You heard a rumor that you should start a blog to score higher in Google’s ranking system, so when customers search for your business category you pop up in the first-page results.
Yep, it’s true.
Other than paying exorbitantly high prices for ads, creating a lot of searchable content is key to getting your business or hobby website noticed locally and worldwide.
However, money isn’t the only pay-off and return on investment (ROI) you need to think about when deciding whether or not to start a blog.
Authority matters as well!
Brand yourself as an expert in your field
When you publish frequent blog posts, your content marks you and your company as an expert in any given subject.
So when people want to know something about a subject, like dog grooming or how to create awesome colored pencil artwork, who do you think customers are going to contact in their local community? A. a company they know nothing about other than the White Page and Yelp rating, or B. an actual person who took the time to educate and entertain potential clients about a topic that matters to them?
I would argue the answer is “B.” Consumers are going to click on the most relevant blog post first, scan through it for free content that benefits them, and then click on the contact or call option at the bottom.
Boom! You, owner of XYZ, just put your foot in the door with a potential client who hopefully will share your blog post on social media to their hundreds of family and friends online.
Organic verses paid content
Here is another reason. Small businesses are already at a disadvantage when it comes to their marketing budget, which for many is little to zilch.
Ads are considered paid content, and they are expensive. The average cost per one person clicking on your ad is $1 to $2 out of your profit margin, according to Wordstream.
However, you can create organic content on a subject you are already passionate about for free. The only expense is your time.
What is organic content? It generally refers to information that individuals search for like a fajita recipe or an article on the best laptops under $1000 versus ads and sponsored articles fed to consumers via a newspaper, website or other traditional media.
According to creator and owner of BlogMutt Scott Yates, more than 80 percent of the clicks for a Google inquiry land on the organic side.
Engagement, sharing and a sense of community
Saving money on ads isn’t the biggest reason you should blog though.
Blogging creates a genuine sense of community. Whether you are a carpenter, writer, therapist, baker, dog walker or a jewelry shop owner, people will naturally gravitate to other people who like the same things they do. These newly-formed contacts will become your tribe or social network, and they will not only buy products and services from you they might become your allies and friends.
Since I started blogging in 2012, I have connected with people all over the world.
Bloggers and artists from India, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, England and more have found my little blog through targeted Google searches on topics that matter to them. You could never reach this same audience through traditional media or attract them through local ad placements.
To learn more about Tribe engagement, listen to Seth Godin’s Ted Talk.
Now that I have thoroughly pontificated about why blogging is important to doing business in today’s worldwide marketplace, here are some key strategies and tips to create blog posts people want to read!
Consistency matters – blog at least once a week
I am guilty of breaking this rule myself, but I do try. So should you!
The bottom line is any company or individual who wants to establish themselves as a local, national or international expert in any given area really needs to blog at the minimum once a week.
So if you are a company that hasn’t updated their website for years, who do you think is going to rank higher and appear more attractive to potential customers?
The answer is your competitors who understand the importance of blogging and write about the products or services your potential consumers want to buy.
Your customers are your business partners in a sense, so you need to engage them at every opportunity you can to sustain a thriving relationship. Blogging does that and it reminds customers you have an online presence beyond your brick-and-mortar storefront.
As you might guess, the more in demand you are as an expert in your field the more you need to create and publish content. So someone who attracts an international following might want to blog or vlog (video blogging) two to five times a week versus once.
Really it matters how hungry your audience is for your content, and how much time you can devote to blogging.
You need to FEED your customers WHAT they want to eat
In fancy marketing terms, this is called identifying your target audience.
If you run a pet store in the middle of nowhere Kansas that only specializes in fish and aquariums, then it doesn’t make sense for you to blog about the best food to feed thoroughbred horses in Saudi Arabia.
You need to stick to blogging about subjects that matter to your consumers’ unique niche and interests.
You need to FEED your customers WHERE they want to eat! Social media is a must!
Let’s face it tons of people aren’t going to remember to check your little olde website for new blog posts, and that probably includes your mom and significant other.
However, people do spend a large chunk of their time perusing social media nowadays. They read news aggregated from various sources on their Twitter and Facebook feeds. I am one of those people. You probably are too.
According to Journalism.org, 63 percent of people read news on those two social media platforms versus all other traditional media. That was about a sixteen point jump from 2013, and I am sure the current 2016 stats are much higher.
If you don’t post your blog’s weblinks to your social media sites, I dare say don’t even bother blogging at all. No one is going to read it, and it is not a wise use of your time and effort.
You need to FEED your customers WHEN they are hungry
It might be convenient for you to write a blog post at 3 a.m., but your readers and future customers are asleep.
I know it is tempting but don’t publish your blog posts as soon as you write them. You need to employ a specific strategy for posting your content on social media.
Coshedule.com created this nifty social media publishing guide that tells you which days of the week and what hours are most advantageous to post on several of the largest social media sites.
For instance, the best time to post on Facebook is on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. On the other hand, Twitter followers check in around 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Really if you think about it, following these set time guidelines makes sense.
Are you more inclined to read a blog post on Monday after you get home wasted from a hard day of work, or on humpdays, Thursdays and Fridays?
What happens if you post on Monday or Tuesday? Nothing really. There aren’t any hard and set rules to blogging just guidelines that are proven to work.
However, here is what is going to happen. As other friends and family members, and competing experts that individuals follow post their information, your single blog post will probably never see the light of day at the bottom of these long news feeds no one sees.
Note: Having said all that don’t stress too much over posting times and dates when you first start out blogging. You need to focus more on consistency and then fine-tune your processes. Just stick to publishing your blog post later in the week and you will make out fine until you gain a larger following.
