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Crochet Pattern: Spike Leaf Floral Coaster

11 January 2022

Quick coaster crocheted in the round. The leaves are created with DC and HDC, one side at a time.

Instructions

Materials Used

  • Yarn: Sport or DK weight, natural fiber only (cotton, linen, wool, etc.) if you plan to use with hot beverages
  • Hook: 1.5mm
  • Stitch marker

Stitches and Techniques

  • Magic circle
  • YO – yarn over
  • CH – chain
  • SL – slip stitch
  • SC – single crochet
  • Join – SL into starting stitch for row. Starting stitch for next row is worked into same stitch as SL join was in, unless step for that row says otherwise.
  • Starting DC
  • DC – US double crochet (UK treble)
  • DC into prior horizontal DC – YO, insert hook bottom-up into previous DC stitch at the bottom. The thread to insert is the leftmost horizontal thread facing you (not the one at the back)
  • HDC – US half double crochet
  • Picot – CH 3 then SL into the back “spine” of the 3rd chain from the hook (insert hook from right/front to back/left, pull up a loop, pull loop through)
  • CBL Picot (“connected to back loop” picot, I am not sure if this has another name) – CH 3 then insert hook into the back spine of the 3rd chain from hook, right/front to back/left, AND then into back loop of next SC. Pull up a loop and pull it through all loops on hook.

Steps

  • Row 1: Make a magic circle, then SC 12 into it. Join. (12 SC)
  • Row 2: *SC, 2 SC into stitch* repeat around. Join. (18 SC)
  • Row 3: *SC, SC, 2 SC into next stitch* repeat around. Join. (24 SC)
  • Row 4: Starting DC, 2 DC into each of next three SCs, *DC, 2 DC into each of next 3 DCs* repeat around. Join. (42 DC [6 alone including starting DC, and 18 pairs])
  • Row 5: *SC, skip next 2 SC, then in the following SC do 9 DCs. Skip next 2 SCs* around. Join. (Note: this is easier if before each set of DCs you do the first SC, then place a stitch marker 6 stitches after that one [7th stitch]) (70 stitches total [7 groups of 9 DC, totaling 63 DC and 7 SC])
  • Row 6: Make a starting DC and SL into the 3rd stitch PRIOR (for right handed crocheters this will be 3 stitches to the right), “one closer” than the middle DC of the last group. SC into it. *DC into prior horizontal DC, SC* 3 times. HDC into prior DC. Picot. First half of leaf is completed, start other half: HDC into thread where last HDC attached. DC into each thread where next 3 DCs attached. Count 4 SCs from starting point for leaf, and SL into that 4th SC. Leaf complete. CBL picot. SL into next stitch. **DC into next SC. Continue from first * above** around. Join. Tie off. (7 leaves each made of 7 DC, 3 SC, 2 HDC, 1 picot; plus 7 picots between leaves)

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Crochet Market Bag

12 September 2020

This is a pattern for a crochet market bag, inspired partly by the Keary Market Bag here. This one is worked in the round, and has straps anchored to the bag itself.

Download PDF here

Morro Bay Farmer’s Market Bag

This fun, functional market bag is sturdier than the old-school string bag and has a fun, lacy texture. The Crossed Treble Crochet stitch is the intermediate-level part, but once you’ve got that down this pattern is easy!

Overview:

Skill level: Intermediate

Yarn used: Loops & Threads Cotton Colors yarn in Sherbet 1 ½ balls (each ball is 394yd, 7oz / 360m, 200g / weight: medium/4)

Hook: D / 3 – 3.25mm

Abbreviations, stitches, & techniques used:

  • st / sts = stitch / stitches
  • rep = repeat
  • rnd = round
  • sk = skip
  • sl = slip stitch
  • Magic circle (optional)
  • YO = Yarn Over
  • CH = chain
  • SC = single crochet
  • DC = double crochet (US)
  • HDC = half double crochet (US)
  • XT = Crossed treble crochet (instructions below)
  • EXT = Extended crossed treble crochet (instructions below)
  • Join: 
    • For SC and HDC rows, join with sl and then for SC, draw up a loop; for HDC ch 2 (or ch 3 if 2 looks short)
    • For XT rows, join each rnd with sl, then pull up a loop to start next stitch. See Crossed Treble Stitch: Starting a row, below.

