Traveling to Portland and Seattle

Traveling to Portland and Seattle

It took me a while, but I finally gathered all my clips and images from my trip to Portland and Seattle and compiled a vacation video. This was definitely our own kind of vacation: low-cost, eco-friendly (as much as possible), self-guided, and relaxed. If that’s your style too, then this video is for you.

Please leave any questions about the places we visited in the comments and I’ll be happy to try to answer.

This video was recorded on my GoPro Hero 5.

Portland area:

  • Cannon Beach, Oregon
  • Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Oregon
  • Rogue Brewery
  • Bagdad Theater and Pub
  • Tapped on Hawthorne
  • Base Camp
  • Deschutes
  • HI Portland Hawthorne District eco-hostel
  • Portland Farmers Market
  • ToV Coffee & Tea (coffee bus)
  • Voodoo Doughnut


  • ZapVerr Thai restaurant
  • Freemont Bridge/Freemont Troll
  • Pike Place Market
  • Gum wall
  • IL Bistro

Day-off photography from Burlington, Iowa

Day-off photography from Burlington, Iowa

Recently, we had our biggest event of the year at work. I spent a lot of time after my regular hours and on weekends working on a 10-minute video for the event, so I was glad for the opportunity to take a flex day and make time for personal photography.

I knew I wanted to shoot an Iowa town on the Mississippi River, like the town I was raised in. And so, at random, over my morning coffee, I chose Burlington, Iowa.

I had only been there once before, just passing through really but I remembered being charmed by it and wanting to explore it more. In my photographic work, I’m always looking to compare and contrast elements that remind me of or differ from my hometown—not just aesthetically but the feelings I associate with my home as well.







A rare photo of me, courtesy of Ethan Zierke.








4 things I wish I’d known about Google AdGrants

One late fall day (a busy time of year at any nonprofit), when I was trying to prepare communications for our #GivingTuesday campaign, our grants manager emailed me instructions for getting my Gmail authorized on our new Google AdGrants account.

$10,000  a month! That big boost looked great on our grants budget line. But I was instantly confused and overwhelmed. How would I manage a $10,000 grant when I was already completely inundated with all the one-person communications department responsibilities I already had?

Below is a list of lessons I learned along the way, mostly consisting of stuff I wish I’d known before I began! Getting a Google AdGrant is the easy part. Managing it is a lot trickier.

  1. You likely won’t be able to use the full $10,000 every month. 
    Unless you’re a big national nonprofit, or maybe if you have a lot of staff time dedicated to managing your Google AdWords, then you won’t even get close to using your full $10,000 allocation in a month. For a short time, when I had our ads geotargeted at the whole United States, we used about $2,000 per month. Since my director decided that we should only advertise in our state, we are using only about $200 per month (and only because I’ve learned many techniques to better optimize our ads since then!)
  2. You can’t just hand the account over to the youngest, most tech-savvy person on staff and expect them to be successful. 
    I’m used to managing email, social media, the website, etc. but this was not a platform where I could just log on and figure it out along the way. Online resources have been easier to find as time goes on, but the person in charge of managing the ads will need to actively seek those out in order to start spending a meaningful portion of the grant.I was embarrassed when, in order to avoid losing the grant, we hired a consultant to work with me every month to give me suggestions and teaching resources. Looking back, I might not have needed paid help if I had known where to find the free training and some good ebooks just for nonprofits, which brings me to number 4…
  3. You should start Google’s Academy for Ads training before you even apply.
    And you should probably start this training before you apply for the grant (and lose it) so you understand what you’re getting into. If I had known about this when I started, I would have had everything I needed to prepare myself instead of avoiding digging into the daunting task of learning Google AdWords on my own for a month until I received a warning we would lose our grant if I didn’t increase our click-through rate.
  4. Nonprofits with the Google AdWords grant have to fit specific requirements.
    And the requirements have changed over time, so you’ll need to pay attention to any important email updates from Google and news surrounding the subject. You can find the exact requirements in Google’s policies, but I’m going to break them down:- Your overall account must have an average click-through rate of at least 5% every month.
    – You must use geotargetting (and of course you should!) for your service area.
    – Each campaign must have two ad groups and each ad group must have two ads.
    – Keywords must have a quality score of two or higher.
    – Ads should have at least two sitelink extensions.
    – One-word keywords are a no-no.

