Huge Home Made Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Dairy free, home made chocolate peanut butter cups. In a 10″ in Lodge cast iron pan.

In exploring dairy free food options over the past few months, I have been particularly interested in dessert choices. So many store bought desserts and candies come laden with milk and other dairy products. In early September, I explored cupcake size chocolate peanut butter cups. I botched the first batch by over-cooking the chocolate, but the ones I made the next day were wonderful.

And then I began to think about Halloween. Tricking-or-treating for dairy free children, especially those who don’t like fruity candy, must be a huge frustration. What could I do to make Halloween a night of indulgent chocolately awesomeness for a dairy free child? Then it hit me: a super huge, dairy free, home made chocolate peanut butter cup.

So, without further ado, here is my attempt to recreate the recipe that I used to make my first 10.25″ chocolate peanut butter cup. This recipe is a mish-mash of various recipes that I’ve found online. (Side note: I am a big fan of cast iron pans and highly recommend the great products from the people at Lodge. So versatile and easy to use.)

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Recipe

A chocolate peanut butter cup in a Lodge cast iron pan

Prep time: Not too long. 3 independent batches of 15 or so minutes

Why are the prep times on recipes so wildly understated? Hopefully, mine paint a more accurate picture of how long it takes to take these chocolate peanut butter cups.

Equipment

  • A 10.25″ seasoned cast iron pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Some way to grease the bottom side of the parchment paper – just a bit so it sticks to the pan*

* I used vegetable shortening so that my chocolate peanut butter cups would be dairy free and tree-nut free.

Ingredients

Note: If you’re not into dairy free, just swap your chocolate of choice for the dairy free stuff.

  • 2 x 22.5 oz. bags of dairy free chocolate chips
  • 3 cups or so of peanut butter
  • 1.5 cups of powdered sugar
  • Some salt – a dash or so

Preparation

A large chocolate peanut butter cup

(1) Grease the pan just enough so that the parchment paper will stay in place.

(2) Place a long enough piece of parchment paper into the pan so that it becomes a makeshift cupcake paper. (I tucked the extra bits of parchment that stuck out over the top of the pan down around and under the bottom of the pan – so that it would hold the parchment paper in place.)

(3) Melt one of the bags of chocolate chips until it’s liquidy smooth. You can use the microwave. I used a glass mixing bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. This takes about 10 minutes or so.

(4) Once melted, pour the chocolate into the parchment-lined pan, being sure to spread it evenly about the bottom.

(5) Using a cooking brush, or even the back of a spoon would work, brush some of the melted chocolate up the sides of the parchment paper. (This makes the sides of the chocolate peanut butter cup.)

(6) Place the pan in the freezer or the fridge so that the chocolate hardens. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on where/how you cool the chocolate.

(7) While waiting for the chocolate to harden, mix the peanut butter, powdered sugar and salt. It should look and taste like the consistency of the peanut butter in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Note: The basic ratio of peanut butter to powdered sugar is 2:1. If you want to make a smaller chocolate peanut butter cup, adjust accordingly.

(8) After removing the pan from the freezer, spoon the peanut butter filling into the pan. Leave a wee bit of room around the edges of the pan to allow for the subsequent batch of melted chocolate to flow down over it.

(9) Place the pan back in the freezer or refrigerator.

(10) Repeat Step (3), melting the other bag of chocolate chips.

(11) Once the chocolate has melted, remove the pan from the freezer and pour the liquid chocolate over the top of the peanut butter filling. Use the kitchen brush to spread the chocolate around, filling in the gaps and making sure that all the peanut butter filling is covered.

(12) Place the pan back in the freezer until the chocolate is solid.

(13) If you’d like, trim the extra parchment paper above the top rim of the cast iron pan.

WordCamp Philly 2015: Thoughts from a Co-Organizer

A few thoughts and comments following the wonder that was WordCamp Philly 2015.

As it’s been a full month since the work, excitement and rush of organizing WordCamp Philly 2015, I wanted to share a few thoughts about my experiences in 2015.

