Magnus Carlsen claims Hans Niemann has “cheated more than he has publicly admitted”, but offers no evidence.
Lobelia and phlox look very similar and are often confused with each other, especially the plant’s low-growing spreading varieties. They both come in blue, pink, red, and purple and flower in the spring. However, there are some significant differences, which we will discuss in more detail below.
Require an area with full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Rich, well-drained soil. 4-6 hours of direct sun
Cool, sunny climates with well-watered soil. Full sun or slight shade. 6 hours of direct sun.
The Differences Between Lobelia vs Phlox
The key differences between lobelia and phlox are fragrance, climate and region, color, and size.
Lobelia vs Phlox: Fragrance
One big difference between lobelia and phlox is the scent. Lobelia has no scent at all, while some varieties of phlox do have a fragrance. Phlox smells like vanilla and clove with a hint of spice.
If you are looking for a window box plant, creeping phlox or moss phlox will drape over the side of the container and provide you with a heady scent through your open window. If you need a slightly larger plant, annual lobelia is double in height, at 12 inches tall.
Lobelia vs Phlox: Climate and Region
Lobelia originated from South Africa. As a result, it prefers a hot summer and a temperate winter. It does not tolerate any frost but can be grown as an annual plant if you live in a cooler climate.
Phlox is originally from North America and thrives in many diverse habitats, from tundras to prairies. It prefers a cool summer and doesn’t mind a hard frost in the winter. It is often grown as a perennial that comes back year after year.
Lobelia vs Phlox: Plant Description and Color
Lobelia has an alternating leaf pattern, with oval leaves and hairy stems. Phlox has an opposite leaf pattern, with oval leaves and smooth stems. Tall phlox has large sword-shaped leaves, while shorter varieties have small needle-like leaves.
In lobelia and phlox, you can find blue, purple, pink, and red flowers. Phlox also comes in white, which you can’t find in lobelia. Both plants have tube-shaped flowers with five lobes. The blooms of each are intense and brightly colored.
Lobelia vs Phlox: Size
Both phlox and lobelia are large groups of plants with hundreds of varieties, so there is sure to be a variety to fit your garden needs.
One of the most popular varieties of lobelia is lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower, which grows 2-4 feet tall. The popular lobelia erinus or bellflower grows 6-9 inches tall. Lobelia siphilitica, or blue lobelia, grows 2-3 feet tall.
Phlox paniculate or garden phlox grows to 3-4 feet. The much shorter phlox stolonifera, known as creeping phlox, stays 8 inches tall. Phlox subulata, or moss phlox, grows to a maximum height of only 6 inches.
All varieties of phlox and lobelia are a favorite food of butterfly and moth larvae of the Lepidoptera family, making them a great addition to any pollinator garden.
Bobby Jones wasted no time leaving his home in Moreno Valley on Saturday to head south so he could witness the finest in American military aviation up close for the first time in years.
By mid-morning he had stationed himself along the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where the U.S. Navy parachute team Leap Frogs were floating down from a mile up in the sky.
“I try to make it every time they have one,” he said of the 2022 MCAS Miramar Air Show, which was being held locally for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jones, who was camped on a folding chair and munching on a paper boat of french fries, said he appreciated the view more than ever.
“You can take the person out of the military, but you can’t take the military out of the person,” the retired 27-year Marine Corps veteran said. “After being in combat, you’ve seen them all. It’s nice to see the old and the new once you get out.”
Tens of thousands of people turned out for the second day of the three-day San Diego tradition.
As always, there were speeches, vendors, recruiters, food, music and an impressive display of American aeronautical achievement in the skies over Miramar and also on the ground.
This year’s theme: Marines: Fight. Evolve. Win. — a nod to the technical innovations military commanders are relying on to protect the nation into the 21st century.
“You are about to see the finest aviators in the world,” said Col. Thomas Bedell, the MCAS Miramar commanding officer told the growing crowd in his welcome address. “It takes a team.”
Elmer Rodriguez and his wife, Jennifer Martinez, brought their three children from San Ysidro to see the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous across the world.
“The baby loves airplanes,” said Rodriguez, a warehouse worker from San Ysidro who planted himself and his family — including 2-year-old Ruby — on the tarmac beneath the wing of an F-18 Hornet to escape the sun for a few minutes. “As soon as we got here she started yelling.”
Rodiguez said he has lived in San Diego for years but never before visited the air show.
“We always hear coworkers telling us about it, so we thought it would be fun to spend the day here,” he said.
Employers seeking new recruits took advantage of the huge crowds, setting up job fairs and touting their agencies.
In addition to local organizations like the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, recruiters from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and police departments from Oregon, Beverly Hills and San Francisco worked to attract jobseekers.
Enterprising merchants offered everything from ball caps and T-shirts — up to $30 each — to handcrafted wooden American flags emblazoned with the phrases “1776”, “We The People” and “In God We Trust” for up to $160.
Inside Hangar 1, just north of the fun zone set up for children, vendors marketed their wares. They were promoting the latest in drones, military-themed video games and other entertainment.
Nearby, in the innovation technology exposition, students showed off the products of their robotics competitions.
Dozens of retired military aircraft were displayed on the tarmac, many roped off with signs warning visitors not to touch. But larger plans were opened, inviting people to walk inside.
Joey and Jaimee Hernandez were inside a hulking KC-135R Stratotanker with their 2-year-old, J.J.
“We love it. We come all the time,” Joey Hernandez said. “Well not all the time; the last two years it’s been canceled.”
The Scripps Ranch family said viewing the aircraft up close allows them to see what they so often hear from their house in the hills just east of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
“It’s not something you normally get to see,” Joey Hernandez said.
The 2022 MCAS Miramar Air Show is free for visitors and continues Sunday, with gates opening at 8 a.m.
Zonke Energy says there is an urgent need and demand outstrips supply
South Africa faces a power generation crisis. Directly related to this crisis is a chronic need for clean and safe power in informal settlements. Approximately two million households live in communities without formal grid connections.
As highlighted in GroundUp’s recent article on the Umbane project, sustaining affordable energy services in these off-grid settlements is extremely difficult, especially without any ongoing subsidy support from government. But it appears the article has generated misconceptions about our approach, and we therefore feel it important to draw attention to the broader situation and efforts to address it, while also contextualising our own challenges so that others may learn.
Zonke Energy exists to serve families with safe, reliable and affordable power. Since 2021, we have delivered over 6MWh of clean electricity to a total of 160 households in one settlement, using a prepaid no-obligation model, starting at R5 per day. Of 11 solar towers installed, all but two are sold out, requiring us to turn away prospective clients due to lack of capacity.
Community members not yet served by Zonke Energy regularly approach us, imploring that we erect more towers. The demand is huge and our current capacity to meet it is limited.
Zonke Energy’s clients do not have formal, safe access to grid electricity. Instead they rely on hazardous liquid fuels and inyokayoka (illegal) connections. Our staff have witnessed electrocutions and the after-effects of shack fires caused by tipped lanterns and poor wiring. Incidents like these initiated our drive to work in Qandu Qandu in the first place.
The Umbane Project
From prior engagement with residents, we established that there is a large unmet need for refrigeration. In a sample survey of residents, 80% desired a fridge, and 50% said their food spoils at least every other day due to a lack of refrigeration.
Fridges and freezers are expensive to run using off-grid power, due to their high energy draw, requiring large batteries, PV panels, and electronics. However, by putting the fridge to productive use, its running costs can be offset with income from small enterprise activities such as selling cool drinks, meat or other products. So the Umbane project set out to find a way to make off-grid refrigeration more cost effective, while also cultivating a model for women-led entrepreneurship.
Seven solar towers were installed to power fridges and serve 100 households in the wider community. Each tower can power up to 16 households. Including four solar towers previously in service, a total of roughly 160 households in Qandu Qandu now use Zonke Energy.
For an upfront joining fee of R400, Zonke Energy installs R3,000 worth of equipment in the client’s home, including indoor lights, an outdoor security light, plug box, and distribution cabling.
Customers pay for electricity at a daily rate with no long-term obligations. The majority of these households pay only R5 per day for lights and phone charging, offsetting up to 8 litres of lighting paraffin per household per month, and dramatically reducing hazardous black carbon. The towers are 100% renewable, further offsetting carbon emissions.
