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Letterpress, Life, Productivity

Welcome to the Chase Alley Press!

I’ve been distant on my blogging these last months, as we have had extensive family upheaval. After moving in January 2016, and spending a full year moving / working on the old house / finally selling the old house, my aunt was in a car accident in November 2016. This led to the most trips between Tennessee and Maryland that I ever thought possible. Trips to sort out her things, to clean out and sell her house when it became obvious she could not return home, and to move those family heirlooms that I wanted from her home. Then in January 2017, my grandfather fell ill with pneumonia, and without my aunt to assist, we brought him home with hospice car in February 2017 to his home in Maryland. We made many trips to visit family over the year, and my grandfather died in December 2017.

In these first few months of 2018, we have been frantically cleaning out my grandfather’s home (which he purchased over fifty years ago) of all of the items that we wanted to keep — including his printshop. My grandfather, Jacob LaRue Warner, was a hobby printer for over 50 years. Here is an article he wrote in his monthly journal The Boxwooder, which was reprinted in Type & Press in 1989.

And here is a very well researched obituary article written about my grandfather, written by Dave Tribby for The Fossil:

All of this leads to the birth of the Chase Alley Press. Marc and I are very grateful to be done with the printshop moving process, (which included riggers using cranes to move equipment from the basement to our truck) and have taken possession of all of the presses, type, printed matter, and other equipment from the Boxwood Press and are naming our private press the Chase Alley Press. We shall be publishing a series of articles about the presses and the shop as we complete our inventory and restoration process.

Entrepreneurship, Life

Reading Lists

In this startup phase, I’ve been writing a lot fewer posts and articles than I ever have before, because it’s hard to start talking about my product without pitching — and it’s hard to pitch my product without it being ready for show and tell. We’re getting so much closer to a live launch.

In the meantime, I have been reading far more books on business, business in tech, and entrepreneurship.

The book I’m reading at the moment, The Intelligent Entrepreneur, by Bill Murphy Jr., has been a fantastic read so far. I read the comments on Amazon before I borrowed it from the library, and many of the comments hinged on the fact that it over glorifies the Harvard Business School (true fact) and that it makes venture capital seem much easier than it is today (true fact). However, the book is a great story, following three entrepreneurs from the same class at HBS. It shows the good and the bad, everything about their lives as they struck out on their own to form businesses.

My takeaways aren’t the “10 rules of successful entrepreneurship” that the cover dictates — but the more minor things. An offhanded comment that one of the entrepreneurs occasionally stayed up all night playing Civilization while he’s in the world of new startup entrepreneurship. And it gave me so much more hope. Because if I have to follow all the suggestions everyone says — throwing everything into my business around the clock, living, sleeping, dreaming the business, then the business isn’t worth it to me.

Do I love my business idea? Yes. Am I excited beyond belief to have it come to fruition, just for my own use? Yes. Will I probably work on it well over a 40 hour week until I can afford to hire employees to get a more manageable schedule? Yes.

Will I take afternoons to go to swim lessons with my son? Will I take a child-free evening to simply enjoy and play games with my husband? You bet. I’ll be one more entrepreneur, trying to make my mark on the world… but if I’m up at midnight, I’m probably playing just one more turn…

Life, Productivity, WordPress

Starting Up

I have never been so excited about a website launch than I am at this moment. I’ve been able to take my strongest skills from across my hobbies, merge them with my web development skills, and create a fantastic product that I can’t wait to share with the world. It’s a dream web app for me, and something that I’ll enjoy using for years and years to come. And it’s something forcing me to meet more of my goals for this year with learning Javascript and taking my WordPress development to the next level.

Vague? Yes. I’ve written a much longer reveal post when we’re ready to release our beta version, hopefully by Labor Day. Please stay tuned, I’m super excited about this opportunity.

Life, Productivity

Taking charge of life – Spark Planner review

If you’ve read other posts on my blog, you realize I’ve had a crazy beginning to 2016 — moving houses, job transitions, trying to fix the old house to sell, and other smaller things.