A Good Planning Team Works Magic

WordCamp 2015 was the second year that I was privileged to be a part of the organizing team for Philadelphia’s biggest WordPress conference. This year we had a bigger team than ever before and – wow! – did it make the job that much easier and more enjoyable. The team (Brad Williams, Doug Stewart, Tracy Levesque, Jodie Riccelli, Alx Block and me, led by Reed Gustow) really blew me away by its “can do” attitude that was very much centered around “how can I help”. I’ve certainly heard nightmare tales of planning teams not working well together – and WordCamp Philly was exactly the opposite. Someone would flag up a concern, a need or a task and two others would volunteer to look into or address it. So much fun! And of course, a lot of work too.

Great Speakers Engage The Audience

Aaron Jorbin delivering a keynote talk at WordCamp Philly, by Seth Goldstein

Aaron Jorbin delivering a keynote talk at WordCamp Philly, by Seth Goldstein. Used with permission.

In the run up to WordCamp Philly, we had to review speaker applications. I was astounded by the width and depth of the proposed talks. There were so, so many high quality speaker applications. Certainly more than last year. Whether that was a reflection of the growth of – and within – the WordPress community, it certainly made for a very difficult challenge. Saying ‘no’ to people who have put so much thought and energy into their work is really hard.

On the day of the WordCamp, I was approached by more attendees than I can remember who shared their thanks about how great the talks and speakers were. It was so wonderful to hear. The strength of a WordCamp significantly relies on the quality of the presentations. The women and men who shared their skill and knowledge at WordCamp Philly 2015 did not disappoint.

Volunteers Make for Light Work

Part of my role for 2015 was to recruit and coordinate the efforts of our volunteers. I was delighted that we were able to recruit 30 people to help out on the day. Thirty people! That was our biggest group of volunteers ever. On the day, the wonderful volunteers made the registration process so fluid and easy, answered plenty of questions at the Happiness Bar, recorded presentations, ran the WordCamp Philly Twitter account, took photos and more. Thanks again to all the volunteers!

Attendees Set the Tone

WordCamp Philly, by Susan McCreadie

Photo of WordCamp Philly 2015 by Susan McCreadie. Used with permission.

The efforts of organizers, speakers, sponsors and volunteers will all be for nothing if no one shows up on the day. WordCamps are no different. In many ways, it’s the attendees at a WordCamp who set the tone. Yes, organizers can try to offer structure and the like, but ultimately, yet it’s attendees who set the tone with their level of engagement, their response and their enthusiasm about the event. As long as I’ve been attending WordCamps in Philly (2010), the attendees have always been great. I think 2015 was the best crowd ever – so friendly, so engaged, so happy to be there and with each other. The vibe was really thrilling to feel.

Location, Location, Location

University of the Sciences, by John Lauber

University of the Sciences, by John Lauber. Used with permission.

Our entire planning team was really excited when we reviewed the facilities at University of the Sciences. The space was amazing: new, open, beautiful and just about a perfect fit for the size of crowd we were expecting. Yet what made the USciences experience so great was the team of people that delivered services both in the planning stages and on the day. Of particular value was Scott Sisson, the Meetings + Events Coordinator at USciences. He responded to our every need or concern with amazing speed, patience and performance.

New Amazing People

A successful WordCamp is about people first and WordPress second. One of my measures of a successful WordCamp is now many people I met or got to know better. Here are just a few from WordCamp 2015.

Susan McCreadie: Susan and I have known of each other for a few years through a mutual client. I was excited when she volunteered to help at WordCamp Philly. She ran the Twitter account on the day, helping answer questions, share updates and feed the online buzz around the event. Susan also took some wonderful photos that day.

Joe Casabona: Joe and I have danced around a few WordCamps together for a few years now. Not literally, mind you. Just figuratively. I got to know him a bit more at WordCamp Lancaster as we hung out in the speakers lounge together. Yet it was only during this past WordCamp Philly where I felt like I could call Joe a friend.

Briana Morgan: Briana was kind enough not to walk out of the room when she learned that I would be giving the talk for that time slot. (I was asked to deliver a talk about WordPress when one of the scheduled speakers unexpectedly fell ill.) With a winning smile and a warm personality, Briana is very active in the Philly tech community. I certainly hope to get to know her better over time.

