Photo Challenge: Relax WPC 12-2-16

via Photo Challenge: Relax This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge is Relax. Can someone tell me how we do that I think I have forgotten what that means. AS we hurtle past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas we not only move into the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but also the most hurried.


In October I spent a wet day tromping through a corn maze with my daughter and two of her close friends. I found that to be relaxing as well as tons of fun. I even scared them more than once by tossing a random ear of corn off the side of the trail so they thought there was a spook nearby.


Another relaxing thing we have done recently is to visit one of our region’s most impressive natural wonders, which is Natural Bridge near Lexington, Virginia. The beauty is breathtaking and gives you a bit of perspective on how big you are in the world.

Perhaps I can recall these two relaxing days when the busyness of the holdiays gets to be too much.

Posted in Blogging, Blogging Challenge, Blue ridge Mountains, Mountains, Photo Challenge, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

1 Million Steps to 2017 – Update #2

It has been over a month since I last took the time to collect the information I have about my long term goal of amassing 1 million steps between October 1st and December 31st. I have showed the math before, but for anyone who is making their first visit to the post series let me lay it out for you.

I have Fitbit HR, which measures steps, Heart Rate, Distance, Calories and the Number of Floors you navigate each day. Since strapping it on in February of this year I have totaled over 3.6 million miles. In fact, if I can manage to accumulate 343,280 steps by December 31 I will reach the 4 million mark in 11 months.


My walking buddy.

The goal that the Fitbit is tied to is at least 10,000 steps a day or five miles. I have a job where I sit all day so I needed something to make sure I get my exercise. Combining a Miniature Sheltie named Sydney with the Fitbit I am definitely getting up more regularly. As if I need another complicating reason I also have a clotting deficiency which puts me at risk for blood clots, so sitting for long periods is not only unhealthy for my weight but hazardous to my health.


Okay, I need to get back to the topic of this post, the 92 day challenge I set for myself to step off 1,000,000 size 12 footprints. I was excited when I clicked on the metrics tab on the Fitbit site for November because it showed me I accumulated 326,000+ steps. It was a bit less than October, but the weather here in the mountains of Virginia as grown much cooler. But 2/3 of the way into my challenge I am in a great position.


Stay tuned for the next update which should come before Santa makes his trip around the globe. If you see us out give a wave!


Posted in Blogging, Dogs, Fitbit, Fitness, Personal Health, Pets, Weekly Writing Challenge | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not This Time of Year Without… Family! Weekly Photo Challenge – 11/25/16

famphotoTday2016.jpgShow us the one thing without which your holiday season could never be complete.

I love taking part in the Weekly Photo Challenge. Photography is certainly no skill of mine, but I do like to take plenty of pictures. Especially with my family, whom I would not enjoy the holiday season without. My children are both college students and my son has a long term girlfriend so the dynamics of our holiday celebrations have changed since they were little, but spending time together with our extended family is still something we all enjoy.


Most of all I love spending holidays with my wife. For twenty-five years we have spent every holiday together, so it is one of those good habits everyone needs in their life. Above is one of a series of personality photos my eighteen year old daughter took of us clowning around. The smiles should tell you how much we enjoyed the day.



Posted in children, Family, People, Photo Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Writing A Novel in 30 Days – Nanowrimo2016


This is a blog post I have waited more than a year to write. Not so long as some perhaps, but long enough for me. Last November 1 I began my first attempt at something called National Novel Writing Month. I came with what I thought was a solid story and plausible plot which should mean I could write 50,000 words in 30 days.

So what happened? In short life happened. Writing at least 1,667 words every day for 30 straight days is harder than it seems. I got off to a great start, fueled by the excitement as well as enthusiasm of creating a new novel. Then I had a three day bout with sickness that brought me off my pace. Throw in an international mission trip that started the day after Thanksgiving which knocked off six days and it all ended in a failure to finish.