However, one item that has really helped me pull through is a planner I bought off Kickstarter in the fall — the Spark Planner.  I am a junkie for productivity tools, and especially written planners, but I’ve been shocked at how much this planner has helped me. I set annual, monthly, and weekly goals, which I follow and set tasks to push me closer every day.

I originally thought this would help me take my business to the next level but instead, I’ve found that it’s rounding me in many aspects of life. I was late on the kickstarter, so I didn’t get my planner until right before February 1, so this is more of a “first quarter” check-in.

My annual goals were focused on the idea of growth: Growth of spirit, finances, learning, and body.

My top goals were:

  • Increase my income
  • Sell my old house
  • Become more multilingual (learn Chinese)
  • Increase knowledge
  • Lose weight
  • Increase fitness
  • Complete a half-ironman or equivalent

At this point, there have been several setbacks on the physical front – medical issues are flaring up with larger amounts of exercise, so I have to take things much slower than I thought. I also found that I have a medical condition which puts me at very high risk of illness from open water swimming (more susceptible to bacteria, etc) so I likely won’t be able to do a half-ironman official event in the fall. I’m still contemplating pulling it off in a gym setting for the swimming portion. Still, I can figure that out later. Getting in the running shape is the hardest part of a triathlon for me, so that is what I am focusing on right now, and I’ve lost 15 lbs since New Years.

The old house has been on the market for 3 days, a major accomplishment. It hasn’t sold yet, but it’s finally “finished” with regard to the work it took to get to listing ready status.

I’m making serious headway in learning Chinese as well. I’m learning Mandarin, and contrary to much advice, I’m attempting to learn to read, write, listen, and speak simultaneously. Therefore, it’s going slowly, but if I learn only to hear and speak, I will have a much harder time reading and writing later, and vice versa. That’s how I learn best. Definitely don’t try to hold a conversation with me yet… I’m a super beginner. My personal goal for the year is to get my fluency up to a casual proficiency level, and be able to begin reading websites written in Chinese, and begin to learn about Chinese typography. I have to learn the language more, before nuances in typography are understandable. Definitely a language that makes me wish I were in a larger city with an actual Chinese population in order to learn better — I haven’t seen or met anyone here who has fluency, in order to “check” my pronunciation skills.

Increasing my income is an interesting goal. Since I chose that goal, my previous work position crumbled, so I took some time to decide how to move forward. At this point, I’m still freelancing through my business that I co-own with my husband (The Bunny Network) and I haven’t really increased my income, but it’s regaining back to where it was, and I have some promising options for the future as well. I applied for several full time positions, but I have several other paths open to me right now, and that makes for an interesting season of exploration. Everything that I’m doing now is growing my career strengths, even if it isn’t making short term income, so I am happy with my current movement on growing my career.

The big goal I didn’t list earlier, that has taken precedence also, is organization. There’s nothing like moving as a family after 6 years in one house, to show you that you have a lot of organizational needs. A lot of my weekly and monthly goals have revolved around the organization in the new house.

So the question you’re probably wondering now is, how much of this really has been helped by the planner?

I have made annual goals, every single year. But I never really hold myself to them, or revisit them. The Spark Planner pushes me to think about them in creating my monthly and weekly goals, and has reoriented my life to the bigger goals, rather than the smaller goals. In the past, I’ve been great at task lists and other things, but I haven’t focused every week on meeting my annual goals for me as a person. When I fail to meet a goal, I see it, realize it, and let it shape the next week. The single largest thing I’ve learned from the process, however, is to keep my eyes on the larger goals rather than the small tasks, and this has really pushed me to grow much more than I otherwise would have. I look forward to coming up with my goals each week, and I hope to revisit with a new blog post after another quarter.

Life, WordPress

Impostor Syndrome

Here’s my biggest secret: I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be good enough for what I do. I’ve let it hold me back in way too many ways. Here’s my story.

1) I went to a prestigious engineering school (Case Western Reserve University).

