A magical distraction

Despite my to-do list, calendar invites and collection of blazers, I’m very much a child.

I’ve loved musicals since I saw Beauty and the Beast as a toddler with my mom. I still go to every Disney movie opening weekend, and I find myself the most focused at work when I listen to the Pocahontas soundtrack. And the latest Beauty and the Beast movie? I saw it five times in the theatre this spring.

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But due a variety of circumstances growing up, I didn’t ever get a chance to have the typical Disney World experience. I desperately wanted to go, but it was impossible for our family. So I buried my childhood longing for the magic of Disney World in Disney movies played on repeat to make me smile on tough days.

And when I was 11, I found myself swallowed up in a world of magic again, this time with Harry Potter. The awkward discomfort of my teenage years had a bright light at Hogwarts. I would read the books over and over again. I’d win trivia contests at midnight release parties of the books, and I wept when the series ended the summer before my eighteenth birthday. I, for a moment, thought about skipping college all together to work at Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.


20121258_10154637415982321_842053599692766829_o.jpgAnd then I became a driven, Slytherin adult: focused on college, then a career, then a business, then a marriage. And the magic got a bit dimmer. I’d travel, but somehow, Disney World dropped further and further down my list. I’d tell myself:

I’m too old to go to Disney World for fun. I don’t have children. And children go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Studios. Orlando is hot. Kevin doesn’t care about going to Disney World. It’s too much money to just live out a fantasy.

But then last January, Kevin and I were daydreaming and looking up deals for a summer vacation. I was looking at booking an Airbnb in Destin, a week on the beach. I wanted a beach vacation, with books and cocktails and sand, but Kevin wanted to do something fun. So we started looking into Orlando, and I emailed my amazing travel agent.


Two days later on a cold day in January, we booked the trip on a whim for six days in July.

We spent three amazing days at Universal Studios. And the first time I walked into Diagon Alley, my jaw dropped. I didn’t speak for almost 20 minutes, in awe. I squeezed Kevin’s hand hard when we rode the Hogwarts Express. I slurped butter beer. I felt my eyes well up with tears when I saw the Hogwarts castle for the first time. And I cried during the wand choosing ceremony at Ollivander’s, because I felt that same magic of reading Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time.


I had the best time wandering through Universal Studios, soaking up every bit of magic in the park. I cast spells with my wand and wore my Slytherin hat with pride. I didn’t think it could get any better.

And on a hot Tuesday, I wore a Minnie Mouse shirt and headed to Disney World for the last day of our trip. We walked through the gates at Magic Kingdom, and I was giddy when I saw Cinderella’s castle, finally, in person.

And then the crowds. And then the heat. And then the lines and the children screaming and the overpriced food.

It wasn’t that Disney World wasn’t magical. It just wasn’t perfect.

But at the end of a down pour in the afternoon, a dinner with a spilled beer and the inability to find the perfect souvenir, we did get 15 perfect minutes. The Happily Ever After Fireworks Show was everything I wanted Disney to be: music and singing and a beautiful, sparkling experience.

The tears that I cried were mixed with sweat, and I spent most of those magical moments rubbing my eyes, trying to see what I had waited my whole life to see.

But the real magic at Wizarding and Disney Worlds wasn’t in the lights and the sounds and the parks.  It was in the Mickey Mouse sugar cookie I split with my husband on the steps of Main Street. It was the smile he sent my way in the line in the Forbidden Journey ride at Islands of Adventure. It was not wearing make-up for six days — the first time I’d done that since high school.

The real magic of Orlando isn’t at the theme parks. It’s the out of office message on your email. It’s the sun on your face for days. It’s the beautiful, humid distraction from real life.


And every child loves a good distraction.

Finding a passion for writing

I wrote my first story when I was six.

It was about two horses, and I had drawings to match. The horses had names I can’t remember, and they were (poorly) drawn on my dad’s pale yellow legal pad paper. I stapled them together, and that was my first story.

