In the past few weeks, I’ve ditched a whole pile ‘o stuff I’ve been hanging on to — for 20 years.

Books I never opened netted me $70 from a used book store. I’m planning to open up an Etsy site to sell antique and vintage items, many of which I’ve collected and want to get rid of.

I love the word that museums use — de-accessioning — for the necessary process of pruning and, if you’re able to, upgrading the quality of what you own. So much more elegant than “dumping stuff.”

I moved to New York 22 years ago, filled with ambition and hope and excitement about finally coming to the place my mother was born, the center of my industry — journalism and publishing — certain there was a place for me here. It’s been a sobering experience, and success proved much tougher to achieve than I could possibly have imagined. Three recessions didn’t help!

And, having been single, self-employed and penurious for six years after my divorce, (before meeting my now-husband, who moved in with me), I clung to the things I owned, not at all sure when, or if, I would ever be able to replace them. As Jose compassionately noted, I was in survival mode. Letting go of my things, no matter how old or worn out, I admit with embarrassment, isn’t easy.

But 20 years is a really long time to cling to a look or style or set of beliefs that worked for me (if they really did), in 1992, the year I got married to my first husband (who was out the door two years later.)

I’ve been blond for 20 years. Now I’m a redhead; new headshot soon to come.

In our one-bedroom apartment, we’ve ditched two deep, heavy armchairs, a folding screen, a corner unit holding media equipment. I’ve re-painted a low bookcase a pale yellow (from deep olive green) and bought a new tiny glass-base lamp from West Elm to add a bit of gleam.

I want more air and light in here. Ages ago, in a fit of DIY design, I had a piece of glass cut, beveled and frosted to use as a console table. I never put it together, but now it’s time.

It takes confidence in the future, and optimism about what will happen there, to let go of the old, making physical and psychic room for the new.

What changes are you planning to make in your home or life for 2012?

The Best Present Is…

Christmas gifts
Image via Wikipedia

Good health?

Ready access to excellent medical care?


A warm, dry safe place to shelter?

Dear friends?

The most materially fortunate spent today unwrapping their Christmas gifts.

Jose, as is his wont, gave me a lovely mixture of the practical and flattering, from a new workout wardrobe to get me back into the gym in style to a book about the mountains of Antarctica to…a folding telescope!

Not at all what some men might buy a wife for their first married Christmas but I was, and am, totally thrilled. I feel like a pirate woman. The ‘scope is powerful enough that I can tell if someone’s standing on the balcony of the apartment building on the opposite side of the Hudson, a distance of three miles. Essential!

My gifts to him this year included “1493”, a new work of history; a paisley silk pocket square and bright blue tattersall shirt and a road atlas. I like that our gifts to each of us combine a sense of adventure with the tools to enjoy it.

It’s a quiet Christmas for us; my father is in Canada with my two half-brothers and my Mom is in a nursing home far away. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with our New York family, whose daughter Jose dated some 15 years ago, all of whom have remained dear friends of ours. We went to church this morning, part of a very small group of perhaps 20 others.

I hope your Christmas was lovely!

What was your best present, given or received?

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

christmas 2007
Image by paparutzi via Flickr

— Christmas dinner in Montreal with friends, then flying BOAC with tinsel garlands hanging across the aisle, to have Christmas Day dinner with my aunt and uncle in London

— Living in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother, and trimming the smallest, weediest little tree we’d ever seen (think of the tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas)

— Coming out of midnight Christmas Eve service at church, just as it’s starting to snow, and Jose suggests we go to the lych gate — where he proposes!

— Getting stuck on the 401, the world’s most boring highway, heading back to Montreal from Toronto, in a scary blizzard, trying to stay warm until the tow-truck came

— The first Christmas living with my Dad, at 15, years after my parents split up when I was seven, showered with lovely and thoughtful gifts I used for years, like the cheery red, yellow and blue patchwork quilt for my bed

— meeting a dishy, blue-eyed engineer, home from Khartoum, on a flight from Dublin to Bristol, and running off into the Welsh fog for a few days with him, back in my crazy single days

— getting frisked by the cops after attending midnight Mass at the cathedral in Cartagena, Colombia

— Heading into the insanity of Boxing Day sales with Jose

— Jose’s first Christmas dinner with my fractious, loud family of table-thumpers. As we sat around expounding and bloviating, interrupting and opining, he finally slammed the table himself, to our enormous shock. “Take turns!” he said. Stunned, like dogs who’ve had the hose turned on us, we did — for a few minutes. Welcome to the family, sweetie!

