Category Archives: Stuff I Like

The Joys of Writing a Personal Bio

As a freelance writer who specializes in web content for business,  I often write about topics which I initially know little to nothing about. Sometimes these topics are even quite technical – like a series of web pages that I recently wrote for a company that designs and build data centres. I’m actually pretty comfortable writing about topics that I’m not totally comfortable with.

Recently, I was asked to write a short (under 200 word) bio about myself for a martial arts club where I am an assistant instructor. Easy, right? I mean, if I can write 5000 words about data centre design, surely it should be no problem to write 170 words about myself!

But the truth is that it was way more challenging than I anticipated.

I quickly drafted up a bio that described my experience and training. It was accurate and to the point. And it was utterly boring! It gave the “what” but not the “who”. It was clinical and without any of my personality – ugg!

For the first time in some time, I was experiencing writer’s block.

So I decided to consult Professor Google. In the search bar, I typed the question “how to write a personal bio”.  One of the first things that struck me was how many people – including professional writers – struggled with this seemingly simple task.

The second thing that struck me is how much conflicting advice is out there. Some people advised not to include unrelated hobbies and others said that by all means, you should include them! Some advised being serious and professional and others recommended using some humour. .

Since there didn’t appear to be one “right” way to do this, I started pulling out the advice that felt the most right to me. Some professionals say not to include anything unrelated to your core message (ie. no hobbies etc.) My opinion is that’s ridiculous – even for a business bio. If I can’t be a real person with a prospective employer or client, they are probably not the type of person I’d like to work with anyway. But make your own call on this.

After compiling the advice that I actually agreed with along with some sample bios that I really liked, it was time to try again. I started by jotting down some notes of things I might say if I were sitting face to face with someone and telling them about my marital arts training.

I then took these points and started to work them into my old boring version of my bio. The results were so much better!

See the difference for yourself:

Old boring version:

Kristen first started practicing martial arts during her early twenties. She spent several years training at a WTF-style taekwondo club in Niagara Falls where she earned her first degree black belt in 2003 and her second degree in 2005.

After moving to London, Kristen started looking for a new place to train. Eventually she came across Ryoku Seikido and has been here ever since. Since all of the ITF-style taekwondo patterns as well as the Aikido portion of the curriculum were new to her, Kristen once again moved up through the ranks, participating in belt exams until she earned her first and second degree black belts in Seikido in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

New more interesting version:

Kristen has been practicing martial arts since her early twenties. She enjoys all aspects of her training even though she wishes doboks were a bit more flattering.

She earned her first and second degree black belts in WTF-style Taekwondo while training at a club in Niagara Falls. This period of training included a 10 month stretch in which she was the only female in her class – nevertheless, she enjoyed the challenge of sparring with stronger and heavier opponents.

After moving to London, Kristen started looking for a new place to train. Eventually she came across Ryoku Seikido where she was introduced to the ITF-style Taekwondo patterns and Aikido. Instantly attracted to both the diverse curriculum and the supportive learning environment, Kristen remained at Ryoku where she earned her first degree black belt in Seikido in 2013 and her second degree in 2014.

When she is not busy teaching, training or drilling patterns in her living room, you can find her ballroom dancing with her husband, spending time in the garden or working on her freelance writing business.

Maybe it’s just me – but I feel like the person described in the second bio is more interesting don’t you?

I’d love to hear thoughts from others. Have you ever struggled to write a personal bio? What are your best tips for writing one?

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My first blog of spring

It’s been a bit too long since I’ve posted anything here on my own blog. It’s not that I haven’t been writing lately, because I have. Just not here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written web content for a cosmetic surgeon, a physiotherapy clinic, and a renovation company as well as lots of articles about SEO, web design and re-marketing among other things.

I’m also writing again for Weather Democracy – a new social site where weather enthusiasts can test their forecasting skills.

And then there’s my gardening articles that I’ve been doing for close to a year now … I was recently congratulated by that client because I was successfully able to come up with enough season-appropriate topics related to gardening (albeit sometimes loosely related) to make it through the winter. Now that it’s spring again, writing about gardening should be considerably easier.

