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In a Writing Rut? Plagiarism Isn’t the Answer

Hey, writing is hard even for professional writers. Nowadays everyone from established businesses to solopreneurs has to crank out blog posts, newsletter articles, social media conversations and more to build their audience. Most likely the focus of your business is on a widget or service that has nothing to do with mastering the skill of writing. So when those deadlines loom to get something new posted, cutting and pasting a great article (someone else wrote) into your layout might seem like the perfect solution. But it’s not.

The word for taking someone else’s writing and putting your name or your company’s name on it is plagiarism – which is another word for stealing. Writing is like any other product. It takes time to research the subject matter and tons of thought goes into crafting the message. So yeah, if someone’s writing is stolen they’re going to be upset.

Let’s look at three ways to create fresh content to broadcast to your followers. The best part is you’ll be proud of the content because you can legally call it your own.

Write it Yourself – This is a no-brainer. You’re the expert. We want to hear from you about what’s going on in your industry. Tell us about what you deal with every day and how your products or services are helping people out. If you’re having trouble coming up with things to write about check out my article on just that, “7 Tips to Finding Your Next Writing Topic.”

Hire a Ghostwriter – In this scenario, you can put your name on a professionally written article and take full credit for it. That’s because you hire a writer – and let them know that it’s going to be a ghostwritten piece – to write as if they were you. They’ll perform the magic behind the scenes to make you look great in front of your readers.

Link Up – This solution involves you (or your ghostwriter) writing an introduction to your topic of choice then listing one or more articles that you’ve enjoyed on this topic. Refer your readers to these articles with a live link and a short reason why you think they should read it – without giving away the heart of the piece. Then cap off your article with your words of wisdom.

These solutions enable you to create valuable resources for your readers without stooping to anything shady. If you’re looking for a ghostwriter you can find me hiding under my desk! Booo.

Why Lodi? Fun, Food and Wine in California’s Central Valley

Wine Grapes, Photo by Eva Barrows

I never really thought about Lodi and I wasn’t sure where it was on the map of California. Visions of swinging metronome cow tails propelling flies and golden fields of waving grain pop into mind when I read the Evite inviting my husband and me to Lodi for a family celebration.

The town of Lodi is located in the vast farming region of California’s Central Valley, I learn as my husband researches area hotels. We decide to make a weekend of the trip not wanting to feel rushed to get back to the Bay Area after the festivities.

Chicken at Winery, Photo by John Barrows

The family party was held at Micke Grove Regional Park where there’s a ton of things to do. Kids enjoy a small zoo, carnival rides, playgrounds and other activities. The large picnic shelter booked for the party shaded us from the 90-degree summer heat. Cupcakes exposed to the sun’s rays melted into a sweet congealed mess.

When it was time to say goodbye to the family, we found our hotel on a long strip-mall motel lined thoroughfare. Some establishments screamed for remodels or even tear downs. Thankfully my husband picked out a fresh looking AAA approved hotel. The blue swimming pool called out to me from across the parking lot to take a refreshing dunk but my travel partner wanted to explore downtown instead.

Wine Tanks, Photo by John Barrows

So we got back into the car and directed the GPS to navigate the way to Lodi’s historic region. The Lodi marque that stretches across the main road into downtown welcomed us. The arch was reminiscent of Spanish colonial architecture – white adobe bricks, red Spanish tiles and hanging brass bells. Surrounded by early 1900s buildings showcasing Lodi’s flourishing industries – bridal shops, breweries and wine tasting rooms.

The Lodi Beer Co. was our choice for dinner and we didn’t regret it. Beer brews in large vats that fill the center of the room with restaurant seating placed around them. Beer label banners full of colorful artwork hang on the walls like heraldry banners in a castle. When our food and beer arrive we fall in love with our meal. The food I had in Lodi was delicious everything from the hotel make your own waffle breakfast to our pub food.

John on Winery Grounds, Photo by Eva Barrows

During our time in Lodi, we put the proliferation of wine tasting rooms and local winery marketing together and decided there must be some wineries in the area worth visiting. On checking out of the hotel the receptionist recommended Michael David Winery.

