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New Thing: See The Iditarod

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are hard, some are shockingly mundane. You can read about past adventures here.

 

you can see more photos from my Alaska trip on Instagram



I didn’t go to Alaska just to see hundreds of dogs in tiny boots.
(But that was at least, like, 70% of why I went.)

Ever since I was a little kid, poring over White Fang and trying to strap the neighbor’s dog to my plastic sled I’ve been obsessed with the Iditarod. There are sled dog races in Minnesota but (obviously) none of them hold a candle to Alaska’s 1000 mile race across mountains, tundra, frozen rivers, rocky coastline – all in temperatures well below zero.
It’s all very Jack London. 
So when my cousin bought a house in Anchorage and sent out the obligatory “Hey, we’ve got a guest room now!” email, I couldn’t take her up on the offer fast enough. Especially if it meant I could see hundreds of dogs in tiny boots.
The race really, actually starts in Willow Lake, but the ceremonial start that I attended takes place on the streets of downtown Anchorage and runs through the city’s parks and greenway system. Imagine hundreds of yelping, eager sled dogs, mushers in bright, rustling technical gear, spectators in fur hats chowing on reindeer dogs, a main street packed with snow.
It was, of course, pretty magical.
Things that I discovered!

 

* I know a lot of of kindhearted, animal lovers (like me) get concerned about the safety and well-being of the sled dogs. There are vets at the race start and at various checkpoints on the route. From what I saw, the dogs – while certainly not pets – were treated well and taken care of, the way you’d treat any animal you depend on.
* Most mushers have ‘day jobs.’ The purse for the winner is only $50,400 and a new truck and the cost of living in Alaska is high. Many mushers subsidize their races by working with sponsors, running kennels, or giving sled dog tours to tourists.
* There are plenty of female mushers and Susan Butcher won the race four times.  There is even a pair of blond twin sisters from Wisconsin who race!
* Rather obviously, the sleds don’t stop for dog bathroom breaks so it can be rather unpleasant to ride in the sled behind them, as you can get covered in kicked up snowy dog pee.
* Alaskan husky (the type of dog most frequently used in to race) is technically a mutt and not recognized by the AKC.
* The dogs train for special positions in the team – just like on any sports team. The smartest, fastest dogs become lead dogs. Swing dogs direct the team around turns and curves and wheel dogs are right in front of the sled – they’re usually the largest and strongest of the team.

* Mushers are required to pack a sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, and a cooker or pot and fuel for boiling water. They also might pack ski poles, a gun (!) and a headlamp. They sleep very little during the race. There are designated sleeping areas at each checkpoint, but other than one 24-hour and two eight-hour mandatory rests, competitors push themselves to stay awake.Fascinating, right? Have you ever seen a sled dog race? Would you ever ride in one?

P.S. An interview with my friend Justine who vetted for the Iditarod for years!

How To Work With An Imaginary Mentor (Yes, Really)

Are you looking for a mentor? Do you need career or life advice? And IRL mentor would be great, but if you can't find one - find an imaginary one! YES REALLY.

Do you have a mentor? A kind, capable, incredibly smart human who’s a bit further along and can guide you in the direction you want to go?

Despite my best efforts, I don’t have a mentor. I mean, I know tons to incredible humans but I haven’t quite met anyone IRL who can guide both my personal and professional lives.  Also: I think them mentors I want are either a) too busy b) fictional.

As crazy as it sounds, I’ve found a lot of comfort and guidance in these 100% imaginary, totally one-sided ‘relationships.’ When I’m feeling adrift or not sure of which decision to make, I think about these women. I consider the choices they’ve made and I true my wheels accordingly.

Questions to ‘ask’ your imaginary mentor

  1. How did you get where you are now?
  2. How do you balance creativity, productivity, and money-making?
  3. What does your life outside of work look like?
  4. When do you know you’re ready to ‘level up’?
  5. How do I do this hard thing?

And where do you find your answers?

  1. In books these people have written
  2. In their interviews
  3. On their social media
  4. WITHIN YOURSELF DUDE

So who are my imaginary mentors?

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34 New Things: Be a Mentor

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so ridiculously mundane. You can read about previous adventures here

 

It’s hard to view yourself as someone who has wisdom worth imparting when you’re pretty sure your own adult life is a comedy of errors, possibly involving hidden cameras. (On my recent roadtrip, I got pulled over and tried to convince the police officer that the receipt for the purchase of my car was actually the registration.  Like, I walked up the highway to his car, knocked on the window and was all “Is this it?”)Be that as it may, there are some things that I know about.  Things like writingtravel, moving a million times,  mastering the internet – and as a former teacher, I love few things more than helping people understand stuff that I know about.  When I added ‘be a mentor’ to my list for this year, I knew this might be sort of challenging.  I travel a lot and I didn’t want to bond with – and then inadvertently abandon – a sweet , in-need-of-reliable-adult-interaction preteen, so I decided that I wanted to try an internet mentorship of sorts.

