Weekly Meal Plan: 21 July to 27 July

Weekly Meal Plan: 21 July to 27 July » a humble place.

The Chemex has been getting a lot more use with E home.

The garlic cauliflower “mashed potatoes” from last week’s plan were actually a success! B LOVED them and E didn’t mind them, so it passed the strenuous Humble family taste tests. We’d still all prefer good, old-fashioned, real mashed potatoes, but when you have an extra head of cauliflower (or five pounds of it in your freezer….just sayin…..), this will definitely satisfy.

I’m going to include links to the recipes that are available online, otherwise I’ll include links to the resource where I got the recipe. Here’s this week:Continue Reading

Weekly Meal Plan: 14 July to 20 July

Weekly Meal Plan: 14 July to 20 July » a humble place.

The job hunting has begun (literally….E just submitted his resume while I was writing this out). To use his very appropriate statement as he was doing it…”Here goes nothing.” Weekly Meal Plan: 14 July to 20 July » a humble place.

The only new item on last week’s meal plan was the garlic beef stew and savory cauliflower mash which was okay. I still can’t find a mind-blowingly amazing crockpot beef stew recipe.

I’m going to include links to the recipes that are available online, otherwise I’ll include links to the resource where I got the recipe. Here’s this week:

Continue Reading

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do? » a humble place.

I get this question sometimes when people ask what I “do” (because being a stay-at-home mom isn’t “doing” something What Does a Virtual Assistant Do? » a humble place. ). When I tell them that I’m a virtual assistant, or “VA,” the next question I get is something along the lines of “huh?” I actually hesitate to say that I’m a “virtual” assistant because it sounds a little cheesy to me. Like I’m one of those women you find on stock photography sites with a headset and perfectly coiffed hair and makeup ready to take your call! (Sidenote: I did wear a headset for a number of years when I did actually do customer service, but I don’t think there has ever been a day in my life that I’ve had perfectly coiffed hair and/or makeup. I’m more of the hair-pulled-back-in-a-bun, sweatpants-wearing, sitting-cross-legged-at-my-tiny-desk-in-the-closet, will-never-wear-a-headset-again-if-she-can-help-it kind of “virtual” assistant. And that’s okay by me!)

To ask what a VA (in general) does is kind of like asking what a teacher does. Well, what kind of teacher? What kind of VA? I could try and cover all of the different types of VAs out there, but I don’t think my knowledge of this little industry is complete enough to encompass it all, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll give you a little glimpse into what I do as a VA and you can use your imagination for all the other types out there. What Does a Virtual Assistant Do? » a humble place.

I consider myself a blogger VA (some have relabeled themselves blog assistants or blog helpers). My primary client base consists of bloggers. I have helped real estate agents and Etsy shop owners in the past, but right now I focus on bloggers. I chose this path for a number of reasons, mainly because I’ve been blogging myself for a third of my life, so I know, to a certain extent, the ins and outs of blogging, and have a good knowledge of the major blogging platforms (eg. WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad, Movable Type, etc.). I also have experience doing technical support at a blogging company, which isn’t a bad line to be able to add to my résumé.

My jobs vary greatly, especially depending on the clients I’m currently working with. For those who have hired me on a long-term basis, my daily responsibilities, in a nutshell, include the following:

  • filter/respond to emails from site visitors
  • handle various requests from site contributors (eg. updating profiles, changing posting dates, etc.)
  • maintain posting schedules (for sites that have multiple contributors)
  • minor technical support
  • minor code/mark-up editing
  • moderate/respond to comments
  • approving/denying/paying ebook affiliates
  • post editing
  • page editing
  • creating graphics
  • taking photos
  • ebook compiling/editing
  • ebook promotion/sales
  • sending various reminders to clients
  • maintain various spreadsheets with data pertaining to maintenance of the site

In essence, I’m sort of a catch-all. Whatever needs to be done, I do it. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but you can get a general idea of the types of tasks a long-term blogger VA does. I think the very common items are moderating comments and sorting emails. The rest of the tasks really depend on the blogger you’re working for. I kind of think of myself as a remote secretary where I pay attention to the day-to-day running of the blog, so my clients can focus on the bigger-picture things and be more successful.

For other clients, I’ve been hired for specific projects such as assisting with ebook bundles in whatever capacity needed, creating graphics for blog posts and special promotions, and helping with ebook compilation and editing.

If you’re looking into becoming a blogger VA yourself and aren’t sure what some of this stuff even is, don’t be discouraged! Many of the skills needed to perform the items on this list are easily learned, or even picked up while you’re working on other tasks for clients. The easiest thing you can do just to get a feel for these different tasks is to create your own blog (WordPress.com offers free blogs and is the most common blogging platform right now) and explore. You’d be amazed at what you can learn just by looking around!