Jodie Riccelli: Although I’ve known Jodie for a couple of years now through her work with YIKES, it wasn’t until working more closely with her this year that I realized just how amazing she is. If everyone with internet access in Philly knows Reed Gustow, then everyone in the events industry must surely know Jodie. She is so resourceful, so connected, so professional, so hard working and so, so nice! The success of WordCamp Philly 2015 owes a lot to Jodie.

Can’t Wait for 2016!

I know, I know. WordCamp Philly 2015 has only just passed. Still, I am very much looking forward to getting started on planning for 2016. What wonders await us there?

The photo of me delivering a talk at WordCamp Philly 2015 was taken by John Lauber. Used with permission.

Forced Healthiness: No More Working Through the Pain

Thoughts on suffering major medical issues, treating them properly and establishing the correct work-life balance.

When the noted developer, writer, business owner and speaker Rachel Andrew asked for volunteers to answer a few questions about how major injuries or long-term illness affects creativity and productivity, I felt like I had to respond. Over the course of too many years, I learned the hard way about the price of not taking proper care of my health. I had thoughts and ideas to share that might help others avoid the mistakes I’ve made.

Following her research, Rachel wrote a great piece called Being Creative While in Pain: Working with Chronic Illness, which was published on the fantastic site that is 99U. More information about Rachel is online at rachelandrew.co.uk. What follows are my own thoughts on the same topic.

A Tale of Two Issues

I have two medical issues which affect my work. The first is a bad back. It’s gotten worse over the years as I get older and, particularly when I fail to effectively manage the flexibility and strength of my back (and core muscles) with proper stretching and exercise.

The second issue is sleep apnea. When I was in the process of starting my own marketing and design practice, I was transitioning out of full-time employment into self-employment. Over the span of about six months, I worked 12-16 hour days: 9-5 for my employer, then for myself from about 7-midnight and again the next day from 4-7, before heading into my day job. It wreaked havoc with my sleeping patterns and caused me to develop sleep apnea.

Downed by a Bad Back x 2

With respect to my back, I really do need to get up, stretch and walk a bit every hour. I also need to do core exercises on a daily basis. Failure to do so will put me out of commission, possibly for weeks. I went to the Emergency Room in an ambulance in February 2013 and subsequently could not sustain a full-pace work schedule for a month or so. Then again in 2014, while I avoided a trip to the ER, I did manage to land myself in bed for a week following severe back spasms.

Suffering Through Sleep Apnea

As my sleep apnea raged uncontrolled, I would drink 4-6 mugs of very strong coffee, 2-3 cups of tea and a soda or two every day to stay awake. And I would still fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at night. I could take a nap anywhere, at any time. I could drink a post-prandial espresso and still be asleep within minutes of finishing dinner.

It would not be an overstatement to say that I was always on the verge of falling asleep. I could still be productive at work, but it took a mountain of caffeine to make that happen.

A Forced Change

My two medical conditions eventually forced me to make changes in my life. I say “forced,” because if I did not change, I am convinced that I would have suffered even more dire health consequences. I also say “forced,” because I should have chosen to focus on a healthy routine years sooner. I was an idiot for ignoring my health for so long.

Yet, I did eventually make some changes.

Addressing Sleep Apnea

While I scaled back the stupid-long hours soon after I started working for myself, I still suffered from sleep apnea. After about five or six years of near-constant exhaustion (and terribly loud snoring), I decided to address the sleep apnea. I went for a sleep test.

Following the sleep test (yes, I was plugged into all sorts of cords; no, it wasn’t that bad or scary), I learned that while the brain of a sleeping healthy person adjusts for breathing issues 1 to 3 times per hour, mine was making adjustments 58 times per hour. As I slept through the test, at almost every minute of every hour, my brain needed to do something to adjust for my breathing issues. So, although I was “asleep,” my brain was not getting the chance to actually shut down for a proper rest. No wonder I was exhausted!

To be clear, I was not waking up 58 times an hour. Yet, my brain still had to do something, somehow to make sure that a sufficient amount of oxygen flowed into my lungs. I didn’t need to understand all the bio-science to appreciate that I had a significant health issue.

And it was a health issue that could be comfortably and easily managed. Without medicine.