I first met Alicia when she bought advertising space and Yes and Yes.  As with all of my sponsors, I checked out her blog to see if she was a good fit for my readers and I was impressed with her candid, engaging writing style and nice photography. She always sent me the links and photos for her sponsor posts before the deadline and whenever she sent through her photos they were always appropriately resized and labeled. (Your mom wasn’t lying about people noticing the details.) Eventually Alicia started contributing the Read // Eat series and I rather awkwardly asked her if she was in the market for a mentor.  As luck would have it, she was!

How does one mentor?  Well, we set up a once-monthly video pow wow. We talk about work and writing and interneting and life and I answer any questions she might have about reaching out to bloggers and publications she likes, how to deal with guest posts, and anything I know about.  It’s been so, so lovely to share what I know and hopefully help her avoid some of those mistakes we all learn the hard way (I’m looking at you, Twitter oversharing.)

I’m sure there will come a day when Alicia is helming HuffPo and I tell everybody that I knew her way back when. And then I’ll awkwardly email another youngster and ask if they need my input on the merits of @mentioning.Have you ever mentored or been mentored?  Tell us about your experience!

True Story: I Inadvertently Created A Pinterest Phenomenon

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of my friend Tiffany and her now-famous Pinterest board.
 
 
Tell us a bit about yourself! 
My name is Tiffany Beveridge, I’m 36 years old, originally from Sandy, Utah but living in the greater Philadelphia area. I work as a freelance copywriter, representing different brands from Mrs. Fields cookies to DuPont paint. I love to cook, read, and travel with my husband and two boys.
Tell us about your now-internet-famous Pinterest board.
The board began in a pretty organic way. I’m the mom of two boys who couldn’t care less what they wear and the only thing that ever made me really pine for another child was seeing adorable girl clothing in stores. (Not a good reason to have a child, by the way, just to dress them.) When Pinterest came along, there was even more opportunity to ogle all this cute stuff, but I felt I had no claim to it.Then I thought, why not? Pinterest is Fantasyland! So I created a board for my imaginary daughter and began re-pinning there. It was only when I went out seeking more pins that I discovered all the over-the-top images and styling out there, and the idea just grew. I mean, if I’m going to have an imaginary daughter, then I’m going to take it all the way. I started writing captions to the pictures and creating little micro-stories about Quinoa (named after the Pinterest-popular grain) and her life and friends.

Prior to pinterest, what were you doing on the internet?
I have been blogging at The Would-Be Writers Guild since 2006. I haven’t been blogging as regularly as I used to, but it has been a great place for me to make a lot of friends and get a lot of practice writing.
I also blog three times per week for Mrs. Fields Secrets as a day job.
To date, who has linked to or mentioned My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter?
It’s getting hard to keep track of, but: New York Magazine, New York Observer, Cosmo.com, Huffington Post, Phoenix New Times, Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed UK, Get Off My Internets, Fashionista, Trendland, Beauty World News, Dangerous Minds, The Daily Skimm, Cafe Mom, Wet Paint, Rage Against the Minivan, Babble, Buzz Sugar, iVillage, Glamour, Essential Baby, Imgur, among others.
Has the popularity of this board lead to any sponsorship or publishing deals?
Yes, it’s leading to some great opportunities! I’m still working out the details now…
Have you thought about turning this board into something else – a blog? a book? a twitter stream?
My goal is definitely to turn this concept into a book. I am also considering migrating MIWDTD to a blog or tumblr, but a little hesitant because Pinterest is such a big part of the story and how it gained so much attention. I’m hopelessly loyal that way. These are decisions I need to make soon. And yes, updates are always on Twitter, either from me (@tiffanywbwg) or my darling daughter (@ImaginaryQuinoa).
How do you feel about the success of MIWDTD?
I was absolutely surprised, since the board itself existed for more than a year and a half as a little running joke among my friends and family before anybody really noticed. The first couple of days it was gaining attention, I kept shaking my head and laughing. It was probably the third day that I realized this was a big deal. And then I had a mild panic attack.
I am definitely flattered by the response. Every writer loves hearing good feedback, so this has been amazing. I mean, I’ve been telling my kids that I’m funny for years. Now I have proof!
Any advice for others who are trying to make it big on the internet?
I think my advice is don’t try to make it big on the Internet. Do what you enjoy doing, keep at it, put yourself out there, learn from every experience, and say yes to everything you can. I think that always leads to success in one form or another.Thanks so much for sharing, Tiffany!  Do you guys have any questions for Tiffany (and Quinoa)?  Have you ever written/created something that went viral?  For a hot minute Reddit thought I was the Ermagerd girl so that was hilarious/awful/lots of traffic.