Entrepreneurship training and its challenges
As part of the Umbane project, dozens of initial participants took part in a six-week entrepreneurship training course. From the initial group, 20 received additional mentorship, but this free service did not include money to assist participants in starting a business, and no such promise was made. The project did, however, offer subsidised access to a fridge, as well as a six-month payment plan (the fridges would otherwise have cost 40% more).
During a recent project evaluation conducted by the team, several participants reported that their start-ups were improving and sales were growing, with one claiming a tripling of revenue.
However, the project has of course not been without its challenges. First, despite our efforts at clear communication (using meetings, staff visits, calls, pamphlets, SMS, and WhatsApp), some misunderstandings about the energy service and pricing have surfaced. We met with each individual participant on a regular basis to answer questions and clarify how the service works.
Second, affordability has been difficult for some participants despite the business opportunity. Our first step to address this was to waive the joining fee. Then, in March we introduced a new business package at R14 per day, powering lights and phone charging in addition to the refrigerator. This price, while still high compared to grid costs (which they are unable to access), is competitive with the clients’ current alternatives.
For example, it is common to pay upwards of R300 per month to a neighbouring formal house for a backyard connection, plus R500-R800 for cable to reach the dwelling. In contrast, our service is safe and comes with support (we employ technical maintenance from within the community).
Further, it should be noted that indigent families with formal grid connections can access the Free Basic Electricity (FBE) subsidy, while off-grid households cannot. To its credit, the City of Cape Town recognises the issue and is discussing solutions. Such programmes are critically needed to open affordability up to more households.
We are working with all the participants to ensure that everyone benefits. We are active at this site and will continue to clear up misunderstandings and mismatched expectations.
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The purpose of the Umbane project has been twofold. First, to test the idea that with access to training and power, women can generate revenue for their businesses and desperately needed off-grid services can be made more affordable. And second, to expand access to safe power for more of the community. The Umbane project has provided 100 families with access to safe power and seeded the growth of many women-led businesses.
Energy crisis demands a response
Despite the challenges, the chronic need for high quality services should compel government, civil society, and the private sector to continue developing creative solutions. The need is so great, and the crisis so urgent, that we must be willing to try new and innovative solutions even in the face of risk. That is where we are, working with communities to find sustainable ways to power their lives.
As demonstrated by our sold-out towers and constant requests for expansion, our service is highly valued in the communities we serve, and beyond. We believe that with effective policies and support, we and enterprises like ours can be major contributors to solving the South African energy crisis – especially for those currently suffering the worst effects of energy scarcity.
Rome, Italy – It was never in doubt. As pollsters had predicted throughout a chaotic election campaign, Italy is set to be led by its most hard-right government since World War II.
Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, a largely peripheral figure in Italian politics up until a few years ago, emerged triumphant in Sunday’s election. The 45-year-old is now expected to become prime minister, leading a right-wing coalition that garnered more than 43 percent of the vote.
“If we are called upon to govern this nation, we will do so for all Italians, with the aim of uniting people rather than dividing them, to make them proud of being Italians, to wave the Italian flag,” Meloni said in the early hours of Monday, in a brief speech after the first projections result. “You chose us, and we will not betray you,” she said, visibly emotional.
Campaigning under the slogan of “God, family and homeland”, Meloni ran an aggressive campaign calling for the preservation of Christian identity and the “traditional” family, and of a country populated first and foremost by Italian patriots.
Critics warn that such a vision is one of exclusion and that a Meloni-led government will be one where civil rights are at risk — especially for the gay community — where access to abortion will be restricted, and where the lives of refugees and migrants, both new arrivals and those living already in Italy, will be increasingly hampered.
The far-right leader has also pledged to impose a naval block and push back “masses of illegal immigrants”, while putting Italians’ interests above everything in the European Union.
Her approach to the EU reflects years of bad blood.
Founded in 2012, Brothers of Italy seized on a growing popular discontent triggered by the eurozone’s debt crisis, for which it blamed “European bureaucrats” and financial markets. The tone is now more sober, but the substance remains the same, according to critics.
“Her international allies reflect her extreme-right political vision which will make it difficult to maintain good ties with European institutions,” said Pieri Ignazi, professor of political science at Bologna University, referring to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, France’s Marine le Pen and Spain’s Vox party that hopes to win the same success in next year’s elections. “Her position is to limit the process of integration of the European Union and give back power to each nation,” he added.
Ignazi points to the refusal last week by Meloni to join the EU parliament in condemning Hungary for democratic violations. “Such protective behaviour with Orban shows an acceptance of what he did in terms of rule of law limitations and of freedom of expression,” he said.
While other far-right politicians in Europe like French ultra-nationalist Eric Zemmour and Vox party leader Santiago Abascal have rushed to congratulate Meloni on her victory, more mainstream leaders have been more cautious.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he respected the “democratic choice” of the Italian people, adding that as “neighbours and friends” the two countries would continue to work together, while Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said France would keep a close eye on abortion and human rights in Italy.
The European Commission said it hoped for a constructive relationship with Italy’s next government.
The election was an unprecedented victory for the Brothers of Italy considering it polled at just 4 percent in 2018. But questions are now being asked about how the party, whose members mostly have experience only in local politics, will be able to find candidates able to fill the shoes of ministers.
“This is a party that is used to standing outside the system, which hasn’t had many occasions to grow its leadership,” said Gregory Alegi, professor of History and Politics at Luiss University. “Now that it has reached the government by skipping an intermediate step … is going to be a problem,” he said. An issue that could emerge even further at the EU level where politicians need to know how to navigate often complicated negotiations, Alegi said.
The party will essentially be learning on the job, but at the same time as Italy is preparing to go into winter amid a biting energy crisis and high inflation. The new leadership will need knowledge, Alegi said, but also the support of the EU especially as the country is receiving the biggest chunk of an EU recovery fund.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for his part, has struck up a personal friendship with the Russian leader, and the two have even taken holidays together. The 85-year-old said on Thursday that Putin only wanted to replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a government “made up of decent people”, but he met “unexpected resistance” on the ground.
“We are ready to welcome any political force able to show itself more constructive in relations with Russia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said following the elections.
Before the campaign, Meloni got her coalition partners to agree on support for Ukraine. And the relatively poor performance in the election of Salvini’s League, compared with the Brothers of Italy, has strengthened her position.
Experts say the risks for Italy in departing from its decade-long transatlantic alliance are simply too high.
“Considering Italy’s interests and interconnections there is no tactical advantage in running outside the Western alliance,” Alegi said.
“I don’t expect a U-turn in the midst of a highwayman, the political price would be too high.”
Why Mahsa Amini’s death will deepen the alienation of Iran’s secular Kurdish minority
LONDON: Since the death of Mahsa Amini after being taken into custody by Iran’s notorious morality police, protests have raged in cities across the Islamic Republic, beginning in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan.
Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurdish woman, died on Sept. 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the Gasht-e Ershad, the regime’s vice squad, which enforces strict rules on women’s dress, including the hijab.
Her death has highlighted the oppression and marginalization of women in Iran. It has also cast a light on the ill-treatment of the country’s non-Persian ethnic minorities, particularly its substantial Kurdish population, concentrated in the west of the country.
In turn, this has highlighted the contrasting treatment of women in other areas of the Middle East in which Kurds make up a majority of the local population — in northern Iraq, southeast Turkey and northern Syria — where women are prominent in both civic and military life.
On Sept. 24, a protest was held in solidarity with the women of Iran outside the UN compound in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. Many of those who took part were Iranian Kurds living in self-imposed exile in a city known for its culture of tolerance.
Bearing placards with Amini’s face, the protesters chanted “women, life, freedom,” and “death to the dictator,” in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“They killed (Amini) because of a piece of hair coming out from her hijab. The youth are asking for freedom. They are asking for rights for all the people because everyone has the right to have dignity and freedom,” one protester Namam Ismaili, an Iranian Kurd from Sardasht, a Kurdish town in Iran’s northwest, told Reuters.
“We are not against religion, and we are not against Islam. We are secularists, and we want religion to be separate from politics,” Maysoon Majidi, a Kurdish Iranian actor and director living in Irbil, told the news agency.
Last week, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan’s governing party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, called Amini’s family to express his condolences, saying he hoped justice would be served.
Kurdish political identity throughout the region and among the community’s large European diaspora embraces secularist, nationalist and even socialist traditions. In the case of Iran’s Kurds, this frequently puts them at odds with the country’s theocratic regime.