Despite getting hired to work on a help desk on literally day one of college, and succeeding mightily in that work the whole time I was in college, I couldn’t find a job when I graduated. Granted, I was trying to stay in Cleveland at the height of recession – I graduated in January 2007 – but I didn’t apply for anything that would have given me an upward trend.

2) I married a successful software developer.

Once I got married, I/we assumed that I could never rival his salary, and I stayed at home for a couple years. Inferiority complex kept me from even applying for any jobs, even ones I would have been very very qualified for.

3) My husband’s trajectory forced me to find money.

Let’s be honest, I was miserable staying at home. My self-worth had gone OUT the window. My confidence was gone, and there wasn’t much left of the promising high school graduate who had my pick of some very good universities to turn me into a productive adult. Then, my husband started graduate school, and my smart budgeting sense said “Yes! Yes! we can pay for this out of pocket!” only to be faced with the cold hard reality of how gigantic the tuition was (more than 1/3 of his take-home pay).

4) I began freelancing online, for way less than minimum wage.

I never took any of those “$2/hr” type listings, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I was tech savvy, but I didn’t really have marketable experience. So I took easy jobs – $50 here, $100 there, but spent way more time on them than a skilled person would have. Besides a few nutty clients (the type that wouldn’t have been happy no matter who I was), I learned very, very quickly. After a few months, I felt confident applying for my first hourly positions, and worked as a freelancer for several small agencies. I was able to ramp up my hourly rate to the point where I could work a 40 hour week, rather than a 80 hour week because I didn’t know what I was doing, and eventually obtained a level which rivals my husband’s income.

5) I began to experience community, and found my worth.

The biggest watershed moment for me was in 2015 when I attended LoopConf. An expensive conference for WordPress held in Las Vegas, it was my first time truly around people who did what I do for a living every day. My first glimpse at successful people in the field, in person. The big moment came after attending several sessions which I was loving and soaking up the content, when I was talking to others and they were all discussing how various talks had completely gone over their heads. That they couldn’t imagine using the knowledge because they didn’t even understand it. That’s when I realized I had truly arrived – because I watched every session, soaked up many new tips and tricks – and never thought any of it was “hard”. I began the conference assuming that I was the new outsider, and quickly realized that I wasn’t.

Once I started truly talking to the other people that understood things on the level that I did, I finally realized that I was not longer that outsider looking in. I had arrived. I am good at what I do. I can always grow – and there are many things on my personal growth list for the year, weekly, monthly and annual goals to reach – but I am a success story. And nothing can hold that back.

6) The future.

In the beginning of the year it became clear that to grow more thoroughly, I wanted to join a team as a full time employee, rather than continuing to freelance. I received a taste of that last year with one client, who seemed to be bringing me on full time before things fell apart for her. Applying for jobs, however, comes with this huge risk — that brings up all the inferiority complex and impostor syndrome issues. I have to remind myself, day in and day out, that these companies know what they’re looking for. If they judge me to have the wrong personality for their company, why would I want to be there? I want a position to thrive in, and not to be throttled. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to freelance, until the perfect position opens up for me.

Life, WordPress

Digital Nomad

I’m not one for settling down. If I’ve been in the same place for too long, I’m just itching. I haven’t travelled far since the Christmas holiday season — and it’s really getting me. Of course with moving and trying to sell a house, there’s limits on how far I can get right now – and hunting for a full time position does take away from spontaneity.

Have you ever wondered about working from home remotely? When I first started freelancing, I wasn’t sure that I was doing it long term. I didn’t have a reliable vehicle, and didn’t want to invest in one just for a job, so I started out freelancing from home. It’s been my dream job. I am probably on the road 6-10 weeks (or more) per year — and most of my clients never even noticed. The clients that notice the most are the ones that video call me – I haven’t invested in one of those chair-back screens that blocks my background, so they can tell I’m in a different space.

My most productive week of feeling accomplished with my work in 2015? I was visiting one of my best friends. I drove 20 hours to visit her in Texas, with my young son. Being with her gave me the perfect balance of being able to churn out massive amounts of work, and know that my kiddo was having fun, and get to spend lunch breaks with them. On a normal workday, I usually don’t get lunch breaks like that.