My mom laughs when she talks about the other early stories I wrote. I had a common theme of writing about my wedding, which was a tad disconcerting because I struggled to spell “husband” correctly. But one common thread from my elementary days to essays in college was that my writing was significantly better when I was passionate about a subject.

I write every day in my job for Springfield Public Schools’ communications department. I write blurbs for e-newsletters and press releases for our website; I write tweets and Instagram captions. I love putting texture into my writing with emojis and alliteration. I love including little subtle bits of slang on Twitter as a wink and a nod to our high school students. It’s fun, but I sometimes have to fake it a bit. Most days, the passion’s not there in my writing, and for those who have been reading my writing for a long time, you can tell.

So I have to find inspiration outside of my 9 to 5 to fuel my creativity in the words that I type. I’ve been reading more; I’ve been writing more for fun. I’ve been taking long walks in the evenings with my husband, talking through story ideas and being much more selective in the television shows I watch. I’ve been eating better and drinking less wine. I’ve been creating spaces in my day where I take a quick mental break and separate myself from the grind to create space for innovation and quality.

As I get older, I’m finding more and more that passion is something you find, not something you have inherently. I’m passionate about the mission of the company I work for and often life-changing practices of our district. I’m passionate about a great lead sentence. I’m passionate about creating visually interesting graphics that celebrate our students’ accolades. I’m passionate about helping my team members and boss succeed.

I’m passionate about the work that I do 9 to 5 because I allow myself to have a richer, more meaningful 5 to 9.

I’m gardening. I’m trying new restaurants. I’m baking more. I’m sending more notes in the mail. I’m planning day trips and vacations. I’m taking more evenings off and spending more mornings enjoying the sun outside.


My contained garden features 12 pots — double the number of pots from last summer’s garden.

I’ve found my passion in writing again because I am filled from my passions in life.

And that’s enough to have me love writing about anything — even horses.

3 productivity apps that save my life

On Monday, I submitted a 4,800-word feature for a city/regional magazine, 417 HomeBut this wasn’t just a feature; it was the feature. This cover story article is the flagship, annual story of this publication every year. It was a massive project broken up into so many different parts:

  • 4 home profiles (350 words each)
  • 4 resource listings (150 words each)
  • 3 Q&A pieces with builders (250 words each)
  • 2 sidebars (300 words each)
  • 50 captions (50-75 words each)

It was a massive undertaking; I had no idea what I was diving into when I took it on, but when I submitted it last Monday, I was overwhelmed with the scale of the project. How did I even get it all done in just three weeks, while working a full-time job?

Here’s how: I use three productivity apps that save my life on a daily basis and keep me on track. From freelance projects to my full-time job, these apps save my life every day.

  1. Todoist

About two months ago, I finally buckled down and wrote out a list of all the tasks I need to complete each week and month for my business and full-time job. I am required by certain contracts for my business to post X amount of pieces of content per platform each month for my clients, and I would keep forgetting to tweet from this account or post from that account each day.

So I broke up the 95 Facebook posts I’m required to post each month for every Checkmate Consulting client into weekly requirements for each client and then daily tasks. So for Client A, I post a Facebook post every Monday. That’s where Todoist comes in. Todoist is a visual To-Do list of my entire digital life, and tasks are scheduled to repeat on a set, editable schedule. Instead of trying to knock out huge amounts of content at once, this daily reminder that also syncs to my phone serves as a way for me to keep track of all my required postings all in one place.

I also use Todoist to schedule tasks for milestones on a specific project and reminders for my full-time job. From “edit the SPS homepage” to “tweet from Client X,” Todoist helps me stay on task.

2. Google Calendar

My Google Calendar is my lifeline. It helps me plan weekends with my husband and also navigate deadlines. If I have an upcoming project due, I’ll skip that opportunity or ask for an extension before taking on a new project. But one feature of Google Calendar helps to coordinate it all: separate calendars within Google Calendar.

