System Status: July 2014

System Status: July 2014   a humble place

If you knew her in real life, you’d know that this little outfit is pretty perfect for her.

Was it just a month ago that I was kind of, sort of complaining about the banality of life? My my, how things change. I think it was the same day that that post went up that E was laid off.

Ironic.

This month has brought more than a few challenges with adjusting to a new schedule, car troubles (have you ever seen a bulge in a tire about the size of a fist? me neither! until two weeks ago….), house troubles (we currently don’t have a furnace/air conditioner), kid troubles (B is 3. C is 6 months. I think that’s all I need to say), extended family members with health troubles, and the troubles that come with being around each other a lot more than we used to be. Thankfully, it hasn’t been nearly as tough as I thought it would be and I’m trying to keep on the sunny side of life (this song has literally been stuck in my head all day).

In the end of July I am….

…reading lots! Well…it feels like lots, anyway. Earlier this month, I finally finished The Signature of All Things (2/5) which was really, really, really long and kind of strange. Last week, I finished The Hand That First Held Mine (4/5), which started out a little slow but I ended up loving. It actually painted beautiful images of motherhood and how difficult the first weeks/months/years can be, but also emphasized the sacrifices that mothers are willing to make for their children. It played with time a little, too, comparing things that had happened in one spot fifty years apart and how the people of those different times were connected, which is the sort of thing I love. After that one, I was in the mood for something a bit more fluffy, so I downloaded a Maeve Binchy audiobook and am now working my way through A Week in Winter. I’m also actually reading a real paper copy of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood which has been fascinating so far. Her writing style is very engaging.

…watching lots! I signed up for a Netflix account since the first 30 days are free and we’ve pretty much exhausted all of our “normal” shows on Hulu. That along with free movies at the library has given our DVD player a workout. So far we’ve seen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (I normally don’t like Keira Knightley, but this wasn’t bad), Oblivion (I loved, loved, loved the music from this, so I wasn’t surprised to discover it was composed by M83, a favorite band from the last few years – the movie itself was okay…I did enjoy the liberal use of Christina’s World as it’s a painting I’ve always admired), To Kill a Mockingbird (we got a crazy idea to go through AFI’s 100 years of films list and started with this one, but weren’t able to make it through Lawrence of Arabia [Middle Eastern Obi-Wan?]), Saving Mr. Banks (this was just kind of sad), Sleepwalk With Me (hilarious! but also sad), TINY: A Story About Living Small (loved it and now I want a tiny house), Zoolander (how have I never seen this? it felt like a tribute to my late teens), and, finally I’m now hooked on Call the Midwife (which is a show I couldn’t watch before C’s birth). Whew. Any suggestions for August?

…loving Swagbucks. I know. It’s silly. But I’ve gotten $30 worth of Amazon gift cards this month alone just by playing the mobile app on my phone every day. That means free food for Camilla! She’s happy about that. I know it’s not much, but every little bit does help. I’ve also sold some clothes on thredUP and we purged several pieces of furniture that had been sitting in the garage on Craigslist. It’s not only a great feeling to make a little extra cash, but also to just get rid of this stuff. It’s very freeing.

…eating simple and cheap meals. I’ve consistently cooked at home every week for the last month with only a few nights out at Chipotle. It’s been rough at times, especially after a challenging day with B, but seeing our food bill cut nearly in half this month has made it worth it.

…looking forward to nothing? Everything? I honestly don’t know. The future is so, completely unclear right now. But I’m hopeful. I told a friend the other day that it’s ironic that E’s lay-off happened when it did as we were so close to buying a house and settling down in comfortable unhappiness. Him in a job he hadn’t been happy in for a while and me in a town I haven’t been happy in for seventeen years. I guess it’s better to say that I’m cautiously optimistic.

And there you have the state of the Reb. System Status: July 2014   a humble place

Weekly Meal Plan: 28 July to 3 August

Weekly Meal Plan: 28 July to 3 August   a humble place

Potato soup. Love.

Saturday marked one month since E’s lay-off. How does time go so quickly anymore? I’m finding it especially hard to believe that in about two weeks, I will have a 4-year-old boy. Sigh.

There’s really nothing new to report under the sun. I’m plugging away at my VA job, as usual, and E got some consulting work, so he’s been doing that as well as looking into classes to add a few more initials after his name. It feels like we’re in a holding pattern right now…..the future is just right there, slightly beyond our reach. What do we do to get it closer?

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

The Shadows

The Shadows   a humble place

At the beginning of the year, I had intended for more of these photo + quote posts to be more about grace since I wanted to that to be my “focus” for the next 12 months.

Obviously I have to have grace with myself because that hasn’t happened.

I chose this quote because I see so often, especially in Christian circles, the repression of the “shadow” side. I see it in preachers and other Christian leaders. I see it on blogs. I see it on TV. I see it in my friends. I see it in my family. I see it in myself. We can’t look at our shadow sides, we can’t even acknowledge our shadow sides, because by recognizing the fact that we have dark sides, we have to accept the fact that we don’t have it all together and aren’t as perfect as we’d like people to think we are. We have to recognize that we can fall. That we can fail. That we can choose to not walk the high road.

Darkness is repressed because it’s not welcome in our circles. We fear it. We fear our humanity and our tendency to fail. We fear what it will do to us and those around us. We fear being near it. Being affected by it. Being sucked into it. Mostly, though, I think we fear what others will think of us if they see us lurking in our shadows. In the secrets we hide. In the mistakes we’ve made. In the bad decisions with consequences that we’re still desperately trying to rid ourselves of.

On the innocent side of this suppression, I see an interesting dichotomy that has been revealing itself on the internet recently. We seem to be obsessed with Pinterest… with creating the “perfect” birthday, with planning the “perfect” DIY projects for ourselves and crafts for our kids. We even dress up our snacks and look for interesting ways to arrange lunches, all in the pursuit of keeping up appearances and making ourselves out to be the best mom or the best housekeeper or the best friend or the best whatever. At the same time, we bemoan how Pinterest makes us feel. How blogs make us feel. They all have perfect lives and there’s no way we could possibly attain that…we want transparency.

On the more serious side of this suppression, I see secrets in the church. Secrets that are kept because appearances are given more value in today’s body of Christ than truth, grace, and love. Because it’s more important that we have memorized this many Bible verses or we know all the words to this praise song or we have kept these specific rules in the Bible or we can speak the “language” of contemporary Christianity than being honest.

We aren’t allowed to struggle. We aren’t allowed to offer ourselves up — our whole selves — because there is no room in many churches for failure. There is only black and white, right and wrong, and there is no middle ground. There is no option to not look like everyone else. There is only judgment, which many Christians are so profoundly skilled at doing.

The ironic thing about all of this is that there is often more beauty in the shadow side than there is in the dark side. The struggles, the imperfections, the “realness” of not having it all together are what attract us to one another when we are being honest with ourselves. We are saying, “this is me,” and being accepted as we are, shadows and all, is how grace and unconditional love work.

It’s how Jesus works.

If Jesus is okay with the shadows, then why can’t we be also?

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

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