Now, it can also cause problems. No matter how much I say I need to work, there are some places I’ve found it extra difficult – like with my parents. It’s hard to work when everyone else is on vacation. And whenever I plan to do something away from work, sometimes work comes in and takes precedence — I’ve never been to a development conference where there hasn’t been some work emergency. I’m used to being on call, and so long as the pay makes it worth it, the pay makes it worth it.

That being said, I love taking longer vacations. Would I love to rent a beach house for a month, and work from the beach house? YES. I would much rather do that, than take the time off altogether and only get a long weekend at the beach. I like working in new and different places. One of our “family plans” is to ride bicycles across the United States (and back). We figure we will take a little over 6 months, and average something like 40 miles per day (but have scattered zero days throughout). Assuming a decent pace, leaving each morning around 7am we would be done by lunchtime – and able to eat, cleanup, and work. Completely doable *with* working – and with a remote position, if I have a full time position with a company, they will definitely know I’m doing it, so that I can be above board – but also so I can meet any coworkers I’m coming near. If it’s remote work freelance for several clients? They might not even notice. Just need to grow my child bigger so he can handle the Burley Piccolo — it will be a few years.  However, between a combination of zero days if the work gets heavy and/or if the weather gets too stormy, and working on ride days after the morning ride portion, I can see the country… and work too!

But, for the forseeable future, I’m mostly here in my beautiful Lenoir City home office — dreaming of those long trips away, and knowing it can and will be a reality sometime.


Priorities and Setbacks

Well, four months since my last post, and the real keyword of this post is “underestimating”. Life has thrown me for a loop over the past 4 months, but it’s been a fun ride.

First, on December 15, we closed on our house. It’s an amazing house, and I have the best home office I could hope for. A beautiful view of the Smokies, with a decent view of all of downtown Lenoir City. To be honest, I don’t ever want to leave my office. It is worth waking up every day just to sit in my office and bask in the sun from all the windows. I still haven’t unpacked all my office things… but all the important stuff is present.

We didn’t take possession until mid January due to the prior owners’ schedule — all the better for us because we travelled as usual to Maryland for the holiday period. A great highlight was seeing the new Star Wars movie in IMAX at the Air and Space Museum in DC. But then, the cascade began. First, the hassle of moving enough things to the new house to be able to live. (Beds. Refrigerator.) Then, replacing items that weren’t worth moving. (New couch). Then, it started to feel like home.

In February, my already tenuous work relation with my employer-slash-largest client (what do you call a full time position when you’re a 1099?) completely dissolved. Several reasons, but mainly due to broken promises, which became evident that they weren’t going to change, followed by a mysteriously missing paycheck.

I took this as a sign to take a step back. I focused on rehabbing our old house (new carpet, paint, a lot of repair…) and I spent spring break just enjoying my son. I had focused so hard on work over the past 3 years that if we weren’t travelling, I didn’t really take vacation days with him when he had a day off school. It was an amazing experience, both to enjoy sitting outside on our porch, and just watching him play all day.

Then, I caught the flu. On the first day that I was truly bed-bound, I realized what it must be like for people to die of the flu, and I was convinced of my own mortality. But, I didn’t catch pneumonia or any other complication of the flu, and after 8 days of full bed rest, I survived again.

So here we are, four months later — and I’m moving into a different stage of my life — job hunting. I’ve run my own freelance business since 2011 — when I stumbled on and wrote my first WordPress theme — and now it’s time for me to find something more stable. Having a full-time client for most of 2015, has truly taught me that what I really want is something more stable. Answering to only one person or company, where they understand the extent of my workload. I’m great at excelling under pressure, but there’s a vast difference between having 10 jobs, prioritizing them and working through the time, and having 10 clients expecting you to give them each the same 8 hours. The fluctuations of freelance work over the past 5 years, and the pain of clients who have financially stiffed me after a large time investment on my part, have taught me a lot of lessons, and the final lesson was that it’s time to move on.