Downloadable communications tracking spreadsheet

Are your communications reaching people? And if they are, can you prove it?

During my orientation on the first day of my nonprofit communications job, I was shown a version of this communications tracking spreadsheet. Already I could tell there were a lot of aspects of the job that I wanted to change up, but I knew I wanted to continue tracking media interactions and email analytics this way.

Since then, I’ve changed this spreadsheet a lot, mostly adding and deleting tabs, developing the document along with our needs.

Through those changes, I’ve also made an effort to keep things simple. I’ve introduced some color coding (green for click-through rates over 6%, red for solicitations, special colors for campaigns that mention a major sponsor) but that’s really it! Change this spreadsheet to match your organization’s needs.

The amount of data this spreadsheet requires you to collect is also very limited, saving you time.

But raw data isn’t the point. If you want a quick overview of how your communications efforts are performing over time at your nonprofit, small business, or your own personal blog, you need a document that you can read and interpret quickly.

This free, downloadable spreadsheet will help you collect just enough information to give your boss an update, report to your board, get new interns up to speed—or even just see for yourself that your communications are working!

Download the Simple Communications Tracking Excel sheet

Checklist: Digital marketing fundamentals

If you’re responsible for communications at a nonprofit or small business, you know there will never be enough time to do everything. Maybe your organization has already gotten its feet wet in digital marketing. Maybe you’re the first person to make a digital marketing effort and you’re just wondering where to start.

No matter where you are, there are a million tools and only so many hours in a healthy workday. I created this list so you can start by checking off the essentials and create a solid foundation no matter how your communications grow next.

[ ] You have an email subscriber list that you send messages on a monthly basis, at a minimum.

[ ] When someone subscribes to your email list, they receive an automated welcome email.

[ ] You utilize free communications tools that will help you get your message across more efficiently.

[ ] You are on the social media platform that is most relevant to your audiences.
*The platform that works best for one of your audiences may not be the best platform for another. Consider tailoring your strategies for various groups, testing, then re-evaluating later.

[ ] You utilize free and low-cost webinars and local workshops to stay up-to-date on the newest communications practices.
(The communications webinars by Bloomerang and Firespring are my favorites. Kivi Leroux Miller’s are great though often cost money.)

[ ] You have a website that actually works (even if it isn’t beautiful yet).

[ ] Everyone at your workplace, even those in different departments (and especially your board) knows that they are an integral part of your social media strategy and therefore consistently engage with your content.

[ ] You have a social media/content guide.

[ ] You have an editorial calendar (even if only you and the interns are using it right now).

[ ] You make real, fresh, original content to share across all your communications platforms and you know how to repurpose it to get as much mileage as you can.

Top free communications tools

Top free communications tools

**I am an affiliate for a small number of the platforms listed below and may earn a small commission for your signup—at no cost to you. I believe in all of these platforms and use all of them during my daily work as a communications professional.**

As someone who works at a nonprofit, I know what it’s like to not have the budget to buy all the “pay to play” communications tool that bigger businesses might have.

This list is for nonprofits, small businesses, student organizations, and any other group that needs to improve their communications without increasing their budgets.

Graphic Design


The free version works great, but if you apply, your nonprofit might be able to get the business version for free, which opens up all kinds of possibilities.


Infogram is a good option for quick graphs. The site even generates the code you need to embed an interactive graph on your site. (You’ll need to pay if you’d like to remove their branding.)


If you don’t have pictures to go along with your social media post, Legend (a mobile app) is perfect for creating quick, beautiful GIFs/videos that increase engagement.

Social media

Facebook Pages Manager

This mobile app has its flaws, but Facebook Pages Manager has just about everything you could ask for in a free app including scheduling, the ability to broadcast a live video, and the capability to post to any of your pages in one place.


Tweetdeck, a web app, allows you to schedule Twitter posts to go live while you’re away from the computer, including posts with images. It’s reliable and straightforward.


If you don’t like the Twitter and Facebook scheduling tools listed above, then you might like Hootsuite. The paid option allows you to manage more accounts, but the free version will get you by, especially if your goal is cross-posting the same content across multiple accounts (not ideal, but often the reality in small nonprofits).



It’s free and Grammarly’s amazing Chrome plugin has prevented 1,131 grammar errors for me since I signed up in 2017.

Files & analytics

Google Drive

If your organization already uses Gmail, then the rest of Google’s tools integrate almost flawlessly.

