This past year was a big year for my blog, but it didn't go exactly as planned.
Just over a year ago I chose to leave my job as a web developer in the hopes of being a successful full-time blogger. While I haven't exactly accomplished that, I have been able to keep the lights on and pay rent.
I started the year off with a new initiative: find advertisers to keep the blog afloat. The first organization I worked with was the Downtown Business Improvement District. I started working with them at the end of 2017 and it carried over into 2018. I wrote a few articles for them but then they had a change of staff and we never officially collaborated again. This was okay though, since we did team-up a few more times throughout the year, such as during Parking Days and Work Outside the Box.
During this time period I was struggling to figure out how to make this whole "blogging" thing work. When 2018 started, I had Christmas debt racked up to my ears and after some serious self-reflection, I decided to do the unthinkable and get a job.
From January to March I worked at UNIGLOBE Action Travel, later renamed UNIGLOBE LGI Travel. I liked the people I worked with, but I couldn't handle the 9-5 grind. I haven't done that in almost a decade and each passing day was more and more draining. Working as a web developer had flexible hours, and freelancing meant there was no morning commute. Quickly, I learned the job wasn't for me.
I also learned, to my surprise, that travel agents don't make that much money. I had to show up early, dress up fancy and book multi-thousand-dollar trips, all the while making less than when I was selling hamburgers in high school.
Working in a professional setting like that also means no social-media time. For Boomers, that's a no brainer. My aunt believes in a staunch "no cellphones in the workplace" rule, and I'm sure a lot of people would agree with her. But, in the course of the two months I was at UNIGLOBE, I missed two radio interviews with CBC and had to book time off to go on Vince Murphy's "On The Air Story Emporium". I didn't mind the job, but the job meant I had to kiss the world of being a "local influencer" goodbye... and I wasn't ready for that.
Around that time two other jobs opened, both which were promising. One was a web developer position for a large company and one was for Tourism Saskatchewan (no, not the Saskatchewanderer; we'll get to that in a bit). Both paid well, and I had a fair bit of experience in both fields. The logical thinker that I am, I took a gamble, quit my job and applied for both.
And... I didn't get either. The Tourism Sask job was given to somebody with more experience, and the other I just didn't get. When asked why, the interviewer told me it was because they could tell my heart didn't like the idea of sitting at a desk for the rest of my life.
With no job and little money, I did freelance writing projects for Seekers Media, a travel company out of Calgary. I've worked with them before and all their content is Alberta-based. That's fine, but I know my readers aren't looking for what to do in Alberta. My readers want to know what's in Saskatchewan, and that's what I want to write about. But Seekers pays well, so I featured their content on my site several times throughout the year.
In the fall I travelled with Seekers and the highly talented Brody Jones to Lethbridge. The first day I tested out some of Lethbridge's awesome golfing spots, and the second day Brody and I took in Whoop-Up Days (where I had my infamous cricket poutine).
Outside of freelance writing, I also started doing freelance web development for the company I left in 2017. I had a co-worker that was dying to get me to apply for my old job, but I couldn't bring myself to admit leaving my job had been a mistake. Instead, the freelance work was a happy compromise and it kept me stable for the rest of the year.
(It also kept my sponsor, Rob Klinger of Edward Jones Financial, from tearing his hair out about my not-so-good financial choices. If you're looking for any financial advice, be sure to give him a call. He's not afraid to tell you when something is a bad financial decision.)
Around the time I left my job at UNIGLOBE I also hosted a lecture with Heritage Regina regarding the Spanish Influenza of 1918. We held it at First Baptist Church and over 70 people were in attendance.
It was also with them that I hosted several walking tours of the Regina Cemetery, bringing in over 300 people.
Following the success of the Spanish Influenza lecture I decided to host one myself in late summer. This was a huge undertaking and I had no idea what to expect, nor what to plan for. I learned quickly that people don't like buying tickets in advance and I was panic sweating the night before the event. To my surprise, about 40 people showed up to the event and it was a raving success.
At $20 a ticket, you would think I probably made a nice penny from the event, but you'd be wrong. I don't believe I ever said this publicly, but the money from the lecture (after paying for renting the space, buying food and printing the posters) went towards paying the taxes for the Spanish Influenza memorial. Heritage Regina chipped in and paid the final few hundred to finish it off too. While the event was a success, I didn't take home any money from it.
This year I also continued work with Ford Canada. The first time we worked together this year was to show off their 2018 Ford Escape, but the second time was much more exciting.
This summer I took part in their Cross-Canada Ford EcoSport Adventure. They flew my sister and I out to Prince Edward Island and we had three days to get to Quebec City before passing off the baton (or, in this case, the car) to the next person. The journey was awesome and was one of the highlights of the year.