On Sept. 23, the Kurdish-majority town of Oshnavieh in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province briefly fell into the hands of protesters, who set fire to government offices, banks, and a base belonging to the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In response, the IRGC shelled the offices of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Sidakan in Iraq, accusing the Kurdish parties of inciting “chaos.”
Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, said the shelling targeted the offices of Komala and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran for allegedly sending “armed teams and a large amount of weapons … to the border cities of the country to cause chaos.”
The KDPI is a Kurdish opposition party that has waged an on-and-off armed campaign against the regime since the Islamic Revolution. Komala, meanwhile, is a leftist Kurdish armed opposition party, which fights for the rights of Kurds in Iran.
Although Iran’s constitution grants ethnic minorities equal rights, allowing them to use their own language and practice their own traditions, the Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch, and other groups say they are treated as second class citizens — their resources extracted, their towns starved of investment, and their communities aggressively policed.
Kurdish opposition groups in Iran have fought for decades to obtain greater political and cultural rights for their communities, which are spread across a part of the country known to Kurds as Rojhelat — or Eastern Kurdistan.
This nationalist spirit has often meant women’s emancipation has been viewed as a secondary concern against the overarching fight for Kurdish nationhood, especially in the case of Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who have long drawn their support from traditional tribal structures.
However, elsewhere in the region, Kurdish opposition groups have consistently fought for an alternative vision for society — one that is based on democratic values and on the equal status of women.
Nowhere is this perhaps more obvious than in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where the political arm of the US-allied Syria Democratic Forces has established a self-governing polity known to Kurds as Rojava — or Western Kurdistan.
On Friday, Mazloum Abdi, commander in chief of the SDF, condemned the killing of Amini, describing it as a “moral failure” of the ruling authorities in Iran.
He also expressed solidarity with the protests in Iran via Twitter, saying: “The Kurdish and women’s issues must be resolved in appropriate ways.”
In Rojava, Kurdish women fighting in guerrilla brigades against Daesh have achieved iconic status — especially the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, the all-women brigades of the People’s Protection Units.
These YPJ fighters won global acclaim in 2014 for their role in the liberation of the Kurdish-majority city of Kobane in northern Syria from an extremist group whose warped interpretation of Islam would have seen them enslaved.
Soon after their victory, images of young, unveiled, mostly Kurdish YPJ fighters appeared on magazine covers and in newspapers around the world, demolishing many prevailing stereotypes in the West about Middle Eastern women as passive victims.
Within the AANES, there are now several women-only organizations, while in the areas of Syria under YPJ control, child marriage has been abolished, the practice of men taking multiple wives outlawed, and domestic abuse treated with the utmost severity.
The focus on women has also led to a policy called the “co-chair” system, whereby all positions of authority are held by both a man and a woman with equal collaborative power. As a result, women in Kurdish areas of Syria hold 50 percent of official positions.
A similar model is employed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey and among the ranks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, inspired by the values of its jailed founder Abdullah Ocalan.
Although honor killings and female genital mutilation have remained all too common in parts of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, women’s political participation and leadership has improved greatly in recent years, with the role of speaker in the Kurdistan parliament twice being held by a woman.
In 2018, the Kurdistan Regional Government raised its gender quota in Parliament from 25 percent to 30 percent, so that 34 out of 111 sitting MPs are now women.
The Daesh attack on Yazidi women in Sinjar in Aug. 2014 also encouraged more Kurdish women to join the frontline war effort, challenging their victim role in warfare and broadening their identity from being mere caregivers to protectors.
This brought forward changes in Kurdish society concerning women’s roles and identities, making it easier for women to join the Peshmerga — the armed forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Despite the region’s recent achievements, Iraqi Kurdish women’s campaigner Sherri Talabany reported during the MERI Forum 2019 that women still face high rates of domestic violence and a low share in the labor market of just 14 percent.
Meanwhile, only three representatives in the 23-member Iraqi Cabinet are women, and only one in the KRG cabinet of 21 ministers.
But the picture is far bleaker in Iran, where female labor force participation reached just 17.54 percent in 2019, compared with the global average of 47.70 percent, giving Iran one of the lowest levels of labor force female participation in the world.
Women in Iran also face restrictions in reaching managerial and decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. In addition, owing to Western sanctions, erratic economic policies and the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran’s economy has shrunk in recent years, affecting women’s employment opportunities.
What the protests sweeping Iran in response to Amini’s death appear to show is a general rejection of the maltreatment of women and ethnic minorities, frustration over the economic situation, and outrage at the heavy-handed ways of the morality police.
Some Iranians who cross into Iraqi Kurdistan for work or to see relatives have told AFP that while Amini’s death was a trigger, the long-running economic crisis and the climate of repression fed into the explosion of anger.
“The difficult economic situation in Iran … the repression of freedoms, particularly those of women, and the rights of the Iranian people led to an implosion of the situation,” Azad Husseini, an Iranian Kurd who now works as a carpenter in Iraq, told the news agency.
“I don’t think the protests in Iranian cities are going to end anytime soon.”
The project was re-scoped in 2020, with a freight corridor through Ballarat among elements scrapped.
Following a request from Ms Cupper, the corridor was re-costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office this month to the tune of $115 million.
“[The corridor] essentially allows our freight trains to go through Ballarat, which is a much quicker, direct route than if they’ve got to be diverted around via Ararat,” she said.
“Anything quicker is cheaper. That’s incredibly important to profit margins of farmers … and therefore important to the broader state and national economies.”
Ms Cupper emphasised she does not intend to “pick through the wreckage of the MBRP”, but instead wants the corridor to form part of a “new deal for freight”.
The MP said her state-focused, agricultural industry development plan would be anchored by a task force comprised of main stakeholders, including freight operators.
She believes the plan would have benefits beyond the north-west, one of Australia’s major grain-growing regions.
“Regardless of whether you live on a farm or not, your food comes from these areas. It’s in our interest for our farmers to do well,” Ms Cupper said.
The ABC has contacted the state government for comment.
Victorian Farmers Federation welcomes plan
Ashley Fraser, grains group president of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s (VFF), has welcomed Ms Cupper’s rail corridor proposal as part of the VFF’s push for an overall freight strategy, which he says is “crucial for the prosperity of the whole state”.
“It’s really important we get our freight to port as fast and as efficiently as possible,” Mr Fraser said.
“At the moment, without the Ballarat corridor open for rail freight, trains are diverted via the Grampians, which is a long way out of their way.
“If we ignore rail, we’re going to put more pressure on our already crumbling road network.”
Mr Fraser added that the infrastructure would also have environmental benefits.
“It’s the lowest emissions transport we can have.”
This week, we’re sharing all about our new site design, our goals for the future of A Beautiful Mess, and how we want to evolve.
If you’re interested in the topic of blogging, this episode has quite a few good tips, plus our predictions about the future of blogging. We’re also sharing a book report for The House in the Cerulean Sea, which is a certified banger.
Emma: You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast. This week we’re sharing all about our new site design and our goals for the future of A Beautiful Mess and how we want to evolve. If you’re interested in the topic of blogging, this episode has quite a few good tips and also our predictions about the future of blogging. We’re also sharing a book report for, The House in the Cerulean Sea, which is a certified banger.
Elsie: Whoa! It really is. I am so excited to talk about the book. Okay, so I feel like up top we should say disclaimer, Emma is sick this week and she is doing the podcast anyway. So she’s in the hot tea zone and just please don’t leave us a mean review because we did a podcast when we were sick, because we’re doing our best, we’re doing our job and we love you.
Emma: You could just be like, why did you have that guest frog on the show? Good point she sucked.
Elsie: You do kinda sound like a frog!
Emma: I really do. It’s great.
Elsie: Let’s imagine Emma as a frog for the rest of this episode.
Emma: Honestly, I would love that. Please do, think of me as a girl Kermit the Frog. I love it!
Elsie: Yes, I’m excited about this episode because we haven’t done a business-focused episode in a while and there is a small but loyal part of our audience who wishes that we would just do business talk all the time. So if that’s you, this episode is special for you and if not, I think it’s still an interesting subject overall. So we’re talking about how blogging has evolved over the 15 years, it’s actually been almost 20 that we’ve been blogging, where we think it’s going next, and tips that we would give our younger selves. So I feel like this episode has any wisdom that we have to share. And also, it is just an interesting case study. I think the early internet first influencers, like us, we’ve evolved three or four or five times by now from what it was, to what it was going to be, to what we never thought it would be, and back again, it just has changed so much. Exciting topic!