— My first Christmas with Jose, in 2001, when my gifts included a toaster and a colander. Not sexy, but useful and still very much appreciated

What was your best — or worst — Christmas memory?

Broadside’s best gift is  you — such smart, fun readers worldwide — now 560 worldwide!

Have a great holiday!

Elegant Shelter: Hotel Memories

English: Banff Springs Hotel Deutsch: Das Fair...The Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada.
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this recent piece in The New York Times travel section of hotel memories. Here’s a snippet:

“… In hotels, secular miracles are routinely made to occur. The quotidian extravagances (costly, it’s true) built into life at a decent hotel are not likely part of most people’s daily existence. We dutifully make our beds and wash our dishes and clean our own tubs.

In hotels, however, we are only temporary citizens. And while I tip religiously and make efforts to leave my room in a decent state of order, I know that the smudge on the wall, the faulty plumbing, the nuisance of ownership belong to someone else. I bring my own baggage but leave the usual problems behind. At a hotel, the messy remnants of dinner can be guiltlessly pushed into a corridor.”

The essay is long and lively, with specific reminiscences of a life often spent in rooms far away from home.

It made me think of the many hotels I’ve visited. Here are some of my own favorites:

The Admiral’s Inn, English Bay, Antigua. How to forget the night, when I was perhaps seven or eight, I awoke to an odd flickering outside our second-floor windows? Fire! I woke up my mother to discover a sofa on the veranda below was alight. I returned to the hotel 20+ years later, still an elegant respite. Built in 1788, it offers historic intimate elegance, my favorite combination in a hotel.

– The Ritz, Paris. I wish! The closest I’ve gotten to staying there, and it was extraordinarily lovely, was their dark, cozy bar where Jose and I ate mini hamburgers and drank costly cocktails and watched very wealthy, languid young guests taking it all for granted. A black, round cocktail napkin, the name in gold, is framed in our kitchen as a happy souvenir of a fun evening.

— The Four Seasons, Toronto. This was the very first of what would become a legendary world-spanning chain of hotels, then founder Issy Sharp’s radical, bold move to taking a motel on a seedy Toronto street and transforming it into an urban oasis. I had my 10th. birthday party at the pool there. Heaven!

The Taos Inn, Taos, NM. This funky place is in one of my favorite towns. Founded in 1936, the hotel has small rooms with lots of character around a lovely central courtyard.

The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta. I spent one of the happiest weeks ever here, in March 2011, alone. This gorgeous property, built in 1888 and nestled in the Rockies, blends history, warmth, style and elegance. I can’t wait to go back.

The Sylvia, Vancouver. It celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. Named for the daughter of the man who developed the Sylvia, the hotel, for a while, was used as residential housing — and my paternal grandmother lived there for a while. Right on the beach, with simple, bright rooms, it’s an affordable place to settle in with views of mountains and the ocean. I’ve stayed twice and loved it both times.

I’ve stayed at The Algonquin, built in 1902 on West 44th St. in New York City, a few times; another of a great hotel’s charms is its consistency. The Algonquin (shriek) is about to undergo a four-month renovation…and what on earth will its new corporate owners do to it? It’s already been renovated within the past decade and there are traditionalists like me and many others who choose a hotel because we like it the way it is. Mess with our memories and expectations at your peril!

Do you have a favorite hotel (and story?)

Disagree With Me — Please!

Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah in a heated conversa...
Image via Wikipedia


If there’s a trend in the larger culture that dismays me it’s the dicing of discourse into niches of head-nodding agreement — “where never is heard a discouraging word.”