Key word searches and SEO
Since you are taking all this time to write weekly blogs, you need to make sure people can find you through key word searches and search engine optimization (SEO).
According to blogging specialist Brian Dean at BackLinko, Google uses over 200 signals to rank you and your competitor’s sites.
Before you go into brain melt mode like I did when I read his detailed-report, here are 10 factors you need to focus on: 1. Place relevant key words in the beginning of your title tag, 2. Content length, page loading speed, keyword prominence and positioning, page authority/page rank, domain authority, link relevancy, dwell time, responsive design and thin or duplicate content.
Click on his link to learn more about all 200 factors. I double-dog dare you!
Go long to achieve a higher page-ranking
As a professionally-trained journalist for years I have heard, keep it short. Very few published news articles are over 1,000 words and many news sites are posting around 300 to 500 words per article.
However, I will tell you Google doesn’t operate that way. You will actually get ranked higher on page searches for in-depth blog posts around 900 to 2,000 words, according to Orbit Media Studios.
Sometimes new bloggers think the blogsphere is the wild wild west and anything goes.
To a certain extent yes you can write whatever comes to your mind, but there are still tried and true practices that attract and keep readers. So let’s talk about creating an actual blog post.
Keep it conversational but not overly personal
Blogs are not scholarly articles, so don’t aim to impress your English teacher and write a book report.
In general, you want to communicate the way you normally would when telling news to a friend or colleague, but make sure your grammar and spelling are on point.
You want to write a blog post in a conversational tone, but you don’t want to be that creepy uncle who recounts his entire life story to anyone who looks his way for half-a-second.
For instance, if you are a new online bank startup, you don’t want to flood your blog posts with cringe-worthy personal information about your honeymoon to Tahiti. Stick to information that informs you readers about new banking and investment opportunities.
However, there are exceptions to the rule.
I am a colored pencil artist, and I maintain a colored pencil blog called The Colored Pencil Enthusiast where I inform my CP tribe about other artists, new products and techniques.
I occasionally share information about myself and my personal life because I am selling myself as the expert and I am also selling my “personality.” I’m not selling products. Therefore, my blog is more informal and personal than a blog for someone who sells walkie talkies or raincoats.
It really goes back to understanding your target audience and what they like to read about.
Create sub-heads for more readable text
An easy way to make your blog more searchable is to create sub-heads or bullet headlines inside your blog post like I did in this article.
Sub-heads serve two purposes. One, sub-heads breaks up large amounts of text that make the reader’s eyes bleed red scanning down a page, and two, it makes it easier for the consumer to find exactly what they want by scanning through your text.
So you are saving readers time by formatting your post to their needs.
Awesome graphic by Mike Litcht, Flickr commons
A picture is worth a thousand words
People connect to pictures more deeply than they do to sterile text on a screen. So it is smart to include graphics and pictures that draw readers in and break up large chunks of text. Blog posts without pictures tend to get overlooked.
Picture placement and finding common use photos is a subject onto itself, and I could fill an entire 2,000-word blog post with details about it. For now you can check out this short, informative video on how to find and insert images into your blog posts.
If you want to create your own personalized graphics and banners for your blog posts, a great free graphic manipulation site is PicMonkey. I use it all the time. You can also pay $4.99 a month to access some serious design capabilities, which is it worth to me versus paying $1,000 plus for Adobe PhotoShop software.
Play tag with your readers
Make sure to use blog post tags in WordPress and other blog hosting platforms. These tags are kind of like categories in a library and help readers and Googlebot crawlers find and interpret your blogs content more efficiently, which indirectly helps your site rank higher in Google, according to SEJ.
Ask for feedback
Blogging isn’t about one-way communication. You really need to think in terms of engaging your tribe. A great way to do that is to ask questions at the end of your post like “Have you ever encountered XX problem and how did you solve it?”
Ask your readers to comment on your blogs and tell you what they would like to read from you in the future.
Comment, comment, comment
If you want to be known as an expert, one easy way is to get noticed is to make comments on other tribe member’s blogs and social media.
In turn, some of them will check you out and potentially read your blog posts.
So comment away by leaving relevant, thoughtful information and encouragement on other bloggers sites. You should like and share other people’s blog posts frequently. They might return the favor and share your blog posts – widening your reach and influence.
Subscribe to other bloggers
Once you found your tribe, you want to locate other industry experts and follow them on social media, websites/blogs, YouTube, as well as subscribe to traditional trade magazines.
Millionaire Digest is a great free blogsite to learn more about blogging and writing tips.
Don’t stress and try to have fun
I know this is a ton of information, and writing is a scary proposition for many people.
My advice is start out slow! Write a 300-word blog post on a single topic you are an expert on. Then write a 500-word blog post where you include information from other industry experts. Then keep on rolling and never look back.
Write about solutions to your tribe’s problems. Write about what inspires you. Just start writing.
Before you know it you might just enjoy blogging for the sake of engagement with your tribe versus trying to solicit more customers or sales.
Blogging still sounds like too much trouble?
If you feel like you are going to turn into a skeleton thinking of something to blog about weekly, maybe you should think about hiring a professional.
You hire an accountant and other specialists, right? Why not hire a professional writer?
I provide personalized, boutique blogging services. I specialize in health, art and Christian inspiration; however, I am open to inquiries on other subjects.
But, I am not a scientist or a cardiologist. If you need someone to blog for you that is current in a very specialized niche industry, you might want to check out crowd-blogging at these sites: BlogMutt, Constant Content, Text Broker and Upwork.
No one will know you hired a professional blogger, and you can provide detailed directions to tailor each post to your specifications.