Emma: I’m one of those people in our audience, that loves to hear about business, and our business is blogging, so that’s what we’re talking about today. I love hearing about other people’s businesses, honestly, when I meet people, in a group or at a party, and they say, “I work in industrial pipes”. I say, “tell me about your industry and how it’s changed.” It’s kind of interesting, it’s fun. It’s like hearing a news report but from the inside. I find all that stuff interesting. And I also think blogging is kind of this weird mix of, it used to be more of social media, and now I don’t even really think of it as social media but it sort of is I guess. So I think that’s kind of interesting, too.
Elsie: That’s a great thing to start us off with for our first question. How has blogging changed over the past 15 years? And for me, I would say that the biggest difference in early blogging versus now is that in early blogging, there was no social media. So your blog was your way for people to get updates about your life, it was your only way. I think we had MySpace and then in the very beginning of when we had our first shop, I remember that’s when Twitter launched. Social media at that time was never a thing that anyone thought was ever going to be a replacement for a blog and now it has become that for a lot of people. It’s changed so much and that’s probably the biggest thing. We used to share a lot of, how was my weekend. Writing two or three or five paragraphs about how our weekend was, or how we’ve been lately. That was a very normal thing, that now is not normal anymore. Now, I think of our site as building up a library of useful content. Emma and I, when we work on our blog schedule and talk about our site, a lot of what we’re doing is finding, Okay, we’ve never done this salad, we’ve never done this salad, we’ve never done this salad. It’s not as much, let’s tell everyone how we’re feeling. Actually, the podcast is also something that’s changed. This is now a space where we probably talk about our personal lives the most.
Emma: Yeah, I definitely think for us, our podcast is our window into the most personal that you’ll see us and I think for us, that makes a lot of sense because it’s long form. I’ve never really been a person who felt like they could share very much in 15 seconds. I don’t even think I could say anything. I admire people who can, but I just don’t feel like I can get out anything in that short amount of time. So for me, podcasting feels like the only place I can really share broader thoughts that I haven’t created an outline of, I’m going to teach you how to make this cake or whatever a blog post that I might write would be. Another side of that is, we didn’t have social media, so basically, our blog was our Instagram account, or it was our TikTok, and now that’s different because we have so many different ways to share. Things have become more segmented. We all kind of know, if you want to share a short video, you might do that on Instagram or TikTok. If you want to share a long talking through something, you would do that on a podcast. There’s just all these different options now that really didn’t exist, or were just beginning to exist when we were first starting to blog. So that changed the way we blogged. Additionally, I would say, the ways that you can make money online as a blogger or an influencer have changed dramatically in the last 15 to 20 years. When Elsie and I were first blogging, there were really very few ways for us to make money online, we were creating a lot of content, spending a lot of time making things, content that people would consume. So the job of a blogger is to make content people consume for free, same for podcasts, for Instagram, for whatever. So you are an entertainer or an educator or whatever you want to say, you make stuff. Then the job, in my mind is, you figure out how to monetize it. So it’s two-fold. I think a lot of people don’t see that second part. They know it exists, but they don’t see it. I think it’s easy to discount, or people don’t realize that you’re kind of always doing at least two jobs. I don’t say that to be like, “we’re amazing”. I just mean if you’re, “oh, you don’t put out enough content,” well, that’s not the only thing I do, I have to also monetize it. There’s a lot of extra work that goes into making money online. You had to figure out how to monetize your content back when blogging was starting, there really wasn’t a lot of ways to do that. You could put Google ads on your site, so CPM based ads. Based on how many views you got on a post or on your page, you could collect some ad revenue from that by having a banner ad on your site. Same as now, there just weren’t companies that you could sign up with, it would basically facilitate that for you. You had to kind of piece-meal it yourself or just only rely on Google ads, and additionally, not as many companies were utilizing those types of advertisements yet. Now, I think a lot of small businesses and even large businesses understand that having a whole marketing campaign for just having ads on the internet or on Instagram, Facebook ads, or I guess meta now
Elsie: Even a lot of emails I get have ads in them, it’s everywhere, for sure.
Emma: I completely understand feeling like, oh there’s so many ads coming at me all the time. But the flip side, the silver lining to it, is that means that content creators are likely getting paid because that is one of the main ways that they can monetize all that content that they’re creating. There’s always a give and take, always a good and bad side of things or whatever you want to look at it. There weren’t as many of those back then, now in blogging there’s a lot more of those, a lot more opportunities. There’s a lot more sophisticated companies and programs that you can join to have those CPM based ads, so banner ads, where you’ll get paid, and they’ll pull from lots of different places, not just Google ads. So that’s pretty amazing, based on your traffic, you’ll get paid. And I think traffic is one indicator of doing a good job at blogging because it indicates that you’re making useful content. It’s something that people are clicking on, for whatever reason. For us, it’s usually they’re wanting to learn something like how to hang curtains or how to make a recipe. For other sites, it might just be that they’re very interested in the article you’ve written, or something of that nature. But for us, it’s more about education, it usually means that we’re doing a good job being useful. You can get paid based on your traffic, which is really cool. I think Instagram is kind of trying to move towards a model like that for creators because they’re kind of starting to have more opportunities last year and this year, where you can get paid for the traffic that your reels receive, or different things like that, which I think is long overdue. Ultimately, if they’re able to figure that out, I think it will make their platform much more sustainable. The idea that people are on that platform or any platform, TikTok included, any anywhere else, creating hours and hours of content that millions of people potentially are consuming and loving, but they don’t get paid anything for it. It’s just kind of bananas. Imagine seeing a TV show and they didn’t make any money from making it. It’s like, they’re not going to have a season two because how could they can’t afford it.
Elsie: Or imagine starting a business where you could get thousands of people to work for you for free, just because they were trying to get noticed or grow. It is kind of a twisted concept when you think of it that way.
Emma: Being an influencer is now the new unpaid intern, but there’s no real ending to it. For us, blogging has moved as like one, we have more options and more social media. So now we can focus our blog content on just being useful content. So for us, again, that’s something that we’re teaching in the vein of, home decor, crafts, or cooking. Other sites, it’s other things, but something that you might Google. So if you’ve ever picked up your phone, and Googled, you know how to make mayonnaise, I don’t think our site pops up, but would it be great if it did. Some other blog probably pops up, but I don’t know if I want that mayonnaise spot. I don’t know who’s in the top spot. She’s earned it or he’s earned it. Whoever is up there, good for them. Mayonnaise is hard to make but anyway, we’re aiming to be that person to answer your question. Whereas on Instagram or any other platform, we’re not necessarily trying to answer questions. I mean, we are if we’ve put up a question box. At least right now, the platforms are more about entertaining or sharing a peek into a personal life or something of that nature. Unfortunately, they also don’t have as many ways to monetize your content. So for us, those are lesser options. We don’t put as much into social media as we do our blog. I would say blog is number one for us as far as where we put all of our energy. And then after that, it’s probably podcast. And then after that, it’s Instagram, and then some of the other social media options.
Elsie: I wanted to talk about what we feel inspired to share more of on A Beautiful Mess. A lot of times our OG readers, which there’s so many of you, and thank you so much for reading for so long. This weekend, I got a message from someone who said they’d been following me since the Flickr days, which means 15 years ago. That kind of thing, there’s nothing like it. It’s very special. A lot of times the people who have been following us for a really, really, long time, they’ll miss something that we used to do that isn’t within our goals anymore. We used to do these fashion posts called Sister Style. Pretty frequently people will say, bring back Sister Style. I loved Sister Style. I think it’s cute and I still think it would be fun to do but it doesn’t really meet our goals or our objectives, or it’s not a meaningful investment for our time anymore. I think we should take more pictures together for fun. I want to talk more about, what were our intentions for A Beautiful Mess and where we’re putting our energy sort of on purpose.
Emma: We will write in slightly different areas but the main areas of our site are crafts, cooking, and home decor. We also have a little bit of personal style, like you know I want to talk about skincare from time to time, or hairstyles or different things like that. So we have a little bit of that and a little bit of advice too, and holidays. Other things that we want to focus on, in my mind, I really want to build up all of the classics, in the areas that I like to write in. So for me, that’s mostly cooking and baking, but a little bit of crafting, not a ton of home decor. That’s not as much my area. I love home decor but I don’t feel like I write in that area quite as much as Elsie and Laura, but I write a lot in cooking. Recipes is really my wheelhouse. So I’m really aiming to build up the classics, the things that people are searching for the most, just so that our site can be really useful. And then also, I’ve been really inspired this year and actually one of the books in our book club, the one about the immigrant women and food culture. That’s also been really inspiring me about the roots of cooking that I love and the way that I grew up. You know, I’m not an immigrant, but I think country cooking, Midwest cooking, and things like that were a big part of my childhood and upbringing. So I’ve been wanting to infuse more and more of that into our site. I really want to, this season, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but our great aunt Ida who passed away a couple years ago, she had this really delicious jello salad, and jello salad, if you’re not from the part of the world that I am, might sound really strange, but it’s just a staple.
