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.

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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

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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.
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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!

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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.

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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
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Deer Hollow Farm at Rancho San Antonio, Cupertino CA

Our mission to photograph the perfect hen brought my husband and I to Deer Hollow Farm in the foothills of Mountain View and Cupertino. After a quick Google Maps consult I found that the farm was only a half hour drive from home and in a park setting that I hadn’t explored yet. A perfect combo for a sunny day outside!

Open Field, Photo by Eva Barrows

The drive into Rancho San Antonio County Park passed several parking lots near the main road already full of cars. Continuing on we parked at the main lot near the bathrooms and trailhead. I stared at the trail system map and became puzzled at not spotting the location of the farm. My husband spoke with a jogger who confirmed that the farm was a mile into the park.

Lizard on Bark, Photo by John Barrows

From my previous light research on the area (I knew there were chickens…somewhere…) I didn’t realize we’d have to walk a mile in and out to visit them! The farm was closing within the hour so we put some speed on our walk.

Prairie Dog, Photo by John Barrows

Soon we walked by a large open field with tall grass. Hawks soared over the expanse with no treetops in their way. A prairie dog popped up in the middle of the field becoming the subject in one of my husband’s many photographs. The open land was the former site of St Joseph’s College which suffered Loma Prieta earthquake damage and was torn down. Abandoned tennis courts overgrown with weeds remain.

Forest walk, Photo by Eva Barrows

The path snakes back into the woods to follow a healthy stream trickling with water from recent rains. Eucalyptus trees shade the path and scent the breeze with their medicinal musk. The leaves of overhead trees swim in the wind current creating swooshing and cracking sounds.

Grant Brothers Cabin, Photo by Eva Barrows

As we walked around a bend in the forested path several small white wood paneled buildings greet us. We had made it to the farm! The Grant Brothers 1853 cabin is preserved and furnished with period items to show what early farm life was like.

With only about a half hour left before the farm closed for the day I spent a few minutes listening to the goats having a “baaa”-off where they all sounded tough and tried to outdo the other. I took a sound recording of them but forgot to take their picture!

Hen with Squirrel, Photo by John Barrows

The chickens are located inside the farm gate and behind the large white maintenance barn. At least thirty hens and a few roosters run around the yard and mostly hang out at the fence where they hope visitors will feed them. The entire group of birds ran inside the hen house thinking they’d get fed but it was a false alarm. So the chickens all ran back out together as a flock.

Huge Bunny! Photo by Eva Barrows

The hen’s next door neighbors are bunnies with one especially large furry brown bunny hopping around!

Large Pig, Photo by John Barrows

Across the farm yard there’s a pig shed with two gigantic tan pigs. The pigs ate at their troughs and from the farmers hand.

Picnic Area, Photo by John Barrows

Deer Hollow Farms is a great destination to enjoy the outdoors and be entertained by wild and farm animals. We came to the right place to accomplish our chicken photographing mission!

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Noelani’s Bar and Grill Creates Escape to Hawaii, San Carlos, CA

Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows
Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows

I take a few cautious sips from the hurricane glass filled with Mai Tai. Warned about the strength of the drink from a disclaimer on the menu enforcing a three Mai Tai max per person. I try to take it slow. Guzzling a drink with three different kinds of rum is never a good idea.

It’s Friday evening after work, my weary husband takes his time looking over the Hawaiian fusion items on Noelani’s Bar and Grill menu. He’s concerned about not ordering enough food and points to the words “plate lunch.”

“It says lunch, does that mean it’s a small portion?”

“You know what a plate lunch is,” I say. “Pick a main course and add a scoop of rice and the mac/potato salad to it.”

Skeptical, he continues to look over the menu. Eventually he picks salmon from the dinner specials and I go with my taste buds and order a kalua pork quesadilla.

I can tell he’s not completely happy with where we’re sitting. He makes the universal “I’m cold sign” crossing his arms over his chest and tucking his chin in. He asks the staff to turn the outdoor heating lamps on and that helps everyone outside warm up.

The live Hawaiian music starts and I’m disappointed that I can’t hear it too well outside. I stand up to go inside the restaurant real quick to listen. The two sips of Mai Tai already coursing through my body.

A male guitar player/singer and a female backup singer un-obstructively serenade the sports bar atmosphere. After a few minutes enjoying the warm vocals, I go back to our outdoor table. I relay the fact that there are a few open tables inside the restaurant.

My husband speaks with the hostess and we’re re-seated inside, only a table away from the live music. Our experience of the place gets better. I’m warm enough to take my jacket off and I absently sip some more Mai Tai.

