Hello Brits!

laelene Post in general blog,Tags:

I was checking my Alexa rank today, wondering what sort of influence people might think I have as a blogger and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m ranking in the UK! If you’re not familiar with Alexa ranks, it basically tells you how trafficked your website is. So the number is telling you that you’re in the top ## of active websites.

I typically hover in the 2 million mark globally and 700-800k in the US. Two years ago, I was randomly ranking in Turkey at around 100k (with 60,491 as my best). Since then I haven’t ranked in a foreign country as far as I know. But today, what a cool thing to see that nearly HALF my traffic is from the UK and I’m 177,368th in line.

alexa rank 2.10.16

Most US-based bloggers will see at least 80% of their traffic come from the US, so there must be something in the air to make all these Brits visit my site. Pretty cool and a fun little fact to make me smile. If I ever find myself focusing on building my blog more, I’ll aim to bring my global rank back down below 1 million. The best I ever had was 884,613 two years ago (whoa, on Panda’s birthday, I just noticed :)). My best US rank was 180,889 about a month before that. I’d love to beat those numbers again one day. It’s fun to see traffic grow and watch the ranks improve!

So wherever you are, I’d love to see you stick around.

Do it for yourself

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After watching the Macklemore interview at TEDxPortland and hearing his parting words about not letting perfection stop you from starting, it made me think about creation. Humans are drawn to creating things, whether crafts or art or even ideas. Maybe you’re a musician or a knitter, a woodworker or a mathematician. In each, you may feel the pressure to perform well again and again. It’s easy to overthink the result you want and intimidate yourself from even trying.

If you set out to craft the perfect song, sweater, cabinet, or statistical equation, you will likely get very discouraged along the way. Does it mean you shouldn’t try? For fear of producing complete junk, you might convince yourself you’re not good enough. But if it’s something you want, something you crave – then give it a shot. You might find that you do suck. You might have many restarts and edits. That’s really the price of improvement though.

Even the best out there have times where they do not like what they produce. The difference is that for the love of the craft, of the art they produce, they keep pushing forward. And with that they see incremental improvements. Nobody can produce amazing new pieces every time. Creativity takes honing and skills take practice.

Beyond that, even if you aren’t that great, as long as it fulfils your heart, I think it’s still worth it. The experience of doing your craft or art will be immensely rewarding in itself when it’s what you love. No one can take that away from you. Sometimes you should do it just to do it. It may never become what you make a living from and you may never get that good at it, but what matters is what you get out of it. The pleasure, the feeling of accomplishment, the wonderful memories – those are worth more. If you love it, do it for yourself.

For me, this blog is one thing that I choose to do for myself. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but I enjoy sharing my thoughts, experiences, memories, and more. There are times I post something wondering if the writing was completely awful and if I should share it at all. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; I’m drawn to blogging and it brings me a sense of accomplishment no matter how well I might be doing it. It’s not that I don’t want more readers… it’s just that I would rather produce what I like and not feel pressured to do things a certain way to gain more readership. So I focus on what I enjoy and hope that it provides value to others. If not, it at least pleases me.

So don’t hold yourself back from something you truly enjoy doing! Go do it for yourself. :)

Petit Vour January 2016 review

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Ah, freshness. These products are simple and clean – great way to start a new.

Petit Vour is $15 per box (or as much as $30 for international subscribers) and comes with vegan beauty, skincare, and other personal care products. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral program that earns you points towards free boxes (email contact@petitvour.com to say I referred you if you sign up!).

contents of petit vour january 2016 box with hello 2016 theme and info card petit vour january 2016 box info card with item details

S.W. Basics cream – This is a super soft cream that melts like butter upon contact with skin. It smoothes on very easily and softens the skin. Now it does smell a little odd to me, so I’ll probably use this on my legs more than I would on my hands or face.

French Girl Rose Lip Polish – Mmm, this smells really nice. Just a tiny bit is enough to completely refresh my lips and it feels so good! Lip scrubs are a ton of fun and I enjoy using this one a lot.

Evelyn Iona – Now I’m not much of an eyeliner person. I haven’t tried gel liner before and I nearly didn’t see the little pot of it! I thought it was just the brush as a tool at first, haha. This is a really cool set and it might just be enough for me to try it out. Or I might give it to a friend.

kaia bamboo tapioca beads – I got a sample of this previously and I’ve tried it before. It’s a handy way to bring a facial cleanser/mask on a trip without taking up much space at all. It has a nice sweet smell and the granules in it are a good way to exfoliate.