My husband has access to our #Revin calendar, where he’ll see what family and social events we’ve committed to before saying yes to a Saturday lunch with a co-worker. Or he’ll create an event on our calendar and I’ll get a notification of the calendar’s addition. I’ll also carve out weekends for certain projects so that Kevin knows I’m unavailable for anything fun (essential when it’s crunch time).

Plus, with just a couple of taps, I can isolate my full-time work calendar to view on its own, or I’ll overlap calendars to see what events are coming up next to know when I’ll have time to work ahead. Planning free weekends for meeting deadlines is essential when you’re juggling so much.

3. Voxer

Hands-free communication with my husband and friends keeps me sane and balanced. The walky-talky style app also helps me to communicate when I’m on the go, while not neglecting relationships and social obligations. I can check it when I get a spare minute, but it gives me the ability to share some more extensive thoughts without the hassle of maintaining a long text conversation (who has time for that?).

Plus, it’s fun to get caught up at the end of a long day to hear what my girlfriends have been up to. I can’t wait to be able to do that more in person as I begin a well-deserved freelance hiatus.

What are your three must-have productivity apps?

Stay tuned for the big reveal of my big cover story in 417 Home this January.

Making a plan

I’ve told the story before, but it never ceases to amaze me when I think about it.

I started Checkmate Consulting on the floor of 900-square-foot apartment watching Grey’s Anatomy (and drinking wine) with my best friend on Oct. 1, 2013. I didn’t have a plan; I had an uncle who was interested in me managing his logistics’ firm three social media accounts.I never took a business class in college; I never wrote out a business plan. I just went with it.

And then I got another client. And another client. And another client. And projects. And then, the contract work for major organizations in my community. And this week? I’m doing for the first time graphic design work for a paid project. I’ve never taken a graphic design class!

Almost three years later, I’m still just making it up as I go along.

This September, I’ll button up and finalize the last little details of a massive, 20,000-word, 200-hour project for Ozarks Technical Community College’s Technical Education Division. It’s been an incredible undertaking, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done. But it’s also made me really zoom in on what I want to do with the accidental success of my business.


So this fall, wearing a sweater like the basic white girl I am, I’m trying to find my why and what for Checkmate Consulting: Why am I doing this, and what goals do I have for my business?

I’ve been walking around without direction, and I’ve thankfully stumbled on a positive, fruitful path. But I’m thinking about what I want my business map to look like, what I actually want out of all my side hustles and gigs.

Do I want more clients? Is it a goal to become my own boss? Do I want to grow certain parts of my business? Is freelance writing something that’s still important to me? Do I eventually want to get a physical space? Is my business a way to gain experience to get a mid-management job in communications or marketing? Do I want to leave a job I love to pursue this path? Is there an amount of money per month that I want to work toward?

There are a lot of questions, but I’m giving myself space to explore their answers. I’m praying, thinking and searching, hand in hand with my husband, for what my professional life looks like. There’s no rush; that’s one of the blessings of a lovely life.

But I need direction, and I’m making a plan.

The girl is non-stop

I’m a musical theater nerd, much to my husband Kevin’s dismay sometimes. I sing along loud and proud, and I spend probably more money than I should on tickets. Tomorrow, I’ll attempt to buy tickets to “Hamilton: An American Musical” for its first run of performances in Chicago this fall for my birthday. There are more than 40 songs in the juggernaut musical, but there’s one song that sums up my spring: “Non-Stop.”

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?

April 24-May 8, Kevin and I traveled to Italy, Greece and Turkey on a 12-day cruise, ending our trip with two days in Rome. It was a fantastic, much-needed getaway. We fell more in love, we connected and we spent time together seeing places we both had only dreamed about. It was an incredible trip together and for both of us, it was such a needed break to unplug, disconnect and recharge.


But as soon as we returned, I arrived back to help communicate the beginning of a much expanded summer learning program at Springfield Public Schools. As a team, we celebrated when we barely reached our overall enrollment goal, but that was just the beginning. I’ve been monitoring the #ExploreSPS hashtag non-stop, curating content from the endless stream of learning going on around SPS.