The musicians play a Hawaiianized version of Orlean’s “Still the One.” I mouth the words to my husband across the table and he smiles knowing how I hate it when he mouths lyrics at me. I grab his hand over the table and do over the top googly eyes at him, something else that makes me uncomfortable when he does it. We’re doing all the cutesy dating things and make the people at the next table squirm in their seats.

The Mai Tai is only a quarter gone and I’m feeling distanced from the hustle of the dining room. I feel like it’s just me, my husband and the musicians. I don’t even know what game is on or if anyone’s staring at us. I put my hand up to the side of my face as if to block the musician’s view.

“Do you think he can see us?” I shout over the table. The musician looks straight ahead when he performs, he’d have to be looking at us from the corner of his eye.

Suddenly a two foot long quesadilla appears in front of me. My husband gingerly picks through his serving of fish. I can tell he doesn’t think it’s enough food. I offer to share my mac/potato salad and he digs in. I shove greasy cheesy flour tortilla in my mouth and I taste the tender smoky flavorful kalua pork.

I shout again to my husband, “This is my new favorite restaurant!”

He laughs, “You know what happens to your favorite restaurants.”

“Oh no! I didn’t mean that!” I say feeling my eyes widen wishing I could take that sentiment back. All of my favorite restaurants close.

I continue stuffing my face, sipping Mai Tai and bopping my head to the music. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of listening to Hawaiian during dinner when we’re at home.

There’s one song that goes “pineapple, mango, pineapple, mango.” My husband wants to request it but I stop him thinking that’s not sophisticated enough to request.

Our meal nearly gone, the waitress comes over and asks if we want to see the desert menu. I wave the “bring it on” hand gesture at her.

I order malasadas for us, mini doughnuts without a hole served warm and rolled in sugar. We also got a scoop of pineapple-coconut ice cream that we eat in tandem with the malasadas. We eat it all and agree it’s a heavenly combo. I slurp down the last of the Mai Tai.

The escapist evening was ending. I walk past the musicians and the guy stops me. He said something to me I can’t understand and hands me his business card. I take it and thank him.

“He did see me dancing in my chair!” I exclaim to my husband as we walk out to the street.

What restaurant provides an escape for you?

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Google Maps Point Hungry Travelers in the Right Direction

I stood on tiptoes peering out through the shutter-covered unusually high-placed hotel room window to see what eating establishments existed across the busy and dark Ventura Boulevard of Studio City, CA. My husband’s Fitbit had declared long ago that we’d put in ten thousand steps by midday and we had many more steps to go on our site seeing day.

Art by Eva and John Barrows
Art by Eva and John Barrows

Squinting through the window at the place straight across the street from us I tried to figure out if it was a viable option for dinner. I had a feeling that the place was fancy because the restaurant name was in script lettering and climbing ivy was all over the front of the building.

I took my smart phone out of my purse and brought up Google Maps. I dove into the map and found that I was looking at Bistro Garden, “Continental eatery for upscale dining” with three dollar signs next to it. Yes, that would be an expensive place to eat at.

My husband suddenly hovered next to me to see what I was up to. My head bowed over the phone, “There’s supposed to be a Five Guys over there,” I said continuing to look over Maps.

He glanced out the window and said, “Yeah its right there.” I shifted slightly to the right and there it was! Red block lettering indicating a very affordable burger joint that we’d had the pleasure of experiencing in our own neighborhood.

I was a little embarrassed at my restaurant hunt method. Usually we’d walk around a new place, peer in windows and read over menus. I told my hubby that I just wanted to find a decent place for us to have dinner. I wanted to know what was out there…without having to go out there.

Taking a virtual walk down the street with Google Maps, I found it! Four doors down and on the same side of the street as our hotel was Hyperion Public, “Rustic-chic American gastropub & lounge” with only two dollar signs. That is where we’d go for our night on the town. We grabbed our coats and walked briskly down the street.

Becoming temporary inhabitants of the candlelit and fireplace warmed dining room, we finally relaxed. When the food came, there wasn’t enough light to see the details of it so we had to rely solely on our taste buds to report back.

Despite my husband’s blatant tourist “Oceanside” blaring sweatshirt, the Los Angeles swanky diners and waitstaff couldn’t judge us as outsiders because there wasn’t enough light to make out what his shirt said. I knew we had succeeded in posing as Angelenos when our waiter asked if we’d like to take our leftovers home.

Google Maps was a quick way to get familiar with an unfamiliar neighborhood. Maps helped us make an informed decision to the always pressing question, “Where are we going to eat?”

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Seal Point Park Rehab, San Mateo, CA: Guest Post at Wild. Here.

Catch my writing this week on the Canada based Wild. Here. blog that discovers nature in urban areas. I explored Seal Point Park on the San Mateo, CA shoreline and found that the park has an unexpected history. Come enjoy a beautiful California spring day with me at this intersection of urban life and nature.

Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows
Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows
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