Elsie: Can I just describe it?
Emma: Yes, describe it.
Elsie: It’s jello salad, we served it on Thanksgiving Day, and pretty much every Christmas anytime there’s a family dinner. And it has in it cranberries, and fruit like pineapples, I think, and also nuts. So
Emma: It has pretzels in it too.
Elsie: And I will say, it is a staple food of our families’ gatherings. Saying it out loud makes it sound so weird, but I kind of do hope that someone in another country will try it when you put the recipe out because I think that will be fun. And we can try a recipe from your country because that jello salad is a big part of our childhood.
Emma: Yeah and I think listening to the book, which we’re not doing this book report yet, but just if anyone’s listening already, a lot of that book with the immigrant women in food culture, the author talks through different dishes that were in the cookbooks that these women were creating. And a lot of times, the ingredients are kind of weird but as I’m listening to them, and I’ve been listening to the audio version, I was like, “oh, I want to try that, oh, I want to check out this lady’s cookbook.” And it wasn’t things that I was familiar with growing up but it just got me inspired. A lot of times I’ll think of sort of country cooking or old family recipes that we have and I’m like, “Oh, nobody would care about that. That’s just something weird that I like because it’s from my family and it’s the way I grew up,” but no one else would care and now I’m kind of feeling more and more inspired of like, No, I think it’s really cool and I want to put those classics on our site. I love when it came from someone in our family, like our Great Aunt Ida, also are great grandmother, Lula was a really great cook. Something about all of that, I feel very inspired by it. It’s the thing that I can contribute culturally as it’s how I was raised and some of the food we grew up with. That’s more kind of some of the things I want to focus on for A Beautiful Mess. That and holidays! We’re all obsessed with holidays!
Elsie: Yes! So for me, creating for A Beautiful Mess is my biggest challenge. The biggest investment that I want to do for our five-year plan, the categories that I want to contribute the most to are, I actually am learning to be a food blogger, so I’ve done my first few food posts recently, and someone left me a five-star review on my whipped feta dip. It was the greatest moment for me because it was my first time someone left one of those. So yeah, that’s very joyful for me, because I’m learning something new. I love that I live for it! And then obviously, I like to write home posts. We’ve been talking a lot about where we want to steer our home posts. Our top home posts of all time are so interesting. They’re really weird. They’re not what you would think. They’re not a tour of our living room or a tour of our Halloween decorations. It’s more like, we have this one firepit post. It’s actually the bench that they built for the firepit, it will never be beaten by anyone. Laura made this post last year about patching drywall, that was a huge winner, things like that. We want to do posts that are home, that are useful things that aren’t just sharing our interests and what we’re into this season but sharing things that will help people in the future. I have on my list. This is serious. I have on my list to write a post about how to take care of a fruit fly problem, things like that. But it was like a real problem…
Emma: I will be reading that post. I will be using that post. Yes. If you don’t have fruit flies. Good for you. But yeah, it’s an issue.
Elsie: Yeah and learning how to write in a way that is acknowledged by Google. It’s a huge challenge and I think it’s very fun. It’s sort of like learning the algorithm that people don’t talk about as much in our bubble. So I think it’s super fun and interesting. Okay, so let’s talk more about where we see the future for influencers and bloggers. I think you have to choose your own path. And I’m seeing lots of different paths, which is great. I really think influencer work is the land of opportunity. It is like a gold rush of our lifetime. Is that fair to say? I think it is.
Emma: I called it the unpaid intern. I like that you think of it as the Gold Rush that’s much more optimistic. That’s a glass half full vs glass half empty,
Elsie: I am an optimist in my soul. Obviously, influencer work can be unpaid. It can also be life-changing for so many people, more than you think. But I do think it’s an, is what you make it situation, and for me, I think everyone should think about their five-year plan, if not your 10-year plan, and think, what am I working towards? Because the thing that hurts me the most and gives me the sort of big sister or mom instincts towards my fellow influencers is if I see people who seem to be on this eternal hamster wheel grind, that is so much work, but they’re only working for the result they can get that day or that week, but it’s not building money for their future. So I would just encourage everyone to think about what you’re working towards, and have multiple goals in your future that are big and that are achievable and that, you know, you’re on a path too.
Emma: A Beautiful Mess in our internal meetings and such, we’re always talking about lately, long-term wins versus short-term wins. Thinking through how we can move our energy and our time and our resources and our talents towards the long term wins as much as we can. Sometimes we’ve got to focus a little bit on short-term wins, because they help us pay the bills and we gotta pay our bills. Having that mindset I think helps you prioritize, because I think that’s one of the biggest things. It is difficult when you are in charge of coming up with the content ideas, being the performer in the content, or making it, you know, making the food or making the home decor. Photographing it, editing it, editing the real, you’re a videographer now, all these things, and you’ve got to monetize. I think that sometimes it’s really hard to prioritize. You just have so many different tasks on your plate, it’s really hard to prioritize. I think a lot of times the hamster wheel comes from people focusing in on what is the thing that people comment to them the most about, which is usually the sexy part of their job. So getting a lot of views on a reel, for example, on Instagram.
Elsie: Yeah like going viral.
Emma: Yeah, going viral, getting a viral reel, very sexy, very sexy. And so I think then all of a sudden you get kind of fixated on that because that’s the feedback you’ve gotten from all those views is like, this was good, you should do a lot more of this. And I think that’s great and you should try for it but you’ve really got to think, was I able to monetize that reel? Did it help me grow organically with the audience that’s going to stick with me? You know, if not, then it’s something to aim for now and again, but I shouldn’t put too much of my energy and focus there, I need to focus on the things that are going to be the long-term wins for me and it’s hard to know what that is because every business is different. And like Elsie said, I think everyone’s got to choose their own path. I just wouldn’t get too fixated on, what’s the new shiny thing is that we’re supposed to be doing, and just really focus on, what’s making an impact for your business, your brand. And what’s going to help sustain you for the long term, and what’s helping you pay the bills? Because, you know, unless you’re independently wealthy and just doing this for fun, you’re gonna have to do that. So that’s got to be a focus.
Elsie: Yep! That’s very good advice. The next thing I have down is, what’s the advice that we would give our younger selves, knowing what we know now. So the advice I would give to my younger self, the first one is, this is for blogging specifically, quality over quantity. So I wish we would have known this advice because now 15 years into blogging, we’re going back into posts that we wrote in my first house, you know, my historic house when I lived in Missouri. We wrote so many posts, we were posting three times a day during that era. We’re going back into all those posts, correcting all of our mistakes, adding way more information, and filling them out, because we were getting good topics.
Emma: You should tell them how many posts we’ve deleted.
Elsie: We deleted 2000 posts from our site to help our site run faster, and also to basically declutter it, I would say, it’s kind of like a house that had a lot of junk that you just weren’t using and that was hurting you more than it was helping you. So yeah, we did that recently, which that was hard for me, I’m a hoarder by nature. I actually really enjoy the idea of going back and improving an old post but I think that if we would have known sooner to spend three times as much time on each post, instead of, you know, writing three posts a day. To write one post a day, that was three times longer and higher quality, obviously, it would have benefited us more. So that’s a good tip. The second one is your privacy and boundaries matter. So this is something that I learned the hard way and I think is an early internet early influence or flaw, or just a thing that had to evolve is that in the early internet, people treated us like if we put ourselves out there and if we made any money at all from being on the internet, that we owed them, everything. And in some cases, I would give that and I regret it now. I wish I would have had more boundaries from the beginning and I wish I would have valued my own privacy more from the beginning. Because I mean ultimately there was no permanent damage done but I just think that I had to relearn a lot of attitudes and I will teach my kids differently when they get old enough to have an internet presence. I felt like if people said, you owe us basically every detail that we want to know, that I felt like I really owed that.