True Story: I’m A Professional Athlete

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things.  This is the story of Tealle and her career as a professional beach volleyball player.

Tealle gets air (she’s the one in the middle)
Tell us a bit about yourself! 
I am 26 yrs old from Girard, OH. I now live in El Segundo, Ca to play and train for professional beach volleyball. I also work in transportation, pretty much total opposites! In addition to volleyball I absolutely love traveling, finding new and interesting places to eat and explore, and spending as much time as possible with friends and family.
When did you start playing volleyball?
I started playing organized volleyball when I was 10, but actually fell in love with it much sooner playing in my grandparent’s backyard pool. I’ve been hooked ever since. Through middle school and high school I also played basketball, baseball, and did high and long jump in track.

Did you go to university on a volleyball scholarship?  Can you tell us how that works?

I went to Duke University on scholarship. The recruiting process can be a very different experience for everyone. For me, I played for an amazing club volleyball team out of Pittsburgh, PA. We competed in national tournaments where college scouts look at athletes and had an amazing coach that laid the volleyball groundwork. It opens a lot of doors and allows a lot of exposure. That’s where it all started!When choosing where to attend school, it’s all about what the individual is looking for. You choose based on school, location, academics, volleyball, and a real combination of everything that works for you. Academically there was no question about Duke. I didn’t really have any parameters as far as location but I new when I stepped on campus it was exactly where I was supposed to be, and it was absolutely amazing!

What did you study in college?  How did volleyball affect your life at school?
I studied Public Policy (a sort of business / law background) at Duke with a Markets and Management Certificate. I think volleyball has the same affect as any college sport on life at school. You have to balance practice, weights, training, travel, competition, and classes with social life. I think being a college athlete set the groundwork for life after school in the work force and even as a professional athlete. I find things every day that take me back to my experience at Duke. It’s so cool to have that link!

Now you’re a professional beach volleyball player!  Are you sponsored by a company?  Do you play for a specific city or state?
MNX sponsors us with flights etc, and we wear Billabong suits (uniforms). I play professional beach doubles on several tours both domestic and overseas. The new domestic pro tour is the NVL (National Volleyball League). This is their inaugural season and they are doing an incredible job!

The first event was a few weeks ago at the Preakness in Baltimore. It was such a cool experience to play on the infield, and the fact that we won makes it that much better! There is also the Corona Light Wide Open Tour which travels around the US. Both have about 6-8 stops this season. We have also been overseas on the FIVB tour, the international beach volleyball world tour and are looking forward to their next tournament!

How have the people in your life reacted to your career choice?

The people in my life have been the fuel for my career choice. Their reaction has been nothing but love and encouragement. I knew early that I wanted to play in college and then that I wanted to play on the beach. Since I made that decision, my family and friends have been a huge support system for the entire journey.

My parents and brother and sister followed me around weekend after weekend playing club and were always in the stands from middle school through college. Long drives or flights to tournaments and long days in the gym became the norm. On the pro circuit they are at every event that they can be and it means so much to have such rock solid support, beyond words.

How much time do you spend practicing/working out/etc every week?
We do some kind of workout, training, lifting, yoga, etc 5-6 times a week. As far as time for workouts it really varies. In the offseason you go longer and lift heavier as you get your base for the season. In season, you should be ready and feeling good for tournaments so it becomes about maintenance and keeping things where they should be.

What is the average ‘retirement’ age for pro beach volleyball players?  What do you want to do once you’re done with volleyball?
Pro beach volleyball players can peak in their late 20’s through their 30’s. One of the great things about this sport is that athletes can play into their 40’s. With that being said, I haven’t really thought too much about life after volleyball! I plan on playing for several years, and even after will probably be coaching along whatever other path I choose. It will always be part of my life.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in sports?

To anyone interested in pursuing a career in sports I would say dedication, hard work, goals, and dreams can take you a long way. If athletics is what you love than you should go for it! All of the blood, sweat, and tears come with lifelong friends, one-of-a-kind experiences, the chance to see the world, and live the life of your dreams. Though there is always sacrifice, it’s now or never to get after it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are any of you hardcore athletes?  Any questions for Tealle?

True Story: I Compete In Pageants

This is part of our True Story interview series in which we talk to fascinating people about interesting/amazing things that they’ve done. This is Ashley’s story of her experiences with pageants.