I like the skincare focus of this box and I’m curious about the eyeliner so we’ll see how that experiment goes! What do you think of these products?

[This post mentions a referral program. Signing up and emailing contact@petitvour.com to say I referred you helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. :) All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

Striking sisters

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Missy and Smokey are certainly acting like sisters now, playing and fighting pretty much on a daily basis. At times I can’t tell if it’s fun or too aggressive, but I guess we’ll chalk it up to sibling rivalry. This is an improvement from the times that Smokey would hiss at her new sister!

cats playing through door crack from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

cats playing under door from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

cats fighting under door from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

cat rearing back to pounce from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

Prospurly January 2016 review

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This Prospurly box was also waiting for me first thing after the snowstorm and I’m finally getting around to reviewing it!

Prospurly is just under $45 per box (with code for 10% off your subscription – use my referral links from this post) and comes with artisan foods, bath & body items, home products, and other sustainably crafted items. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral program that earns you free boxes.

prospurly january 2016 box open with products showing prospurly january 2016 info card with product details


blythe market detox foot soak – How fun! I think this will be the perfect thing to do when I want to relax and a bath is just too much effort. It’s very lightly scented and the crystals inside have clumped into bits that can be broken up in water.

fawn lily botanica geranium + argan oil facial serum – I love a facial serum so this is much appreciated. I’ve been trying to stick to a routine that includes cleansing, toner, serum, and moisturizer. Once my current serum is used up, it’s good to know I’ll already have another one ready to go.

affirmation cards – These are cute cards that each have a theme: kindness, self-belief, choice, and exploration. On the back of each card it says, “This day forward, I [will be/believe/choose to/will]…” and has six lines to list: “Kind to/I can/I choose/Explore.” It’s a nice way to put intention into who you want to be and what actions you can take.

Faber-Castell charcoal grey mechanical pencil – To go with the cards and fill them out, you can use this pencil! I can’t remember the last time I used a mechanical pencil, but it might just come in handy for grad school. I love the sleek look of this and the triangular shape of the tube. I’m more into pens, so I might have to try some of theirs.

handmade la conner lavender laundry soap – Ooo this is super cool. I am all about natural products! I would be happy to replace any current laundry soaps with this kind and I look forward to trying it.

fawn lily botanica spiced chai + coconut lip balm – This is a very unique flavor and has a light spice. It’s sort of chocolatey as well and is super soft on the lips. I like to have lip balm handy in a variety of locations, so I’m sure I will easily find a home for this one, whether at work, in the car, or at home.

Barefoot Apothecary Chamomile & Euphoria Honey Elixir – I really should have had this earlier when I was terribly congested and coughing up a storm. Still, it’s nice to have now to mix in my drinks as I slowly heal from a bout of the flu.

Another great box full of products that I am happy to discover! This is quickly becoming my favorite box. I’m a huge fan of artisans making products in small batches with love and care. What do you think of these products?

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. :) All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

Escape Monthly January: India Box review

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As soon as Blizzard 2016 was finally cleared enough for the mailman to return, I got this package! I wonder if it had been waiting at the post office the whole time.

Escape Monthly is just under $40 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – see end of post) and comes with a variety of food, home, skincare items themed around a city/region. Each box comes with a guide for that area. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral commission program.

escape monthly january india box products showing escape monthly january india box info card escape monthly january india box info card opened with fact sheet showing escape monthly january india box info card opened with details of products included(click to enlarge and read full messaging)

How cool! I’m already making good use of the sheesham box and I love the Diwali lamps. It’s great that this box has no overlap with the other one from India.

Here’s what came in the box:

Rudy Maxa’s World: India DVD – What a cool way to learn about India beyond a guide book. I’m glad they chose to go this route since seeing and hearing what India is like will be much more telling than reading about it.

Shelly Mehandi henna kit – How fun is this?! Don’t we all want to try doing our own henna tattoos? I know I certainly have. This cute kit includes the powder, which you mix with water and then squeeze in the provided cone (like those pastry ones people use for frosting). Mine came with a stencil of a gecko/lizard type creature, which will be fun to trace onto myself. I’m totally inviting someone over to have a little henna party.

EBM Brands Click cumin biscuits – Whoa, this is so interesting. These dry, crispy cookies have bits of cumin that give it an earthy flavor. It’s sweet yet not all at once and a totally unique flavor. Quite cool! My brain is still not sure what to make of it.