I also began working on a major project with my business Checkmate Consulting on June 1. This summer, I’ll be working to do a complete content refresh for Ozarks Technical Community College’s 21 technical education division program websites. It’s a monumental task — with staff profiles, new landing pages, marketing language to match and mobile-friendly calibration. It’s a massive undertaking, broken apart in three phases, with the final phase due Aug. 30.

Also, I’m working to expand the digital footprint and ROI of social media for another client, and I’m continuously trying to utilize more video in ads for Circle B Ranch. It’s a delicate dance, balancing it all, learning everything I can for the benefit of everyone who I serve. But I love it — but will I ever be satisfied with my work? All the work I’m currently doing, isn’t this enough?

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?

I’m working on being satisfied with the things I create and then walking away. Long weekends in St. Louis with my niece, nephew and in-laws at Six Flags; barbecues with couples and friends who we cherish at our house. Monday nights with a gaggle of girls who keep me sane. Long walks, hand in hand, with my husband on Sunday afternoons. If there’s anything I learned while I was abroad, it was that I need to create boundaries in my life between me and my work.


Look around, isn’t this enough?

Yes, it is.

Unplugging to recharge

Like most people, I have a lot going on.

I work full-time managing digital communications for Missouri’s largest school district. I own a small business, Checkmate Consulting, managing four brands’ social media presences online after 5 p.m. on my couch. I write for two city/regional publications, Feast Magazine and 417 Magazines, submitting pieces each month on topics ranging from business owner profiles to proposal stories.

I work more than 60 hours a week on all of those things. They’re things I love, so it doesn’t feel like work — most of the time.

But there are times when it feels like a lot. When it all feels like too much on my plate, and I start losing my mind a little bit. I lose my husband’s car keys (or he loses them, one or the other); I don’t go grocery shopping for over a week. I forget to send a birthday card until the day before the big day. I dry a sweater that should be air dried. I forget to return a book to the library the day it’s due. I leave the house before giving my husband a kiss goodbye.

They’re not major mistakes or grave ills to my life, these little errors. They’re just annoyances, reminders to take care of myself, to be better organized, to update my calendar, to double check that to-do list written every Friday afternoon for the week ahead. But it’s the forgotten kiss with my husband or the novel I haven’t gotten to on my desk that bother me the most. I’m missing out a life drenched in joy because I’m only allowing myself a shallow rest, interrupted by tasks and to-dos.

That’s why, for the first time in nearly two years, I’m going on a vacation.

I’m heading to Italy, Greece and Turkey for 15 days, 12 of which will be spent on a cruise ship with 2,800 of my closest friends. My husband Kevin and I have spent the better part of 18 months planning this trip with our amazing travel agent Kimberly, and I’ve worked a lot of long hours on my couch and at coffeehouses on the weekends to pay for the trip in cash. I bought my first DSLR camera, and we’re booking our excursions to Santorini, Ephesus, Athens, Naples and more next week. It’s a once-in-a lifetime kind of trip, one I’m deeply blessed to take.

But the most rewarding part of this vacation for me I suspect won’t have a thing to do with the winery we’re touring in Mykonos or the hike we’ll complete up to Pompeii. It won’t even be a slice of pizza where the food was invented in Naples. It won’t be what’s there, but instead what it is not.

I’m not taking my cellphone with me.

Now, I’m not completing unplugging my life. My world doesn’t work like that. We’ll bring a Chromebook with us so I can check email just in case and I’ll check in occasionally on the accounts I’m entrusted to while away. But I won’t have my phone in my pocket when I’m standing in Ephesus. I won’t feel a vibration when I’m walking down an alleyway in Rome. I won’t take a call when Kevin and I are walking up the steps to the Parthenon in Athens.