I now use a CPAP machine. I’ve named my CPAP machine Henry, which is short for Henrietta. Thanks to Henry, I now sleep very well and have plenty of energy for all of life’s challenges. I very vividly remember putting the mask on for the first time on that Thursday night in January. When I next awoke, it was morning! I slept the whole night through. I was so rested! I could not believe my energy levels after just one night of quality sleep.

Now that I’m on the CPAP machine, my energy levels have returned to healthy levels. I am a regular runner, on the treadmill in winter and outdoors in the other three seasons. As an anecdotal measure, I now drink 1-3 cups of coffee per morning (because I love the taste). The coffee that I make myself is much weaker too; no more rocket fuel.

Getting an In-Shape Back

With respect to managing my back issues, I no longer pull those “not getting out of my chair until it’s done” marathons. I also make time during the business day to exercise. I typically run at 1:00 pm or so, which helps me eat a lighter lunch and avoid the need for a post lunch caffeine blast.

Upon consideration, I think my new approach is healthier and more productive (we can’t really concentrate for hours on end, can we?), but it was a difficult transition.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to truly appreciate the need for and value of proper exercise. It is now a work priority, so to speak. Pushing through the pain to get a proposal out the door or to get that website live is no longer worth it to me. I know that I will set myself back too much if I don’t prioritize the management of my health.

Coping with a Bad Back

The downside of managing a better work-life balance is that I no longer dedicate 12-14 hours of every day to my to-do list. Given that change for the better, I needed to find ways to be more effective with the time that I do have at work. To that end I have a few techniques that work well for me.

(1) I write my daily goals at the start of every business day. In addition to getting me focused right out of the box, it also helps me during the day when I get sidetracked. Is perusing Twitter really going to help me reach my billable target this month? Will checking out the football news right now enable me to read 15-30 minutes per day? Did eating such a big lunch make for a better afternoon run?

(2) I have a printed daily schedule. I write down the appointments for the day along with the specific tasks I aim to address that day, noting what time I will see to which task. My whole day is mapped out, including lunch, exercise, etc. That way, when I get off-track, I can glance at my schedule and know exactly what I am meant to be doing.

(3) I very much try to live in the moment. Admittedly, I don’t always succeed, but the purpose of my efforts is to help me make the most effective use of my time. When I am working, I want to concentrate entirely on work. When I am hanging out with my children, I want to focus on them. When I am going for a run, I want my mind to focus on getting in the best possible run. This change in mental approach (which has taken several years and continues to be a struggle) has been hugely rewarding.

Lessons from the Fire

As I look back at how I suffered with these two medical issues, I fully appreciate that I am to blame for the suffering and disruptions that they caused. I could have been proactive in dealing with both issues in a time frame that might have prevented them from becoming so problematic for me and for my family. I can’t get those years back, but I am committed to making sure that I manage my health properly now and for the rest of my life.

Cooking from Scratch

Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be daunting. It can even be fun, relaxing and easy!

In September of last year, I started making pizzas from scratch. I’m a Friday Night Pizza Night guy and have been for over a decade. I really love my Friday night wind-down with family, friends, pizza and a nice drink. Last summer though, I was getting pretty bored of the delivery and pick-up pizzas that local restaurants had to offer. Plus, the better restaurants make their pizzas really, really salty and I was looking for a way to cut down on my Friday night salt intake.

Starting with Pizza

My plan was simple: make pizza from scratch as an experiment to see if I could reduce the salt take while avoiding turning Friday Night Pizza Night (FNPN) into some cooking fiasco or burdensome exercise. While the first few Friday nights were definitely experiments in getting the crust right, within a few attempts I fell into a rhythm that allowed me to make reasonably tasty pizza while not becoming a pain in the neck for me. (Perhaps I’ll write about that process in a future post.)

The Mother of All Challenges

As September rolled into October and October in November, I began to experiment with breads, pie crusts and other forms of cooking and baking. As I progressed both in terms of skill and enjoyment, I decided to attempt the mother of all cooking efforts: Thanksgiving dinner. I am really pleased at how well it turned out. No, I am not about to start challenging leading chefs for their jobs, but the meal was tasty, well-rounded, nicely presented and all made from scratch.