If you have any tips you would like to share about blogging, please leave them in the comment section below so we can all learn from them. If you would like me to blog more about blogging in the future, leave some topic suggestions as well.
Happy writing, Melissa
Melissa LeGates is a professional writer and retired Air Force journalist. She specializes in long-form features and loves to write about living a victorious Christian life, art and health.
She and her husband live in Delaware.
In her free time, she is a student of colored pencil, watercolor, acrylics and oils.
She is also an avid blogger and currently maintains three blogs:
– PTSD/my first book “Set My Captives Free” launch at https://setmycaptivesfree.wordpress.com
– Her writing career: https://melissalegates.wordpress.com
– The world of colored pencil art and artists: https://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
You can contact Melissa at email@example.com.
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When Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell’s mother told him she was worried about him deploying here to a war zone, he responded with a shrug of his shoulders and in a heavy New York accent he said, “Ma, I work in the Bronx. I get bottles thrown at me from rooftops. I’ll be fine over there.”
Winchell’s full-time job is protecting the streets as a New York City patrolman in the 50th Precinct. His part-time job is as a fireman at the 105th Civil Engineering Squadron, Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y.
He does not remember sleeping during the first three days after the planes hit the World Trade Center, and he still has a hard time sleeping more than four hours at any given time.
Images race through his mind like seeing a fire truck pounded into a 1-foot deep chunk of twisted metal and picking photos of couples out of the rubble at Ground Zero and knowing that one of the people smiling up at him was probably dead.
However, the worst is knowing 343 firefighters and 23 police officers died, two from his precinct.
Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell, a firefighter from the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, ties the flag to a fire truck in preparation for the base’s Patriot Day ceremony Sept. 10, 2002. Winchell spoke at the event, and shared stories about the destruction he personally witnessed at Ground Zero and the fellow coworkers he lost to the tragedy.
A year later, he is still searching for ways to deal with the pain of Sept. 11, 2001.
For him, pulling a tour of duty in Southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom helps.
“It’s funny because many Americans want to see Ground Zero for closure,” said Winchell. “Cops and fireman who were on scene want to come here.”
His orders state he will be here 24 days, a number which annoys him.
One of his coworkers said he would volunteer to do dishes just to stay here longer.
Winchell says he would also roll up his sleeves right beside him, if given the opportunity.
Winchell said a tour here is one way for him and many others to take back power from the terrorists.
“I’ve seen the devastation at Ground Zero,” he said. “I had to carry caskets of some of my friends. You realize something has to be done or it will happen again if we don’t.”
The 23-year veteran said sometimes he sees people around base who don’t believe that they personally matter to fighting the war on terrorism. He disagrees.
“We are fighting terrorism from here,” Winchell said. “The tankers refuel the aircraft that go to the front lines, and they can’t do their mission without all of us. It takes the guys turning wrenches on the planes to the guys making our tents comfortable.
“Everyone can’t be the star of the team; you’ve got to have support people as well,” he said. “I can’t be the Special Forces unit smoking the enemy out of their holes, and I may be here for a short time, but I can help out.”
A year ago, he spent four days at Ground Zero on leave without pay to help clear the endless tons of rubble in the hopes of helping someone.
The destruction he saw there still haunts him.
“I stepped through a window in a building into another world,” Winchell said. “There were fires burning in different spots. You would be crawling around and under steel beams… scrapping in the dirt with your hands trying to find survivors because there weren’t enough tools.”
Whenever he feels his resolve slip, he remembers the stories of the people’s lives who were affected by the tragedy.
Stories like the one about Stephen Driscoll, a 38-year-old officer assigned to Winchell’s precinct who was buried alive under tons of rubble trying to rescue victims after the planes hit the Twin Towers.
One story starts with Driscoll and his partner driving by a post office in an emergency vehicle, when he spotted a flag that was wrapped around the flagpole. Driscoll stopped, took out a ladder and unfurled the flag. Then he went inside and told them he would be back again if he saw the flag wasn’t waving freely.
Described by Winchell as one of the most patriotic American citizen he ever met, Driscoll was survived by his wife, Ann, and their 15-year-old son, Barry.
It’s a true account that makes Winchell laugh, not just a small chuckle but a deep belly laugh.
The father of two children, Kaitlin, 13, and Ian, 11, he believes laughter is the best medicine.
“You have to find the humor in it,” Winchell said. “Some guys here are miserable. You have to find ways to cope and entertain yourself.”
At first glance, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Retzlaff, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron chief of maintenance, seems like he has coping with 9/11 down pat. A three-time grandfather, he’s the epitome of a fun loving, “look on the bright side of life”-type of guy.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Retzlaff, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, pauses for a moment as he remembers the destruction he saw at Ground Zero at the base’s Patriot Day ceremony Sept. 10. Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell, 380 ECES, (pictured to his right) also helped clear rubble at Ground Zero and spoke at the ceremony. Both men volunteered to do a tour here to gain closure of the events of 9/11 and snuff out terrorism.
Some might argue that can’t be too hard for Retzlaff, when he pulls his monthly reserve duty at the 624th Civil Engineering Squadron, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
However, his military assignments haven’t always been so comfy.
He spent three years active duty in the Marines where he served three tours in Vietnam, and five years active duty in the Air Force with one tour in Vietnam. He fought in both Desert Shield and Storm, and most recently he served at Ground Zero trying to rescue thousands of noncombatants.
“I’ve seen my fair share of death and destruction. I never expected to see someone take the fight to our sovereign soil,” Retzlaff said.
The father of four (Michael, 32, Carla, 30, Keo, 17, Darak, 18) and husband to Shari has given more than enough to his country over his 34 years and 8 months of military service.