To make my job a LOT easier, I’ve found a great little collection of tools on the internet, both free and some paid, that have been absolutely invaluable to me in my business. I think I would actually go bonkers if I didn’t have these at my disposal.

Resources

  • WordPress (free) – If you’re looking into becoming a blogger VA, knowledge of this is an absolute must. Most bloggers use this platform, or, if they don’t already, are planning on moving to it. As I already mentioned, WordPress.com offers free blogs, but if you want to explore more of the technical side of blogging with WordPress, I’d recommend getting your own domain and website (I use DreamHost as it’s one of the more affordable options). You can then install Wordpress for yourself and learn about the various plugins (Akismet and WP-Affiliate being two very popular ones, among others, for bloggers) and themes that may not be available on WordPress.com.
  • Photoshop Elements ($100) (or Adobe Photoshop, if you want a fancier but much more expensive option) or other image-editing software (PicMonkey seems to be popular, but I have no personal experience with it) – I think most bloggers appreciate an assistant who can whip up even the most basic graphics for them when they’re short on time.
  • Code Academy (free) – If you’re wanting to learn more about writing HTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, and other types of code and mark-up, you can “enroll” in these very short, easy-to-use, online tutorials. They range from very basic mark-up (like how to make links in HTML), to more complex stuff.
  • Freshbooks (free for up to 3 clients, starts at $20/month after that) – I use this for my invoicing, keeping track of expenses, and keeping track of hours. I honestly have no idea how I would handle the financial side of my business without it. To easily keep track of time, I use Chronomate ($20), which automatically uploads my clocked time to Freshbooks.
  • Dropbox (free up to 2GB of space) – This is great for sharing large or many files and collaborating on projects with clients. Even if you aren’t looking into becoming a VA, Dropbox is still helpful for sharing files (like pictures) with family and friends.
  • Genesis ($60) - Simply put, this is the very best theme framework you can get for WordPress.
  • Studiopress ($400) – Definitely not a must, but this is a great set of themes that run on the Genesis framework. Every so often they have a fantastic sale where you can get all the themes (and any future ones they release) for a low price. My blog uses a Genesis theme.
  • ThemeForest (various) – Another great site for WordPress themes and basic website templates. My VA site uses a template from ThemeForest.
  • Asana (free) - I use this to keep track of projects and tasks that I’m currently working on for clients.
  • Google Drive (free) – Another good tool for collaboration with clients. In particular, the spreadsheet tool has been invaluable.
  • Google Calendar (free) – Great for keeping track of deadlines and posting schedules.
  • Creative Market & The Ink Nest (various) – These two places, and Creative Market in particular, are where I get my pre-made graphics, fonts, etc. Creative Market gives away several items for free each week and offers just generally high-quality products.
  • Flickr (free) - Great for finding stock photography (just do a search for Creative Commons licensed images.)
  • The Bootstrap VA ($13) – This is a good little book if you have questions about becoming a VA and aren’t sure where to start. Lisa lays it all out very clearly and even offers a Facebook group for those who buy the book and have more questions or just want to network.

This job is pretty much perfect for me in so many ways and I am so, so thankful for the opportunity to earn a little extra income (especially now!) and doing something that I truly enjoy, while still being able to stay home with my babies. What Does a Virtual Assistant Do? » a humble place.

Disclosure: Please know that if you make a purchase using some of the links on this page, I may earn a commission and I am very grateful for your support of this site. Thank you!

Weekly Meal Plan: 7 July to 13 July

Weekly Meal Plan: 7 July to 13 July » a humble place.

Part of my cookbook collection.

Last week was the first week in….well, maybe forever? that I’ve stuck to the meal plan. Maybe this whole jobless thing will be good for us! Weekly Meal Plan: 7 July to 13 July » a humble place. One can hope. This first week with having E home has had its ups and downs. I think it’s difficult in any situation to adjust to a new routine, but that’s especially true when that new routine was thrust upon you very unexpectedly. On the flip side, however, we’ve been able to spend more time together as a family as well as just E and me, which I think we really needed. We’ve also been talking about the future and what we want it to look like and I think we both have a lot of hope right now. We are very much agreed that we want to get out of Denver. We’ve discussed this off and on for several years now and suddenly the opportunity to do so has presented itself. We are also agreed that we can live on a lower income, especially if we move out of Denver, which opens up the possibility of a new job path for E….maybe even something that he actually likes doing.

Being hopeful is good. Weekly Meal Plan: 7 July to 13 July » a humble place.

On the menu front, the only new item we tried last week was the primal chicken pot pie muffins which were a flop. B took one bite and left the table. E made his way through one-and-a-half before he quit. I finished them off. I didn’t think they were bad, but not worth the effort.

I’m going to include links to the recipes that are available online, otherwise I’ll include links to the resource where I got the recipe. Here’s this week:Continue Reading

Starting Over Again

Starting Over Again » a humble place.