United King Soan Papdi pastry – This came in a container that made me think of someone’s lunch box in Asia. I thought there’d be squares in the box, but then I opened it and it seemed to be one giant chunk. I wasn’t quite sure how to get a piece out, so I just started scooping! This pastry is sooo delicious and yes, very very flaky. Like falls apart as I try to scoop it up. That kind of melting in your mouth is pretty sweet.

Song of India English Lavender soap – Is there a difference between English lavender and other lavender? This one smells more soapy than the lavender ones I’m used to. It’s clear and reminds me of this glycerin soap I have. Happy to add it to my queue of soaps to use!

Diwali lamps – Ok, these just look like a party. All you’ve got to do is put in tea lights and enjoy! I love the colorfulness and atmosphere they provide. Now I just need to bulk purchase tea lights…

Organic India Tulsi tea – I enjoy a tulsi tea when I want something sweeter and caffeine-free. This came at just the right time, since I’ve been sick and I could use a boost. I’ve probably had three of the tea bags brewed multiple times already.

Acanela Shashi India spice blend – We’ve been working to cook more, so spices will be a great thing to have to add to dishes. Sometimes salt and pepper get boring and just aren’t what you want. I’m going to keep these fresh and sealed until we’re ready to figure out what dishes to use them on.

handmade sheesham box – This is the perfect box to store some of my jewelry bedside. I now keep my rings and small earrings in here for safekeeping next to the bed. It’s so simple and looks great anywhere.

They haven’t announced the next location yet, so we’ll see what it is when it arrives. Which products from this India Escape Monthly box do you like most? If you want to sign up, be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get a code for 20% off the lifetime of your subscription.

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. :) All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

How to: Create A Facebook Page

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[Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of the original blog post that is now nearly three years old! This includes up-to-date instructions after some changes to Facebook’s interface.]

pinnable quote image for how to create a facebook page blog post on maryqin.com

I decided it was time for me to create a Facebook page for my little blog, so I can really try to build it out and maybe get some followers! I’d like to think that what I’m putting out there is educating or entertaining someone, but I’ve never really promoted it so it’s time to take action.

When I went to create the FB page, I (for the life of me) could NOT find where to choose the “Personal Blog” category! And that’s what spurred this entry. Read on to learn the basics for setting up a Facebook page and how to select a category like “Personal Blog,” “Personal Website,” and more!

Creating Your Facebook Page

webpage to create a new facebook page First of all, here’s where you can create a new Facebook page. As you’ll see, right away they want you to choose a category. Your desired page may fit multiple categories, so it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your needs. Of the 6 types they’ve laid out for you (1. Local Business or Place; 2. Company, Organization or Institution; 3. Brand or Product; 4. Artist, Band or Public Figure; 5. Entertainment; 6. Cause or Community), all but the last one have a dropdown menu with category choices. Don’t worry if your desired category isn’t there – just pick what’s closest or tickles your fancy. In my case, I went for “Brand or Product”and chose “Website” from the dropdown.

You will be asked to enter your page name, which should be the title of your blog, the name of your business, or whatever you want the world to know your page by. Note that Facebook has certain rules in place about what is allowed in a name – for example, I tried to enter my blog name, ((little fat notebook)), but it was immediately rejected because I’m not allowed to use symbols. You are allowed one set of parentheses, but there can only be two words in it (like this) and obviously I’d have three if I went for (little fat notebook). Alas, I then tried just plain “little fat notebook” and that’s not allowed because the name must start with an uppercase! I didn’t like how Little fat notebook looked, so I went for the boring old Little Fat Notebook. Luckily, you can change it after the fact!

Setting Up Your Facebook Page

Once you agree to their terms and click Get Started, you’re prompted to fill in a description and add links to your site(s). They now allow you to choose your vanity URL (the pretty one that looks like https://www.facebook.com/littlefatnotebook instead of https://www.facebook.com/pages/little-fat-notebook/457453117668145). Check out my post on claiming vanity URLs to learn more. Choose carefully, you can only ever change it once after that. Next upload an avatar/profile picture to represent your page.