But he needed to do one more tour of duty here.
It’s still hard for him to talk about Ground Zero, but he takes comfort in being around others and talking to the lord.
After a Patriot Day ceremony held for the members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Sept. 10, 2002, more than 200 base personnel formed a line and waited more than a half an hour in the blistering, 100-degree sun to sign a memorial board dedicated to the 9/11 victims. The sign is engraved with the words, “380 AEW remembers those slain 9/11/01” on the top and “Let’s Roll” on the bottom.
Both men are quick to point out closure won’t come until those who are responsible are brought to justice.
“The terrorists are criminals not soldiers,” said Winchell. “They just killed more than an average criminal does. They committed the crime, so we have to go after them.”
Article and photos by Melissa LeGates (under my former name Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)
– Originally published in the Sand Script, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, newsletter Sept. 15, 2002
– Reprinted on Air Force Print News Sept. 18, 2002
– Reprinted on Department of Defense News about the War on Terrorism page Dec. 31, 2003.
Melissa LeGates is a professional writer and retired Air Force journalist. She specializes in long-form feature writing and loves to write about living a victorious Christian life, art and health. She and her husband live in Delaware. In her free time, she is a student of colored pencil, watercolor, acrylics and oils.
Melissa is an avid blogger and currently maintains three sites:
– Read excerpts and follow my progress writing my first book “Set My Captives Free” at https://setmycaptivesfree.wordpress.com
– Read published clips from my professional portfolio at https://melissalegates.wordpress.com
– Read about the world of colored pencil art and artists at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
You can contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colored Pencil artist Matt Fussell lists some great tips in his article “What I learned and didn’t learn in art school.” In it, he talks about the controversial topic of raw or natural-born talent.
I personally believe God endowed all of us (even my mother who says she cannot draw a straight line to save her life) with creativity. However, I have talked to way too many people who are under the misconception that they can never make good art. They believe to their core that they weren’t born with that talent and it stops them from even trying.
Matt counteracts that idea stating, “I had to let go of ‘talent’ and embrace the idea that drawing and painting are skills that can be learned and developed by anyone.”
He says he only became a better artist when he realized talent could only take him so far.
I especially love the ‘by anyone part’. That’s good news for us that want to create great artwork. We can always improve our skills! We are not hindered by our talent level.
As an online instructor, Matt is available for a nominal fee to teach what he has learned about drawing, painting and digital art to anyone.
You can catch up with him at his site thevirtualinstructor.com or in pages 28-30 in this month’s issue of COLORED PENCIL Magazine.
I loved working with Matt as his talent scout for the magazine, and it is always amazing to see the article come together before my eyes.
I also was privileged to work with Carol Kotsher Marden, whose artwork combines inspirational quotes and pictures to tell a story. I love her sense of humor and whimsy. You can see her awesome artwork in her article “Art Journaling”on pages 18-21 of this issue.
Carol is a professional illustrator and glass artist. You can check her out athttps://carolmarden.wordpress.com/.
The February 2016 issue is a stunner – as always! You can buy this issue and past issues of COLORED PENCIL Magazine online at http://coloredpencilmag.com/issues/. Happy reading!
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in feature writing. She is also the associate editor at COLORED PENCIL Magazine, as well as a colored pencil artist herself. She blogs about the exciting world of colored pencil art at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
It continues to amaze me how much talent is out there in this great big world and how artists’ use the gifts God gave them to express their feelings through a pencil and sheet of paper.
Suddenly, a ton of scribbles becomes a masterpiece right before the artist’s eyes. It is an amazing feeling when it all comes together and you can share it with others. I know whenever I “nail” a drawing, I feel like I am tracing the hand of God.
I like to think of my writing in the same vein. As writers we combine words to paint a picture for the people who read our written artwork. Each article I complete is a gem to me – timeless, unique and beautiful.
I have missed blogging and sharing with this community.
I haven’t been writing lately because this Winter and Spring I dealt with a strong bout of PTSD brought on by seeing pictures of ISIS burning the Jordanian man alive. Suddenly, images from my dysfunctional childhood and a 20-year military career that took me to Iraq twice just started crashing over me in waves.
I have struggled with depressive episodes for most of my life, so this just made it worse. I felt like the dude in the second Transformer movie, when he touched the piece of the rock and started seeing writing projected on all the walls around him. My eyes just kept flashing all these horrific images on repeat and wouldn’t stop. Consequently, I fell off my meds schedule and that made it worse.
Here is a little background on what I have been going through. In 2013, one month after I got my bachelor’s from Regent University, I checked myself into a mental institution — exhausted from my own mind, constant worrying and suicidal ideation.
I had thought it would be the happiest time of my life. It wasn’t. Right after graduation, I hadn’t slept for three or more days straight. After a successful 20 year career in the military, I was totally at a loss why I couldn’t get it together and deeply ashamed. It took me over a year to recover and then bam it happened again this February. I was so lost…
It wasn’t pretty but through my faith in our mighty creator, the Holy Spirit by my side, the pure love of Jesus, and the help of my family I sought help and received the proper diagnosis of PTSD….FINALLY!
I never considered I had PTSD, even though family and friends kept telling me I displayed symptoms since I came back from Iraq the first time. The VA only diagnosed me with depression from my family of origin, so I never considered anything else.
At the time I retired in 2009, military professionals still weren’t proficient in dealing with PTSD…unless the person witnessed gross carnage and death. I didn’t see that with my own eyes, but I was around death and saluted several fallen soldiers in my deployed unit. As a journalist, I don’t really need to see something to emphathize with people and I tend to take on feelings from people around me. So I internalized all my fears from operating in a war-zone twice and didn’t know how to deal with them.