On the way there we passed new housing developments with modern shopping squares complete with Starbucks on the way out to the fields. Pretty soon we were amongst hundreds of rows of grape vines.

Sunflower in Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Michael David was a wood-paneled ranch-style building with a wrought iron fence protecting it from the road traffic. A homey diner with sturdy wood furniture serves breakfast and lunch and shares a room with a gift shop selling local produce shifting off into a wine tasting bar. The room was packed with people waiting for a seat in the diner. I followed someone I saw go outside near the wine bar.

Water Feature, Photo by John Barrows

Once outside trickling water, outdoor furniture – couches, glass-topped tables, oversized shade umbrellas – and a second tasting area in a modern building were before me. The large fermentation tanks set just outside the public area of the winery with colorful billboard-sized wine labels wrapped around them.

First, we went to check out the grounds. The water feature was a huge rocky pool with waterfalls creating soothing background noise. Several wine-sipping nooks were set up around the shaded pool from above and below. A bridal party in flowing resort wear took over the largest sitting area where bottles of wine were shared.

Eva and Grape Vines, Photo by John Barrows

Bocce ball courts were set up near a flower garden full of colorful blooms. Small kids romped in a gated children’s play area with a slide and Wild West façade. Right next to the play area was a chicken coop with several red hens. This extensive wine sipping area abutted the onsite grape vines. Large purple grapes hung on the healthy vines.

We went back to the quieter tasting room in the modern building. The room had high ceilings, wood beams, and extensive windows. The cool countertop felt good under my bare arms as the day was already a hot one. My husband and I shared a tasting of limited and reserve wines, keeping tabs of which one we liked the best. We decided on the 2015 Ancient Vine Cinsault made from Lodi grapes.

A little tipsy after the wine tasting we relaxed in the shade next to the water feature. The sound of clinking wine glasses and laughter drifted on the warm breeze.

Don’t Stink Like A Fish: 6 Ways to Keep Your Web Content Fresh


Browsing the web you’ll come across sites that look like they haven’t been touched since the day they were launched. A “What’s Happening” page full of events from three years ago or an attempt running a blog fizzled out after three posts point to abandoned websites. Visitors question if the business is legitimate or if they’re still in existence. If you want to engage potential customers and build an online audience you can’t let your content fester and stink like a dead fish.

Keeping your website current may seem challenging but it doesn’t have to be. The good news is you’re already making news as you grow your business. You just have to identify things to add to your site.

If you’re thinking that you haven’t done anything worth adding to your website in a while then it’s time to swim out the door and do something. Having a website should motivate you to stay active in your industry so you can have something to share with your visitors.

Easy Website Updates that Keep Your Business Swimming Strong

Front Page – The most visible web page of your site is a place to get to know you and your business. It’s an opportunity to display important or major new offerings, products, promotions or insights.

Event Page – Get out and do things – tell us where you’re going to be so your followers can come visit you!

About Me – Every six months to a year look this page over. I bet you’ve done something new you can add to this page to keep it current.

Credentials – Good job! You have a new certification, award, or license to enhance your knowledge and skills – Let your visitors know you’re serious about your business by updating this info.

New Clients + Testimonials – A strong list of people you’ve worked with and happy client blurbs always look great and build potential client’s trust in your brand. Keep this updated so we know you’re still making people happy.

Publications – Have you published an article on another website? Has someone written about you and your business? Keep an ongoing list of links to these publications on your website so we can learn even more about you.

Just by adding, updating or moving around information, you stir the water of your site and prevent it from going still.

A Curious Saltbox on California’s Coast

Johnston House, Photo by John Barrows

Driving over the gravel road that swoops around the front of the historic ranch house we bounce in our seats. Climbing slightly in elevation acres of empty farmland stretch out before us on the way out to the Pacific Ocean. A variety of hearty coastal grasses blanket the field in thick tufts and thin seed laden stalks that brush against the breeze. Green rolling hills cradle the estate to the East with larger forested hills beyond.

