About Us

Goodbye Zion

Some of you who know me know I have a cat.


Well had a cat.

Really he was Derrick’s cat but when we blended our families (him and his cat, me and my dog), we were all a unit.


Zion had what most cats wouldn’t really like: his own dog.

zionandhisdogThey loved each other, often snuggling on the same dog bed or playing together in the morning.

Zion not only loved us but loved other people too.


And he loved being outside.


When I let him out three weeks ago, I never thought that would be the last time I saw him.

We knew that letting him out, we were taking our chances. But we also knew this cat had places to go.


No matter how long he’s gone, even if that’s forever, I couldn’t let him disappear from our lives without saying:

Goodbye Zion. You were a great cat and we will miss you every day. Thanks for being ours. You were and are loved.




Why I Don’t Volunteer Web Work

About a year ago, I made a policy that I don’t do volunteer work related to my field. And I told people.

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won't do anything that involves a computer. (This isn't me, but I did offer to do it.)

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won’t do anything that involves a computer. (This isn’t me, but I did offer to do this. Just for the record.)

99% of people totally got it… and some even said it was a ‘great idea’.  About 1% don’t say anything (and secretly think I am a jerk I’m sure).

Note that the lack of volunteer work is in my field only. I will happily lug boxes for the food pantry. I will help clean my church during spring cleanup. My help just doesn’t come in the form of a website, blog, social media, or email newsletter.

There are a few solid reasons for that:

1) Less time at the computer. For someone who once had carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both arms, being at a computer 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week is enough for my body. More seems like asking for trouble.

2) Get to do/learn new stuff. Although I get to problem solve all day, it’s fun to solve a completely not-typical-for-me problem or learn to do something completely new. Sometimes this knowledge (like taking on credit card processing for the MDI Seafood Festival) ends up being helpful in my daily work, though sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with either.

3) Heads off bad leads. The other day at Rotary, one of the other members said to me, ‘This non-profit was asking me about you because they need a cheap website and I told them you don’t do volunteer work.’ I could have kissed her. If I am going to lose money on a project (and I’ve gone over why websites cost what they do and why social media marketing costs money), I don’t want to do it as part of the business.

4) It’s not fair. For awhile, my policy was to do three volunteer projects a year. If you hadn’t gotten to me in January, basically it was a no go. But ‘you helped so and so’ worked against me when I said no to a new volunteer project. So even though I helped three organizations FOR FREE, I was still being guilted. Now to give you an idea of the workload, there are more than 400+ non-profits on the island I live on. Just the island itself. Add to that my actual family and friends who don’t make a ton of money who I’d like to help and you see a workload I could never take on for a reduced rate, let alone for free. So I just charge everyone the same so no one can feel slighted.

5) People don’t value what they can get for free. I once volunteered for a very big website project for a non-profit that had ‘no money’. It took over 100 hours of my time and made the lives of all involved easier. I took phone calls nights and weekends. I came on site three times for staff training. Three years after, when they had a budget for a website redesign, did they come to me for a bid? Nope, they went straight to a competitor. I was mad, not because I didn’t get the project but because I wasn’t even considered for the job. My theory: when you get it for free, you don’t value it, even if it is awesome. Paying for something means thinking about what you want… and the time involved for someone else to do it. Both of these mean the person is happier with the end product, even if it is actually crappier.

6) I have a big enough portfolio. When someone tells me their project could ‘build my portfolio’, I have to smile. I’ve been doing this six years. I’ve helped build over 100 websites. I have worked with over 300 companies and non-profits with online marketing. (P.S. It’s kind of condescending to a professional to imply they need to build their portfolio, especially when you have not looked into their actual past work.) Every paid project I’ve ever done has helped build my portfolio, and will continue to do so. Volunteering is something I do for good, not to further my business.

So if you are looking for a cheap or free website, I suggest you go elsewhere… but if you have insulation you need sprayed in the crawlspace of your homeless shelter or want some bread baked for your cocktail party fundraiser for the local skate park, I’m actually pretty good at those things too.