A camera phone picture from 2008 when I went to pick E up at the airport late one night. Notice the time on the clock.

It was just over ten years ago last month that E began working for a tiny engineering firm that developed equipment and processes to remove mercury from coal power plant emissions. He had graduated from RPI, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the country, three years earlier and had been searching for this job for almost that entire time. Gas station attendant, stack monkey, Target cart collector, Talbot’s stock manager (he used to tell people that he worked for a women’s clothing store when they asked), and, very briefly and just long enough for us to get engaged, scheduler for another engineering company, were all titles that he held during those three years. But this was the job he had wanted.

I remember when he finally got the job as the scheduler in September of 2003, we were both ecstatic. I had experienced my second lay-off from a mutual fund company in April of 2003 and we had been living off my severance and the small amount of income he made working in retail. When E finally got this job, it meant we could start to move forward. We went to Applebee’s to celebrate and bought a sorely needed vacuum cleaner and a book shelf within the first week of his employment.

We were living the high life.

He offered me a pretty ring along with a proposal within a month of starting at his new job and we started to make plans to build a future. After months and months and months of disappointments and rejections and even just being ignored by engineering companies, he finally had his foot in the door. We were hopeful.

Then, not too long before Christmas of that year, he heard funeral music playing on the overhead speakers at work (yes, really) and found out shortly after that that he was one of many who would no longer be employed.

We were devastated, to say the least.

Fast forward through six very long months of unemployment ending in a receptionist job for me that I absolutely hated, E finally had an interview. A few days later, I was sitting at my receptionist desk wishing I could be anywhere else in the world when I got an email that simply said, “I got it.” I quit my job immediately after I read it.

Our first experience with this new job was E traveling to Kansas. On his first day, he signed his hiring paperwork in the warehouse space behind the offices, we said good-bye, and he climbed into the car of one of the directors of the company. They traveled five hours to the east and he was thrust head-on into the world of coal power plant emissions. They drove through tornadoes to get there and he ended up having to stay a few days longer than they had initially told him.

In many ways, this set the tone for how the next ten years would go.

It would be ungrateful of me to say that it was all awful. In the beginning, they were so generous. Various stock options. Fantastic gift cards when projects ended as a “thank you.” The president of the company telling all of the employees to take their significant others out to a very expensive dinner and then expense it as it was on him. Big raises. Christmas parties at the Hyatt. And once even flowers delivered to me personally thanking me for my patience while he traveled.

This job allowed us to get married, buy a home, me to get my degree, take several vacations, travel around Europe, pay for the births of two babies, buy two cars, and freed us from all of our debt other than our mortgage. I can’t take all of that for granted.

But there was also the travel. There was the year E was gone 100 days out of the 365. There were the calls on weekends followed by him logging into his computer to fix a problem. There were last-minute drives to the airport. There were middle-of-the-night drives to the airport to pick him up after he had worked 21 hours straight. There were (many) delayed trips home when they just needed a few more days to get things working. There were the (many) more-than-40-hour work weeks. There was being exposed to noxious fumes from coal power plant stacks. There were long drives to get to plants in and around Colorado. There were years with no raises. There were difficult bosses. There were co-workers who suffered from depression because they were traveling so much.

And then there was the lay-off.

After ten years of pouring his blood, sweat, and tears into this company, they told him last Thursday that they don’t need him or 21 of his co-workers anymore.

And that was that.

We were in a daze at first. This company that has been such a huge part of our life in so many ways is suddenly no longer present for us anymore. This company that was only twenty employees when he started and has grown to over 100 isn’t a place he’ll walk into every day anymore. This company with groups and services that he helped build and get running. This company with tools he created to make everyone’s job easier floating around and being used constantly every day. This company that grew right along with him.

It’s all just gone.

And we’re just left asking ourselves….what do we do now?

Weekly Meal Plan: 30 June to 6 July

Weekly Meal Plan: 30 June to 6 July » a humble place.

Life definitely has a way of throwing curve balls at you and I feel like E and I have been on the receiving end of a batting cage machine gone crazy this year. Last week’s pitch came in the form of a lay-off for E from the job he’s had for the last ten years. We’re still in a daze to a certain extent. Still reeling from the shock of it. But we’re hopeful, too, that maybe God has something better for us planned. We shall see what the future brings. I may write more about this in coming days….it’s still so fresh and incredibly painful, though. And I don’t know that I want to be melodramatic about it. This is our fourth lay-off experience (my fifth overall) and it should be old hat by now, right?

Right?

I’m hoping meal plans don’t look too different. We agreed that we don’t want to compromise on food after having to reduce our budget, and so we won’t. But I’m sure there will be a lot of repetition as I’ll be making the cheapest meals in my rotation.

I’m going to include links to the recipes that are available online, otherwise I’ll include links to the resource where I got the recipe. Here’s this week:Continue Reading