Origins of Wayward Spark

September 30, 2011 · 18 comments

Hi, I'm Camille. This photo was taken by John Kish, photographer extraordinaire.

I’m sure no one else noticed this, but at some point last week, I wrote my 100th blog post. For me, that’s kind of a really big deal. Somehow having 100 posts behind me means that this blog is legit and going strong, which I think is what I was hoping for all along. I wrote my first blog post back in March 2011, but I thought I’d let you in on some of the prehistory of Wayward Spark. The following story is a bit long and rambly, but it has some tidbits of gossip that I hope you find interesting

It all began in November 2010. My business, Red Onion Woodworks, was fortunate enough to be chosen as a “Featured Seller” on Etsy. I made a big effort to craft answers to the interview that were well written and gave readers information as well as a general sense of my lifestyle. My business was a representation of my life, so I tried hard to let that to come through. This was a pretty amazing opportunity in terms of exposure for my business. In the course of 48 hours, almost 20,000 people viewed my shop.

After my big feature, there were over 400 comments on my interview, and my business had almost 400 new Facebook fans. The response was overwhelming. I wasn’t a social outcast or anything before, but never in my life had I been so popular. It was simultaneously flattering and weird/borderline creepy. Here are a few of the comments:

  • “I LOVE that you are a College Graduate, Articulate Woman and have made the decisions that You and Your Husband have made! You’ve gone straight to the source of your TRUE HAPPINESS! God Bless You and Yours and all the People that you are influencing throughout our world Today! BE WELL,X0X0X cheryl P.s….if you ever want a Get Away…we can home trade! I’m overlooking the Monterey Bay; My Honey & I could squeeze into your Tub together and We LOVE GOATS!!”
  • “OH! Very nice product sweetie..Love em. You should post more pics of your house..seriously intrigued by it. Looks great from what I can see. Good for you on not being one of the millions who live in cookie cutter homes (not that this is a bad thing) but an orginal mad by your man.. you do not see that anymore”
  • “First of all, YEAH OREGON!!! Camille, your work is wonderful, your ‘off the grid’ life sounds enviable, and you must be a genuinely nice person (bonus!) from the tone of your profile. It’s great to know your story, and I hope you have a LOAD of new business AND new Etsy friends from being the Featured Seller! You deserve it!”

I don’t know how you would feel, but for me, it was really strange to know that people were so interested in my life. The more I thought about it, though, it became obvious that there was a huge disconnect between urban/suburbanites and the land and traditions of living off the land. People just did not have the same knowledge and experience that I’d been living with my whole life. It wasn’t that I was particularly special. It was just that I represented an ideal that people wished they had or could be part of.

At first, I really didn’t know what I should do to entertain 500 Facebook fans. Until that point, my Facebook fans were mostly people I knew in the real world who had some sense about me. I would occasionally post links to YouTube videos like They Might Be Giants’ song C is for Conifer (which is awesome, and I highly recommend it) or explain scientific names for native trees. After the featured seller spot, I started putting up photos of my house and status updates like “I’m making mozzarella today from this morning’s goat milk.” Immediately I could tell I was on to something because of all the comments and “likes” I was getting. Soon after, my friend Sarah joked, “So now you’re going to start a blog, huh?” and I laughed and said “No, never.”

Fast forward a bit.

Shortly before Christmas 2010, I got an email from a major national magazine saying they wanted to feature one of my boards in the March issue. This was not the kind of thing that I would have sought out because my small business was just that: small, but it seemed like something I couldn’t say no to. For the next couple months, I met every requirement that the unnamed magazine asked for: I carved out time from frantically packing and shipping orders the week before Christmas to meet with a photographer, I answered essay questions (not easy ones), I sent in more photos and more information. I also worked non-stop trying to prepare for a huge rush of orders, denying myself daytrips to the beach, and I worked on listing new items way past my bedtime. In mid February when the big issue came out, I discovered that I wasn’t in it. They didn’t even have the decency to let me know before my grandma went out to buy a copy. I was a mess of tears not so much because I was disappointed but because I was angry that they couldn’t treat me like the professional that I was.

After the magazine fiasco, I suddenly had a pretty significant inventory of boards and not a lot of orders going out. This was the first time that my supply had greatly exceeded demand since I opened the shop. I started using my marketer’s brain to come up with different venues to promote my work. At the time, I was not really a blog reader at all, but I thought that food blogs might be a good place to get exposure through giveaways or…?