Crossed Treble Crochet Stitch:

Starting a row for an XT stitch: Beginner crocheters can just ch 3 for this step, but I prefer this approach:

  1. After you join the previous row with a sl, in the same space as the sl, pull up a loop to make 1 SC.
  1. YO, and if working into normal stitches, skip 2 (insert hook into 3rd hole after the one where your SC is). If working into XT stitch, look for the “O” between the X below your stitch, and the next one (top middle “O” in image below), and insert hook into that.
  1. DC into that hole (pull up a loop, YO and pull through 2 threads on hook, YO again and pull through remaining 2 threads).

2nd piece of DC before you pull through last 2 loops:

  1. CH 2. The 2nd chain loop is the top-right of your starting X (and this chain loop is where you will later sl when you end this row). 
  1. CH 2 more (4 ch total) to make top of X
  1. Complete final leg of X, see as in Treble Crochet step 4-5 below.

Crossed Treble Crochet stitch: 

  1. YO twice, insert hook into same hole as previous st, draw up a loop (4 loops on hook), and pull through 2 loops on hook to make an SC (hook now has 3 loops on it)
  1. YO again (4 loops now on hook). Sk 2 sts (or look for “O” just like you did for the stitch starting the row), and insert hook into that hole. Draw up a loop and *pull yarn through 2 loops* (4 loops on hook). Repeat from * 3 times, so you have 1 loop left on the hook. You now have both “feet” of your X, and the top-right arm. Looks like an upside down Y with a short tail at the top.
  1. CH 2 to make top of X. Stitch now looks like an upside down Y with an extra long tail at the top.
  1. YO once. Look for a small triangle or A shape at the place where the two legs of your upside-down Y join (the ‘crotch’ of your Y, if you will), one thread is part of the bottom right leg and the other thread is part of the bottom left leg. Insert your hook from right to left into the 2 threads (front threads only). On the next step you will be doing a DC into these two threads to pinch them together and make the bottom of the little triangle disappear, so your XT stitch will have 2 legs that are separate/distinct.
  1. DC (pull up a loop and work off 2 loops, then 2 more). This makes the top-left leg. You now have a complete XT. It should be shaped like an X with a CH-2 across the 2 top legs. Your next XT stitch will start in the same hole that the bottom left leg on your previous XT stitch went into.

Increase Crossed Treble Crochet stitch (increase by 1 XT): 

  1. Look for the hole that the left-bottom leg of your last XT went into. This is where you will be working your whole XT stitch (both “feet” of the XT will be here, and the first foot of your next XT).
  1. YO like you are starting a normal XT, and stitch first SC/leg into the hole mentioned above. 
  2. YO again like normal for the next leg, but then insert hook into the same hole as in step 2,, pull up a loop, and work off loops on hook, 2 stitches at a time, to finish first part of stitch. You have your upside down Y like before, but it looks more like an I because both its legs are squished into the same stitch/hole at the bottom.
  3. CH 2 like normal.
  4. YO like normal and look for your little A / joining of the 2 legs of your upside down Y. It’s a bit harder to see because the legs are together. Work the DC part of the stitch into the little A like normal.
  5. Your increase is done! It should look like a normal/upright Y, really it is an X with the bottom two legs squished together and the top legs outstretched as usual. You will start your next normal XT stitch in the same hole where you made your increase.

Extended Crossed Treble Crochet stitch (EXT): 

Work this the same as an XT stitch but with extra yarn-overs for longer “legs.”

  1. YO 4 times, insert hook into same hole as previous st, draw up a loop (6 loops on hook), and pull yarn through 2 loops on hook 2x to make a DC (hook now has 4 loops on it)
  2. YO 2 times (6 loops on hook again) and insert hook into location for lower-left-hand foot of X. Draw up a loop (7 loops on hook).
  3. Draw through 2 loops on hook twice to make a DC, this is the bottom left leg of the X.
  4. Draw through 2 loops four more times to make top-right arm of X. You now have a “bigger” upside-down Y, like with your original XT stitch.
  5. Ch 2 to make top of X
  6. YO twice. Insert hook into “A” shape at crotch of 2 legs of X just like you did for the XT stitch, and draw up a loop (4 loops on hook). 
  7. Draw through 2 loops on hook, three times, to work off stitches. Your EXT stitch is complete.