This Week In My Brain: June 25, 2013

On this ridiculously hot day in my life, please appreciate some things that have made me think… and smile online in the last week or so. Mainly courtesy of Pinterest:










If you like these, there is more on my ‘For Thought’ Pinterest board. And if you like my taste in everything (not just quotes but housewares, cool gifts, slightly offbeat sense of humor) you can follow all the boards!

My 6 minutes and 40 seconds of [local] fame

People think that I am an extrovert, and they couldn’t be more wrong. I’m quite simply an introvert who has gone great lengths to hide her fear of speaking in public. Make it till you fake it, as they say. So when I was asked to participate in a Pecha Kucha Night here on MDI – I thought, oh god. I have to do this or they’ll figure me out.

Pecha What?

Pecha Kucha  is a presentation format created a design firm in Japan to highlight new ideas, without presenters running on and on. You get to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each and then you’re done. Pecha Kucha Nights are becoming very popular events – where people gather to learn more about other folks in their community. The short format is excellent for those of us with short attention spans, and is easier on the presenter as well. The slides help the presenter tell the story – as well as keep to the time limit.


Finding a Topic:

I was surprised, and honored, to be included as one of 8 presenters for the first ever Pecha Kucha MDI

When Astra from the Abbe Museum contacted me back in February to ask me if I would present, I assumed they had a particular topic in mind, and that’s why they asked me.
“Nope!” She said. “We just think you’d tell an interesting story.”

Okay. No pressure.

I decided to talk about my career as a special effects artist in Hollywood for 2 reasons.

1) it’s s topic I’m very familiar with, and have some good stories about.
2) it’s something that makes me fairly unique in a small Maine community.


Making your slides:

They wanted the slides 2 weeks ahead of time! A brilliant move on their part – because it made me step up and prepare.

Every blog I read about pecha kucha advised to plan out your speech before you make your slides, but I decided to reverse the process.
I design websites, so creating the visual part of the presentation first makes more sense for me. And making the slides was the fun part. Planning the speech not so much. Always start with the fun part.  With every image I added to my slideshow, I thought of another detail I could talk about.   I figure I made about 40 slides more than I needed as I changed my path through my story, but I don’t regret that time spent.

Preparing to speak:

I started by practicing my speech, without visual aids, alone in my car. Then I worried about timing and slides.
Both Keynote and Powerpoint have a timed playback feature so I could emulate the 20 second presentation style. Practicing with timing was the WORST. I stumbled. I mumbled. I would end sentences with “and….. I’ll talk about something super interesting here.” Mostly I feared that I would be like a deer in the headlights.

The solution I came up with was to make a list of 3 bullet points per slide to guide me when I got lost. I’m good at getting lost.
I put little images next to the bullet points in case I couldn’t see the slides during the presentation. I printed out my list and carried it around like a security blanket.
I admit that I made this list 2 hours before the presentation. Last minute deadlines yo!

The Presentation:

Did I mention I was nervous? At 3 am the night before I woke up to the thought “Crap, they’re probably going to record this.”  Just another thing to sweat over.

Then when I arrived at the Library there were at least a hundred people in the audience. At this point I gave up feeling nervous and thought “What the hell, I’m either going to tank or I’m not.” Oh what wisdom comes with age, and a nice glass of spanish red.

I didn’t present until after intermission – another detail I had angst over which turned out to be a blessing.

Seeing the other presentations made me realize a few things.

1) we were all nervous, and all doing this for the first time.
2) the audience was just so happy to be there and loving every word.
3) there could be no failure in that environment.

From the first presenter to the last – everyone had a different style and a completely different topic, and everyone was fantastic.
Every topic presented was interesting and well thought out. The topics were climate change, the love of birds, a a journey through a little town in India, the perfect pie crust, a story of a favorite aunt, a womans fearless journey to Africa, and anecdotes from animated movies. In 6 minutes and 40 seconds you have a chance to get engaged, learn a bit, and still leave wanting more information. It’s like the best date ever.

Our MC was a Lyzz Bien – the most fabulous drag queen MDI or Maine shall ever see, and her thoughtful and hilarious introductions for each presenter tied the whole evening together.

Looking back:

I honestly don’t remember much about presenting, except that people laughed in all the right places, and I didn’t trip on my way to the podium.