During the time I was flashing back, I was fortunate to begin working for Sally Robertson, the editor of Colored Pencil Magazine via computer correspondence. While I was figuring out how to heal and deal with the VA, she was very patient and let me stick my toes in the water as the associate editor of Colored Pencil Student Magazine.
I was deeply afraid of being rejected for suffering with depression, anxiety and PTSD because it can effect your work life. But, she was kind and understanding, which allowed me to build up my self-esteem once again and get back to my old work self. I still have a little way to go but I will no longer let self-doubt continue to seep in and poison my mind against myself.
So I thank Sally and the other artists I worked with in this issue. I am sure they had no idea of the impact they were having on my life.
In the end I have learned, no anxiety pill, recovery center, person, place or thing, can cure you of pain, depression or addiction. No one can do it for you because no one else has “all” the answers “you” need. Even if some people pretend they got it all together, they don’t. We are all in the same rocking boat together. Some people are just better at hiding their pain and pulling themselves together. And, believe me I have looked hard! LOL.
However, I believe that each person and experience (even negative ones) has a small part in creating one master key to unlock your healing and help you on your way to fulfilling your personal destiny on earth.
What I learned in my last PTSD bout is each person throughout my entire life was crucial in helping me heal myself now.
One day, I hope to write a book about what I have learned and maybe it can help someone else struggling with their own issues – PTSD or otherwise. So I am putting this desire out there in the universe right now for other people to come into agreement with me.
I tentatively plan to call it: Set My Captives Free: How one PTSD war vet healed herself through love, therapy and the Bible.
Well enough about me!
Here is a sneak peak at the summer edition of Colored Pencil Student Magazine. These people are amazing artists!
– Find out why Will Stoller doesn’t sign his artwork and instead created his own signature brand
– Fiona Rose frames her artwork inexpensively with an embroidery hoop
– Carmen Medlin and the art of ACEO’s
– Irene Marie Cortez quits a lucrative medical career to pursue her love of art
– What’s Funzie Art? Annie Nelson explains
– Ann Nichezynski uses her talent for a bigger purpose to educates people on big cats and other wild animals at the Safe Haven Rescue Zoo
– and much, much more…including information on how to enter the 2015 CP art competition (deadline Sept. 1)
Check out all these great artists at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/947536 and get inspired to create your own art!
Then share your artwork with the colored pencil community at Colored Pencil Magazine’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ColoredPencilMagazine?fref=ts.
CPM and CPS are on all your fav social media sites: Pinterest, Blogger, Flickr, Deviant Art and Instagram.
Wherever you are online, we are there. Go to our home page at www.coloredpencilmag.com and click on your favorite social media icon.
Colored Pencil Student at http://www.coloredpencilstudent.com
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in feature writing. She is also the associate editor at Colored Pencil Student Magazine, as well as a colored pencil artist herself. She blogs about the exciting world of colored pencil art at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
By Bill Sammons (as told to Melissa LeGates)
Time is running out for millions of orphans worldwide, who will age out of orphanages and foster care, and find themselves homeless. We were blessed to provide one of them with a happy ending and a forever home. It was a long journey to get here but worth every minute of heartache. This is our story.
If adoption is a roller coaster, and it is, then we completely jumped the tracks in September 2013.
For more than a year, my wife Julie and I had been trying to adopt Irada, a young teenager living in a Ukrainian orphanage.
We hosted her in our home for four weeks through a non-profit called Project 143, a program that facilitates orphan children from Latvia, Ukraine and China to visit a host’s home over the summer or winter holidays.
Project 143 runs their “Hope Program” to give children a chance to experience life in a nurturing and stable family environment. The program has a special emphasis on hosting older children, children with special needs and sibling sets because these are the ones most overlooked.
They are not an adoption agency, and not everyone who hosts a child adopts that child. That is not their end goal; however, Project 143 is a great way to get to know if a child matches your family dynamics before taking that big step into adoption.
Our first hosting experience
When we hosted Irada, we fell in love with her.
Somewhere along the line, she started calling us mom and dad, and even changed her last name on her social media sites to ours.
So we rushed forward with the paperwork to adopt her before she would age out of the system. When I put her on the plane to go back to the Ukraine, I feared I may never see her again because of all the hoops you have to jump through to adopt.
I just never dreamed it would be by her choice.
Every adoption has its trials
Then, one day out of the blue, my wife received a message that Irada had changed her mind and decided to stay with her friends in the Ukraine.
We went into grieving mode. We were also mad. And sad. And confused.
I decided my heart could not stand another loss and thought I wanted off the adoption roller coaster completely.
Learning how to dream
However, my wife was a different story. One day she saw a picture of a teen girl from Latvia waiting to be hosted through Project 143.
She told me there was just “something special” going on in Lolita’s eyes that captured her, so she forwarded her picture to me. I decided that I was willing to get back on that hamster wheel to provide this girl with a good home and shot at living a decent life protected by a family who would love and support her.
Some people ask why did we adopt a teen?
I jokingly tell them, “I am too old to adopt a baby”. But really I’m too old to adopt a baby at 57.
We purposely decided to adopt an older child because generally people do not want them. And, they still need homes and supportive parents for the rest of their lives – not just until they reach age 18.
We didn’t want or need to start from scratch again. A teen was a much better fit for our entire family, especially for our daughter Mary, who is still young. We also wanted Mary to have an older sister.
My other two sons have families and lives of their own now. They no longer need my guidance as much, but I still love having kids around.
I especially love kids who were not blessed with moms and dads, homes and sports programs, and a community support system.