Google Alerts

Set up Google Alerts not only for the name of your nonprofit but also terms surrounding your mission. This way, you’ll get an email notification every time something newsworthy happens in your field, AKA a constant stream of social media content ideas.

Yes, shortens links, making them prettier. But it also adds tracking. Generate a shortened link with to track who is navigating to your site through a particular social media post, newsletter ask, etc.

Collaboration tools


Small trelloSome people love it, some people hate it. It’s on this list, so of course, I love it. I use Trello to assign projects to my interns. Then, we use comments and color-coding to communicate where we all are on our tasks.

Email & signups

Signup Genius

Signup Genius has a bit of an outdated look, but the free version is pretty solid. It also sends automated email reminders.


Mailchimp’s Forever Free plan is probably the best and most popular email tool out there for nonprofits that don’t have room for a paid bulk email service in their budgets. But once you have over 2,000 email subscribers, you’ll have to move to their paid service. Plus, their “Knowledge Base” guides are awesome no matter what email platform you use.


MotionMail’s free account will allow you to create a countdown timer that you can both use on your emails and on your webpage. These are so easy to create—no coding knowledge required!

Old-school media

Guest columns, op-eds

Guest columns are free (other than the time it takes to write them), help establish your place as a thought leader, and can help you reach an older audience who might not be on social media. My favorite part about guest columns is that they’re yours to use, meaning that your nonprofit can use them again on your blog, newsletters, and emails.

Press releases

Press releases, like guest columns, are still free to send out, but the chances of your suggested story getting picked up are smaller and you lose control over how it is told. Still, press releases are a great way to get event information to the community.

Community calendars

If it’s free, get every event on all your local community calendars. Some are digital but some will even print the information in their publication.

Comment with any free communications tools that you think should be added to this list. 

Interested in more helpful information on this topic?

Choose “Digital communications” when you sign up for my email list. Your information is private and you will only receive emails relevant to the topics you want.

Alternative Grad School fails and successes: A year in review

Last June, after finishing undergrad, I decided to embark on a new big-ish goal that would keep me learning, making things, and getting stronger.

Based on an idea from The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau, I started Alternative Grad School. You can view Chris Guillebeau’s suggested goals here. My goals were based on his original suggestions. I simplified many and completely created some new ones according to my interests.

1. [x] Memorize the name and location of every country in the world.
I completed this goal using the paid version of the Seterra app on my phone. It’s a super productive way to spend car rides and other spaces of boredom. Plus, knowing where all the countries are has already turned out to be so valuable. It’s hard to know what’s going on in the world when you don’t know the locations of the countries you hear on the news.
Also, actually knowing where all the countries are makes you seem super smart and knowledgeable (not that that’s the point).


2. [ ] Travel to a new continent.
I didn’t travel to a new continent (I’ve been to North America and Europe). But I did travel Europe for the second time, visiting two new countries: The Netherlands and Germany.


I plan to travel (I hope) to South America in 2018 or 2019.


3. [ ] Listen to Coffee Break Spanish sections 1 and 2 and retain the language. 
[x]    Sec. 1
[ ]    Sec. 2
Since I knew I would be traveling to Germany, I decided to brush up my German instead of pursuing Spanish. I took German all four years of high school and had never used it with a real German speaker, so this was really exciting to me and was a really awesome incentive to spend some time each day deepening my understanding. German is a very difficult language with lots of exceptions to its own rules, but it was rewarding to finally work through some of the grammar I couldn’t wrap my mind around when I was a teenager.


(I’ve been learning both German and Spanish with Mark from Coffee Break German via podcast on my walk to work and would highly recommend trying it out!)
4. [ ] Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, New Testament, Koran, and teachings of Buddha.
[ ]    Torah
[ ]    New Testament
[ ]    Koran

[x]    Buddha


I wish I’d gotten further with this, but it was way too much with a full-time job and all the other goals I wanted to accomplish. I hope to get to this one day.


5. [ ] Show Once Familiar publicly.
I did not get to show my work publicly, but I did apply at the local arts space and at coffee shops around town. At first, I felt disappointed. But I took that energy and started volunteering at the local arts space, working on some of their programming and joining their gallery team. There’s a lot more I’d like to learn and make before doing my first solo show anyway.