The view of the ocean often times obscured by wispy fog or diffused by sea mist was clear for our visit. The ocean carved inland up the coast to the crescent shaped Half Moon Bay.

The James Johnston House built in 1853 doesn’t have a stitch of architectural ornamentation but manages to be the most striking historic home on the Half Moon Bay coast. From head-on, the home is two stories, painted simply in white with ample glass pained windows trimmed by forest green shutters as the home’s sole decoration.

Johnston House – Photo by John Barrows

Approaching the house from the side reveals something unusual: the roofline slopes down to one story in the back. Ah yes, it’s the two stories becoming one at the back that catches Californians cruising past the site off guard. I liken this architectural maneuver to a hi-low dress hemline but on a building. This style of home is called “saltbox” and was a popular colonial design originating around the 1650s on the East Coast.

James Johnston, a gold rush entrepreneur, built his saltbox home while established Californio families lived in Spanish adobe and his American peers were putting up in vogue Victorians. Johnston’s sentimental choice of architecture was based on the home he grew up in, in Ohio.

Whizzing by on the highway before I knew much about the James Johnston House, I thought that it could be a Civil War movie set. I’d never seen another structure like it. An out-of-fashion Yankee Colonial in gold rush era California connected the frontier to the deep rooted nation established back East.

The home became abandoned over time and was unprotected from the stormy coast and grazing farm animals. A picture of the home from 1965 shows the back one story level had been hacked off, the exterior paint stripped and window frames void of glass. The coastal community and outside preservationists recognized the uniqueness of the structure and worked over many years (mid-1960s to present) to bring the Johnston House back to life.

Side View Photo by John Barrows

Walking up to the house, visitors pass a rose garden with white picket fence. A pair of partially salvaged fence posts atop weathered wood pillars mark the walkway.

Entering the home through the back door, the brown shingled roof hovers inches away from our heads. The one story section of the home houses a small gift shop and museum office. Victorian costumed docents greet us and start the tour at the front of the house. Our tour guide wears sneakers with his black pants and burgundy vest, eager to show us around.

Bedroom Photo by John Barrows

Original Johnston family furnishings are on display throughout the house along with period correct decorations. A sample of the original wallpaper was found preserved inside a Catholic alter within the home. The paper, mostly white featuring strokes of silver, was recreated and placed on the walls. The white of the paper keeps the interior of the home bright and cheerful on cloudy days.

One bedroom was left unpainted so that visitors can see the fine locally sourced redwood paneling that was used as building material. A patch of wall beam is uncovered by paneling to display the mortice-and-tenon construction work used to create the home.

The living space that was created by the dramatic roof slant is triangular in shape and runs the whole length of the home. I stood comfortably at the start of the room but ducking is required to occupy the lower region. The space was used to house ranch workers and was also available to coastal travelers needing shelter for the night.

Kitchen Photo by John Barrows

The docents comment that they find new items in the house during the monthly tours. A “new” child’s rocking horse in the kids room or a new painting on the wall of the living room. Continued restoration projects and gardening help bring the house back to life inside and out. The coastal architectural curiosity reminds passersby of another time and another place.

The home is open to tours January through September on third Saturdays between 11am and 3pm.

http://www.johnstonhouse.org/

7 Tips to Finding Your Next Writing Topic

If you write articles for your personal, company or club newsletter or blog, it’s a good idea to keep a list of possible article ideas to pull from. Avoid the stomach sinking worst case scenario of having nothing to write about. Prepare yourself for your next article by keeping track of issues that come up in your area of expertise and/or industry.

I used # 7 to create this post. I asked potential clients in my networking group what they wanted to know about writing. One of them asked “How do I come up with a list of topics for my industry newsletter?” Check out the following steps for my answer.

If you want to keep track of ideas on paper consider also keeping an ongoing Word Doc file (or equivalent) to track web based publication links.

1) Find out what’s being said on Social Media (Twitter, LinkedIn) about your industry across the nation or worldwide. Cut and paste interesting conversation threads or links into your Word Doc.

2) Keep note of what issues YOU face throughout the month and how you handle these situations.