I like helping kids learn that they are loved and that it is okay to love back.
Most of all, I like helping them learn how to dream!
It’s easy to romanticize adoption, and we did to some extent. However, I assure you the romance of adoption is short-lived and real-life remains.
My wife and I have always kept in mind that adoption is not a fairy tale ending for the child. It is “Plan B” for adopted children.
It is second best for their life, and it would not be needed if Plan A had worked out with their birth parents and families.
Instead of being a fairy tale, adoption is more like an epic battle.
It is a life or death battle for the body and soul of a child. One we had never met but knew we already loved.
Combatting sex trafficking and child slavery through adoption
Adopting orphans also helps to fight a huge global problem – sex trafficking and child slavery.
These children in orphanages around the world have no options and no one to care for them or about them.
In the Ukraine, six out of 10 girls, who age out of orphanages, end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Seven out of 10 teen boys who age out enter into a life of crime just to survive.
The numbers of orphans are unfathomable
In 2010, Project 143 was established and aptly named after the estimated 143 million orphans in the world.
That number continues to grow.
Our Lolita, also called Lola, was one of them. Not anymore! She officially took our last name Nov. 19, 2014 and her adoption was final Dec. 15.
She is our happy surprise at the end of the adoption roller coaster.
If I could have custom-ordered a daughter from the Sears Roebuck catalog, she would be it. She is gracious, kind and loving.
She will do great things in this world, and we look forward to celebrating her accomplishments with her as she grows into a young woman.
I adore this girl as much as I adore my Mary, my Josh and my Nick. In my heart, she is not my adopted daughter.
She is my daughter, period.
A divine tasking
The Bible is clear that we are supposed to take care of orphans (James 1:27). We are each called in different ways to accomplish that task. We opened our home but many others helped support us emotionally and financially.
Some people hear our story and treat us like heroes. But I assure you, we are not.
We are not any more special than the next guy, and to be totally honest, we winged this entire adoption thing.
We got through this difficult two-year process because we serve a mighty God. During our darkest times (and there were many), we cried out to him often. Our faith carried us through because we were not, and are not, big enough to do it on our own.
Adoptive families raise money and tell their stories on social media and blog sites, but the kids are the amazing ones.
The true heroes of the story
These kids are tough. They are survivors.
They leave their environment, friends and everything familiar to them to travel half way around the world…praying and hoping for a better life and people who truly love them. They have no guarantees.
They go to a new school. Many have to learn a new language. They have to assimilate into a new family and learn to care for people they barely know.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, simultaneously they have struggle against their own history of abandonment (and for some the aftermath of the horrors of war, abuse, dysfunction, drug use, etc.), just to get through the day…then the next day.
They are the ones we should celebrate! They are the true heroes!
For Julie and me, it was stressful but a whole lot easier mentally and spiritually. Our hearts were broken—cracked wide open—in preparation to love one of God’s little ones.
He called. We answered.
Adoption is a blessing
We have been immensely blessed throughout our epic adoption battle. We now have a second beautiful daughter whom we love and she loves us back.
Along the way, we have met people we might never have encountered otherwise. They have poured into our lives, helping us financially and emotionally, and we are all richer for it.
As much as we would like to, Julie and I cannot cure the adoption epidemic in the world. But for now, we knew we could help one child.
We are honored to call Lolita our daughter, and we will love her intensely and unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us.
If you would like to learn more about Project 143, go to http://www.projectonefortythree.org/.
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
Artist Cynthia Hellyer Heinz challenges social norms and stereotypes through finely-detailed, surrealistic portraits
By Melissa LeGates
Where many only see wrinkled skin, fine artist and educator Cynthia Hellyer Heinz sees a canvas of beauty, wisdom, and wonder etched on the faces and bodies of the elderly people she is drawn to depict.
Cynthia short circuits the stigma of aging in her series “Sacred Gifts,” inspired by her mother in whom she sees timeless beauty.
To read more, click on the PDF of this article from Colored Pencil Magazine, Nov 2014 issue: beauty-in-aging-cynthia-hellyer-heinz-nov-14
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.
By Chris and Melissa LeGates
His story: Support the AMA. You may need them someday; I did at 48
I am two years shy of 50. So when I experienced shooting pains going through my arms while watching television this July 4, I thought it would pass.
Then all the sudden, it literally felt like an elephant jumped on my chest. I could barely breathe, and I told my wife to take me to the hospital.
I know – bad idea! I already got the lecture at the hospital from the nurses: always call for an ambulance. So why didn’t I?
Well the short answer is I never suspected I was having a heart attack.
For the past year, doctors had been trying to find the origin of those shooting pains, especially in my elbows. Three different doctors had diagnosed me with pinched nerves and essentially told me there was nothing I could do except take medicine to ease the inflammation or get surgery. I didn’t want to get surgery so I just put up with the pain.
My blood pressure was good and my cholesterol was low.
Other than smoking (and eating crappy food as my wife liked to point out often), I was healthy as an ox – or so I thought.
On the way to the hospital, the pain got worse. I kept chanting over and over again, “Please just let me get to the hospital. Don’t let me die.”
I couldn’t even walk into the ER. I collapsed on the sidewalk outside, and I literally couldn’t move my arms and legs.
My wife ran inside, and nurses came out to wheel me in to the ER.
From there, it felt like an eternity until they gave me something to relieve the pain. In reality, it was probably about a half an hour of pure torture waiting for test results.
Initially, they told us there was an abnormality on the EKG but they didn’t think I was having a heart attack.
Then they gave me morphine, and I was half in and out of consciousness. I just kept saying “Thank you. Thank you”. I was just happy to get rid of that pain.