 

How did you get into doing pageants?
Growing up, I loved watching Miss America and wanted to compete in pageants, but I didn’t compete in my first pageant until I was a senior in college. After watching Miss Congeniality one too many times, I decided I wanted to see how the movie compared to real life.The first pageant I entered was a state pageant in the Miss USA system, and I learned so much from watching the girls who had been competing in pageants their whole lives. It was a surreal experience (you really can use hairspray as butt glue!), but it was, also, fun and very interesting, so I decided to try some more.

How many did you take part in?
I have competed in four pageants so far: one state, one local, and two national.

Can you tell us what the other contestants were like?
Pageant girls come from all walks of life, and I am always impressed by the other contestants’ confidence and intelligence. I’ve met some wonderful people including a baton twirler, a Special Olympics spokeswoman, and a marine biology student. The last few years pageant girls have been getting bad press, and I think it is so unfortunate that they are stereotyped as one type of person. Contrary to popular opinion, every contestant isn’t like Drop Dead Gorgeous.

At a pageant a few years ago, my family could not afford to attend any of the events. I met a girl who was competing to help pay for law school, and we bonded over having no one in the audience to cheer for us. Her parents had not been able to make the trip, but when she learned that my family was with me but couldn’t afford the tickets, she bought two tickets for them so that we could have someone in the audience cheering for us. It was a sweet and unexpected gesture, and her thoughtfulness still means so much to me.

What are some common misconceptions about pageants?
1. Miss America is the only American pageant. – Miss America is one of the largest pageant organizations, but there are lots of other systems such as, Miss USA, Miss International, Miss Galaxy…

2. Miss America fell down at the Miss Universe pageant. – Both years it was actually Miss USA; Miss America does compete at Miss Universe because it is a different system. It’s surprising how many legitimate media outlets reported it wrong.

3. You have to have a talent to compete in pageants. – Not all pageants have a talent competition. Miss America does require a talent, but Miss USA and many others do not.

What kind of questions are you asked in the interview?
All kinds. There are books out there with questions to help you train for the interview, but the actual questions I’ve been asked in competition have been pretty random, covering a wide range of topics. I’ve been asked:

How would you describe the color blue to a blind person?
Who is your role model?
If you were a makeup brand, what brand would you be?
If you could ask the President one question, what would it be?
If you could be on the cover of a magazine, what magazine would it be?
Do you think the glass ceiling still exists for women?
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
If your friends described you as a verb, what verb would it be?

What’s the most challenging aspect of doing pageants?
For me, the most challenging part of competing in pageants is raising the money to compete. A lot of girls get sponsors, usually financed by friends and family-run businesses, but I don’t usually have sponsors because most businesses in my area are corporate run and do not contribute to individuals. So, I typically pay most of my expenses myself. Pageant entry fees, program ads, hotel, travel, and competition wardrobe all add up, so you can end up spending a couple thousand dollars (or more).

What sorts of things have you won in pageants?
Pageant goodie bags are wonders to behold – makeup, clothes, jewelry, bags, water bottles, coupons, toiletries… Gift bags are my weakness, but I end up giving a lot of it to friends and family because it doesn’t fit or I have doubles, etc.

How did people react when you told them that you were doing pageants?
People were very surprised. To be fair, I am nowhere near six feet tall and rarely go swimming because it means people will see me in a swimsuit ☺ However, I am a very determined person, so their disbelief made me want to compete even more.

Would you recommend the pageant world?
Yes… and no. I’ve learned a lot about myself from competing in pageants, but I haven’t always found it to be the best confidence booster. While pageants are supposed to build self-esteem, they can, also, have the opposite effect – you are being judged on your body after all – so I think it is important to be confident in who you are before you compete. A sense of humor, also, helps because all of a sudden walking becomes a big deal, and you start thinking things like, “What if I fall walking down the stairs?”

Do you still do pageants?
Last year I took time off to pursue other interests, but I would like to compete in more. I enjoy the drama, making new friends, and having an excuse to dress up. I hope to raise money to compete in another pageant in the near future.

Any advice for ladies interested in doing pageants?
If you are under 24, I recommend competing in a Miss America local because they offer mock interviews, basic pageant training, and the fee is only $100, which I believe still goes to the Children’s Miracle Network. There are a lot of pageants out there (Mrs., Ms., Miss, Teen, Petite, Plus, Heritage, Mail-in…), so with a little research, you can find one that suits you. Do check references to make sure the pageant is legitimate and find out if past contestants enjoyed their experience.

Have any of you ever competed in pageants? Any questions for Amy?