3) It’s okay to jot down the obvious issues in your field…your insider solutions may not be so obvious.

4) Listen to what your co-workers are chatting about and write down the issues they’re experiencing.

5) Ask your higher ups what issues your industry is facing as a whole.

6) Research what your competition is up to online.

7) What questions do your clients have that you can write about?

Give yourself some time before your deadline to go over your notes and highlight the most compelling issues and trends listed. Pick one of those issues to be this month’s article topic.

3 Historical Peninsula Gardens to Visit

Gazebo at Gamble Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Looking for a quick escape from the daily grind? A local garden may be just the place to breathe deep and collect your thoughts. There’s a number of in bloom historical garden get-a-ways throughout the San Francisco Peninsula. Grab your sun hat and check out these relaxing respites.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto CA

Gamble House, Photo by John Barrows

Gamble Garden is tucked away in Old Palo Alto, a neighborhood of older homes with architectural variety. The garden surrounds the 1902 home of Elizabeth Frances Gamble descendant of Procter & Gamble’s co-founder. The garden is close to the Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue, a perfect spot for a mid-day retreat.

Scarecrow at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

An edible herb garden with sun faded scarecrow greets visitors entering the gardens from the back of the property. Sunshine fills the gravel lined walkways off the central gazebo. A bush trimmed into the Easter Bunny patiently awaits the seasons to change back to spring.

Gamble Garden Sundial, Photo by John Barrows

At the far side of the property a tranquil water fountain trickles, its sound mingles with that of the breeze flowing through the tops of surrounding trees. A circular rose garden, encompassed by a 6-foot tall hedge, offers droopy white blooms shedding petals to the ground.

Rose at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

Benches dot the property situated under shade trees invite guests to stay awhile. Watch birds, bees and squirrels move about their daily garden life.

Filoli, Woodside CA

The Peninsula is home to an English country estate museum house and extensive gardens. The home at Filoli estate was completed in 1917 with the gardens following soon after. Filoli is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Filoli Pools, Photo by Eva Barrows

Prepare to meander and contemplate in Filoli’s many gardens. Soak up the sun’s piercing warmth with clear blue sky overhead framed by a variety of swaying tree tops. Eye catching lush green lawns complement red brick footpaths. The fountains and reflecting pools produce the soothing sounds of water.

Garden Passage at Filoli, Photo by Eva Barrows

As the afternoon progresses, watch the fog push over the coastal redwood hills at the foot of the property. The seeping dry ice effect of the cascading fog creates a feeling of magic.

Wonder further back into the gardens, passing through archways in ten-foot tall hedge walls. Discover a variety of vegetation throughout the property: rose garden, herb garden, and squash gardens to name a few.

Filoli Manor, Photo by Eva Barrows

Find activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the estate placed throughout the garden. A relaxing spa like pool house offers seating for visitors steps away from the sparkling swimming pool. Tennis courts are a short walk from the home and placed at the outskirts of the garden. Walk all of the way to the back of the gardens and find the “High Place” a great place to look out over the estate.

Central Park Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, San Mateo CA

Central Park Rose Garden, Photo by John Barrows

San Mateo’s Central Park was once the site of a mansion estate. The ornate brick and iron fence lining El Camino and the cast iron dog statue guarding the rose garden are remnants from that time. The rose garden with trellis gazebo and the many tree varieties throughout the park are cared for by the San Mateo Arboretum Society.

Central Park Rose, Photo by John Barrows

The rose garden is full of colorful flowers abuzz with honey bee activity. Sniff the buds of pink, yellow, white and red roses. Check the names on the plates next to each rose variety because they can be pretty funny like “Hot Cocoa” or “Barbra Streisand.” A row of benches line the garden under shade trees, a perfect place for visitors to sit and smell the roses.

Central Park Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Don’t miss the Japanese Garden in Central Park. It’s walled off by a traditional Japanese wood wall with a large gated entrance. Step inside to experience a peaceful escape in the middle of downtown San Mateo. The garden is built around a central koi pond with tons of large and playful koi pushing around tree debris at the water’s surface and splashing in water spouts.