And the best part? So many people approached me afterwards and told me how wonderful it was to learn more about me. I’m fairly new to the MDI community – and I feel like that community expanded exponentially in the space of, well, 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Another best part? This presentation was the first time since I left Hollywood 5 years ago, that I’ve put that experience into one concise story. The career I made as an effects artist was a bittersweet one, and I was so burnt out when I left, that I never took the time to look back on it with fresh eyes. Now I can almost see what other people see, that I had an unusual and pretty cool experience in another part of the world, in a time shaped an entire industry. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and incredibly thankful for the chance to share it with my new friends and neighbors here on MDI. I couldn’t be more pleased that I was included in the first ever Pecha Kucha MDI – and I know I will attend every future event. I can’t wait to see what else I can learn about my new home, and the people who live here.


For other  Maine Pecha Kucha Nights visit www.pechakuchamaine.org

Youtube’s and My Dad’s Birthday

Business Insider let me know this morning that it was Youtube’s 8th birthday. It also happens to be my dad’s birthday. No one had to tell me that, in part because it’s three days before mine and only a few days after my sister’s. (Yes, my mom made three separate birthday cakes and had three separate parties. She’s a trooper!)

My dad passed away five years ago in November. So he didn’t get to see Youtube in all it’s glory.. but he did get to see some of it.

My dad hated computers. He was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by my mom and brother-in-law and implemented a computer inventory system finally at the hardware store my family owns. My mom did all his email for him at their shared email address. I can almost hear him say ‘Tell Nicole…’ as I read through some of my mom’s old emails.

What he did enjoy about computers was a specific part of the internet (I heard from my brother-in-law so if I’m wrong, Justin, let me know!) was his my MSNBC homepage.

Now these pages no longer exist but the idea was you logged in and in a dashboard format, it showed you articles you might like, videos, links to partner websites etc.

Lots of websites do this now. Really these were the precursor to the personalized news we have come to expect on social networks.

My dad liked checking it before and after lunch… because it changed during the day.

I smile when I think of this. I have 600 new unread articles in my RSS feed reader just from since 9 am this morning. My Facebook and Twitter feeds update every second.

My dad knew the internet at a simpler time. I did too when Breaking Even was first getting started.

So today, I appreciate that all this access to information is still novel, videos can still be funny, and wonder at how it all can refresh if I just wait a bit.

A Tour Of My House

When I got engaged a couple months ago, I wasn’t really surprised. But it definitely solidified the next step I, we, need to take.

My lease runs out in May and I gave notice to my landlord I’d be moving out and  moving in with Derrick. I clicked ‘send’ on the email to my landlord and felt that nervous feeling in my stomach. Very similar to the feeling when writing my resignation letter at my last ‘real’ job.

I have been living in my place for about four years. But if you would have known that I’ve moved about 20 times since I was 18, you’ll see that for me, being in one spot four years is a big deal.

So for the next two months, I’m saying little goodbyes to the house I have lived the most of my adult life in. And part of that, dear blog reader, is introducing this house to you.

My landlords are smart people so before I moved in, they asked me what colors I wanted on the walls then proceeded to paint the whole place for me while it was empty. Not living with ‘landlord white’ has helped me probably stay longer then I would have. Landlords take note; this psychological stuff works, especially on someone like me.

This house is approximately 600 square feet, the perfect size for a woman and a small dog. (Also it felt palatial since I was living in 220 square feet for two years before!) Here is my living room:

The view when I walk in, instantly relaxing complete with my memere's pink couch and my own shorty dog.

The view when I walk in, instantly relaxing complete with my Memere’s (French term for grandmother) pink couch and my own shorty dog (on brown chair).

Everything in this room, and throughout my house, reminds me of someone special who once owned the item or gave it to me… or some experience I’ve had.

My living room (which also doubles as my dining room and was my office until two years ago) makes me think ‘Ahhhh.’ whenever I walk in. The green chair, small marble ‘smoker’ table, and pink couch were at one time in my grandmother’s formal sitting room. The bookcase was rescued from my neighbor’s yard who were about to haul it to the dump (I stained and painted it). The print ottoman was recovered after being found at the Vinalhaven dump during a DIY crafting weekend with my mom over wine and conversation.