Five Thoughts to Make Cooking from Scratch Enjoyable

Now, with five months of cooking under my belt, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with others about my own lessons learned. Let’s be clear though: I am not about to share top tips for cooking and baking from scratch. I am hardly qualified to do that. What I can share is some ideas on how to making cooking fun and how to work our way up to more challenging meals and recipes.

(1) The goal of cooking is edible food

Humanity has been heating raw and uncooked foods over fire for thousands of years. The basic goal of cooking and baking is to make something edible. That’s a pretty low hurdle. Millions of people have cleared that hurdle. If so many people can make food that is edible, palatable and life-sustaining, then so can we. Understanding this goal helps reduce the stress of trying to get the recipe perfect.

(2) Cooking is not hard

Now, don’t get me wrong here. Making a beautifully presented meal where all the dishes are done at the same time and are then elegantly presented on the plate is not an easy task. That is tough. But baking a roast, boiling and mashing potatoes and baking a loaf of bread from scratch are not. Each task, taken alone, is reasonably simple and straightforward. The real challenge comes at trying to get all of them done right and at the same time. To avoid becoming overwhelmed in trying to get everything right at once, start by focusing on one dish at time. Get the preparation right for each one — then try to coordinate concurrent preparations.

(3) Set the right environment in the kitchen

For me, a big part of the enjoyment I get from cooking comes from the atmosphere in the kitchen. On Friday nights, it’s music playing the background, a glass of wine or pint of beer on the counter and chatting with my family and friends about their day and week. It’s a relaxing way to prepare a meal. If I’m cooking on Saturday afternoon, then it’s the English Premier League on the radio. For a Sunday afternoon roast, it could be football (soccer) or maybe jazz.

(4) Build up your kitchen arsenal

In the first month or so of getting into cooking, my pantry was woefully unprepared for the effort. I lacked many of the must have ingredients and spices. Equipping a pantry from scratch, on a single trip to the grocery store would be really expensive. It would be especially so if after two or three FNPN, I decided that I prefer to order pizza from a restaurant. So, I built up my supplies over time. A few spices this week, a few more the week following. I’m still adding some of the more advanced (read less used) ingredients to my pantry. While my pantry is by no means fully stocked, it can handle most meals without a last minute dash out to the shop to complete the recipe.

(5) Take your recipe to the store

A few days into the work week is when I start thinking about what I might like to bake over the weekend. I let my imagination stew over the recipe, enjoying in my mind the likely smells and flavors that I’ll enjoy at the week’s end. As I know what I want to cook, I’ll then bring the recipe with me to the grocery store to make sure that I get whatever ingredients I don’t already have at home.

I hope these few thoughts help others take up cooking too. Yet what tips or ideas might you have to encourage your friends and colleagues to give cooking a go? Let me know on Twitter.

5 Wonderful People from 2014

A short list of amazing people who made a impact on my personal and professional life in 2014.

With the first two weeks of 2015 now gone, I am a bit late in sharing a list of just a few people whom I either met or got to know better in 2014. The following is certainly not a comprehensive list of people who made a positive, lasting impression on me, but those in this admittedly very short list continue to impress, inspire and motivate me.

Joe Mastrangelo

Joe Mastrangelo and I met through a number of professional contacts maybe two or three years ago. In the spring of 2014, Joe approached me with a creative project. From that point, he and I have worked together a number of times: sometimes on projects for his clients, sometimes for mine. In working with Joe, I was immediately impressed by his professionalism, thoroughness and attention to detail. A genuinely nice guy, Joe is laid-back and quick to laugh. On the business side, Joe heads up a small firm called Masthead Marketing.

Tim Whiting

Tim Whiting is the founder of his own personal injury and truck accident law firm. More than that, Tim is one of the most generous and thoughtful guys I know. I’m always learning something from Tim. Incredibly hard working, Tim always remembers the personal details that make a professional relationship so enjoyable — and he makes times to check in about those small, important personal details. I’m known Tim for more than 15 years, but over the past year we’ve have grown increasingly close. I consider him one of my dearest friends.