Or screaming, red-faced, poster-waving, tear-gassed rage from the OWS crowd or online insanity where anonymity, as The Guardian recently put it, has released the handbrake of civility.

This is nuts.

The whole point of living in a larger society is interacting with others, even (especially!) people whose economic and political values horrify us — whether that means we support a woman’s right to abortion, to name only one example, or remain fiercely opposed to it. Without the back-and-forth, give-and-take of argumentation and debate, what can we possibly learn about how others think?

Or alter their beliefs? Or they ours?

I don’t mean childish and self-indulgent name-calling, insults or ad hominem attacks, which, here in Washington has so eroded our respect for elected officials that Congress’ approval rating is now at an impossible low — of 9 percent.

I grew up in a family of table-thumpers. Raised voices were the norm. We live for a ferocious intellectual argument, and take this style so for granted that it takes fresh eyes and ears to point out how frightening and odd it can appear to others; at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding in September we were talking about…who knows what?

It sure wasn’t what some might have expected, an evening of romantic and loving memories, just the usual blablabla of firmly-held opinions being lobbed across the tablecloth like conversational grenades. It takes a tough hide and strong ego to withstand most of what passes for dinner-table conversation in my family of origin.

Which also leaves me really impatient with people who utterly refuse to hear — even acknowledge — the ideas of those they disagree with. I still subscribe to the New York Post, (right-wing) because even when I don’t like what they’re saying,  they’re also speaking for many others who feel the same way.

The whole point of my work, this blog, my articles and my books, is to stimulate discussion.

Not just polite agreement.

The floor’s open!

Watching A Movie Over And Over And Over…

Cover of "The Good Shepherd (Widescreen E...
Cover of The Good Shepherd (Widescreen Edition)

Do you have favorite movies you’ve watched a dozen times, maybe more?

I recently watched “Any Given Sunday” again on TV; it’s a 1999 football movie by Oliver Stone. I’m not a big football fan but this has remained of my favorites. I love the hard-ass female team owner, played by Cameron Diaz, the crazed characters of the coach (played by Al Pacino) and his players, the scary wives, the creepy team doctor who keeps shoving badly injured players onto the field. The soundtrack is fantastic, the editing dizzying.

Every time I re-watch a film, I find something I missed or forgot — a line of dialogue or a snippet of music. Or I simply revel in familiar and well-loved images, whether the snow-crusted towers of Varykino in Dr. Zhivago or the astonishing and awful shots of a white wedding dress falling from the sky in The Good Shepherd or Michael Clayton’s car exploding as he stands on a wintry hill with a trio of quiet horses.

I’ve seen Dr. Zhivago, David Lean’s gorgeous 1965 epic, probably a dozen times and have memorized entire scenes. I love analyzing the color palette of any film — Dr. Z’s is severely and beautifully limited to khaki, cream, red and black. A few touches of lilac, a specific pale shade, mark Lara’s initial innocence. (It’s the eighth-highest grossing film of all time and won five Academy Awards.) I love the irony that Canada, Finland and Spain all stood in for Russia — as the book had been banned there, and so was filming it.

I’ve also watched The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid many times and (dare I admit it?) love re-viewing all the Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. I even know its signature opening music off by heart.

In crazy and uncertain times like these, when the Dow plummets overnight, when unemployment is still appallingly high, when protest and rage erupt worldwide, there’s something very comforting about knowing how it all turns out. (And that it’s usually for the best.)

Another recent favorite I’ve seen repeatedly is The Good Shepherd, from 2006,  a scene of which was filmed on my town’s main street; it was pretty funny, trying to walk to my accountant’s office, to be told that Matt Damon was filming on that block and I’d just have to wait. It’s about the birth of the CIA, focused on one man and his relationship with his son. Despite a few scenes of unwatchable violence, there are others of haunting beauty. I love the film’s themes: to whom do we owe our deepest loyalty? Why? When does one evil act outweigh another?

My father made films for a living, so maybe this explains my ongoing fascination with the medium. I’m in awe of the many skills it takes to create (even a lousy) movie — writer(s), editor(s), director, producers, designers, grips and gaffers and, oh, yeah, the actors.