Buddha in Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Walk around the pond on a slim pathway, under dangling trees or cross the water on stone bridges. Several pagoda temples and statues made of stone or bamboo are placed throughout the grounds. Relax on the tea house benches to take in the colorful fish and idyllic scenery.

Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Visiting the Gardens:

Gamble Garden
https://www.gamblegarden.org/
1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto CA 94301
Free admission
Garden open daily during daylight hours
Main House open Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm

Filoli Estate
https://filoli.org/
86 Cañada Road, Woodside, California 94062
Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
General Admission $20 adults

Central Park San Mateo
Rose Garden
http://www.sanmateoarboretum.org/
Open day light hours

Japanese Garden
http://www.cityofsanmateo.org/3319/Central-Park-Japanese-Garden
Monday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm

Free admission
50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

Pooper Postage Required: Cut Typos Out of Your Writing

No no no no no that wasn’t my typo. I mean I wasn’t the one who wrote “pooper” when it was supposed to be “proper.”

Okay so here’s the story: I was working at a print shop when an order for thousands of return envelopes was placed. That’s what it said in the box where you’re supposed to affix the stamp. I mean I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t change it because that’s what the client ordered. So that’s what we printed. All two thousand envelopes had the word “pooper” on them.

I have to admit that was a pretty funny mistake. We all laughed about it at the shop. I bet some of the people who put their stamps on that spot laughed too. This isn’t the kind of reaction businesses want, right? If you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to make sure your words are saying what you mean.

When I’m reading a Victorian novel (cause that’s what I do) and I run across an old-timey typo – a single word misspelled amongst hundreds of thousands – I forgive it. But when I’ve only got three words to read and one of them is dead wrong there’s no room to have understanding – because the meaning is totally shot.

Here are the steps I take to create typo-free text:

  1. Spell check – If everyone used it we wouldn’t have had the “covfefe” scandal. This is an especially important step for Social Media. You’re not writing a business letter but you are communicating with the public and a quick run through spell check could save you some embarrassment.
  2. Grammarly – Install the free version of Grammarly to Word. It helps out with punctuation, identifies when words should be compound words (water fall or waterfall) and also identifies word usage errors (“dancing in the isles” or “dancing in the aisles”).
  3. Read it out loud – After all the spell checks just go through the document yourself. You’ll be able to pick out choppy sentences and replace words for better ones. If you only have three words in your document look up each of them in the dictionary just to be sure you’ve got it right.
  4. Have someone else read it– Hand your document to a friend, family member or co-worker. Ask them to highlight anything that stopped the reading flow for them. They’ll be able to pick out things you gloss over.
  5. Hire a proofreader – If your document is super important hire someone to read it over and confirm that you’ve eliminated all of those pesky typos.

Local Writers at the San Mateo County Fair

My Award Winning Short Story on the Wall

Yes go to the fair for sunshine, double stacked corn dogs, a block of curly fries melded into the shape of a fry basket, pig races and carnival rides but also consider stopping in at the Literary Stage. Yeah, the San Mateo County Fair held a mini writing conference sandwiched between the fine art and quilt displays inside the main exhibition hall the third week of June.

I was especially excited to visit the Literary Stage this year because I knew I had won two Honorable Mentions for my writing. Out of roughly two hundred submissions I made it to the acknowledgement level. Every piece of writing submitted to the fair was on display hanging on the walls of the literary area. While I was searching for my name I encountered a pleasant surprise. I found that the third piece I had submitted also won Honorable Mention!

Two of my pieces that won have been featured on this blog. Little Free Library, is a post about micro neighborhood book lending and A Decade of Imitation Fruit is a guest post on the topic of the literary journal I have been producing for the past ten years. A new short story based on a comedy sketch that I wrote, The Birthday Committee was also featured at the fair.

Winning stories, essays and poetry are put into an annual anthology Carry the Light: Stories, Poems, and Essays from the San Mateo County Fair. The publisher of the fair’s anthology, Sand Hill Review Press, works closely with local authors many of whom are also members of the California Writers Club San Francisco Peninsula chapter. CWC helps organize the Literary Stage and performs judging duties for writing entries. The anthology, publisher and CWC are great resources for writers in San Mateo County and beyond.