I’m becoming unplugged so I can recharge. So I can focus on my husband and the views we’ll see together. So I can sip a glass of wine uninterrupted. So I can live my life in the space I inhabit instead of living my life online, if just for a few days.

A few days of peace is what I’ll get, and if not, Kev will help keep me accountable and out of internet cafes. He’ll be taking his phone; we set it up to receive and send texts and calls, just in case of an emergency, and we purchased a bit of data just in case we get lost wandering the streets in Rome. But my phone will be staying home on my nightstand, back where the stress sits on my like a weight and the days fly by too quickly. I’m going to slow down and unplug to recharge my spirit, to regain some sanity.

I’m giving up the key to my professional life in order to live my best personal life for 15 too-long, too-short days in the sun on the Mediterranean Sea. That’s all I can give. But it’s more than enough.

The Tale of a Snail

For brands on social media, there’s always a balance between sales and social.

You want to make personal connections with your followers, but you want to have them connect with products. You want to build communities, but you want your communities to be mobilized. You want a return on investment, but you don’t want to alienate your followers by pushing your products over and over again.

That’s why it’s so important to have a social media strategy that has a good mix of content featuring hard, soft and no-sales language at all. Consider it fluff, but it should never be considered filler. Content that engages with your followers authentically with no salesmanship, while speaking to the mission of your brand, can be a fun way to engage with your followers and build brand awareness. They’ll like and share your content without even realizing it’s a billboard for your brand’s logo and mission.

This concept, though, is so hard for some digital marketers to understand. If there aren’t clicks, if there aren’t sales, if there’s not a point of conversion, they feel the content is a missed opportunity at best and a waste of time at worst. But the next time I get into this ongoing debate with a digital marketing friend, I’ll have a secret weapon: a snail.


With Checkmate Consulting, I began managing Diet Center Cincinnati‘s Facebook page less than two months ago. The page’s presence was small: it only had 110 likes at the time of posting this graphic on Jan. 6. But although its presence was tiny, my goals for the brand on social were big. My No. 1 goal in my first 90 days was to help legitimize this brand in its local community, where weight loss center claims and services are automatically met with skepticism, and to increase brand awareness dramatically.

So, the first week of 2016, I made the above graphic in Canva (a handy tool) based on a suggestion by my client. She had seen a version of this graphic above online somewhere and thought it would be cute to post on Diet Center’s Facebook page. I created the above graphic and posted it on Facebook with this caption:

“We believe in you. Do you? #winatlosing”

The caption was short, the message was simple, and it got a response from Diet Center’s small but engaged community on Facebook. So, a couple of days later, I boosted the post for $25 and 14 days.

And the engagement started pouring in.

Hundreds of likes were made to the post, and people started commenting on the post as well bits of encouragement about their own slow but steady journeys to success. But most valuable, the post in 14 days received 73 shares and counting — with 52 shares originating from unpaid views of the post. Individuals who had never heard of Diet Center were sharing our content that shared Diet Center’s mission: that wellness in achievable, if you just keep trying.

By spending 10 minutes creating a clever graphic and $25 to promote this post to Diet Center’s target audience, more than 18,000 people in the Cincinnati, Ohio community ended up seeing this graphic that featured Diet Center’s logo and hashtag.

There wasn’t a conversion page, there wasn’t a sign up form, but we had more than 100 profile views while this post was being boosted. We received more than 20 page likes from this post (a 22 percent increase) and every person who shared this post was in Diet Center’s target demographic: Cincinnati area women, ages 25-60.

But most importantly, Diet Center in all of those eyes was seen as a brand that cares about people and their progress. Telling the story of a brand and making real, authentic connections with people makes turns them from followers to fans. And bottom line, for my sales-minded friends? Fans buy products, and if they receive a positive experience from a product, they become ambassadors for a brand.

Oh, and one last thing: One person who saw this snail messaged the Facebook page to get in touch with a representative — and ended up registering for a diet plan at the Center.

There’s a time and place for a snail for every brand on social media. What’s your snail content?