Zoe Rooney

Zoe Rooney is a Philly-based front-end developer who’s established a stellar reputation for herself over the past few years. I first heard about Zoe at WordCamp Philly where she delivered a presentation about automating development-related tasks. She was kind enough to deliver a version of that same talk a few months later to the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup. Zoe is hugely generous with her time and talent, often sharing “how to” posts on her blog and offering guidance to others in the WordPress and tech community. You can check out her services and portfolio over at zoerooney.com.

Ngaire Ackerley

Ngaire Ackerley spent more than three years working with me at LBDesign. For that reason alone she deserves a mention in this list. On a serious note, she is a very hard-working, focused and dedicated designer and front-end developer who contributed so much value to my business during her tenure in our UK office. Ngaire’s off traveling the world now, so be sure to check out her amazing photos and insightful travel advice.

Lauren Pittenger

Lauren Pittenger is a friendly and energetic designer and front-end developer from greater Philadelphia. I was lucky that Lauren applied to join LBDesign in the autumn of last year. Since joining our little team, she has proven so valuable and such a joy to be around. She brings a fresh, intelligent perspective to the daily virtual office. I’m thrilled to get to work with her every day – and because she’s in the same city, I get to hangout with her in real life.

With almost a full 12 months of 2015 still to go, I look forward to working, collaborating and spending time with these amazing people. I’m also very much looking forward to meeting new people!

Getting Back in the Game

Four tools to help get back into a productive mindset after time out of the office.

Getting back into productivity

Summer is the time for vacations here in America. Loads of people get out of the office, head to the beach, to the mountains and elsewhere with family and friends. In late June and early July, I took a few days away from work, relaxing with family. While I expected some loss of focus and productivity when I got back into the office the next week, I struggled to get back into the swing and rhythm of work in the office. To encourage, cajole and force myself back to an acceptable level of productivity, I rely on a number of techniques.

Here are my tips and techniques for getting back into the game, recapturing focus and restarting the engine of productivity.

Write My Daily Goals

Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Brian Tracy, a leading professional development trainer. One of his most valuable practices is the writing of daily goals. In a nutshell, the practice involves spending a few moments in the morning to list my top 10-15 life goals. For me, the list includes a mix of professional, personal, spiritual, health and financial goals. In taking the time to list these goals (in a notebook, writing in pen), I remind myself of those goals which are most important to me. I use the goal-writing process to help me dive into a productive day.

Lean on My Daily Schedule

While I am a devoted technophile, I place great value in pen and paper. I start my work day by printing up a day calendar. On that calendar, I have the day broken into 30 minutes slots. After filling in my pre-arranged meetings, calls and appointments, I pencil in various tasks from my to do list. This quick process allows me to plot out my entire day. I know what I will be doing and when. This approach helps keep me on task and focused throughout the day.

As the day proceeds, I rely on my handwritten schedule to remind me what I should be doing. It provides strong visual encouragement to get me back on task.

Listen to My Favorite Podcasts

There are some truly wonderful podcasts out there on practically every topic under the sun. I listen to a whole range of programs. Yet the following the ones are what I turn to when I need help getting back on track.

  • Advanced Selling Podcast: Sales coaches Bill Caskey and Brian Neale talk through a range of topics geared to helping their listeners to be better sales people. I find the podcast does a great job of offering insight on hardwork, focus, self-determination and more.
  • The Dradcast: Each week, Brad Williams and Dre Armeda talk about the latest news and happenings in the WordPress community with a new host. While the conversation focuses on WordPress, they invariably talk about running your own business, entrepreneurism and networking.

Go for a Fast Run

I appreciate the value of exercise as a way to stay healthy and focused on work. When struggling to get back into the swing of work, I make time to go for a fast paced run. I’m no marathoner, so if I want to run quickly, I keep the distance to less than 2.5 miles. Then I make the point to run as quickly as a I humanly can. The confidence and sense of accomplishment that I get from that dash gives me the pick-up I need to get back into the office with a real focus.

What Works for You?

Without a doubt, the tricks that work for me won’t be right for everyone. I’d love to hear what other ideas or advice others might have to getting themselves back into the game after a break.

 

 

Top Lessons from Running a WordPress Meetup for Two Years

A list of 5 top lessons learned from running a WordPress meetup for two years.