I queried my Facebook following about their favorite foodie blogs, and among other good suggestions, Eve of THIMBLEandACORN offered up DavidLebovitz.com. When I visited his site, the top post was this one about food blogging. I still had no intention of being a blogger, but late that night, I read the whole dang post (and it was a long one).

After digesting all of David’s advice for a couple days, I proposed the idea of starting a blog to my husband Henry. He thought it was a terrible waste of time and energy but suggested that I see what some of our friends thought about it. The following is the email that I sent out in early March 2011 to 14 friends and family members, some of whom had dabbled in blogging.

“Hey friends,

I need your help in the form of an informal public opinion poll. If you could take just a couple minutes to give me your thoughts and/or opinions, I would really appreciate it.

I’m thinking about starting a blog. This is something that I would never have considered before Red Onion Woodworks and its Facebook page became so popular. Most Red Onion FB posts get multiple quick and enthusiastic responses, so I’m considering expanding similar topics to a blog format. It would be mostly original content with original photos about topics such as: goat milking, cloth diapers, canning, firewood, and other things we have going on here at our place. I would also like to incorporate more a more journalist approach with profiles and interviews with local famers and small business people (preferably with an online presence). This would be geared at mostly people who don’t live around here, and I assume that I could use my FB fans as a base readership and, they might tell their friends if they thought it was interesting.

While I do think this has the potential to help my business, it would be a separate thing that wasn’t too self-promotional.

Henry thinks this idea is stupid. He can’t imagine why anyone would want to write or read about this kind of thing instead of going out and doing it. We both agree that our perspectives of life and the world are very different, so he’s okay with me actually doing it if I want to. I think that writing about/photographing stuff would actually make me more motivated to get out and do stuff or at least pay more attention to what’s going on around me. I also have to admit that, as selfish as it may be, I like having interactions/getting recognition for cool things that we are involved in, so that’s part of the draw.

All of you actually know me and know that I’m not Martha Stewart or Mother Jones. I don’t want to pretend that I am. I’m hoping that a blog format will allow me to give Henry more credit for being superhuman/jack of all trades, while making myself seem more normal, someone who accidentally ended living off-grid and is making do with what I have. It would be a time commitment, and I wouldn’t be getting paid, but I’m hoping that I would enjoy doing it. I also think that this project would be a big motivator for me to learn/practice new skills like web design, photography, general computer skills, etc. Those are not the kind of thing that I would set out to do with no goal in mind.

Any blog of mine would NOT be a foodie blog,a lifestyle/design/DIY blog,or just a collection of photos of my kids and random stuff about what I’ve been up to that only my family would want to read. However, there would likely be occasional elements of the above.

So I guess the questions are these…

Is blogging stupid?
Is blogging a huge time sink?
Do you think this stuff would be interesting?
What do you think are the benefits/drawbacks?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts. Please feel free to tell me I’m a self-centered weirdo for want to do this. Your honesty is appreciated.

Camille”

All of the friends who responded, encouraged me to go for it. (I later found out that a few of the friends who didn’t respond, thought it wasn’t a very good idea but didn’t want to say so. Most of them have come around after seeing what it was all about.)

I put up my first post about baking bread in a barbecue on March 29, 2011. (That post remains this blog’s most popular post ever partly due to a version appearing on the Etsy blog.) In my head, I committed to one year of blogging with a reassessment after the first year was over.

A note about the name “Wayward Spark.” After it was settled that I was really going to be a blogger, I took a long walk on our little country road, using the quiet time to come up with a name. I was mostly just thinking of words that I liked and trying to put them together. “Spark” was on that list. That night before bed, I picked up a copy of the book Leavings by Wendell Berry. This was pretty strange because I don’t ever read poetry, and Leavings is not even very good, but I had borrowed the book from my dad because I needed something to read. In one of the poems, he used the word “wayward,” and all of a sudden “wayward spark” came together in my head. It’s not a particularly descriptive title, and it doesn’t do well when sorted alphabetically, but I liked if from the beginning. The runner-up titles included “Seasonal Paces” or “Seasonal Pacing” and “One Green Reality.” I still like “Wayward Spark” best.