Emma: Yeah. Well, I think too, it could also be a product of the time in which we grew up, because yeah, we literally didn’t have internet at our house until I was, maybe a senior in high school. I mostly remember starting to use the internet in college. We just didn’t grow up learning boundaries around it. I mean it wasn’t there, it wasn’t a thing, and social media really wasn’t a thing until I was way out of college. I mean, I guess there was Facebook and MySpace. That was starting while I was in college. So anyway, hopefully, kids are learning a lot more than we did about the internet as they’re growing up understanding some of the things that are true and untrue about it. And you know, ways to treat it and boundaries to have around it. Just things that I don’t think anyone could have taught us because it just was new. Like, we hadn’t done it yet, as a culture, it was a new thing.
Elsie: So yeah, in that respect, it’s not that I regret it. It’s more just, this is the advice I would go back with my time machine and it would have helped a lot. The next one is learn to work towards long-term goals, instead of just a hamster wheel. I think that our three posts a day example is probably, for us, our strongest thing that we could have changed sooner, we felt that people expected it. If we ever didn’t do the three posts a day, people complained. And we were worried that our stats would go down if we didn’t post that much. But ironically, at that point in time, we weren’t actually making that much money from our stats being so high. And we didn’t really need it to be like that. It kind of served no purpose, except for that our mentality was like, if you’re not growing, you know, you’re not good.
Emma: Yeah, we got focused on the sexy thing.
Elsie: So I think that if we would have learned sooner, then we wouldn’t have to do so much work now going back and filling out our old posts and correcting them and you know, doing everything properly. Kind of the way it should have been done the first time. Then the biggest advice I have, that I think we could all learn from, this is probably filed under the Emma was right I was wrong, is to listen to influencers outside of your bubble. I would even go so far as to say, listen less to influencers inside of your bubble, because the people who are doing just what you do, you already know a lot of what they know, you know, there advice just doesn’t have as much value to you. When you listen to someone who does something completely different from you. A lot of times the space where you can find some perspective and I think the most we ever learned about how to improve our site how to improve our content, how to improve our writing flow, our lightning speed towards burnout problems, like all of that was through listening more to people who did things differently. And honestly, a lot of the people who blogged just like we did back in our early days have now quit, because it was a burnout machine for sure. Yeah…
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I have a hard time with thinking of advice that I would give my younger self because I am also just happy with where we ended up. I feel like every mistake was a good lesson. I can see what I learned from it. So it’s always hard. But I think if I was going to, what I would include on my list of advice to my younger self would be to fight for an environment that you enjoy working in. For me, it took a while to see I really need a good amount of time alone, where no ones talking to me or needing things from me so that I can make content. I’m not very good at, if someone was following me around in the kitchen and asking me questions about our website redesign, while I’m trying to work on a recipe, that recipe is not gonna turn out. I’m going to forget to write something down. I’m gonna, you know, like, just, it’s not gonna go well. I always felt like I needed to be available. You know, if I wasn’t available to whoever was meeting me, then I was doing it wrong. And now I think…
Elsie: You’re a very hard-working boss and you take that part, managing other people, very seriously, but I can see how it could be, for your own detriment to not have a little bit of space for yourself.
Emma: Yeah, I think it just was I’m not very good at, or especially younger Emma wasn’t very good at, advocating for herself and the things that she needed. I think step one is understanding what you need and I think that took me a while to get. It is actually kind of weird to be like, I’m not going to do something for you because I need to do this thing for me. That’s a hard thing, at least for me to kind of say to people. I don’t know if I’d say it quite that harsh, but that’s essentially what I need to do sometimes and I do that a lot more now. It just makes it where I’m able to get my work done and I don’t have to do all of my work on the weekends because I did everything else that everyone else needed from me during the week. And it’s like, I don’t have weekends anymore because now I’m a mom. So yeah, I just, you know, had to learn this lesson. So I don’t know that would probably be one for me is a little more lessons around just valuing my time and asking for what I need.
Elsie: Yeah, I think that’s really great advice. Okay, the next question is, what advice would we give influencers who are starting off now, like you’re already in it, but you’re in the early stages. You’re still figuring out how to make money, how to turn it into full-time, things like that.
Emma: Yeah and I think this depends. So we have this word of advice to influencers. So is this just general influencers? Because I have different advice for someone who’s like, I want to start a blog, do you think that’s a good idea? Or is it over? Did I miss it? Versus someone who’s like, I think I’m gonna get on TikTok, and really work on that this year. What do you think about that? You know, I have different things to say, well, the TikTok person, I’d be like, good luck, more power to you. I’m not really on there. So I’m not a good person to give you advice.
Elsie: Okay, mine is kind of for both. So yeah, I do think that a lot of people in the influencer space have, they’ve sort of let their blog go, or they haven’t started a blog or a site yet. So my number one piece of advice is that you have to own your own list, so your own audience. So if you are on Instagram, TikTok, anything like that and that’s your main place where you have the most followers, you have to start an email list, at the bare minimum, start an email list, and do cute incentives, or, you know, whatever your audience loves, do some of that, to get them to join your email list. You have to do that because social media can change in an instant. We all know that. And the huge following that you’ve built up, you might at one point, find that you don’t have a way to get your content to them anymore. Because you know, things change. I’ve seen it happen. I have some friends who have very, very big accounts on kind of all the major like Instagram, Pinterest and there was points with both of those where the engagement just went from like amazing, to nothing. And so I think to get the email list before that happens is your most important move. The other thing I would do is start your own website. If you don’t want to blog every day, that’s totally fine, but start your own website that has your important content, and, you know, has the basics of what you do, and it’s active. You know, like once a week is fine. But I think if you want to be an influencer, you do need to have your own website, it scares me for people who don’t have anything to show if you know, an algorithm changes.
Emma: Yeah, I pretty much agree. And then I think too, for people starting out, as you get into monetizing, there’s some building. If you’re brand new, and you are just starting everything, then you’re probably just building for a little bit. So there’s that, there’s time just to do that, to be the unpaid intern. Once you do get into monetizing, I recommend having a diverse strategy for that. So don’t rely on only one way to make an income monetizing your content because for example, let’s say you only rely on sponsorships. This past year at A Beautiful Mess, we’ve seen a lot less sponsorships. I think it has to do with two things, mainly one, there’s a lot more competition out there and that’s actually a good thing. It probably means that the marketing budget that’s available is going to lots of different people instead of just a smaller pool. Although that is affecting us adversely, I still think that’s a good thing if that’s the case, but two is the economy. We started off the year with the war on Ukraine, also coming off the heels of a global pandemic, which is still somewhat ongoing, but not like it was in 2020. Then a lot of people here in the US especially have been talking about, is there going to be a recession. What’s going on with the market? What’s going on with the stock market? What’s going on with the housing market?
Elsie: Yeah, people are being very cautious right now.
Emma: Very cautious, which a lot of times in large businesses, one of the first places that you can cut budget if you’re looking to be conservative, is the marketing budget. Especially if you work with an agency because then you don’t even have to fire anyone, you just do less work with your agency, right? But that budget is how sponsorships trickle down to people on the internet like us. So we’ve just seen a lot less of that this year. I think, basically, because of those two reasons, the economy and then more competition. So if we relied solely on sponsorships, we probably would have closed our doors this year. It’s just been that bad. Elsie and I wouldn’t be doing this anymore but we have other ways over the years that we’ve been building up and those things this year saved us. So that’s why it’s really important to have a few different ways, and it’s okay if one way is your main income, but then you’re working on the side things to just try to build them up. That’s normal. That’s basically what we’re doing all the time. The reason you want to have three legs to your table instead of one is because if that one leg gets kicked out, now you don’t have a table, whereas you have three eggs, at least you still have two legs, you know, you can kind of make it through, which is what we’ve done this year. And I’m really grateful.
Elsie: Yes, yes, I completely agree. Yeah, if you have a choice between taking a class about how to grow your social media following verses how to grow your email list, pick the email list one, every time, I just promise you, it’s the most valuable thing you can have.