Philly 'burbs WordPress Meetup

With the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup celebrating its two-year anniversary earlier this month, I’ve been thinking about the lessons that I’ve learned about organizing this happy little group of WordPress designers, developers, administrators and more. I’ve put together a few ideas about top lessons that I’ve learned over the past 24 months.

1. Group Members Do Put Skin in the Game

People come to a WordPress meetup to learn, to share, to grow and to have fun. By and large, our members attend to engage and to add value to the group. They put their own time and energy to get to our meetup on a Monday night. They even put cash into it now (we charge $5 to attend, the money from which goes back into the meetup to cover the meetup.com fees and appetizers during the meetup). That’s the best kind of group, where members are committed, giving of themselves and trying to grow together.

2. Work Hard or Don’t Bother

To properly run a monthly meetup takes a good amount of time and energy. Organizing the meetup location, finding speakers, promoting the meetup online and running the gathering on the night requires more than just a few hours per month. Having done this for two years now, I really appreciate that if I don’t put in enough effort in advance of the meetup, then, the members don’t get as much value than if I do it properly. Cutting corners reduces the value for everyone.

3. Keep Pushing Others to Push Themselves

One of the things that brings me great satisfaction as an organizer of the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup is seeing our members blossom from quiet attendees at their first meeting to professional, engaging speakers not only at our meetup, but also at WordCamps. I’ve seen first hand that asking people to step out of their comfort zone and supporting them when they do so leads to great things, both for that individual and for the community.

4. When You Think You’ve Seen It All, You Haven’t …

In the two years since starting this meetup with Coreen Tossona, I’ve been repeatedly astounded by the way that surprises pop up at almost every turn. A marketing professional learning to tweak a child theme. A web developer growing in appreciation for the perspective that no plugins isn’t always a bad idea. A designer learning to embrace version control. Just when I begin to feel like I’ve been there, done that, something about the people in this group deeply impresses me with some new facet to their game. It’s nothing short of inspiring.

5. Give of Self and Karma Will Pay You Forward

As I wrote on the first anniversary of our meetup, giving to the community is hugely rewarding in and of itself. I learned that lesson last year and I am repeatedly reminded of that truism. Through my work in organizing our meetup, doors for exciting opportunities have been opened to me and I’ve had the chance to meet and interact with some amazingly talented and successful people. And it’s not just been me. I regularly hear from our members about how they are working with someone else in the group on a new project, or how they were able to get a new job after demonstrating new skills nurtured and enhanced by our monthly conversations. Active participation in our group, and gifts of self to that community, are repaid by the community. It’s a beautiful thing.

As we roll into the next year, I look forward to further surprises, more inspiration and even greater levels of sharing and giving.

Shoplandia by Jim Breslin

A short review of Jim Breslin’s new novel, Shoplandia

Shoplandia

I take great pleasure in hearing about and trying to support the success of friends and professional colleagues. I really do love it when those around me hit a home run in their respective industries. It’s so cool to witness. So when Jim Breslin, a local writer who I met through my local WordPress and marketing community, published his first novel, I was eager to buy it and give it a read.

Yet, I have to be honest. The only reason I wanted to read Shoplandia was because it was written by Jim. Jim is a former producer from QVC, the television shopping network. He used his 17 years on the job with QVC as the basis for his novel.

I’m familiar with some of Jim’s other work; I know he’s a great writer. Still I had no interest in a novel set among a television channel. I don’t shop on QVC and I don’t even really watch television, aside from soccer matches. When I read for pleasure, I prefer historical fiction and biographies. I was a little concerned that the book wouldn’t really do it for me.

I shouldn’t have been concerned.

Jim Breslin wove a tale that was engaging, funny, believable and interesting. Jim’s characters came across as truly human. The personalities who made the Shoplandia set their professional home came to life in a way that was convincing and believable. It was a page turner (or a tab-pusher as I read Shoplandia on the Kindle) right from page one to the very end. I wanted to know what happened in the lives of these characters.

As a guy who has struggled to find enjoyment in fiction and reading for pleasure lately, I feel like Shoplandia has put pleasure-reading back on the table for me. I have Jim Breslin to thank for that.

So, anybody have recommendations for my next fiction read?

Oh, you can get your own copy of Shoplandia on Amazon.