Then about an hour later, they came back in and said the test showed blood markers for a heart attack, and they were calling in the cardio cath lab to open me up and check for a blockage.
My wife says I signed paperwork and verbally gave them permission to do surgery, but I honestly don’t remember any of it.
I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning without my clothes and my wife…wondering what the heck had happened. I had no idea I even had an operation until the nurse told me.
The next two days were scary.
Surviving a widow maker heart attack
I had experienced a widow maker heart attack, which means the largest valve in my heart was completely blocked. They say most people don’t survive a widow maker, hence the nickname.
That is sobering to know that if I hadn’t made it to the hospital when I did I would be dead.
The next day I was told my heart was only operating at 30 percent of its strength. I didn’t like hearing that.
I’m too young! This cannot be happening
I cannot say I never thought about this day coming. I think every smoker does in the back of their mind, but I did not think I would have to deal with health stuff like this until at least 20 years from now.
I have smoked ever since I was 16. Through the years, I would tell myself I had time to quit smoking and repair my body before I got old.
I even watched my step-father die from smoke-related cancer and environmental poisoning in his 50s.
It devastated my mother.
When he was dying in the hospital, he begged me to stop smoking but of course I didn’t.
Smoking was cool.
It was what my friends and many of my family members were doing in the 1980s. It is what my co-workers and I did to release stress at break time every day since then.
All three of my children still smoke. We have had many of conversations over the lite end of a cigarette that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Smoking is a low key way to bond with people and that is probably the hardest benefit to lose.
However, I am a Christian. I knew God didn’t want me to smoke, and I was slowly tearing down the temple He built. I was ashamed of my smoking but it still didn’t stop me from doing it.
I even quit for months at a time but I just never quite succeeded until the day of my heart attack.
A simple choice: Quite or Die?
The day after my emergency surgery the cardio doctor came in to visit me. He looked me and said, “Do you plan to quit smoking?” I said “yes” but I’m sure he has heard many patients say the same thing and not quit.
He replied, “Good. Because you can either quit smoking and live, or keep smoking and die. The choice is yours.”
I wish I could say I quit for God, my wife, kids or some other noble cause but I didn’t.
It was the pain.
Words don’t do it justice; I never want to go through that kind of pain again.
If I can change so can you!
It was time to make some serious changes in my life. Now, I am one of those annoying people that lecture others about smoking if they give me a half a chance.
My grandfather had a heart attack in his 50s and my uncle in his 40s. My dad is a survivor of heart disease as well.
After my grandfather had a heart attack, he became kind of a health fanatic. He watched what he ate and used to walk religiously to keep in shape. He lived another fifty years after his heart attack.
So I knew it could be done.
I feel great!
I currently feel better than I ever have in my life. People don’t believe me when I tell them I had a heart attack this summer.
I credit that to God bringing me through and the care from the nursing staff and the cardio rehab folks at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.
I was lucky, and I know it. Many people don’t get a second chance.
About 2,150 Americans die each day from these diseases, one every 40 seconds. Each one of those people had family and friends mourning them. That is a lot of unnecessary grief.
Here are a few more facts. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans…# 1 killer.
More than 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2010. That’s about one of every three deaths in America.
If I had to do it differently, I would have never picked up that first cigarette 30 some years ago but no one can turn back time.
What I can do is never pick up another cigarette again.
I pray my three children stop smoking now! I pray that my grandchildren never start! I pray that my friends and family kick the habit!
Support me: Please donate
And, I can support the American Heart Association.
That’s why two Saturdays from now (Oct. 18), I am walking for the AMA Southern Delaware Heart Walk in Georgetown.
So please consider donating money to my AMA page at http://bit.ly/1nYFmj6.
The American Heart Association provides people with information, inspiration, recipes and the latest research. You can check them out at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/.
Don’t become a statistic! Donate to AMA and choose life!
Her story: Support heart disease survivors even if you want to strangle them
When my husband asked me to walk for the American Heart Association this October, I looked at him like he sprouted a third eye and jokingly said “who took over your body and where did you hide my husband?”
In many ways, it has felt like I’m married to another man than the one that had a heart attack this July 4th.
Actually this new and improved man is the one I thought I was marrying when we met on a dating web site years ago.
One of my chief criteria in a mate was absolutely no smoking. My dad smoked in the house when I was growing up, and I hated it.
I vowed to never marry a smoker, and Chris reassured me he didn’t smoke anymore.
Big tobacco companies are the only ones who benefit from cigarettes and they are laughing all the way to the bank
We married in early November 2009. By late November, we faced a stressful family crisis and he resumed smoking.
I was livid but what could I do.
As a non-smoking spouse, you always feel like your significant other cares more about puffing up that expensive pack of cigarettes than they do you. The smoker, of course, doesn’t see it that way and feels you should support them no matter what.
It is a no win situation.
The only one who actually wins in the nicotine racket is the huge companies pushing cigarettes.
What other business can get their customers addicted, turn their teeth yellow until they fall out, and still people willing line up to pay them over a $100 to $200 a month for a product that ultimately maims or kills them?
It is called addiction; it is just a legal form of it.
We argued about his smoking often over the years but I finally gave up. I realized nagging him wouldn’t stop him so I turned my anger and concerns over to God. It wasn’t easy.
I also continued to pray and petition God for him to be released from this horrible cycle.
Almost widowed at 44
In the back of my mind, I feared I would be a widow by 50 because of his poor health choices. For some reason, I just carried those negative premonitions with me even though I know many smokers live into their 70s and 80s.
Ironically, my husband had bought Rick Warren’s new cookbook and Christian prayer guide called “The Daniel Plan” — on his own without my nagging or urging — a month earlier. He also got really interested in researching the Mediterrean diet.