And now that it’s spring (the first full day of it in fact) it’s also a good time to take a few moments and post something for myself. I for one, am very happy that we are starting to see some sun and warmer weather – and I feel sorry for the folks in the Maritimes who have snowstorms again in the forecast this weekend.

For me, the first full day of spring was spent with my husband and in-laws. We took them out to the Pinecroft for lunch at the Green Frog Tea Room, stopping en-route to purchase some honey from Clovermead. If you live in the London area, I highly recommend both of these places. Pinecroft is incredibly beautiful and romantic and Clovermead is the only place we get our honey.

This weekend also happens to be the last weekend of March break for schools here in Ontario. Now as far as work goes, this means nothing to me – I still have to work at my day job. What it does mean though is a week long break from Seikido (my martial arts class). And that meant free evenings – something I don’t have very often. It was a great break but I’m definitely ready to go back.

And it was the ideal time to have a break too because this coming week at work promises to be especially busy with two major events, a board meeting and a strategic planning session.

And I’ll be back to martial arts.

And I’ve got lots more freelance writing to do.

But spring has sprung, the days are getting longer – and hopefully soon, it will be warm enough to do at least some of my writing el fresco while enjoying the sights , sounds and aromas of springtime.

The gift of music in Empty Bowls

There are some fundraisers which not only help to raise money for a great cause, but they’re so immensely enjoyable and community minded, they can’t help but be a success. The Empty Bowls fundraiser in London Ontario, hosted by the London Potters’ Guild is one of those events.

Until recently, I was unaware of this sold out event (now in its third year), but when a co-worker suggested that a group of us attend I found the concept so appealing that I jumped at the chance.

For the ticket price of $25, you attend either a brunch, lunch or dinner. Upon arrival you get to select from a variety of one-of-a-kind pottery bowls made by local artists. Bowl in hand, you then have your choice of a dozen different soups each made by a local restaurant – some of the choices that I recall are seafood chowder, black bean and red pepper, beef and potato, maple parsnip and bacon, and jalapeno cheddar. There is also bread, tea, and coffee etc.

You enjoy a wonderful light meal, come away with a gorgeous pottery bowl and at the same time help a great cause as the proceeds are donated to a different local charity each year.

This year the event was in support of El Sistema Aeolian – a charity connected with the Aeolian Hall. Inspired by the award-winning program that started in Venezuela, El Sistema Aleolian provides instrument loans and music lessons to children who would otherwise not be able to afford them – a pretty great concept in my opinion.

And what I loved about this event was the it was the combination of so many great concepts and wonderful community partners – the local artists who put in time and materials to create the pottery bowls, the many local restaurants who donated the most delicious soups, the volunteers who ran the event, and the amazing charity that it supported this year!

While this was my first experience with the Empty Bowls fundraiser, I certainly hope it won’t be my last. This is definitely the type of event that I could see becoming a yearly tradition for me.

My highlights for 2014

Taking some time and writing out the highlights of my year has become a tradition for me. Typically, I just post these on Facebook – but this year, I thought I would share them with my blog followers as well.

We were so blessed in 2014! Here is my list of 10 highlights in no particular order (except that I couldn’t narrow it down to only 10 – so this year there’s 11!)

~ My writing business has flourished – I gained two amazing new regular clients and a few occasional/one-time ones as well.
~ I got my second second-degree black belt (no, that is not a stutter!)
~ Werner and I enjoyed a wonderful relaxing vacation in Washington DC and Tennessee – visiting Werner’s brother Mike and sister-in-law Victoria.
~ Werner and I got out picture taken with the Stanley Cup in downtown London during the Memorial Cup. We had no idea that it was going to be there – we just decided to take a walk downtown to see what was going on and there it was!
~ We went stand-up-paddleboarding (which I had been obsessed with since I read an article about it in my optometrist’s office in 2013)
~ My Mom visited London during the summer – we had fun playing tour guide – taking her around Port Stanley, and for lunch at the Green Frog Tea Room. (And my Mom learned the word “selfie”!)
~ Werner and I saw Damned Yankees at Huron Country Playhouse (with Werner’s parents) and Through the Looking Glass at Stratford (just us).
~ Enjoyed a lovely beer and wine tasting tour in Niagara with friends Rob and Emilie.
~ Won a six-month Wine Club membership from Konzelmann’s
~ Went to Markham for Werner’s Aunt’s 80th birthday party and visited friends Fraser and JoAnn.
~ Met Chris Hadfield at a book signing – got my books signed. Really enjoyed reading his first book!

