Why Farm to Table is Great for Kids and Families

 

Farm to table Pittsburgh

March 21-22, 2014

This weekend is the 8th annual Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh! I am really excited to be involved in this year’s event again. The theme for this year is Food Sources and the conference again offers lots of excellent activities for children. The conference has always been family friendly, but a new feature of this year’s conference is the special Kids’ Track of programs! Both Friday and Saturday there will be programs and speakers just for kids and families. The Kids’ Track is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of eating healthy, local food. And if you’re not already convinced to bring your kids downtown, remember that kids under 12 are free!

We are so lucky to have this event in Pittsburgh. I recently spoke at the Parenting Expo here in Pittsburgh and discussed how helping children experience food with all of their senses increases their comfort level with foods and can help them learn to try new foods. Growing foods, shopping at farmer’s markets, attending events like Farm to Table and seeing gorgeous photos of fresh foods being grown, even meeting our local farmers, are all positive ways to help children develop a willingness to try new foods.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Kids’ Track on both days. On Friday, I’ll be hosting a special Tasting Party for kids, and on Saturday I’ll be hosting the Super Fun Local Food Challenge School Assembly! Both of these programs are available as school classroom workshops or assemblies and work with the Social Studies standards for Pennsylvania schools.

Of course in addition to these programs there’s the Local Food Tasting on Friday night and the Saturday Networking Breakfast. Both events are hugely popular. By the time I got to the Saturday breakfast last year all of the food was gone – it was so good no one left a crumb!

I’ll have an exhibitor table again and I’ll offer an encore to last year’s very popular Pizza on a Stick Tasting Party. My boys love coming to Farm to Table and roaming the tables, trying everything from local honey to local cheese, pickled vegetables, fresh milk, apples and more. This year I have decided to get one of those mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of these tasty fungi!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 Farm to Table Conference. Bring the kids, stop by and say hello!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

March Madness and the Healthy Food Challenge

It’s the perfect time of year for a healthy food challenge! March is National Nutrition Month and it’s also March Madness. So on a run, a time when I often get my best ideas, I decided it would be really cool to combine these two great activities into a Healthy Food Challenge!

healthy food

Healthy Food Challenge Bracket

Luckily our elementary school has a principal who supports healthy eating, I have a great working relationship with our PTO and the new Kids of STEEL club is a hit, and our new Food Services Director is setting a tone of cooperation with parents. So many factors came together just right for this activity.

Healthy Food Challenge:

I worked with food services to determine which eight fruits and vegetables would be available every day in the cafeteria. Then I created the match-ups, randomly setting up eight fruit opponents on one side and eight veggie opponents on the other.

vegetables for kids

The Veggie Conference

fruit for kids

The Fruit Conference

We sent the brackets home in advance so kids could fill them out and turn them in. I entered all the picks into a spreadsheet to track the winners. This took a lot of time! Over 200 kids turned in brackets, that’s about 1/3 of our school population.

The first round happened today. I walked around the cafeteria for each of our three lunch periods and asked kids what fruit or veggie they wanted to vote for. They could only vote for fruits or veggies they had tasted that day at lunch.

I must admit, I was surprised how many kids claimed they had not eaten any fruits or veggies for lunch that day. Some tried to claim fruit snacks were a fruit. Not a chance. One kid tried to tell me pistachios were a fruit. As much as I love pistachios and prefer them to fruit snacks, I still had to tell her no. But I told her to keep eating pistachios.

That’s why the title Healthy Food Challenge is perfect. We are challenging the kids to get more healthy foods into their daily diets.

Winners will be chosen from the most accurate brackets. We’re also pulling a few brackets from all the entries to give away some small random prizes.

My motivation to try some fun, healthy activities at school came from listening to a webinar hosted for parents by Action for Healthy Kids. I was really excited to learn tips and techniques for working with schools to increase nutritious foods and more physical activity in the school day, especially after some unfortunately negative experiences with a “wellness committee” that didn’t do much in our district when my oldest son was in kindergarten and first grade.

We have a great district and a great school. I think there’s a lot of potential here. And our principal really supports our Kids of STEEL running program. Unfortunately I’ve also received an automated call from him asking families to support a school fundraiser where teachers work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s. That activity drives me nuts.

I still have a lot to learn about increasing wellness at our school. Luckily there are more webinars from Action for Healthy Kids coming up. I have a dream of the school having a community garden before my youngest, who isn’t even in kindergarten yet, graduates sixth grade. I’m excited to learn more about why taking away recess time as punishment is bad for academic achievement.