Emma: Well, let’s talk about, we’ve talked about blogging generally, let’s talk about our blog redesign because it has been six or seven years since we had a redesign for abeautifulmess.com and we’ve been working on this since late last year. So since before the holidays 2021. We’ve been working on this redesign that just launched last month. Yeah, it’s been really exciting. And I love the new site, we’re still learning how to use it like back endwise. It’s very different, we’re on WordPress, and you know, over the last couple years, we’ve been moving to the Gutenberg blocks. If you are a blogger, you know what that is and if you don’t, you probably don’t care so I’m not going to elaborate but essentially, it’s like a different way to enter in your information, your data, your content into the backside of your blog before your audience sees it, the front end. So for us, there’s been a lot of changes that you haven’t seen as far as what our audience sees on the front end on abeautifulmess.com. So one, we’ve noticed over the last few years that our mobile traffic has significantly increased. I am always looking at our blog on desktop because that’s how I work on the blog. That’s how I upload photos and write my text. I don’t do that on my phone almost ever, because it’s just too difficult. I almost always do it on my desktop. So I’m always looking at the blog on desktop. So it’s just easy for me to think of everybody is reading our blog on desktop, but that’s not true.
Elsie: I prefer to read blogs on desktop too. But when you look at the stats, was it like 70% of our traffic is looking through their phone?
Emma: Exactly. Yeah, so this website redesign was very much focused on mobile. So if you haven’t checked out our site on mobile, even if that’s not normally how you read blogs, do it because it’s actually really interesting. I think it’s so much better, like a way better experience than it was before. It’s easier to navigate. Categories are slightly different. There’s somewhat condensed, and I think that makes it easier to find things. Also, our search bar is different. It’s much more robust. So it’s just better. So if you’re searching something with the search bar, it’s much more likely you’re going to find it now than if you had done that a year ago, because it wasn’t as good a year ago.
Elsie: Yeah, it’s intensely easier to navigate through mobile. And yeah, the mobile experience and the speed are the main things that we wanted to improve and I’m really glad we got a chance to do that.
Emma: Yep. And then it also just has lots of little areas on the homepage and then throughout the category pages where we can add different things. Right now we have a shirt that’s inspired by Weegee board, and it says cookie season. And it’s for our charity shop, which we do through Bonfire. So if you go on our homepage, you can see that right now. We’re not necessarily going to do a blog post about it, but now we have a place where we can kind of put that on the homepage for these next couple months because it’s you know, geared towards Halloween and spooky season, we don’t necessary have to do a blog post that then gets buried after a couple days. So I really love that about the site. Probably my number one favorite thing is actually a really small detail but I think it’s so fun. So as you’ve heard, Elsie and I are obsessed with holidays. If you listen to this podcast, then you know, we love holidays. So we moved how you navigate to our holiday content. It’s more prominent on the homepage and we change it out with each season. Right now it says Halloween, and it’s in Elsie’s handwriting, and it has these little bats and it’ll switch over to Thanksgiving, it’ll switch over to Christmas. We change it up for each of the holiday seasons. I just think it’s really fun. It’s just like a fun little detail that makes the website feel like it’s more seasonal. You know, we’re not changing all of the colors of the whole website for every season but what’s on the homepage kind of changes and then that little button does. I feel like it kind of gives it a fall vibe now currently and then in the winter there’ll be more winter and yeah, so I don’t know those are some of my favorite things and hopefully makes the site just way easier for people to use because we do still have, even though we deleted all those posts, we still have well over 4000 posts on our website, so we just want people to be able to find the good stuff because there’s honestly lots of good stuff in there.
Elsie: Awesome. Okay, so should we jump into the book report?
Emma: Yeah, let’s do it.
Elsie: So our book report this week is for, The House in the Cerulean Sea.
Emma: Yes, so this book is about a caseworker, Linus Baker, who is sent to an orphanage that he is doing an investigation of. That’s what his job is, he investigates orphanages to make sure that they’re up to code, and they’re safe for the children, they’re probably given more funding or closed based on his reports. So that’s his job and he’s sent to a very special one on an island that’s very secretive. And that’s sort of the story. Another thing to note is that it’s a fantasy book. So he’s always going to places where there’s magical children. So the children are unique in that there have different magical abilities or just different aspects to them that are fantastical. So that’s a part of the book too, which is really fun and interesting. Some of the major themes of the book, I would say are about prejudice, or kind of racism but it’s, I guess, a special kind cuz it’s kind of about magical humans, which is not an actual race. But you know, we’re learning about racism through the lens of magic.
Elsie: I think general prejudice, for sure.
Emma: Yeah, prejudice, a massive theme in the book. And then also, some of the characters are gay or bisexual. I’m not really sure but there’s a love story of gay individuals, which I think that was really fun and sweet in the book, too. Yeah, it’s definitely a feel good. You have little moments where you cry. And it’s just an adorable fun read.
Elsie: I loved it. 10 out of 10. It was one of my favorite books of the year. Best main character, I loved the main character. The romance in the book, it’s very subtle. I like a subtle romance actually, I also just read too many sex scenes this year, I think, like, you know, they blend together. Yeah, I’ve had enough for the moment. I just wanted something very different and this book really delivered that. I will say my favorite thing about it, sensory-wise, that stuck with me, is that they use the song Beyond The Sea throughout the book. And it’s like, I can hear it. It’s so sensory. I love that song anyway, but now I’ll never hear it for the rest of my life without thinking of this novel, which I think is really special.
Emma: Yeah, no, I loved it too, it’s a lovely read. I also love exotic places. I felt like I got to go to somewhere special. I wish there was more detail about the orphanage, the house that they’re in. I would have loved more description about the rooms but that’s just because I want to picture the movie house version. I want more details about the drapery and the carpet and what do the mantle’s look like. And you know, that’s just where my mind goes is picturing the house. So I guess I wanted a little more of that. But yeah, it’s very, very sweet. Really pretty simple but I think speaking to some very complicated things that we’ve all seen before, you know, like I said, theme is prejudice. So, yeah, I think it’s speaking to some larger things that do take place in our real world and not just this fantastical world of the book, the author is making his points through magic, and I could not love that more.
Elsie: No, I agree.
Emma: Do you have a favorite character? Like there’s a bunch of kids in the books, and they all have different magical powers and different species in a way. One of them’s like kind of an animal in a way, I guess.
Elsie: I thought that the way that the children were magical was very unique and a fresh take. My favorite character was definitely Lucy. I do think that E is a heart stealer for probably everyone.
Emma: For sure.
Elsie: Yeah. I mean, that was one of the most magical unique characters I’ve ever heard. But I don’t want to give spoilers around that because I do think that that part of it is, just I want everyone to read this book. I would say one of the strongest recommendations of our year, you have to read it.
Emma: One of my favorite characters is the little boy, I read the book, like paper version, so I probably am not gonna say his name right but it’s like Chauncey. And I won’t say like, what his deal is so you can find out in the book, but he has a very unique dream of something that he wants to be when he grows up. And it’s not just like a doctor or a lawyer. I feel like the things that lots of little kids say which it’s, doctors and lawyers are awesome, have used both their services before, love them. But you know, he has a really unique, strange little dream. I love that depiction. I loved seeing a kid that’s just excited about something and he’s reading books on the subject. He’s practicing in his own way to do this job, and he has some barriers for why he might not be able to because of the way that he looks because of his magical abilities or his magicalness, I guess. I think that’s a really interesting part of the book.
Elsie: Yeah so leave us a comment on our show notes today at abeautifulmess.com/podcast. If you want to tell us what you thought about the book, your favorite characters, or any kind of conversation, we will jump in there and chat with you on the show notes. Okay, so before we go, we have a listener question from Makayla, this one came through email, you can email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org It is one of the best ways to send a question because we never miss anything there. You know, social media, it can be very messy. The question is, I love activities, especially during the holiday months, but I find a lot of ideas geared towards children. I was wondering if you have any ideas for holiday activities and crafts for adults and/or couples. I love this question. So I basically am just going to talk about, what I miss, my life before kids, and that’s my list. And you know, looking forward to again someday, because yeah, the Kid Zone in life, it’s the greatest but it’s not the only magical great zone in life. I hope to never make it seem that way. Because that’s not what I think.
Emma: No, that’s not what I think either.
Elsie: Okay, so one of the big things I miss is just fancy or special dining experiences. So in Nashville, the hotel restaurants during the holiday season go like, amazing. There’s one of them that does little igloos that you can sit in on the rooftop. And you know, you can have your drinks out there and there’s no kids allowed, believe me I asked, things like that. And then there was another hotel last year that did a Home Alone experience where you get Home Alone themed cocktails and a cheese pizza and I just died for that. And we weren’t able to go do these things because of our babysitter situation. So I think if you don’t have that barrier in your life, go out all the time. Like it’s so special.