Now that I have over 100 posts on the blog, I can say that I am hugely enjoying the experience, but it is also hugely time consuming. I’ve learned that I should look back at older posts as infrequently as possible because I am both amazed and appalled at how much I’ve learned and improved since I started just six months ago. Although I’m still not getting paid, blogging has given me a few pretty good opportunities to tangentially promote Red Onion Woodworks, and I have a feeling that not too far down the road, I may pick up a bit of paid blog work on this or another blog.

I can kind of imagine a day when I might get tired of blogging, but I know that I’ll never run out of things to blog about. Life is so dang interesting!

Anyway, thanks for reading along. It’s been fun, right?

g & p & camille's blog: Today granny read the new blog posts out loud to pa - (it is just too difficult for him to read from the screen) and then they just kept going and looked at all the pix of all the previous blog posts again. I said "Granny - you've already read those." She said, "I know but I like to read them again."

PS I wanted to share this photo taken a few months ago by Henry’s aunt of Henry’s grandma and grandpa in their matching wheelchairs reading my blog. Henry told me once that if all the effort I put into this blog was solely for the purpose of making his grandma happy, it would be worth it.

The photo is personally SO heartwarming especially now because Granny Frank is currently in the hospital and not doing very well. We’re sending our love and good thoughts to all the family in Georgia, especially Aunt Sue and Aunt Julie. xoxoxo

Update: Sadly, both Granny Frank and Pa Tom have passed away since this post was first published, and while looking at this photo brings up a lot of emotion, it also continues to motivate and encourage me in my writing. 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

abby September 30, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Oh man, that last bit made me tear up. That photo, knowing the story behind it, is priceless.

I completely agree Camille, about the disconnect between urban life and living off the land, and these days there is so much need for a more real look at what is *truly* important in life. Some of us were born and raised in suburbia, and it has been a long road back!

Even as a person who feels like they are living on the edge of normal perceptions, there are still so many real and practical life skills to learn; things I never did learn as a kid and was never taught in college, and honestly, these days, I would really miss some of the outlets I have found through people I have ‘met’ online. I get new insight, learn new skills, gain new inspiration on a daily basis. I hope that blogging has been as resourceful and satisfying for you as it has been for your readers.

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Henry’s grandma is actually doing quite a bit better. She moved into a nursing home, and we talked to her yesterday. I guess it was pretty dire for a couple days, but she’s kind of a tough old bird.

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Oh, and I have so many regrets about what I did and didn’t learn in college (partly my fault and partly due to a mediocre education). Sometimes I wish I could get a do over, but then again, I really don’t want to go back to that world.

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ga447 October 1, 2011 at 5:28 am

I blog because it is my journal, it keeps my brain going. I have found that authors get stressed out with their blogs and you can’t get yourself there. I am so sorry to here what the magazine did to you, that is cruel. I appreciate your photos and jealous of your life style, nature is important to you and we get to see that part of you and all of your talents.

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Honestly, I wouldn’t be blogging if no one was reading, so I’m glad to have you here.

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Sarah Mac October 1, 2011 at 5:44 am

I know I’m one of quite a few that loves to read your blog! I definitely have a huge disconnect living in Austin while dreaming of a treehouse near a stream with chickens and children running all around. I get to live vicariously through your blog which makes my mornings at work very special. I think you cover topics in such a unique way that you make that dream seem tangible to your readers who aspire to such a homestead as yours. This is because you give insight and a solution with your broad range of posts. Please keep blogging, and I’ll keep reading (while I’m at work :).

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Glad I can provide some good distraction from work. Thanks for following along.

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kara rane October 1, 2011 at 8:08 am

hi Camille~
i very much enjoy your blog & many, many others…
it is so fun to see how other people live and express themselves, community*!
All are One.

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cynthia October 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

i look forward to starting my day with your newest blog, except for me, it’s more like conversation. it’s the way you put info out there. a give-and-take, if you will. you ask as much as you tell, and that is what makes your blog so uniquely yours.
just love the goat/kid/henry/pet/bee stories. they are, again, unique to your life style and interesting. we live different lives! i live out in the woods, on a lake in the northern michigan wilderness. it is remote. your fabulous greenhouse gave me hope (and big envy) in my frozen winter/spring. your beautiful goats (my chinese animal) had me actually considering a goat, for a minute. i am inspired by your cheesemaking….i actually think, (somewhat delusionally), “i could do that!”. ….and don’t get me started on a long soak in that bathtub!
you are funny and interesting and real. i am looking forward to the next 100 blogs. keep on keepin’ on.