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Just change your perspective.

procrastination

See things differently.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

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Writing Contests

I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.

But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.

Cons of Writing Contests

  • There is usually a fee.
  • The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
  • Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
  • It could be a scam.

Pros of Writing Contests

  • The fees for some are very small.
  • Some offer prize money.
  • Word count limits can force you to revise.
  • Winning could mean publication.
  • It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
  • Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.

I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.

Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.

These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.

Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:

  • There is no prize money.

I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:

  • The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
  • The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
  • The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
  • I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
  • My ego is boosted.
  • This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.

If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.

  • Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
  • Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
  • Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
  • Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
  • Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Great Ideas Waiting

Great Idea

(Click on the photo above for some great ideas.)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

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Thank You Notes from Kids

thank you kids thank you notes

Good habits start early

Do you send thank you notes?

Have you ever forgotten to send a thank you note?

I volunteered at our elementary school this month helping with an assembly and the launch of a new school activity, Kids of STEEL. Kids who join this program will get to run together once a week and learn about healthy eating. It’s right up my alley.

But after the assembly ended, our PTO president and principal realized they had forgotten to unroll the giant thank you sign they had created for these kinds of events.

“There’s just so much going on,” lamented our PTO president.

So I opened my big mouth and made this suggestion: “Let the kids take over saying thanks. Have the student government put together a gratitude team, and they can write thank you notes to volunteers and guests.”

We discussed photographing the large thank you sign and creating custom thank you cards. The principal is taking the idea to the teacher who advises student government, and I am hopeful they will give it a try.

The PTO can still write notes or send emails, but I think involving the kids has so many benefits. Writing thank you notes as a kid is almost as important eating healthy and exercises. Writing thank you notes is a physical, active way to help my children develop a strong sense of gratitude. I know that feeling gratitude can go a long way toward helping a child feel happy and satisfied in whatever path they follow in life.

Gratitude and Thank You Notes

I recently finished local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints’ book An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. Reints dedicates an entire chapter to the science of gratitude. She cites research that argues when we feel and express gratitude, we are happier. She also emphasizes that gratitude is not the same as feeling indebted, and I am working hard to help my children understand the subtle difference there.

Working with volunteers gives me many times to feel and share my gratitude. Over the past ten years, I have often found myself struggling to find ways to express my gratitude that matches the value of the gifts these volunteers have shared. I collected a list of the 100 most creative and relevant ways I’ve said thanks to volunteers and these ideas are available to you as an e-book.

Should you force it?

Some families don’t have a habit of writing thank you notes. I often give my grandmother credit for building the habit for me, but really my mom was just as influential. She would often say, “Write the thank you note, or we’ll never hear the end of it from your grandmother.” I guess they had a pretty effective good cop/bad cop system going because even now I say those things to my children.

Technology offers lots of ways to say thank you now beyond the traditional handwritten note. And my family has used a variety of them, like the photo at the top of this blog. But we never abandon the thank you note completely. I do agree that the way we say thank you isn’t as important as remembering to do it in the first place. A true, heartfelt “thank you” is all we need to offer.

I have two requests for feedback here:

Do you value handwritten note more or less than other thank you’s?

What creative ways you have helped your children – or you have used yourself – to express gratitude?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Twitter and Women: The Right to Vote

Before Thanksgiving, I was excited to be a panelist at a meeting of the International Association of Business Communicators of Pittsburgh. The topic was “Applying Traditional Communication Skills to Social Media.” I do love using social media and I’m a firm believer that skilled communicators of any age can be effective on many different social media platforms.

Being a panelist was fun, but I was more excited to hear the questions from the audience. Other people’s questions spark some interesting ideas in my brain. Sometimes I blurt out those interesting ideas. And I did that at the IABC event.

A gentleman in the audience asked, “What historic events would have been different if we had social media when they happened?”

Before anyone else could answer, I said, “If we had Twitter, women would’ve gotten the right to vote a lot earlier!

Here’s why I think that.

Twitter and Women

Women and men like using social media, but trends show that women use it a bit more than men. A colorful info graphic on socialmediatoday.com states that 71% of women use social media sites. 62% of Twitter users and 58% of Facebook users are female. The ladies would totally rock the vote using these platforms, but especially Twitter.

Herland feminist utopia

Imagine if women could read this as an e-book.