Here’s a fun post by one of the bloggers I read listing her faves.

What films have you watched over and over — and why?

Decorating The Tree

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

I’m sitting right beside our tree as I type this and ooooh it makes me happy!

I love the smell and the temporary presence of a green, tall visitor in the corner. Sitting at the very top are two small bears, one white and very well-loved, who’s been a part of my life since I was about three. Another bear, brown, sits up there, and a white wool Arctic hare that Jose bought me for Christmas a few years ago.

We have the usual glittery glass balls, stars, a Santa (albeit with a baseball bat!). But our tree, like most people’s, has several items that are near and dear to us:

— a strand of papier mache chile peppers, testament to Jose’s New Mexico roots (his grandfather, Pedro Lopez, even started and ran a chile powder company in Topeka, Kansas)

— a small daguerrotype of a young man looking very serious, a tribute to our shared love for, and careers in, photography and my love of antiques

— several carved wooden airplanes — we love to travel!

— small beaded ornaments made by the Maasai of Kenya, a place I visited when I was 26, one of the best trips of my life

— a homemade ornament with a sepia photo of skaters at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. I love to skate and we live just north of the city

— a few of the many annual ornaments created of The White House; Jose served in the press corps there for 8.5 years, and covered Reagan, G.H.W Bush and Clinton. On one of our first dates (!) we visited the White House, took our photos while standing at the pres-room podium — and even saw the Oval Office, where the President works. Very cool.

— a small red set of identification papers belonging to a man whose life may or may not have ended around the time Jose found it — while photographing during Christmas 1995 in the mountains of Bosnia, in a former ski chalet that had been turned into a field hospital. We add it to our tree to honor this unknown man, and all war photographers.

What are the ornaments on your Christmas tree that have special significance for you?

Ten Signs I’m Still (Even A Little) Canadian

Nellie McClung
Nellie! She helped Canadian women win the vote. Image via Wikipedia

We were heading out to the diner for pancakes when I bumped into one of our neighbors, who saw me carrying a clear plastic tube that held maple syrup — I don’t eat pancakes or waffles or French toast without the real thing.

“You are Canadian,” he sighed, laughing.

I left my home and native land in January 1988 to move to a small town in New Hampshire, then in 1989 to suburban New York.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto and Montreal, I haven’t lived in Canada since then, but I’m still semi-Canadian:

I speak French and love using it whenever possible. I really miss living in a country that values two languages, and people who speak both of them.

Health care is a right, not a costly, insecure, easily-lost privilege tied to employment. ‘Nuff said.

Any nation with only two truly viable political parties — neither of which is hard left or socialist — is toast. Policy debates need serious, significant challenge from a different perspective. Right, center-right and wingnutville don’t count.

Accepting — and wanting — government aid is not, de facto, a sign that Satan is loose upon the earth. We all need help sometimes. Some of us need a lot more than others. Arts funding is not a contradiction in terms.

A passport and intense curiosity about the world still matter deeply to me.  Most Americans don’t even own a passport.

“Our way” is not the only or best way. I have zero patience with American exceptionalism. There is much to be learned from how other nations and cultures make their choices.

I believe firmly in a level playing field. Watching rich kids get SAT-prepped after decades of private education, slithering into the Ivies as legacies, makes me nuts. My university education cost $660 a year. No, that’s not missing a zero. Today my top-rated Canadian school, the University of Toronto, (hey, it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s alma mater) still only costs about $5,000 a year.

A quality education should not bankrupt those who need it most. Higher taxes, well-administered, can reduce the cost of adding a few rungs to the ladder of social mobility.

The real thing beats the simulacrum every time. If you want to experience Paris, go to France — not to its sanitized versions in Vegas or Disneyworld. Shielding yourself from cultural difference (ooh, all those weird coins! They don’t speak English!) only reinforces ignorant prejudice.

Women’s reproductive and legal rights are sacrosanct. My body belongs to me, thanks.

What behaviors or attitudes still mark you — even if you’re a long-time ex-pat — as distinctly Irish/American/English/French/Australian….?