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Scottie October 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Who knew you could make bread with just an iron skillet and a barbeque! You strike me as what is good about country living, sharing how-to’s and recipes and little bits of information the way a neighbor would. I love the blogs and the photographs and am totally impressed by your century mark.

I started my ‘blog’ as an online diary almost 8 years ago because my mother suggested I might want to re-read it in 20 years for a good laugh. Heck, I get a good laugh out of it already, but also love that it has recorded events and photos that could just as likely been forgotten with time if not written down. And that would have been a shame.

I wonder if years from now, when there are no ‘snail mail’ letters to record what life was really like at the turn of the century (21st, that would be), this will be our history and these will be the lessons preserved for future generations. If not here, then where? And, off-grid at that. Ha, you are brave and bold, Camille, and it is wonderful to see you take flight like this!

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Thanks, Scottie.

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Julia (Schnake) Larsen October 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Hey Camille, I read your blog. I really love knowing that everything you write about is happening so close to “home.” I don’t know if my “lifestyle” would have been all that similar to yours if I had stayed in the US, but as it is I can relate to a lot of the things you write about (making yogurt, cheese, bread…). And your writing is really good too.

We’re living in a “village” house these days (still in TZ), without running water or even a water supply (we pay a neighbor to bring big jugs of water by bike). We hope to get a rainwater collection system set up before the rainy season starts in the next couple of months. And we have a solar set-up now. We might be in Oregon in 2013 or 2014 or something…so maybe we can get together again then and the kids can play ( :

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Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Good to hear from you, Julia. Now that I know you’re reading along, I’ll have to double down on my editing. Maybe I need a linguist for a copy editor?

It’s a little strange that I sometimes relate better to the third world than some of my neighbors in huge houses with huge TVs. Then again, we do enjoy quite a few modern conveniences (flush toilet, Wi-Fi, Pandora radio, etc.).

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Tori (@eat-tori) October 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I’m a new reader, but I love the way you write. I’ve just lost a good hour trawling through your archive with a glass of wine. Thank you for the escapism from the bleak skies of London!

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Camille October 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

It’s kind of bleak here today, too, but I don’t yet have a glass of wine. Maybe later. It’s good to have you reading along!

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jen bouton October 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Hi Camille – As a Corvallian living in SoTo, I wanted to thank you for directing folks to view your blog. My adventures in blogging have more recently begun, however only as a reader, and now subscriber to several. Don’t know if this might be helpful for you, but a blog(name) I was drawn to posted this: http://thepioneerwoman.com/blog/2010/09/ten-important-things-ive-learned-about-blogging/
Good luck, continue well, and I’ll introduce myself to you next time I see you at the Saturday Market. I remember admiring some beautiful wood planks you were standing next to at your mom’s tables.

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mae October 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I definitely like the name “Wayward Spark” best (although “The Life and Times of Kit the Wonderdog” could have been good too!)

I’m very happy that you decided to blog and that it is becoming a steady thing for you now. Throwing words out into internet land always has the possibility of being a waste of time, but the combination of your writing skill/personality and the enormous amount of cool knowledge you have that most people just don’t get to pick up anywhere else makes your blog very unique and definitely one of my favorites, in spite of (or possibly due to) the fact that my urban life is about as far from off-the-grid as possible. Also, from a business standpoint I think that blogging is one of the most savvy marketing moves you can make because it helps you show who you are beyond an Etsy page and business cards… people who are interested in buying handmade in the first place are also the kind of people who want to get to know artists and crafters, and providing interesting and personal reading will only deepen their appreciation for what you do. At least it deepened my appreciation :)

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Aunt Sue October 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Pa and I are just now getting around to reading this post. We had a bit of a low day. We (me, Pa, Becky) went to see Granny and take her a picnic lunch but she was really weak, tired, and having trouble breathing. It was so hard to leave her there alone and return home without her. We didn’t expect to see this when we were reading, but your blog was what we turned to do after a hectic and difficult week. We needed a little pick-me-up and it is so quiet here with all the CA folks gone. Your blog did the trick. Henry’s right that it has been worth it if only for the joy it has brought the two of them and me, too. Love you all. Sue and Pa

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