To start a new row with an EXT:

  1. ch 3, YO 2x, insert hook for left-hand foot, pull up a loop, and work off 2 loops at a time. Do too of EXT and left-hand arm as for a normal EXT above.

Pattern:

  1. Start with a magic circle (beginners can ch 4 and join with sl) and SC 6 into the space in the middle. Join. (6 SC sts)
  2. *HDC in first st and then 2 HDC in the next 2 sts.* Rep around. Join. (10 HDC sts)
  3. 2 HDC in each st. Join. (20)
  4. *1 HDC, 2 HDC in next stitch,* rep around. Join. (30)
  5. *2 HDC in first stitch, HDC in next 2 STS,* rep around. Join. (40)
  6. *HDC in first 3 sts, 2 HDC in next st,* rep around. Join. (50)
  7. *2 HDC in first st, HDC in next 4 sts,* rep around. Join (60)
  8. *HDC in first 5 st, 2 HDC in next st,* rep around (70)
  9. *2 HDC in first st, HDC in next 6 sts,* rep around. Join. (80)
  10. *HDC in first 7 sts, 2 HDC in next st,* rep around. Join. (90)
  11. *2 HDC in first stitch, HDC in next 8 sts,* rep around. Join. (100)
  12. *HDC in first 9 sts, 2 HDC in next st,* rep around. Join. (110)
  13. *2 HDC in first st, HDC in next 10 sts,* rep around. Join (120)
  14. For first XT of this row, see Crossed Treble Crochet: Starting a row, above. *XT 5 stitches, then do 1 XT increase,* rep around (48 XT)
  15. Repeat for next 6 rows 7 total rows of 48 XT each)
  16. Do 4 rows of EXT stitches (see Extended Crossed Treble Crochet, above) (4 rows of 48 EXT each).
  17. After last EXT stitch, draw up a loop and do single crochet along the rim. For each EXT I did 1 SC stitch in the top right corner hole, one SC into the top of the right-hand arm itself, one SC in the ch2, one SCin the top-left corner hole (4 total SC per stitch, total 192 stitches). NOTE: for a tighter top, do only 3 SC per X instead (one in each corner and one on the ch2).
  18. Repeat 3 more times for 4 total rows of SC. Fasten off.
  1. For straps: There will be 2 straps, each extending down along bag at either end (four total strap-ends). Count SC (or just fold bag) to find each 1/4 corner of bag. Decide if you want straps at each corner, going straight down, or straps just at halfway point, going down on a diagonal (photo used diagonal). 
  2. Use stitch markers to trace a line down your EXT and XT stitches for where the INNER edge of each strap will go. I put mine in a pattern corner to corner on one X, then along the side legs of the X below. Then corner to corner again, etc.:

(Other side of strap would be a mirror image of this line)

  1. Create an SL on thread. Starting at the bottom of your right-hand strap, about 5 rows below the top edge of your bag-bottom, insert hook into stitch in the direction from the inner toward the outer edge of the strap (direction of arrow in image of completed strap. First row is orange in this image)
  2. Draw up a loop and SC into each existing bag-bottom SC stitch, going up.
  3. SC along stitch markers: in an XT, do 1 SC in each bottom leg and 2 SC in each top leg. In an EXT, do 2 SC in each bottom leg and 3 SC in each top leg.
  4. Once you reach top rows of bag (the rim of SCs above EXTs), work your new SCs for strap into rim SCs, going up. At edge of bag, chain 60 for smaller size straps that can hang off forearm (as in photo) or ch 120+ to be able to hang bag off shoulder. 
  5. To start downward half of first strap, make sure chain is flat and hasn’t twisted on itself. Now SC into rim of SCs downward. For diagonal straps as pictured, leave 1 stitch space between strap first row going up, and same row going down. Check for size/fit of straps. 
  6. When you reach bottom of bag, SC into bag-bottom SCs as you did when starting this strap. At 5th stitch, pull up a loop and rotate.
  7. For second row of strap, you will SC into bag on OUTside edge of strap:  Do this only into SCs (so, at bag-bottom at both ends and at bag-rim on both sides). For this row, do not stitch into X stitches at all, just SC into prior strap row. continue When you reach starting point, pull up a loop and turn again.
  8. For 3rd row, again SC into bag-bottom, going up. This time for each 5th stitch, SC around the closest X-leg you can find, to anchor the strap to that leg. SC into bag rim again. And going down again for every 5th stitch, SC around an X leg and then SC into bag bottom.
  9. For 4th row of strap, repeat 2nd row (no anchoring except in SCs at bag-bottom and rim). For 5th row, repeat 3rd row (anchor at bag bottom and bag rim, also anchor every 5th stitch over Xes into an X leg). Fasten off.
  10. Repeat with other strap.