St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout ~ The Beer that Made Me Like Beer

To say that I never used to be much of a beer person is a pretty gross understatement. Wine yes. Beer, not so much. I’d occasionally take a sip from my husband’s glass thinking that maybe this time, I’ll like it…. but nope. My rating system went from completely disgusting to only mildly revolting. “Mildly revolting” was pretty high praise for me.

If I did drink beer, I’d usually go for something flavoured or mix it into a shandy – that would be ok.

Why did I not like beer?

Previously, my exposure to beer had pretty much been limited to a few brands of lagers. And to be honest, I’m still not much of a lager fan. But like many people who claim they don’t like wine, I had really only tried a very small selection of beers. Occasionally when I would tell someone that I didn’t like beer, I would be met with the response – “you just haven’t found one that you like.”

Well.. um… obviously!

And then one day…

While attending a Food and Wine show in London, Ontario – I came across an exhibitor booth for St. Ambroise The young guy and gal at the booth encouraged me to try the oatmeal stout. I was skeptical for sure – after all wouldn’t a darker beer only be that same flavour that I didn’t like – but stronger?

But what I found was a slightly sweet, slightly chocolaty, slightly espresso-y treat! It’s not that it didn’t taste like beer, because it definitely did – it was just different somehow. In a good way!

This beer was – kind of yummy!

After that experience, the world of craft beer has been slowly opening up for me. I’ve discovered a few other beers that I enjoy – including some reds and even some ales. Since that time I’ve even toured a few micro-breweries in the region and discovered some other great brews.

But my favourite – my go to when I’d like to have a beer rather than sip on a glass of wine – it’s still St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout.

About St. Ambroise beers

Brewed by McAuslan, a micro brewery in Quebec, Canada – these beers have won a number of awards both at home and internationally.

Stuff I Like – Great Customer Service

This week my computer got very sick indeed. I had what some have called the black screen of death and I could not access my windows or really do anything. As a freelance writer, this is not a mere frustration – this is the loss of a critical tool in my business.

Now you should know that I don’t have the most expensive computer in the world – it’s actually a pretty cheap one because it’s what I felt that I could afford at the time. I purchased it at the big blue and yellow place.  You should also know that my computer is less than one year old and the hardware is still under warranty. But alas, my problem was a software issue.

So despite having other plans, I put those off and jumped in the car with my poor, sick computer off to that big blue and yellow place – right to their computer service counter.

With barely a second glace blue and yellow guy says that it will cost me $190 to have my computer fixed. Ouch!

Feeling for me, my husband came to my rescue. He was calm but quite adamant that a retail giant like the big blue and yellow place should do better for their customers – especially when a computer is only one year old.

Now here is the part where I witnessed some serious customer service – BAD customer service. We talked to the manager and the manager’s manager and they both talked down to us and acted very arrogant – refusing even to empathize with us.

Now let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that because this is a big chain they have to take orders from head office and their hands are tied on their price – I suspect that this is the case .

It still does not excuse downright rude behaviour – and that is how I feel we were treated at the big blue and yellow place. As a customer, I would like to at least feel understood.

In the end, we left the big blue and yellow place with my sick computer.

Next.

My husband called Ken at Med IT who said we could bring over my poor, sick computer right away (I’m sure, well past his normal working hours). A day and half later, my computer is up and running and feeling much better! Not to mention the fact that Ken didn’t charge nearly as much as the blue and yellow place.

Now that is what I call great customer service! And do you want to guess who’s business I will be recommending in the future?

Not the blue and yellow place!