I’m a historian by training and the Progressive Era was the focus of my studies. I know how hard it was for women to organize, travel and communicate back then. We’re seven years away from the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and it’s still hard for women to organize, travel and communicate. But social media makes it a lot easier for women – whether at home, at work, wherever- to share ideas with other like-minded women and to get educated. I like to think there would’ve been tweets like “Fed up with the federal gov’t! Suffrage Now! #SenecaFalls” and “The U.S. doesn’t yet include US #Suffrage.”

Twitter users tend to have higher levels of education and higher income. I’m not saying that makes them better than non-Twitter users, but I do believe it’s likely they’d have more free time and financial resources to begin the organization and advocacy for the right to vote. And women working their butts off to make ends meet wouldn’t be able to take off work for marches and sit-ins and fancy conferences, but they’d also be able to engage in the debate, send tweets to elected officials, get donations, and raise awareness through social media.

So there are a few simple reasons why I think Twitter would’ve lead to women getting the vote quicker. I also think that Twitter would’ve made it harder for suffragists to jettison African-American’s right to vote. While many women fighting for the vote back in the 1920′s argued that giving white women the vote would counteract giving black men the right to vote, 25% of Twitter users are African-American and there’s no way their equality would be undermined if Twitter was a part society back then.

So what historical events do you think would be different if social media had existed when they happened? 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Thank Volunteers

It seems very simple to thank volunteers, but as I learned today, “every ‘thank you’ is your next ask.”

I’m working on the annual report for a Pittsburgh-area non-profit and the design team is exploring the role of the annual report. Is it just to thank last year’s donors? Or can it somehow mobilize the people who read it into action?

As we prepare to thank volunteers who contributed to the non-profit during the season of giving, the holiday season, this agency is eager to encourage donors to get involved in a second season of giving during the spring when their donations and support wane.

So can we thank volunteers and encourage them to take action more than once a year? Can one little annual report really do all that?

I’m an idealist so I think it can. During the brainstorming meeting I was tossing out ideas left and right.

  • QR codes so people can scan and donate! (Shot down because QR codes are ‘out.’ Ok, so what’s in?)
  • Tear out calendar.
  • Pages that people can write on and take notes about their volunteer ideas.
  • Tear-out action cards.
  • Tear-out thank you notes so people can thank volunteers they work with.
  • Tear-out thank you cards that people can send to motivate new volunteers!
thank volunteers

Don’t Forget to Thank Volunteers

I think some of those ideas might get used. The team was interested in a lot of them. We’ll see what the budget can hold. In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to thank volunteers, consider picking up a copy of my e-book Thanks! 100 Wonderful ways to Appreciate Volunteers. It’s the season of gratitude and maybe it’s time some volunteers in your life could use some thanks!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

More Advice on Writers Conferences

This year I’m heading to my first writers conference. I’m gathering tips and advice from people who have been to writers conferences before. So I asked one of my good friends Beth Skwarecki about her most recent writers conference. She’s also really analytical and never takes things at face value, which makes her a great science writer. We met last year when she agreed without ever having met me, to be my writing mentor for National Novel Writing Month. Since our first meetings, which were quiet and focused on writing, we’ve had some interesting shared adventures like hiking with our kids and spotting an owl as well as visiting gun and archery ranges. Yep, we’re exciting people.

Beth recently attended a science writers conference called…ScienceWriters hosted by the National Association of Science Writers. Pretty much it was science writers heaven to judge by her enthusiastic – almost giddy – tweets and emails!


Writers Conference Tips

Before Beth jetted off to London for SpotOn, another science conference, I asked her to share with me some advice for a great writers conference experience.

From Beth:

I suspect ScienceWriters is a different beast than other writing conferences. Not sure how much of this applies elsewhere. That said, I jotted down a few thoughts.

To know about writing conferences like ScienceWriters:

Editors want to meet writers. Writers want to hear cool stuff from PIOs. Freelancers want to compare notes with other freelancers. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone; you won’t regret it.

Don’t skip the parties. Your conversation starters are:

So where are you based?
Are you a freelancer / who do you work for?
What sessions have you gone to? How was that one? Which ones are you doing tomorrow?
Have you been to these conferences before?
We’ve emailed / I follow you on twitter / etc / and I just wanted to say hi in person.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and don’t have tons of clips you’re proud of, and somebody asks you who you write for? DO NOT PANIC. It’s OK to say you’re new. Mention a thing or two you’ve done. Or just evade the question and tell them about the latest topic you wrote about, or something you’re interested in. They’re not fact-checking your resume, they just want to start a conversation.