Recent Recipes

1 December 2009

Recipes I like a lot. Comment if you try one! (or if you have questions)

The first two are family favorites for winter. My mom was raised on a farm, so it’s not haute cuisine, but I like them. Middle 2 are easy desserts I discovered in college, and the last 2 (a dessert and a light lunch) are favorites I found in the last 3 months.

Overview:

  • Ragoût de Boulettes – French Canadian “farm fare” stew of potatoes and spiced meat balls. Looks gross, tastes great
  • Tourtière – Another French Canadian winter dish; this one a spiced-meat pie. Similar blend of spices, different form.
  • Oatmeal Brown Sugar Cookies – I made these a lot in college. They’re tasty.
  • Kolache – Midwestern take on the traditional Ukranian treat.
  • Lattice-top Blackberry Pie – OMG YES. So good with light vanilla ice cream. External links: Pie, crust. Even better the day after.
  • Zucchini Quiche – More vegetable than quiche, easy and cheap [cue joke]. A funny little recipe & a recent favorite of mine.

Ragoût de Boulettes

Hearty “farm fare” stew of potatoes and spiced-meat balls. Feel free to double the spices, and note that the flavor is better if you let the spices mix into the ground meat overnight.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large potatoes
  • 2 lb ground pork or 1/2lb ground pork with 1 1/2lb beef [beef alone and the meatballs will fall apart; you can use lean pork and beef to limit the fat, but some grease is necessary for the meatballs to cohere]
  • 1 medium white onion minced as fine as possible and blanched in a bit of oil/butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves [a little less if anyone has a sensitive stomach]
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg [a little less if anyone has a sensitive stomach]
  • 1 1/2 quart of boiling water
  • about 1/2 c flour

Pots, Pans, People:

  • 1 large stock pot
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • 1 gallon-size bag
  • 3-4 children: 1 or 2 on potatoes, 1 to form the boulettes, 1 to flour and add them to the pot

1. Thaw meat thoroughly and put with spices in a gallon-sized ziplock or freezer bag. Close bag and knead meat together with spices until fully blended [you can instead just do this with your hands, in a bowl, if you are not what my mother describes as “skeemish”]. Let sit in fridge for 3 hours at least.

2. Put water on to boil

3. Slice potatoes into 1 1/2″ – 2″ cubes – not too thin!

4. Have someone else start shaping the boulettes to about 1 1/2 inch in diameter, and they or a third person can roll them around in the flour until thoroughly dusted all over with it. As they are rolled, add into boiling water gently (don’t splash!). It’s OK if they’re not choked with flour, but they need that thin protective coating to help prevent them from falling apart as they cook.

5. Once the meatballs are all in, put some of hot water into flour, blend thoroughly, and then add mix into pot. Give meatballs maybe 5 min so the last ones have had a chance to start cooking, then add in the potatoes.

6. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hour or thereabouts, until potatoes are all cooked and a meatball, split, is gray on the inside. Serve hot!

Bonus Tips:

  • BE AWARE that this looks gross. I said “farm fare,” and I meant it; it’s greyish and weird-looking. However, the aroma is good, and when it’s piping hot this is super tasty.
  • When it cools, there may be a bit of grease from the meat at the top. skim that off and reheat the rest and it’s just as tasty. Tastier if you ignore the fat and just reheat it altogether. Farm fare; “put meat on your bones,” etc.
  • Leftovers suspect after 3 days of refrigeration, but until then freezes well – just label it clearly so you remember what it is.

