2013 A-to-Z Challenge: A Review

I survived the A to Z Challenge!!

survivor_[2013]

I started off strong and motivated with a travel theme, and I did a pretty decent job of sticking to it. I planned out most of my posts in advance, and wrote them in advance for most of the first two weeks. Then I got to the letter P and had a change of heart (and a change of pace), and decided to write about Purchasing My First Home. Shockingly, that post earned me the highest daily pageview count my little blog has ever seen!

I returned to the travel theme (mostly), but kind of fizzled out toward the end. I cheated a little and wrote about non-travel destinations, but overall I was happy with my posts, because they were true to me and true to the things I want to blog about.

I wrote 32 posts during the month of April, which is nearly a third of the total posts I’ve ever written! I started this blog in June 2011, and sort of abandoned it after that, only to really return in January of this year. I’m glad I stumbled upon the A to Z Challenge, because it’s helped me to realize that there’s always something to write about, even when it doesn’t immediately come to mind. I want my blog to continue to grow, and the only way to do that is to keep writing and keep supporting other bloggers!

Speaking of growing, participating in the Challenge was seriously exciting for me in terms of having actual readers! To give you an idea of the traffic I’m used to, here’s what my monthly stats looked like for the entire history of my blog (captured on April 11):

monthly site stats 4-11-13

Yep, that’s right: I was blogging nearly entirely to myself until January of this year. Here’s what my daily stats looked like for the first half of the challenge:

daily site stats 4-11-13

And here’s what they looked like as of April 30:

blog stats on 4/30/13

blog stats on 4/30/13

I was thrilled the day I earned 39 views, and positively shocked the day 56 people read what I was writing. That’s the incredible thing about this challenge: other bloggers really made an effort to read each others’ posts and to leave comments.

I’m really going to miss the visitors!

On that note, I came across some really great blogs as a result of participating. By A-to-Z topic, some of my favorites were…

Travel: a passion and a passport, Sincerely Shannon, and katka travels;

Wine: New House Girl

Running: The Drunk Runner

Relationships: STFU For A Better Relationship

I got a few new followers during April, and I started following several new people! It’s really been a win-win for everyone!

With all that said, one thing I’d love to see happen with this challenge (or perhaps a different one) is that it happen more than once a year. I would LOVE to pair with another blogger (or two, or twenty…) to dream up our own challenge and try to get it off the ground! Any ideas, anyone? Seriously…Let’s do it.

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Zeal, or: If Money Were No Object

John and Sherry announced today that they’ve purchased a new house and will be moving in as soon as they sell their current one. My first reaction upon reading their post was jealousy. My second? Anger. And I’m talking inappropriate levels of jealous anger. (How embarrassing, right?!)

I’ve been reading their blog since my senior year of college (so sometime during the fall of 2009 or the spring of 2010), and I’ve always been envious of the incredible lifestyle they’ve been able to build for their family through their blog. When it comes to DIY/design/home improvement blogs, theirs is the biggest there is. It’s what everyone else in that arena aspires to. I’m no exception. (I know, it sounds crazy. Bear with me.)

Although my blog is seriously lacking in DIY and design (duh, I don’t even own a house), that’s what I initially set out for this site to be. I chose my blog’s name because it would allow me to write about the house I eventually buy, as well as my various adventures in my hometown. I’ve written before about how buying my own house has long been my biggest life goal. Well, my reaction to their post today really brought that to the forefront. As soon as I finished digesting their post, I fired off an email to P. Here’s an excerpt:

YHL announced this morning that they bought a new house and I’m so freaking jealous. Like, so jealous that I’m actually mad. I don’t want to work in a job that I hate in order to save up money to buy a house some day… I want to buy a house NOW and have a job that I love and have people read my awesome blog about how I’m fixing my super-awesome beautiful house. GEEZ!!!

I realize that it’s melodramatic, but behind that, there’s some true logic. I’ve been uttering different versions of “I hate my job” for the last 21 months…and ironically, that’s exactly how long I’ve been in the workforce.

I want a house. I want a job that I love. I want enough money to live comfortably and to allow me to do things like travel and build the life of my dreams. (Spoiler: that really wouldn’t require all that much money. I’m a pretty simple girl.)

So that’s where the titular ‘zeal’ comes in.

zeal

noun

fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor.

I need to turn my raging jealousy into a zealous effort to get where I want to be – personally, professionally, and… blog-ally? Jealous –> Zealous. Make sense?

I realized today that if money were no object, I’d quit my job in a heartbeat and move to P’s town. (We’ve been in a long-distance relationship since November, and while it’s been an adjustment for us, it hasn’t been horrible.) I’d put a chunk of cash down on a house there and rent out a room or two, so that my mortgage would be mostly (if not completely) covered by my roommates. I’d take a few classes at Longwood – it’s not the most prestigious school in the state, but another Master’s degree couldn’t hurt. I’d live there for a few years, figure out life in a small town, make some personal and professional connections, and try to get involved in the community. (My Master’s degree is in Higher Education, and there are two colleges in Farmville, even if not much else.) Then, after a few years, hopefully P would be ready to move on to another job in another city, and we’d move together. (Obviously, this assumes a few things about the future of our relationship, but it’s what I’d do at this very moment — if money were no object.)

So. That’s that.

You Know What?