The flower painting  above the couch was something I bought eight years when I decided that, as a ‘real adult’, I would own art work. I got this one on eBay. Getting it inspired me to buy other art since including the Marko pear painting and a print from a local artist in New Orleans.

I love the tall ceilings of the living room, which makes my house feel bigger than it is. With the white washed pine and living near the ocean, I think the beachy blue would go with the whole cottage theme. It makes me think of lounging in the summer, with the windows open and stretching on the couch with bare legs, eating cherries and smelling the ocean breeze when the wind blew just right.

A round pedestal table is something I’ve always wanted to own and one of the new pieces of furniture in my life. (When I lived in France eleven years ago during a semester in college, I bought myself an expensive but beautiful tablecloth, manifesting myself a future round table.) The chairs are comfortable, modern, and actually match. My Memere’s wood block print fits perfectly between the windows and my friend Michelle gave me the red vase on top of my bookshelf which was made by her grandmother.

I love sitting in this room because of how much light it gets with all the windows. Every time I look at the curtains, I think of how my mom helped me make all of them and has helped me tackle a lot of home improvement projects in general.

(Notice the random socket in the ceiling of the living room? If anyone knows what that is or why it could be there, can you let me know? It’s been a puzzle in my life!)

I picked this fun lime green for the kitchen. I think it's natural to have fun with paint color in a kitchen: no furniture to match and a smaller room in the house, why not?

I picked this fun lime green for the kitchen. I think it’s natural to have fun with paint color in a kitchen: no furniture to match and a smaller room in the house, why not?

While most people think my kitchen is small, anyone who saw my last apartment knows otherwise. The fact that I have a full sized fridge for example is a vast improvement! I find my small kitchen forces me to keep dishes clean and supplies down. A lot of cooking happens here, and I love the big windows and cheery kitchen color.

The open corral doors lead to a weird inbetween room which Derrick calls my ‘dressing room’ probably because there is a lot of clothes in it. Off the ‘dressing room’ is a very small backyard, just enough room for a miniature grill, and a cafe table with two chairs. There is a huge tree back there too which leans over my bedroom. It’s a small pink room with a skylight and I can’t tell you how many seasons I’ve watched changed with that tree. It’s like sleeping under the stars without having to be outside.

My kitchen and bedroom are both painted ‘fleur de lys pink’. When I picked this color, I knew I was going to live alone for awhile (possibly indefinitely) and I always wanted a pink bedroom. With no one to have to please, I went for it. Everytime I see either, I smile. A woman who loves pink lives here!

There’s a lot I’m going to miss about my place: the relatively close proximity to the ocean, my pink bedroom, my large clawfoot tub, the ability to walk just about anywhere I wanted to go… Mainly though, I think I’ll miss the ability to make all the decisions I want without anyone else’s input. Selfish but true.

Looking back though, this house isn’t perfect. My bedroom is freezing cold in the winter, and I have heating bills to prove it. The floor in the living room is so crooked, if you drop a marble, it’ll roll to the other side of the room. There is no hood in the kitchen so cooking bacon, fish, or anything else smelly tends to linger. In the winter, I have to park in a parking spot down the street because I do not have my own driveway. Every year my rent goes up and my income doesn’t go up the same amount to cover the difference.

In other words, the house and I were going to part ways at some point. Because it was never my house to begin with.

Honestly, I’m just going to miss my independence. And Derrick will miss his too I’m sure.

Like most goodbyes, this one is bittersweet. I am leaving a part of my life that was a good part and moving towards another good part that’s just really different. I did a lot of growing here. I grew a business, nurtured a broken heart, mourned the loss of my father, made friends, and lived those simple parts of a day that add up to a life. Now I will do all that (well most of that) and more, somewhere else this time. And that’s ok.

So if you know of anyone who needs a rental in Bar Harbor, let me know. While it never was my house, I’d like someone else to feel like it’s theirs. It’s a special place… but as I write this, maybe it’s just special because I made it that way. And I guess when it really comes down to it, I’ll be able to do that again, wherever I go.

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