 

Tourtière

French-Canadian TourtiereFrench-Canadian meat pie. My mom used to make this and give to friends around Christmas. This is really great with gravy (turkey gravy is ok; beef gravy is better) and a side of mashed potatoes, even cold for breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • 2 uncooked pie crusts
  • 1 pound of ground pork or 1/4 pound pork with 3/4 pound beef
  • 1 small onion minced as fine as possible and blanched in oil or butter
  • 1 garlic clove smashed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp savory
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves if no one has a sensitive stomach
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pots & Pans:

  • Medium or large saucepan with cover
  • Pie pan

1. Mix everything in the pan then add 2 cups of water. Put the heat on and bring to a boil.

2. Cook on medium heat for half an hour or so.

3. Let meat rest and cool for 35 min to an hour (longer is better). You have to do this because if one puts the meat in the pie dough when the meat is warm, the crust will be soggy and nasty. Yes, the cooled meat will look weird, but go ahead and put it in the pie shell.

4. Cook at 425°F for 25 min or 375°F for 45 min.


 

Oatmeal Brown-Sugar Cookies

Easy, chewy, tasty. I made these a lot in college when I didn’t have white sugar on hand, and I used dark chocolate chips instead of M&M’s.

Time: 30-min prep, 10-min bake
Yield: 3-5 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2c firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1c butter, softened (or substitute with Canola oil RIGHT from the fridge)
  • 1 egg
  • 2c uncooked quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1c milk chocolate M&Ms (or choc chips)

1. Heat oven to 375°F Combine brown sugar, butter, and egg in one large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add all remaining ingredients. Beat until well mixed. Stir in M&Ms.

2. Drop dough by tablespoonsfull, 2″ apart, onto UNGREASED cookie sheets. Bake for 10-14min or until light golden brown on edges. Let stand 1 min; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely.

Per cookie: 100 calories, 13g net carbs

Bonus Tips:

  • keep the cookies small since they’re the spreading, chewy kind and the edges and undersides will want to burn.
  • Remove from oven early, when the middles look less damp and you see the first “blush” of color on the edges.

 

Kolache

Midwestern take on the Ukranian treat that wandered over to Denmark and Germany and eventually over here to become the almighty cream-cheese Danish.
So bad. So good. So incredibly tasty.

Ingredients – Pastry:

1:

  • 1 lb butter (or margarine)
  • 4c flour

2:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

3:

  • 1 tbspn yeast
  • 1c sour cream

Ingredients – Filling:

  • 1 pkg cream cheese
  • 1/4c sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients – Other:

  • powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F

2. In one bowl, mix filling. In 3 additional, separate small bowls mix sections 1, 2, 3. Combine 2 & 3, then both with 1.

3. Roll out on powdered sugar; cut into 3″ or 4″ strips; cut those into squares, and cut those into triangles [I don’t do any of this cutting; it cooks fine as one massive roll that you can slice].

4. Cover with 1/8 inch filling and roll each triangle up as though it were a crescent roll, rolling the hypotenuse over and over toward the right-angled corner [I just fold the whole thing over like a giant burrito].

5. Bake on a baking sheet at 350°F.


 

“OMG Yes” Lattice-Top Blackberry Pie

External links:

Bonus Tips:

  • For flakier crust, leave half the butter clumps pea-sized. The recipe lies when it says it’ll be soggy if you do that.
  • Don’t forget to mix the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and tapioca together before you throw in the other stuff (I did and had to take care of starch clumps)
  • Do leave that extra half inch of dough along the edge to keep stuff contained. If like me you’re greedy and put in a little extra berries, it’ll want to spill over a little while it’s cooking. That means burnt sugar, which means lots of smoke.

  •  

    Easy Zucchini Quiche

    Here’s a vegetable quiche recipe I keep making because (a) it’s absurdly easy, (b) I’m poor and it’s a cheap, filling, healthy meal, and (c) it’s more veggie than quiche, so it’s not the dehydrated broccoli-bacon thing most of us think of as “quiche” and have learned to avoid at potlucks.

    Pastry ingredients:

    • scant 1c whole-wheat flour
    • 1c all-purpose flour
    • 1/2c margarine (butter will make an oilier, crispier crust)

    Pots & Pans:

    • 1 lg (!) saucepan
    • 1 9-10 inch tart or souffle pan deeper than 1″ (I use a 1″ cake pan and have to reserve some of the eggs and zucchini since otherwise it WILL overflow in the oven and smell gross.)

