“I want people to be honest, authentic, and good writers. I don’t want to follow someone who is just trying to get free meals, stuff and trips. I want to learn more about how the world is, and not how someone’s Instagram filter makes it look.“
Originally published January 15, 2019
In 2009, you launched your personal blog ‘Embrace the Chaos.’ What was the original inspiration for this outlet?
My cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them (co-written with Eshun Mott) had just come out when I heard that MSN.Ca was looking for a daily parenting writer. At first, I thought that sounded crazy, who could write every day? But I applied and spoke to the editors, and they agreed to give me my own blog name and editorial autonomy, so I started Embracethechaos.ca with MSN.Ca.
Way back in 2009, homepages were the gatekeepers to the Internet, so MSN had thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of readers every day. It was like jumping straight into the fire, or as my friend said, winning American Idol. I suddenly had a huge readership base and was writing blog posts every single day, and getting paid for it (and fielding the nasty comments as well).
I have a journalism background (a Master’s in journalism) and instead of writing daily snapshots of my own life, I took inspiration from the news and cultural moments that were happening all around me. I wrote about my three kids but did so as a starting off point for larger discussions about parenting. I wrote daily for MSN for six years, and I am very proud of what I did there. I don’t love every one of my posts, but overall, I tried to make people feel less alone, think more deeply about parenting, and just calm down and not aim to be perfect.
Eventually, the appeal of giant homepages wore off and MSN stopped having any original content. I then moved to Today’s Parent as their current affairs writer, while keeping up Embracethechaos.ca.
I had always kept up food writing on the side and started to increase the food and lifestyle writing as blogging became less lucrative. Now, I primarily write for mainstream media like the Globe and Mail and have a radio column on CBC Toronto. But I do miss daily blogging, and writing from such a personal perspective.
As your blog grew, how did you keep ideas and inspiration so consistently fresh? What were your biggest challenges, if any?
Every writer has strengths and weaknesses and my strength is idea creation. When I was in the midst of parenting three young kids, I was rarely without a blog post idea. This was also the time when parenting and discussions about parenting culture were peaking in the media. The ideas of public breastfeeding, gender issues in parenting, maternity leave, and how to discipline your kids were all topics that everyone wanted to discuss and had an opinion on.
As life and the world of blogging evolved, what do you feel changed and what do you feel stayed the same?
When parenting blogging was at its height (maybe 2012ish?), there were women (and some men) writing about parenting in really open and honest ways. Eventually, the writerly side of blogging sort of gave way to the sponsored post/review side and I think that we lost something in that change. The rise of Instagram and social media means that there is a lot less good writing on the Internet, and a lot more pretty pictures. Social media is now primarily aspirational, and I see how that makes it so hard for new parents, (and teenagers).
We see that in the food world as well. Sometimes it feels like food that is Instagrammable is more important than how food tastes. Cooking (like parenting) is messy and doesn’t always look good, but that doesn’t mean the end product isn’t something be proud of. I tend to stay away from anyone who cooks from a position of fear of food instead of joy, or seems to be using other people’s recipes without accreditation. I also make great discoveries of new dishes, new people and new chefs on Instagram.
I think that there is still community to be found online, and I hope that people are finding friends and a group that makes them feel less isolated and lifts them up, instead of making them feel not-good-enough.
You write for great accredited outlets like The Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Canadian Living, etc., while still keeping up with the Chaos. How did you find a balance between paid and unpaid content?
I think of myself as a journalist first. Because I blogged/wrote for paid outlets (MSN, Today’s Parent), I had to be very careful about sponsored content, even on my own site. I would only take on sponsored content that speaks to me as a brand, I know everyone says that, but I really choose very sparingly. My sponsored content can not conflict with my work as a writer and when I do partner with a brand, I hope it serves to inform my readers. I like to use my platform to inform people and, hopefully, make the world a little bit of a better place – whether that is demystifying complicated topics, making cooking seem easier, or giving a voice to those who don’t have one. So, my sponsored content has to align with my values.
Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done with Branding and Buzzing.
I get invited to a lot of events and as a mom of 3, I don’t have a lot of room in my schedule. But I always find that I learn something new at a Branding and Buzzing event, and I get to eat something delicious – so it’s worth it!
What do you feel is the best way for a fellow blogger to figure out whether or not they should partake in a paid post or promotion?
As I said, I think that people have to really figure out what their values are and whether the content reflects who they are as people. I really hate scrolling through Instagram and seeing something that I know is sponsored content but it is not tagged as an #ad in some way.
It is hard to make money in this environment and I understand people’s rush to do sponsorships, and I can understand why brands sometimes sponsor people who are not a good fit. But, as the industry matures, I hope that both sides get smarter and realize what works and what doesn’t (and then lets me know ?).
People have to know their own value and make sure that they are getting adequately paid. The days of paying with exposure are over (I hope).
Now that the Chaos has slowed, what are some projects you are currently working on?
I am a food columnist on CBC Radio One. I get to explore Toronto and discover more about the city’s amazing food scene. I’m so lucky!
I also freelance for the Globe and Mail, and CBC.ca, and whoever else will pay me.
How would you rank in preference/importance the social networks you use? (IG Stories, IG (Feed), FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat etc)
Twitter will always be my first and best love. I don’t use it as much as I used to, but words are my preferred medium and you can learn so much on Twitter and find new people to follow. I also love how a good tweet can be funny and witty.
IG Stories is my second-favourite. I feel like I can still be my snarky self in stories and the pictures don’t have to be perfect. I scroll through the IG feed, but it feels like such a giant commitment to post. But I do like that conversations can happen in the comments section, so I really should do an “official” post more often.
I like to keep Facebook personal and have a love-hate relationship with reading my feed.
I forgot my Snapchat password, and my teens blocked me from their stories anyways.
LinkedIn – UGH
Pinterest – HATE.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in an already blogger/influencer/Instagram-heavy market?
There are a lot of smarter people out there on how to be an excellent influencer than me. I want people to be honest, authentic, and good writers. I don’t want to follow someone who is just trying to get free meals, stuff and trips. I want to learn more about how the world is, and not how someone’s Instagram filter makes it look.
It’s a cliché to say, but I met some of my greatest friends online and I have had wonderful opportunities because of blogging and social media. So, when people are starting out, I tell them to find their community. A true community will boost each other. But it’s also a job and the really popular online personalities are always working. For a lot of people, it’s not as much as fun as it looks on social media.
But I’m lucky, for me, it has been great.