Emma: I agree. Some things on my list are before we had our son Oscar we went to, it’s called Silver Dollar City, where I’m from, and it’s kind of like a Cracker Barrel turned into a theme park. I don’t know. So it’s really fun. But at Christmas time,
Elsie: That’s the most accurate way to describe it.
Emma: Anyway, at Christmas time they put up tons and tons of lights. And so just walking around in the park with a hot beverage and I think they even sell like Wassell, which is like a wine. It’s an alcoholic beverage and they have other things. I think they have hot chocolate other things too. I think that’s really fun because at the age that Oscar is at right now his bedtime is seven. So it’s kind of hard to do anything at night unless we get a sitter and then it’s an adult thing. So I would just say anything at night is a fun holiday thing to do for adults. Because you know,
Elsie: Kids walking around slowly and having a nice conversation with a hot beverage and looking at lights, is just for me in my life right now, just not something that I can do. Yeah, I think of it as a lot of the same types of things, like you can make crafts, Emma and I love making wreaths. That’s what we would make.
Emma: That was the next thing I was gonna say.
Elsie: Like a wine mom night, like it would probably be a wreath right? Or like a garland? We like that kind of craft.
Emma: Yes, just have your friends over or do it by yourself. Watch a seasonal movie and make yourself a Halloween wreath or a Christmas wreath. Yeah, there’s so many things you can make and do. Holidays definitely should not be thought of as just kids’ crafts and just things for children. I love doing the kid stuff but I think doing things for yourself or just you and your partner or you and your friends. So fun. I’m definitely wanting to do a Hocus Pocus 2 viewing party at home with some friends and do the elaborate sugar cookies that are witch hats and all that stuff. And Oscar will be asleep. So that’s just like me and my adult friends doing it because it’s fun and it’s holiday.
Elsie: I love that. I think just make your list work for your season in life and whatever that is, own it, and make the most of it.
Emma: Yeah, enjoy the season because there’s beautiful, wonderful things in each of them. It’s not all for kids. That’s a fun season, but it’s not the only thing.
Elsie: Yeah. Okay, thank you so much for listening. Email us anytime at email@example.com If you are loving our podcast please leave us a review. That means so much to us and don’t forget to hit subscribe so that you always get updated with our new episodes
I like cheap laptops. More accurately, I like good cheap laptops… but those can be hard to find. For every hundred bucks that gets trimmed off a laptop’s price, its features, design and performance all typically take a hit. But when I find one that rises above Black Friday doorbuster level, it’s something to cheer about.
If you need a budget laptop that looks decent, has a passable keyboard, is small enough to go anywhere and is flexible enough to double as a video-streaming tablet, then check out the Lenovo Duet Chromebook. It’s not especially fast, and the touchpad isn’t great, but it’s still one of the best computers you can buy for under $400. Just note that it makes a better secondary or travel laptop than a primary device — which is something I’d say about almost any 11-inch laptop.
Includes a keyboard cover
Works as a laptop or tablet
Excellent overall value
Touchpad isn’t great
No headphone jack
Currently selling for $379, this is an 11-inch ChromeOS tablet with a keyboard cover and kickstand. That means it can work as a standalone touchscreen tablet, or as a clamshell-like notebook. In that way, it’s kind of like a cheaper Microsoft Surface 2-in-1. The version tested here has 64GB of eMMC storage, but the model in stores right now has 128GB, which is a plus.
Microsoft already makes a budget Surface, the most-recent version of which is called the Surface Go 3. It’s $400 and runs Windows instead of ChromeOS, and has an Intel processor instead of the Snapdragon 7c here. But the biggest practical difference to me is that the Lenovo Duet includes its pretty darn good keyboard cover in the box, while Microsoft forces you to buy its keyboard cover for an extra $100 to $129, depending on the color. When shopping at this end of the budget pool, a 25% premium to get the keyboard (which is a must-have) makes a big difference.
As a Chromebook, the Duet is less capable than a Windows device in some respects, but as modern Chromebooks can run almost any Android app, the use cases where this would make a real difference to you continue to narrow. And head-to-head, a sub-$500 computer running ChromeOS is usually going to feel speedier and more responsive than a similarly priced Windows PC, because of the lighter OS.
I’ve always said the keyboard cover design and build quality are the best things about the Surface line, and that’s true for the Lenovo Duet as well. The Lenovo keyboard is similarly solid, not flimsy like some other clip-on keyboards, and its smallish keys have excellent depth and a satisfying clacky feel. The tiny touchpad, in contrast, is the single most annoying thing about this system — it’s usable, but doesn’t feel as accurate or responsive as I’d like.
Here’s a quick ChromeOS trackpad tip. If you want to get a more familiar Windows-like feel, jump into the system settings, located at Settings > Device > Touchpad, and make sure tap-to-click and tap dragging are both enabled.
For occasional long-form typing, I could get by with this keyboard cover. But for serious editing, which requires navigating all around a document with the touchpad, it wasn’t fun. But honestly that’s asking a lot from such an inexpensive device.
Unlike the Surface line, which has an excellent built-in kickstand, the kickstand here is a separate back cover piece that magnetically snaps onto the back of the system, and matches the aesthetic of the keyboard cover. You can take it off for a really stripped-down slate look, but I don’t know why you’d bother.
A decent display
The display is another strong point, with a 2,000×1,200 screen resolution and an 11-inch (really 10.9-inch) screen. Lenovo also makes a larger 13-inch Duet with an even better OLED display that’s often on sale for under $500, and that’s worth a look if you need something larger. The IPS touchscreen here was more than acceptable for video streaming and productivity, with a max brightness of 400 nits.
Since it’s so small and light, less than 1.2 pounds with just the screen (or just over 2 pounds with the keyboard and back cover), this is great for holding one-handed in landscape mode for extended reading sessions.
Performance and battery life
As a performer… well, this isn’t on the speedy side, even among recent Chromebooks. I definitely felt it when hitting a dozen or more open tabs in the Chrome browser. In benchmark tests, it was middle of the pack.
Still, running Android apps should be fine, as the Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU here is similar to what you might find in some phones. From the Google Play store, I tried a couple of recent Android games with decent graphics, including Diablo Immortal. The free-to-play action RPG played fine, but was restricted to lower in-game graphics settings, including a 30fps versus 60fps frame rate.
I also tried cloud gaming via Xbox Cloud Gaming. For that, I played via the Chrome browser. If you have a solid internet connection, it can be a very satisfying alternative to downloaded games, and cloud gaming is only going to become more and more mainstream. In this particular case, I had trouble getting my Bluetooth controller recognized by the Xbox cloud gaming app, so I hardwired my controller via USB-C.
You still run into occasional compatibility issues with Chromebooks. While most apps and cloud services here worked as expected, I couldn’t get Adobe’s beta cloud version of Photoshop to run, instead getting an incompatible browser message.
And while I like the Duet overall, there are a few other things that might be a dealbreaker for you. The keyboard cover is included, but a stylus is not. Any USI pen will do, and there’s a rubber holder that snaps into the back cover if you decide to get the official Lenovo version, which is $35.
You’ve only got two USB-C ports for charging, which can be limiting (but it’s also the same as a MacBook Air). And potentially most important, there’s no headphone/audio jack.
If those flaws aren’t fatal, the Lenovo Duet 3 makes a great second or travel laptop. I’d be hard-pressed to use it as an all-day, every day device – but if I only wanted to spend $400 on a laptop, I’d also be hard-pressed to think of an overall better option.
The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device’s aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both those objective and subjective judgments.
Check out the companies making headlines before the bell:
Planet Fitness — Shares of the gym franchise jumped nearly 3% in premarket trading after Raymond James upgraded the stock to strong buy from market perform. The Wall Street firm said the company has a resilient and recession-resistant business with no interest rate risk and very little near-term debt maturities. Meanwhile, its current valuation is well below its recent historical average, Raymond James noted.
PG&E — The utility stock climbed more than 5% premarket after S&P Dow Jones Indices on Friday said PG&E will replace Citrix Systems in the S&P 500, effective prior to the opening of trading on Monday, October 3. Vista Equity Partners is acquiring Citrix Systems in a transaction expected to be completed this week
Las Vegas Sands — Shares of the casino operator surged more than 7% after Macao announced its plan to allow tour groups from mainland China as soon as November. Shares of MGM Resorts rose more than 2%.
Lyft — Shares of the ride-hailing company fell nearly 4% premarket after UBS downgraded the stock to neutral from buy. The Wall Street firm cited its driver survey that indicates drivers prefer Uber and Lyft is not their main app.