You can then add this new page to your Favorites area for quick access. That’s the part on the left when you go to Facebook.com. Finally, you can indicate your target audience including where they’re located, what age range they’re in, their gender, and their indicated interests. You’ll then be taken to your brand new Facebook page! A quick tour is given and then you’re given free reign. Feel free to add a cover photo, invite friends to like your page, and share your very first post!

area to set up target audience of new facebook page

Changing To A Better Category

settings option for facebook pageNow here’s what you’ve been waiting for: how to make the page exactly as you want it! Under the cover photo area, click About. This takes you to Page Info where you’ll see the category you chose. Alternatively, at the top right, you’ll see Settings, which takes you to a page full of them. Along the left is a menu with “Page Info” – that brings you to the same place. Hover over the Category section to find the Edit button. From there you’ll see that the category and subcategory choices are far more plentiful than they let on earlier in the process! That’s where I found a previously unmentioned category called “Websites & Blogs,” which contains the subcategory option I had been hunting for: Personal Blog. The nice thing is that you can change this at any time, so as your site/brand evolves, you can update the category accordingly.page info section of facebook page

dropdown menu to edit facebook page category

dropdown menu to edit facebook page subcategory

So there you go! I hope that helped. If you found it useful, please like my page to show your support. :)

A few other tips:

When you reach 30 fans, Facebook will provide “insights” about your page, which include data about the reach of your page and each post (how many people see it, pretty much), how many people are talking about (sharing) your posts, and how many posts you’re putting up daily. You can also find cool demographic information about your followers. Basically if you’re into data, you’re going to love this part.

Note that I was able to update my page name from Little Fat Notebook to all lowercase. Unfortunately you still can’t add symbols, but as mentioned before, you can use one set of parentheses.

From now on, you can choose to interact with Facebook as yourself (personal profile) or your Page. This option is available for anything public that multiple profiles can access. You won’t see it for posts related to your private friends, for example, since Pages cannot post to personal profiles. But on other pages, you can choose to comment/like as yourself or your Page.

dropdown menu to choose facebook profile or page to interact as

I used to highly recommend putting your website URL in the Short Description so users can easily click to your site from your FB page. Now Facebook has added a Call to Action button instead, so you can set that up to get users to your site. None of the options are particularly blog-friendly though, so I’d like to see a “Read More” or “Read Now” action.

dropdown menu to set facebook page call to action button

Now that you have a Facebook page, check out my tutorials on:
~how to manage your Facebook page
~how to link your social media accounts
~how to claim your vanity URLs (as mentioned earlier in the post), and more!

You can find all my “how to” posts for useful tips like how to make a favicon and random things like how to set your iPhone/iPad to stop playing music at a certain time or even how to win a Facebook contest!

If you have any questions or tips of your own, I’d love to hear them! Please do share. :)

Down with the flu

laelene Post in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , ,

Has it really been three days since my last post already?! Gosh, I’ve been pretty much bedridden this whole time. I first felt ill last week and began sneezing by Thursday. Friday I was working from home in bed and Saturday and Sunday I hung out inside as the snow piled up and Panda made a few runs at it. I was out sick Monday and Tuesday and will work from home tomorrow. Monday was the worst, when I was feverish with the chills, yet went through bouts of sweat spells. My whole body ached so bad and random nerves would have intense periods of pain. I had a headache the whole time and could hardly breathe much of the time. It was all very bizarre.

The last time I was this ill was two or three years ago, also in winter. I should really start getting flu shots, shouldn’t I? I’ve always had a rather strong immune system and wouldn’t get super sick, so as a child I enjoyed being a bit under the weather and spending the time to rest. However, nowadays my immune system might be weaker, or there may be more sick folks I’m exposed to, or the cold weather could affect me more. I don’t know what exactly, but it certainly is worse than it’s been in a very long time.

On Monday night, I was seriously doubting when I’d get better and imagined that pain extending until Thursday or later. Luckily, I woke up this morning feeling far better. Perhaps it was time and I had sweat enough, or perhaps that Aleve type pill I took did the trick. I had previously been taking a daytime flu thing or Excedrin when the pain was worst. I took less than half the recommended dosage, so that might have been a factor. I just don’t like so much medicine though!

Today I made it outside for the first time since Thursday and we got lunch and a few things at Costco. I was happy to stay inside again for the rest of the day. I don’t understand all those people claiming to have cabin fever not even 24 hours into the storm this weekend when I was inside for 5 days without a problem. Are you less likely to experience cabin fever if you’re sick and want to curl up in bed? I don’t think I would have felt it either way, since we luckily had no power outages in the area and I could easily use my devices or read with a light. For the most part, I took it easy and rested.

My head’s still cloudy and I’ve been coughing something nasty all day, but I’m well enough to get some work done from bed again tomorrow. We have a cool event on Thursday at the Australian Embassy, but I’m not sure I’ll be well enough to make it out. Too bad!