There’s only one more post in the A to Z Challenge, and I’m kind of relieved. I mean, I’ll be sad and lonely when my posts go back to being read by no one and the comments dwindle down to zero, but right now I’m just tired!

I was exhausted all day at work. I literally drifted in and out of sleep as I sat at my desk writing email. To clients! I couldn’t even tell you what I did with most of my day. Those 8 hours went by in a blur, and I actually left a little early. I’m running in the Heart of Virginia 10k on Saturday morning, so I knew I had a training run to eke out before I could pass out in my bed. I got home and didn’t remotely feel like running, so I decided to make it a nice, slow, easy run. Two miles and done. (I also secretly thought that once I got going, I’d feel better. I was right.)

Two relaxed miles later, I was sweating a bunch and feeling much better. Now I’m watching The Voice and trying to come up with a Z post for tomorrow!

Which brings me back to the point. Today’s letter is Y, which I knew would be challenging. Between my bouts of unconsciousness today at work, I tried to think of Y locations that I’d actually like to visit. I came up with Yorktown, VA; Yonkers, NY; and Yellowstone, and rejected them all.

So now I’ve settled on Yale. I realize that it’s actually located in New Haven, which doesn’t start with Y, but that’s too bad. The only time I’ve ever seen Yale was on the Gossip Girl episode where the crew visited (which I just Googled and learned was actually filmed at Columbia. Great.).

This picture looks a whole lot like Virginia Tech to me. And that’s fine, because I happen to think that my old campus is one of the prettiest there is!

Anyway, Yale it is. I’d just like to take a tour of the campus. That’s all!

(I’d also like to re-watch Gossip Girl from season one to the end. I stopped watching midway through the fifth season and now I want to go back and see how it all ended up going down.)

How was that for a random post?

X Marks The Spot

I knew when I chose a travel theme for the A to Z Challenge that ‘X’ would be a tough one. There are plenty of Asian destinations that begin with X, but to tell the truth: I’ve never been remotely interested in visiting Asia. So those are all out.

This challenge has been a lot of fun, not only because it’s forced me to do some real research on the places that I’ve always wanted to visit, but also because there are other bloggers out there who’ve chosen similar themes. That means they’ve done the research for me, and my list has grown!

If I were to create a map of my top travel destinations at this very moment, it might look like this:

I know it’s hard to make it out exactly, but my intentions with those X’s were:

This list might be different if you were to ask me again in a week, or even ten minutes. (I’m actually really surprised that Rome isn’t on there…) But for now, this is what I’m thinking! Does it seem realistic to accomplish within the next two years? Five years? Six months? (I wish!)

To anybody else: What’s on your list right this moment?

Watkins Glen

Today’s A to Z post brings us to another destination that’s on my current real-life travel list.

On January 17, the following email exchange happened between P and me:

P: http://www.budgettravel.com/contest/americas-coolest-small-towns-2013,14/

Read the little blurb on Watkins Glen, NY.

K: FIFTY Rieslings!!!!!!!!!!!!

P: I know.  Maybe we can plan a trip there!

For anyone who didn’t click the link, here’s what I saw when I read the blurb (as instructed):

Watkins Glen

As you can see, it doesn’t actually state “50 Rieslings,” but rather 50 wineries, many of which grow both Riesling and Gewurztraminer (which are, as P pointed out in a later email that first day: “Your favorite and my favorite!”). We’ve been talking about a trip ever since. I searched for places to stay later that night, and I found lots of charming little cabins in the woods, with descriptions boasting their peaceful remoteness and easy access to hiking trails and waterfalls. We’re leaning toward a trip later in the year, and I’m pretty sure this would be a spectacular way to celebrate my 25th birthday in September (hint, hint).

Watkins Glen: wine, waterfalls, and woods. With any luck, we’ll be there in a few months!

Vancouver

For today’s A to Z post, I’m planning a road trip!

I had intended to write about Portland as my P destination, and Seattle for my S, and I did write about Juneau to represent my dream of seeing a polar bear in the wild… And since I had planned on doing Vancouver for the letter V, why not roll them all into one and take a road trip through the Pacific Northwest? (It’s my Challenge, after all…)

I’ve never been to Canada, and never really looked into it much, either. But when I saw pictures of the digital orca, I thought, ‘hm, I could put Vancouver on my list.

Pretty cool, right?

I’d like to venture up to the Great White North, home of some pretty cool people: Sarah Richardson, Candice Olson, Alex Trebek, Robin Scherbatsky…

Does anyone have any tips for first-timers in Canada? Any particular Vancouver attractions, hotels, events, or restaurants? 

Universal Orlando: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Today’s A to Z post brings us to the letter U. I’ve been looking forward to this one for the whole alphabet.

Um, duh! Universal Orlando: the real most magical place on earth!!

Seriously…whoever designed this theme park was a GENIUS. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is every bookworm’s dream come true. All the reviews say that it’s the best recreation of the books out there.

Where else could I possibly see the magical inside of Hogwarts and stroll the streets of Hogsmeade? I could buy chocolate frogs in Honeydukes, some school robes in Dervish and Banges, try out wands at Ollivanders, and then send a letter from The Owl Post and finish off by drinking some butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks…

All while being surrounded by other awesome Harry Potter fans? When can I visit??

I’m nerding out. I want to go to Florida! (But only as my pathway to England…)

Has anyone been to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Was it freaking awesome?