I was ecstatic. My prayers were being answered, and we were all set to get healthy.
We had even outlined a specific timeline for him to quit smoking, for us to start this new lifestyle diet together and for both of us to start exercising more.
Then Boom out of nowhere I find myself watching my husband literally have a heart attack in front of me on a hospital bed in the Seaford ER.
I suspected on to the way to the hospital he was having a heart attack but we are so young it was hard to believe death was knocking at our door.
Sponge bath at 40
Two days later, we hit another milestone in our marriage, when I gave him a wet wipe “sponge” bath in his hospital room – and not the sexy kind either.
It was sobering to realize my husband was so weak, he couldn’t even bathe himself.
That is something most women don’t have to even think about until their 60s or later. We were in our 40s.
Both of us worried what else was in store for us?
At that point, he didn’t even know if he could work again – let alone ride a bike, run after our grandsons or travel around the world like we dreamed about.
Luckily for us, God still has more for him to do on this earth, and he has fully recovered.
He will have to take six different types of medicine for the rest of his life and carry nitroglycerin with him wherever he goes. But he is fine for now.
But for a few long hours that first night, I really didn’t know if he would die all alone on a cold, steel operating table or recover from this.
It is a horrible, numbing feeling and in the back of your mind lurks unexpressed anger.
Yes, I said anger.
My husband did this to himself. How could he be so selfish?
And the worst part is as a family member you aren’t even allowed to be outwardly angry because your loved one is in pain. And, you are supposed to be nice to people in pain.
So instead I smiled, hugged him, kissed him but inside I just wanted to “lovingly” wack him a good one.
If I wasn’t so afraid it would stop his heart, I might have done it.
We aren’t helpless against heart disease
I know I am not the only one in this position so I wanted to tell my story to reassure men and women who love a smoker, there is hope!
I believe the most powerful thing you can do is to pray for those smokers in your life and just love on them.
Most smokers I have met don’t want to smoke (if they truly admit it) but feel powerless to stop (which they will never admit to anyone even themselves).
I also try to remember smoking isn’t the only risk factor for heart disease.
So is being over-weight, and I have struggled with yo-yo weight loss and gain all my life. I’m currently on the gain side.
I have never met a cupcake I don’t like.
So I know excessive sugar intake is another key factor in creating heart inflammation, as well as eating crappy, high cholesterol food.
It starts with you
In the end, the only thing you really can do is change your lifestyle and hope it rubs off on others.
Personally, we have completely eradicated soda from our house, although we drink it as a treat when we are out. Unfortunately, we still crave it; I pray those cravings go away someday.
Instead at home, we drink reduced-sugar iced tea and water.
Now I realize that is a crime in Sussex County where super-syrupy sweet tea (usually one to two cups of sugar per gallon) rules the day and pretzel salad is considered a side dish on the par with broccoli and green beans.
Just try arguing with a Sussex Countian that pretzel salad is in fact a dessert, and you will have a cat fight on your hands.
You may have figured out I’m an out-a-stater infiltrating the ranks and married to one of the few native Delawareans left. I get knocked around enough for being a PA’er so it is time for a little ribbing back.
I used to make iced tea for our family with a cup of sugar per gallon (which BTW is the recommended sugar ratio for sweet tea recipes), and when my eldest step-daughter tasted it, she literally spit it out and exclaimed there was barely any sugar in it. Then she stirred in even more sugar before drinking it.
Once again I repeat, it had an entire cup of sugar per gallon. That’s a lot.
So reducing down to two thirds a cup of the sweet stuff per gallon is a big deal for my husband!
We are slowly changing our diet for the better and believe in moderation in everything we do.
And, we don’t put any foods off limit. We still eat bacon occasionally but we eat more fish and have cut out or reduced most white food stuff (primarily white sugar, potatoes and bread).
Now we are eating brown: wheat bread and brown rice. We also try to eat fresh and shop from the produce aisle.
What we have learned
I know this sounds weird but his heart attack has been one of the best things that has happened to us as a couple. We are more in tune with each other. We are kinder to each other.
We both better appreciate the value and fragility of life.
And, my husband continues to surprise me. Since his recovery, he has tried Indian and Thai food…something he would have never done before.
We plan on buying bikes and finding fun ways to fit more exercise into our lives. We are embracing this new lifestyle change, and it doesn’t feel like a punishment…more like a reward.
Support the American Heart Association: Donate Now!
Chris is the youngest person in his rehab group by about 20 years, and he has started encouraging the other rehab-ers to change their diet without sacrificing their taste buds.
This is also one of the core missions of the American Heart Association.
The AMA educates people on how to take their life back after surviving heart disease. They share a lot of information on their website at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ and their You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/americanheartassoc.
They even have a cooking channel called “Simple Cooking with heart”. You can subscribe to it at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVHKmryC1CUNsHDduY1f1Fw.
If you lost anyone to heart disease or know someone struggling with it now, the AMA is a great resource and a great non-profit to support.
I am proud of my husband wanting to walk with his rehab buddies to support the fight because heart disease is preventable for the most part.
There are two walks scheduled for this month: Oct 18 at the Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown and Oct 25 at DTCC in Dover. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. both days.
From our heart to yours, may God bless you and thank you for taking the time to read our story! Feel free to share it with others.
Carved Wood Night Stand
Upcycled Pallet Ottoman
You would never know this beautifully tufted fabric ottoman was created from an old wood pallet – and it’s an affordable DIY project, too!
Stencil Your Existing Curtains
Bike-Inspired Stained Glass
Cinema Filmstrip Lamp
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.