When there are food tables, skip the first one you see. The ones at the back of the room have shorter lines.

There will be times you have to choose between sessions. Don’t sweat it too much; just ask other attendees later about how that session was. Sometimes I’ll skip a session if I know it’s likely to be blogged or videotaped, and instead choose something where the in-the-moment experience will be the best.

You don’t HAVE to do anything. If you want to skip a session to write, go ahead. If you’re partied out, feel free to hole up in your hotel room. Just not all the time.

NASW has lots of field trips and opportunities to meet researchers. Even if what they’re doing seems boring, put on your interviewer hat and start asking questions. Imagine an editor has told you “This person does super cool stuff, but you’ll have to dig to find out what it is.” Ask dumb questions, smart questions, anything that comes to mind. Stumped? Try “What is the worst part of your job?” and “What’s the most exciting thing in your field?”. Those two questions, if propelled with just a little bit of “so tell me more about that,” can cover anywhere from minutes to hours.

We did a “Power Pitch” session which was like speed dating with editors. It was AWESOME. Here’s my approach, which seemed to work well for me.

Find out how it works. Wake up early to sign up (they did a lottery in the morning)
Know, ahead of time, who your first (second, etc) choice of editor is. Have a list of pitch topics.
Don’t worry about fleshed out pitches; there isn’t time. Think in terms of headlines and hooks.
Here’s what I would usually say:
I’m [name] from [city] covering [beat].
(Business card swap)
I ask: Where does your pub fit in the news cycle? What counts as a good news peg for you?
Maybe another quick question or two to narrow down where their needs intersect with the kind of stuff I can write (topic areas, word counts, etc)
Rapid fire pitches: a headline, a few sentences of explanation if needed. Get a yes/no and move quickly to the next. Time will be up before you know it.
They won’t assign stories on the spot; it’s more of a rapid fire “Do you want a pitch on this?”
If they give a yes, or a strong maybe, I star that pitch in my notebook.

To check out Beth’s science writing, a good place to start is her Pinterest board. But I’d highly recommend following her on Twitter, too.

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Organize Ideas For Writing

organize ideas for writing

Tools of the Trade

How do you organize ideas for writing?

It is not easy for me to keep track of ideas. When I read, listen or run ideas and inspiration often overwhelm me. If you are a freelance writer you probably have this same problem and probably have some system in place. Maybe you’ve tried several different systems.

One that works for me is a centralized, somewhat disorganized notebook. I carry it everywhere and put everything in it. It turns out I am using a system developed centuries ago.

Do you commonplace?

I commonplace! And a lot of other writers I know commonplace. But I don’t think we knew we were commonplacing. I actually have several commonplace books and I think I’m going to keep commonplacing for awhile! What is commonplacing? I first learned about it in a book by Steven Johnson. Here’s his description:

Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters – just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. The great minds of the period – Milton, Bacon, Locke- were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. There is a distinct self-help quality of the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: maintaining the books enabled one to ‘lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.’” – Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

This is just what I’m doing, carrying around a notebook scribbling down thoughts and ideas that erupt in my brain throughout the day. But I admit I use more than just one notebook. I also use the Notes and Voice Memos apps on my smartphone. And I tear out pages from magazines. And I snap photos with my smartphone. And cover my wall with sticky notes. And writing up lengthy thoughts on looseleaf in my binder. And highlighting text in ebooks. And folding down page corners in print books. Sometimes I actually sit down and gather all of this information into one place and think about how it connects and leads to new insights.

And that, writing friends, is commonplacing.

This is a good time of year to think about how your organization system works (or doesn’t) and what style suits you best: plotting or pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants.) National Novel Writing Month is coming in November and you definitely want to be ready. I failed my first year but learned valuable lessons and had a great system in place for 2012 where my novel was based off of daily writing prompts. I plotted and pantsed and planned and prepared and finished the month a winner!

But organizing ideas for writing isn’t just for fiction writers. Business owners need to have some organization for their web copy, newsletters and social media content. The fancy term is editorial calendar – does your business have one?

Maybe I don’t have the perfect system in place to organize ideas for writing, but I think it would be much more difficult if I didn’t have any ideas to organize. I’d rather be overwhelmed than dry. So how do you organize ideas for writing? What systems have you tried that failed? Still using the old index card system or have you updated to Scrivener?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.