I also did a fair bit of Saskatchewan travelling. I attended the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, visited Government House and took in the sunset parade at the RCMP Heritage Centre. I also went to Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Lebret, Roche Percée, Craik, and Castle Butte (and Stonehenge too, I guess). I made a little experimental video about shopping in Moose Jaw which did extremely well too. My goal for 2019 is to make more videos so that I'll have a shot to be the 2020 Saskatchewanderer.
Speaking of Manitoba, I also worked alongside Piffles Podcast and joined them for their Banjo Bowl trip to Winnipeg, along with co-hosting their Grey Cup Watch Party in November. In collaboration with them, I also worked with Tallgrass Apparel and The Centennial Market.
After joining QCC I was able to get a lot more web development gigs, and those worked in tandem with my other freelance projects. It took about nine months, but I was finally able to pay bills with some form of certainty.
Near the end of the year I did something a little controversial. After months of frustration trying to work with Jack Keaton's BBQ and Bar, and having them lash out at me on social media, I decided to write them a negative review on my blog. I haven't talked much about the article since it went out, but as I'm sure you saw, reactions were mixed. Some people loved the article and others hated it. Some people called it childish, while others just called it subjective. A few people made a fuss, with one guy asking if I had some kind of "hidden agenda" for writing it. But, for the most part people just shrugged it off and moved on.
But the real story is what happened afterwards, and I'm still trying to piece it all together. A few days after my article went out, a lawyer contacted each of my advertisers and informed them I was perpetuating a "smear campaign" against a "local business". The lawyer didn't mention the business by name and I don't know if this lawyer is in any way associated with Jack Keaton's, but I can't think of any other reason why a lawyer would take their time to do such a thing.
An even bigger development came a few weeks later at Social School YQR. For those unfamiliar, Social School is a travelling exhibition where local influencers can tell stories and teach lessons about social media useage. I wanted to go to it, but I had already gone to TED X, several SYPE First Fridays and a couple other networking events, so I thought I would sit this one out.
But of course, the one time I decide not to go to something it's the time where a picture of me, and my social media comments, in are used in a "crisis communication" presentation. The presenter, whose name I will not publish, but who has a well-known business arrangement with Jack Keaton's, included a piece about me in her presentation. I'm not sure of the exact context the screen captions were used in, but I know it upset several people in the audience. So much so that one of my friends went up to the organizer of the event and told her that I was a respected member of the community and seeing that did not sit well with a lot of people.
I have since spoken to the Social School organizer. She told me that after it happened, she was mortified, wondering how I would have felt had I been in the audience. She apologized to me on behalf of Social School and informed me that the company had changed their policies on presentation approval. She also told me that the presentation had been redacted.
Following Social School a few organizations distanced themselves from me. I will respect their wishes and not publish their names, but I stand by what I said. I am a firm believer in negative reviews and if something is wrong, I will say it. I will be writing more negative reviews in 2019, and I will be writing them into the 2020s as well. Negative reviews help a local business ecosystem improve, and ignoring problems only allow issues to fester. Some people might not agree with that and that's fine. While some businesses stepped away, others filled their place, and I'm excited to work with them in the New Year.
With that said, I worked with a lot of awesome businesses and individuals this past year. I have given some shout-outs throughout this article, but here are some others:
Number wise, I wrote eight more articles in 2018 than in 2017, for a total of 46 articles, and we had 58,831 more readers, getting a whooping 139,258 readers (so far) this year. That number is incredible, and something I would have never expected when I started this back in 2014.
That brings up something else. All this success isn't because of me; it's because of you. It's because you choose to read this content, to follow along, to share it with your friends and family and to support it. This article may be about all the things I've done, but it's also all about the things we've done together. From the Spanish Influenza memorial to working with Ford Canada, this is all because of you and your support. I was able to make ends meet this year because of everything you did, and I don't say that enough.
When I started my blog, I wanted a place to tell stories. I wanted a place where I could keep memories and show them off for people later. My earliest entries on my blog are from 2011 (published in 2014), right after my trip to Europe. They're messy, they lack detail, and they are full of inaccuracies. Not the mention the wretched photography.
So, there's only been a slight improvement since then. Hahahahaha.
Four years later, my blog has become my hobby, my joy, my escape and my work. I spend hours writing content for my blog. I spend hours editing pictures, researching details, and adjusting content for SEO (search engine optimization). It's a full-time gig, and just the other day I published my 200th article. After 200 times of doing something, you'd think the articles would get easier, but they really don't. Each one is unique unto itself, and each one is a special time in my life that I shared with my readers.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.