6. [x] Compile a graphic design post-grad creative portfolio by completing 15 projects. 
Most of my graphic design projects were work-related (our annual report, website graphics, etc.) but I also spent time designing the old-school camera stickers I sell on this site. I learned a lot, but I also learned that graphic design, though an extremely valuable skill, is not my favorite. I am glad to know the basics and turn to the pros for help when I need it.


7. [ ] Read 30 nonfiction books and 20 novels.
I’m not sure what to say about this one. If anyone else has tried this challenge, then they probably know that reading this many books in a year is the hardest goal of all. I started strong, reading 30 books by the end of 2017. I only read 11 books so far in 2018.


Interestingly, I ended up reading very few novels. With a background in journalism, I’m just more interested in nonfiction (though I believe reading fiction is very important). Eventually, though, I got very burned out and couldn’t bring myself to read at all anymore. My eyes were just skipping across the page and I’ve been on an extended break since.
I’m sure the lust for books will come back to me. It’s just a matter of time.


8. [ ] Run a 10K (6.2 mi.) in 60:00 or less.
My fastest 10K time was 1:09:10. Just getting up to running a 10K without stopping to walk was a challenge enough. I did surprise myself, though, by running in an actual 10K race.


9. [ ] Start/maintain a blog and post bi-weekly
Here I am. During the very last couple months of the Alt Grad School challenge, I got around to this goal. Aside from posting, I added a store to my site, sold some stickers, and created a MailChimp email list. I do a lot of blog work at my day job as well, so by now these skills come to me fairly naturally, but it was rewarding using them for my personal work and getting my site fully customized to my vision.


10. [x] Learn to write by listening to the Grammar Girl podcast and reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
I didn’t love these as much as a lot of people seem to, but they got me writing which says a lot.


11. [ ] Read Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs.
This was one of Chris Guillebeau’s suggestions but it was just not my style.


12. [x] Publish 3 freelance stories.
I was a little surprised by so proud I met this goal. My writing had only been published in my college newspaper before, and so every time I wrote something new for Little Village, it felt amazing. I wrote three stories: one about women getting IUDs (multi-year birth control) out of concern about changes to women’s healthcare, one about a college student who started a farm while still in school, and one profile on Jane Elliot (blue eyes/brown eyes). There is nothing quite like seeing your work out in the world, in print.


13. [1/2] Complete a new photo series by 12/31/17 and a second by 6/1/18.
I didn’t complete a photo project during the first 6 months of the challenge, but I traveled to the American South and took a bunch of photos that I would consider a series in February 2018. View them here and here. I hope I can go on a few more adventures like this over the summer, at least of the weekend. I’m getting a little antsy photographing in Iowa.



The sight did not fill me with joy, I did not come away feeling happy. Nor was I filled with contentment when I caught sight of it, it wasn’t that something stilled within me, as hunger or thirst do when they are satisfied. But it felt good to look at it, the way it feels good to read a poem that ends in an image of something concrete and seems to fasten on it, an image of something concrete and seems to fasten on it, so that the inexhaustible within it can unfold calmly. Swollen with water, handles up, the plastic bag hung a few feet down in the water on this February day in 2002. This moment was not the beginning of anything, not even an insight, nor was it the conclusion of anything, and maybe that is what I was thinking as I stood digging holes in the ground a few days ago, that I was still in the middle of something and always would be.

—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn

More photos from the South


I got a chance to edit a few more of my favorite images from my Presidents Day trip to New Orleans and back.


I’m really excited to see that my digital camera with its new lens served me really just as well as my favorite film cameras. Of course, the resolution isn’t as high as the medium format negatives I’ve grown used to, but without access to a super high-resolution scanner, it’s a moot point anyway.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m really satisfied with digital for the types of photos on this type of on-the-move photoshoot. As usual, I wish I’d pulled over to make even more!


New Orleans, Louisiana







Indianola, Mississippi




New Orleans, Louisiana

Road trip photography from the South

Road trip photography from the South

I had President’s Day off last Monday, so I decided to take off Friday too and make it a long weekend. I have been working on a rural Iowa photography project for about two years now and people are always telling me that my work reminds them of photos of the Southern United States. So Ethan and I went on a road trip, taking our time and stopping at any small towns that looked interesting on our way down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

View the rest of my images from my road trip to the South here.


Somewhere across the Missouri/Arkansas border


Tunica, Mississippi
Cleveland, Mississippi
Bentonia, Mississippi


New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana

View the rest of my images from my road trip to the South here.