    Filling ingredients:

    • 1 red onion, thinly sliced [I prefer 1 lg yellow onion]
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 lg zucchini, sliced
    • 6 oz grated cheese [supposed to be hard goat cheese, but I like cheddar and make it 8 oz. Don’t grate until it’s time to add it.]
    • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped [or 2 tsp dried. I know that’s a no-no for basil because the taste is so different, but I like it fine.]
    • 3 eggs, beaten [with the salt and pepper as well as the milk! I keep forgetting!]
    • 1 1/4c milk [or plain soymilk]
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper

    Instructions – The Gist: Blind-bake the pie crust, and while that’s going on soften the zucchini and onion in the saucepan. Dump that in the pie crust, top with cheese, pour egg mix over it, top with a bit more cheese, and bake.

    Instructions – The Long version:
    1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut margarine into blended flours and mix to a firm dough using ice water.

    2. Roll out pastry; line pan and prick base. Chill for 30 min.

    3. Blind-bake shell (line with paper and fill with beans or rice) on a baking sheet for 20 min, uncovering for final 5 so it can crisp up [I do this in the baking pan, not a baking sheet, and leave it covered because I don’t really care if it’s crispy].

    4. Meanwhile, sweat onion in oil for 5 minutes until soft. Add zucchini and fry for another 5 minutes [I just keep going until they look softened a bit, but still a little spongy – not “cooked”].

    5. Spoon the onions and zucchini into pastry shell. [You can fit more if you kind of stack them into the edges and work your way inward, but don’t insist on putting them all in. Better to leave a little margin at the top for the eggs to puff up than to have it overflow in the oven when they do.]

    6. Scatter most of the cheese and all of the basil on top [BEFORE ADDING EGGS!].

    7. Beat together the eggs, milk, and seasoning and pour over the filling [leave a margin for eggs to puff!]. Top with remaining cheese.

    8. Turn the oven down to 350°F and cook the quiche for about 40 min, until risen and just firm to the touch in the center. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

    Bonus Tips:

    • My pan’s a little shallow so I always have extra egg-milk mix. I soak it into English muffins, top with more cheese and basil, microwave until cooked, and snack on that while the quiche is cooking.
    • The quiche tastes way better if it’s allowed to cool down completely and THEN sit around at room temperature for a few hours and re-soak up its juices.
    • I haven’t experimented with putting a bit of cheese halfway through the zucchini. Worth a shot.

stratagems

25 October 2009

Current job-hunting strategy: a 4-pronged approach involving the following:

  • 1 – Shoot for volume and cross my fingers: Apply to every entry-level / salesperson position within 3 miles of my apartment.
  • 2 – Take the initiative to capitalize on what I do know how to do: Establish contact and send my resume to every tech and web-industry company in town, and a few out of town.
  • 3 – Finish setting myself up as a freelancer: Take the Elance tests, update and upload my portfolio, and develop some kind of vision / standards / brand identity that I can use to market myself successfully.
  • 4 – Educate myself: Refresh myself on web design in general, CSS and XHTML specifically, and try to teach myself some PHP. Also, thoroughly research how to write bang-up proposals, since a poorly structured or phrased proposal would destroy my chances at contracts.

The freelancing setup stuff is taking an inordinate amount of time because it’s deep water to jump into as a newbie. Where with my former company I was part of one department and worked in close contact with Sales, Marketing, Account Management, and Development now I will need to sell, market, and account-manage myself.

It’s a pain in the ass to generate some kind of product / brand identity for yourself completely “cold.” I don’t have years in operation to back me when I say, “YES, I CAN deliver exactly what you want, how you want it, in ways that will not only enhance the value of the overall product but also mesh perfectly with current SEO standards.” </whining>

Sigh. The truth is I am trying [AGAIN] to manage too much at once. I will try to have my Elance basic testing on track sometime tomorrow and hopefully get going on uploading my portfolio and preparing for the SEO exam, but I am making a bigger deal of it than it should be. I’m letting the fact of unemployment stress me out. Well, onward and upward.

The hiking helps.

Recent work:

In other news, my “big” site for the surgeon who’s the “go-to guy” internationally for cosmetic breast surgery went live last week.

To see it, Google “G Patrick Maxwell” and click the 1st link in the results. It’s a beast in terms of usability (their old design was flash-only and basically invisible to search engines; we reconstructed the entire site to look exactly the same but using HTML in SEO-friendly coldfusion files instead).

Good to see it up, though.