Blizzard 2016!

laelene Post in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, we’re almost done with this major storm of the season and it’s been pretty crazy! I happened to start getting sick this week and by Thursday, I was coughing and sneezing constantly. I was glad that we didn’t go to work on Friday and began to hunker down for the storm. All day today I’ve been coughing and trying to stay warm, but I don’t think I’ve made much progress. I did go out a few times to peek at the snow building up. Here’s a look at some pics!

snow level on cars before blizzard 2016

It started around 1pm Friday for us in Loudoun/Fairfax Counties.

snow level on cars one hour into blizzard 2016

An hour into it, we were seeing accumulation.

snow level on cars four hours into blizzard 2016

Three hours later, everything was pretty white.

snow level on cars seventeen hours into blizzard 2016

I woke up at 6 today to find the cars disappearing.

snow level on cars twenty-seven hours into blizzard 2016

27 hours in and the cars can hardly be found.

snow level on cars thirty hours into blizzard 2016

They’re pretty encased, but the wind keeps moving snow around.

snowblower pieces on ground with cable previously caught in blade

The first time Panda used his new snowblower, he ran over the power cable and we spent a long time taking it apart to release the cable.

man pushing snowblower outside on driveway during blizzard 2016

It works quite well, but then the blizzard would blow the snow right back.

snow crusting on windows and screens during blizzard 2016

The wind pummeled snow onto the windows and it became hard to see outside.

snow gathering on porch during blizzard 2016

The porch even got a fair amount of snow.

snow in plastic buckets/tubs to clear porch during blizzard 2016

To remove the snow from the porch, we began to take buckets of it to the bathtub so our neighbor below wouldn’t get all the stuff we swept off.

snow piled in tub during blizzard 2016

Melting snow in the tub!

cat pawprints on cleaned porch during blizzard 2016

Smokey took the opportunity to enjoy the newly cleaned porch.

sidewalk shoveled and recovered by blizzard 2016

Our neighbors were very diligent in shoveling their sidewalk every few hours only to have the snow blown back.

man crawling on belly in deep snow during blizzard 2016

One neighbor found it easier to crawl out to the road.

snow drifts by front door from blizzard 2016

The wind blew a ton of snow to our front door area!

partially-shoveled snow accumulation of blizzard 2016

Panda began to shovel a path out to the driveway.

blizzard 2016 piling snow past windows

On the right is our neighbor’s front door area, which is completely snowed in.

surrounded by high piles of snow from blizzard 2016

So much snow! I was hoping for more than 3 feet, which it is around me, but out in the open areas it was about 27.3 inches.

The thoughts that hold us back

laelene Post in general blog

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I’ve been watching a lot of Sheryl Sandberg and almost every speech is about that. Empowering yourself by stripping away fear and facing it head on. Identifying what it is that you’re afraid to do, then going and doing it.

What I’ve wanted to do for a long time is discuss some of the internal challenges that we face at my company. There have been a lot of things going on that are far from ideal and it makes me wonder if those running the company are not aware of these things or if they don’t find it a priority. I want to at least bring it up so it’s in their conscious, if it’s not already. And if it is, I’d like to convince them that these issues I’ve noticed are important.

Sheryl’s message of leaning in made me think about some of the thoughts and beliefs that hold me back from the things I want to do. One of the saddest things is the people in my life who don’t get it. Time and time again, the people I’ve told have said, “Don’t do it.”

The message is clear. Don’t bring up issues in the workplace, you’ll look like a whiner. Don’t open up a line of communication lest they think you’re out to get them. Don’t put your job in jeopardy. Don’t say anything. Don’t do it.

These are the philosophies that hold me back. They give me pause whenever I want to stand up for what I believe in. I’m not exactly afraid of losing my job, if that would actually happen (which I honestly don’t think would). So what am I afraid of?

It’s actually not that my family and friends will think of me differently. It’s that they’ve given me doubt as to whether I’ll be able to express myself and communicate what I’m trying to effectively. Because I believe that if it comes out right, my company will see that I care about improving it, that I want to do that. I’m not pointing out problems I’ve experienced just to complain about it, but because I want to work on a way forward. Yet I can see that this intention can easily be misconstrued and it sort of happened before.

So I’m afraid of how lightly I might need to tread. Will I inadvertently set off a landmine even as I seek a clear path to something better? I know in theory what I’d like to share, but I can’t control how it will be interpreted. That’s the greatest danger. But instead of pointing out all the reasons not to, I wish my loved ones would support me and brainstorm with me. What I need is allies, not contrarians.

If you have any thoughts that are holding you back, do whatever you need to give yourself permission to do what you want. I’ve wanted to do this for so long that I know I will regret it if I don’t. Now it’s off to drafting notes and practicing what I might say. I’ve got to be true to myself.

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