Twenty-Five Fab Christmas Gift Ideas — Elephants Included!

English: The Park House Club in Cardiff, wrapp...
Image via Wikipedia

This year, skip the dreary I-have-no-idea-what-to-get-them standbys — scented candles, scarves, hats, mitts or gift cards.

How about:

An elephant! Here’s a lovely stuffed, embroidered one from India for $60. My mom has owned one of these for many years and he’s a cheery addition to the household.

Or, why not adopt an orphaned elephant in Africa?

For the older music-lover in your life — perhaps someone in their 70s or beyond — how about this mix of classics from Kern, Berlin and others, played by the inimitable Stephane Grapelli?

For a stylish woman who likes unusual jewelry, these shield-shaped earrings from Vivre are exquisite: yes, a splurge at $280.

If you know and love Joni Mitchell (fellow Canadian!), you’ll know that Hejira, from 1976, is considered one of her best albums ever. I adore it.

This elegant women’s silk jacket — rich purple reversible to brown. I own one of these, (in burgundy) and love having two jackets for the price of one.

A travel shaving kit for the man on the go: $50, smells of sandalwood. Yum!

A mini food-processor, in bright tangerine, great for soups, smoothies: $39.95. I use mine all the time.

For all you old-schoolers who still wear a watch, here’s a simple, all-black field watch from LLBean; $129. A nice unisex gift for all ages.

I dare you to resist this insanely great-smelling (citrus) French soap, Hesperides by Fresh. One bar lasts for a month. A friend gave it to me and I now love it; $14.

For a woman with pierced ears, these tiny “diamond” studded pyramids would be perfect with everything from jeans to her favorite LBD; $28.

Or these really comfortable lug-sole black patent leather loafers. Comfy, water-resistant; $99. I own them and love them!

This Turkish seasoning is the bomb! Rub it into chicken or pork. Add it to Greek yogurt. A big $3.49.

How about a meter of this amazing Liberty print cotton? Red, yellow and blue ladders designed by an award-winning film and fashion designer. From my favorite London shop, Liberty. 21 pounds; $38.85.

From one of my favorite old-school Manhattan shops, founded in 1907, Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, a pound of chocolate cinnamon coffee; $9.95. Their teas are great as well.

Here’s one of my favorite lingerie stores, in Canada, La Senza. Two of these floral push-up bras for $39.50. Deal!

I love this tight close-up color photograph of a cowboy’s tools of the trade, by a Wyoming female photographer on Etsy; $20. If you haven’t yet explored Etsy, get on over there! It’s a huge on-line marketplace of things all made by creative individuals worldwide. (I’ll be opening my site there in 2012.)

This home goods store in Alexandria, Virginia has a fun, retro-look mantel clock in red. It would add a nice pop of color and a small, great style hit; $118.

A fresh set of towels, in rich and unusual earthy stripes: rust, gray, cream: $35-45.

These astonishing pewter candlesticks –– with a geranium leaf motif. Designed by a San Francisco artist, I have one by my bed and love looking at it every day.

Here are five global charities endorsed by international columnist Nick Kristof of The New York Times.

If your giftee has an Iphone 4, here’s a leather Iphone case; $38.

Or a man’s tattersall shirt in a nice weathered gray; $69.50.

Here’s a blog post with ten gorgeously-wrapped foods, (cake, chocolate, marzipan) you can order on-line.

You could also buy a copy, e-book or hardcover, of my own memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which received terrific reviews from People, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Marie-Claire. It tells the story of working in a low-wage job, and is filled with useful, practical lessons for employees, managers and shoppers alike. You can read two chapters for free here.

I hope, wherever you shop and whatever you buy, you give as much business as you possibly can to your local retailers, the men and women who give our cities and towns such character and style.

Be sure to say a genuine thank you!!! to the weary associates helping you. Their feet are killing them, they’re making minimum wage and no commission and working crazy-long hours. (Give the best ones a candy cane! Then tell their manager how helpful they were. That way they might get hired on after the holidays.)

Be the best Santa ever!