See another one I wrote not as recently: Google “great lakes plastic and hand surgery” and click the 1st result. I did the copy, optimization, and a bit of usability testing and marketing work for each.

yesterday

22 October 2009

hmm … sorry ’bout that. If I get into a foul mood, I kind of block myself off, push myself to a nadir, then laugh at the absurdity of the whole kit and caboodle, and I’m fine. The logic lingers and terrorizes me, particularly when it’s true, but mostly it’s ah, survival instincts. Push me to the point where I just shut up my whining and do what needs to be done, you know?

yeah.

12 Monkeys (Review)

4 October 2009

Premise: Penal colony prisoner James Cole (Willis) must travel back in time from the year 2035 to find the cause of a virus that killed five billion people in 1997.
Metacritic score: 74

My Take:

I thought it did a decent job but was still surprisingly distracted and …dry — odd, considering all it had going for it:

  • Relatively tight time-travel storyline (minus plotholes in the last 5 min.),
  • Pretty good acting (ok, so I’m a bit tired of Bruce Willis as the lunkheaded savior, but we know this role. We can work with it),
  • Some stellar opportunities to say “something” without getting preachy

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, that I wanted my brain rattled a bit more, but this one just didn’t have the focus or the guts to step into my space, grab me by the collar, and shake me around, which I think in better hands it could have done well.

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in 12 MonkeysAdmittedly, I was craving a little more details on the sci-fi mechanisms because I just love that stuff, but I understand when something else has to supercede those issues. My problem, though: here, nothing did.

I typically don’t like movies with an explicit moral, but in science fiction I expect to confront something gripping and dangerous. I’m with Ursula LeGuin in believing sci-fi exists so that we can face certain issues head-on in ways we can’t when we articulate them within the constraints of the normal world only.

But this movie was trying to do too much at once, and under the accumulated weight it kind of …sagged.

Yes, there’s something a bit brilliant in Pitt’s crazy-guy performance, yes, the suspense of the search pushes some of the right buttons. And yes, humanity’s self-destruction carries some fresh sadness because even in a world with time travel, that destruction is unalterable. But (and this is partly my post-Matrix jadedness speaking) it wasn’t enough.

The “we deserve to be annihilated” angle didn’t play out; the “psychiatry is the new religion” angle didn’t play out, and the vague, bloodless little romance between Willis’ and Stowe’s characters just never had me. We know the ending all along, so the movie fails insofar as it’s banking on that particular question, but it also fails to offer anything better.

Time travel, police chase, postapocalyptic cautionary tale – this one mixed them all up, and that’s fine, but in the end it spread itself too thin trying to explain where it was and wasn’t what, and it lost me.

New Apartment & The Blog Design “Fudge Factor”

1 September 2009

1. New apartment

Signed the lease, made the deposit, got the keys today …
Was delayed at all of it because I had to train two plastic surgeons on how to use WordPress. I’m confident and clear and adult on the training part; it’s interacting with the receptionists and managing the how’dye-do beforehand that I still need to work on. Doctors I get, even when they’re the arrogant type.

It went well. They’re cool people. A bunch of stuff came up in the process with this one, though, since these blogs are getting really design-heavy and it’s compromising the blog-ness and the usability for those docs (like this pair) who want to do their own blogging and blog management themselves.

2. Blogs: The one place where “great” design might be a bad thing

excellent design, but not good for my little blogging heartIn a certain way, we’re running into problems because we are TOO good at what we do. We come up with ridiculously attractive sites, and then we implement these incredibly jazzy, streamlined, uber-functional blog layouts that are just packed with features, but don’t look …. personal. And that’s a problem, because blogs are supposed to be personal, supposed to feel on-the-fly and open and accessible. They can be clean and sexy, but above all they need to feel honest.

In fact, for a while some highly successful sites were deliberately implementing designs that looked like crap to make them feel more personable to people.

For example, check out this former design for Implantforum. This is a site that charges plastic surgeons a (ridiculously high) price to post their contact information, profiles, and lists of procedures online.

When they had that layout, they frequently had a lot of trouble getting surgeons to pay thousands of dollars for a year’s posting, since to a surgeon their layout looked unacceptably shabby… but breast augmentation patients didn’t see it that way. They saw that crummy banner with “A breast resource by Rebecca,” and they thought, “this is something made by someone like me for someone like me; I can trust what it says.”