Darlene Frank’s Workshop, Photo by Eva Barrows

The Literary Stage hosts a variety of events for writers to learn about the craft of writing, authors to read their writing to an audience and an opportunity for readers to buy books from local writers. This year I caught my CWC friend Darlene Frank’s workshop on “Creating Your Most Powerful Writing.” For about an hour and a half Darlene outlined how writers can identify and execute writing with a clear purpose. It was fun to hear a fellow writer share their process and to take the time to think about my own writing in a supportive environment.

After listening to writers that I’ve come to know through CWC read from their award winning work at the Literary Stage author’s panel I am inspired to continue submitting my work to the fair. I hope to move up a notch next year and take home one of the big fluffy ribbons!

Dig-in: Historical Tourism for Foodies, Five San Francisco Ocean Beach Restaurants

San Francisco, established in the late 1700s bleeds history through its architecture. Fight your way west through traffic and tourist crowds to arrive at Ocean Beach, a 3.5 mile sand dune bordered beach. You’ll find some raging history and fine San Francisco cuisine at the following restaurants at Ocean Beach.

Sutro’s and The Bistro at the Cliff House

The Cliff House is perched above the Pacific Ocean at the end of Ocean Beach. Sutro’s one of two restaurants inside the Cliff House is a modern addition to the famous establishment. The walls and ceiling are all windows to best view the crushing waves and piercing rock formations just below.

The Bistro restaurant is located in the recently refurbished 1909 Cliff House. Hints of the past lash out in historical photographs, antique furniture and decoration. The Cliff House looks young and polished now but has gone through several reincarnations and originally opened in 1863.

There may be a wait for a table at the Cliff House restaurants. If it’s just a bite to eat and a drink you want, walk up to the bar and lounge at either restaurant and put your order in.

Louis’

A short sprint up the hill from the Cliff House, Louis’ restaurant is a surviving 1937 family owned diner. The interior is classic with party booths, tables and bar seating. American comfort food is on the menu: cup of chili, burgers and monster sized milkshakes with refill tin on the side. Louis’ looks out to the ocean and to an only in San Francisco sight – Sutro Baths.

A good portion of the cement floor plan remains of the Sutro Baths, a Victorian era swimming pool complex, are laid out in the valley below Louis’. Watch people explore the mysterious urban archeological find while tossing back a bowl of clam chowder. Bring cash with you for the meal because old school Louis’ doesn’t take cards.

Beach and Park Chalet

Another two-for restaurant duo is located down the hill from the Cliff House, at the foot of Golden Gate Park and across the street from the expansive Ocean Beach. The building these two restaurants occupy opened in 1925. During the Great Depression artist, Lucien Labaudt covered the reception area in a floor to ceiling mural depicting life in San Francisco.

Park Chalet Coastal Beer Garden is just that. Specialty brews, indoor or outdoor relaxed seating and Golden Gate Park location make this restaurant special. Experience garden and park views from inside Park Chalet as the walls and ceiling are windowed. Beware, once the sun goes down the San Francisco fog can make both indoors and outdoors chilly. Bring a warm coat to the Park Chalet.

Beach Chalet is located on the second floor of the historical building overlooking the Pacific. The restaurant has an intimate and cozy atmosphere. Watch cargo ships cruise into the mouth of the Bay while beach goers surround raging bonfires across the street from the restaurant. If the Beach Chalet is for you, put your reservations in early, it’s the smart thing to do.

MidPen Media Center Guest Post, Palo Alto, CA

A few months ago I learned how to use a studio camera at MidPen Media Center in Palo Alto. Read about my experience learning how to use studio equipment with the end result of creating a live cable access show. The show my class created is called “Healthy Living” and a link to watch it online is posted at the end of my article. My camera work focused on the show’s guest. Moving the camera out of the way for the hula hoop scene was a fun challenge!

Eva operating studio camera