The site was structured well on the back end and it ranks ridiculously well; it’s just the presentation that sucks … on purpose.

The moral of my story: Don’t overdo it. If I feel marketed to by a blog that’s claiming to be someone’s personal voice, something’s badly wrong.

6 Steps to Cyberstalk Yourself

26 August 2009

People are messy. The internets are messy. We leave bits and pieces of ourselves all over the place online, more or less publicly, and it’s actually not too tough for some crazy person to put the picture together and find out personal things like your home address and your terrible attempts at poetry from 10th grade.

In the interests of letting you know what people might turn up, and at the risk of sounding … well, pretty creepy … here’s how to nose around outside of Facebook. MySpace, and Linkedin and pick up at least some of the cluttery bits and pieces of “you” that you’ve left about like so many used socks.

Note: There are plenty of ways angry exes and so on can cyberstalk your Facebook profile, even with privacy controls, and you can find those ways online as well. I’m not posting those here because I think the details we’ve forgotten we shared pose more problems than the ones we re-notice daily.

Setup

Make a list of your past and present user names, email addresses, and the towns and states where you’ve lived. You will probably turn up more below; add these to the list as you find them. To start, you will pick one of these fact items about you and see how far you can go through these steps. When you’ve exhausted one, try another. Remember: most people who’ve had any contact with you, online or not, probably have access to more than one of these.

Step 1: Search your email address

  • Why: Most people use the same email address to create login IDs for everything from Amazon.com to their blog and their online music service. Even if you’ve got decently stringent privacy controls in place (and I do), most people who’ve had any online contact with you whatsoever have access to some kind of email address for you, for example your MSN or yahoo instant messenger ID. Also, plenty of us use the same user ID for other things as we use for our email. Either is a good starting point.
  • How: Google whatever appears before the “@” in the email addresses you use most often. In the unlikely event that none of these yields anything, try one or more user IDs you’ve used.

Step 2: Search your name only

  • Why: This is second and not first on the list because unless your name is Sharayah Buonassisi, Googling your name will yield a whole mess of other people who aren’t you. The awkward, creepy solution: Whitepages.com. If someone knows the state you are or have been in, even if you were not the one paying the phone bill, this awful little tool can give them as much information as your age, middle name, alternate phone numbers, the names and ages of everyone in your household, and — creepiest of all — your home address.
  • How: Enter your first and last name or first initial and last name into whitepages.com. If someone doesn’t know your town, they can pick a town in the likely general area and under advanced settings select the option that allows them to include surrounding areas in their search, and get your location that way. Chances are, though, that they turned up your town in Step 1.

Step 3: Search your name plus your location

  • Why: More likely than not you’ve been mentioned in some past job’s Web site or local newsletter or church bulletin or book club attendance sheet that some helpful soul posted online, and chances are someone putting the “who” and the “where” together can turn up most of this stuff.
  • How: Google your name in quotes (or out of them) along with all or part of the name of a town you’ve lived or worked in, currently or in the past. Start out omitting the state, but if you’re turning up too many results, try variations on the town plus the state or province, or the state or province alone. Attempt variations on the state name, including the postal code (e.g., “CA”), the Associated Press abbreviation (e.g., “Calif.”), and the full state name.

Step 4: Check your phone number

  • Why: Most of us are pretty cautious about how we share our cell phone numbers, but you might have forgotten you included it somewhere. Worth checking? Heck yes.
  • How: Google your phone number, including area code and both with and without dashes. You can also do a reverse phone lookup on our old friend whitepages and see if your address and other personal information pop up (again).

Step 5: Read what you find

  • Why: This is the “Web,” after all, and chances are that most of the results you turned up either links to another information source about you, or provides key information about your hobbies, interests, and, especially, activities on other sites that will provide more details about you, or resources to find more details about you. Example: posting on one blog a reference to the host for a previous one that you closed but didn’t delete. Even if the posts are inaccessible, most likely the profile is still visible to the public.
  • How: Read everything you find. Paste it into a file, highlight key details, and add relevant information to the list and use that to go through these steps again. Even though this is 6 on the list, it’s probably the most important step on this list. Get creative.

Step 6: Do it all over again with another search engine

  • Why: Each search engine handles information a little differently, so some of them notice and value pages that the others will not find relevant to your searches.
  • How: Re-enter any or all of your Google search queries into Yahoo and/or Bing.