Following this I took time to rethink my approach to the novel in which I decided could change the main character to a pair of F.B.I. agents who were partners that could develop into a franchise. When I did that the story began to grow in my head. That is the way I write by the way, I form the germ of the plot in my head and allow it to bubble for a few months before I begin to write. It helps to fill in some of the possible plot holes.

As 2016 progressed I began to develop another novel in the franchise with the idea I would try again with #NaNoWriMo. Because I did not get all the way through the first novel I had some character development to complete. I also began to add depth to the characters lives by adding family members.

Another positive addition to the 2016 attempt was an outline of what I wanted my first twenty chapters to be. As with all writing when you actually get involved the story has natural outshoots that are necessary to fill in some blanks, explain plot lines and carry the story forward. Also with the outline I could write a chapter I was excited about when I hit a slow spot in the chronological timeline.

On Wednesday, the 23rd day of November I finally crossed 50,00o word hurdle with 50,725. Now don’t think just because I was able to put that many words together I am ready to seek out an agent or a publisher today. My VERY rough manuscript is just over 100 pages. I will be working to move the total to 80,000 words or so and will be doing quite qa bit of editing and revision, BUT . . . I did FINISH!






Posted in Fiction, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Novel, Suspense Novel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Try, try again

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes.pngFor over two decades I have constructed plots, developed characters, revised, revised and revised again. I have dreamt of how my characters might look, sound, act and walk. Yes I feel I am confirmed with the disease, the one where you are destined to produce a published work. One day soon I will have the pure joy well up in me when I see my first published work.

Over time I have come to understand that authors write a series of books in the most part with a flagship character. At least the books I read and have read seem to follow this script. Authors like Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn and Andrew Peterson are my models and they have these iconic characters at the center of their novels. So when I dove into the NaNoWriNo pool last November I had delusions of grandeur about how that might work.

In truth when I started I had plans to have the MC be a different character. Halfway through I realized there was no way to make her the basis of a series, so I kind of stalled out. In the twelve months following I re-shuffled the plan and now I feel my franchise potential is much stronger. But what else is different this year? My prep is more robust. I have set myself on a path more likely to end in a win. And trust me, I need a win, very bad!

I also want to take the opportunity to connect with other novel writers so I can build a community to encourage and to receive encouragement from as we go through this adventure together. No matter how well-meaning friends and family are only another writer can truly understand the experience and the desire and days of anguish and doubt that comes along with the ride. Some people will believe the longer you go without a published work the less you want it. Well I can only speak for myself, but when and if I go into a bookstore I crave having my book on the shelf in a way like I crave not much else.

So there you go for a confession from an aspring novelist. If you are wanting someone to give you a good word along the way I promise to look in as often as I can. You can find me on the site here: Dobson

One last thing, whatever happens keep writing. There is too many bookstores with room on their shelves for us to ever stop. Fill those shelves!


Posted in Fiction, Fiction Series, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Novel, Suspense, Suspense Novel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Million Steps to 2017 – Update #1

Thanks to those of you who have read the first post in this quarter-year long series which began with this post: 1 Million Steps to 2017. If you have not read that yet the gist is that I have set a goal for myself to measure off 1,000,000 steps between October 1st and December 31st. I am using the Fitbit HR I won at a work Winter party as a door prize and it is quite the motivational tool. I am a Quality Assurance guy and metrics are something I can sink my teeth into, so the Fitbit’s numbers give me qualitative as well as quantitative results.

So if you have taken the time to figure the math the pace needed to achieve this feat is 10, 869 steps each and every day. Sure you can “cheat” and do less one day and more the next, but if you are wise you try to load the cart from the beginning with extra for those days you may not feel like walking as much or you just do not have the time. You have to just make it a priority and get it done.

How  has it gone so far I want you to ask? I’m so glad you did! Eighteen days into this challenge my tally is at 227,070, which is just under a quarter of the way. Over eighteen days that is an average of  12,615 or 1,700 steps above the pace necessary. While I am still a long way from being there, I can tell the difference in the way I feel, think and look forward to my time outside.


The Fitbit encourages you to achieve a minimum of 10,000 steps each day which they equate to 5 miles. Another 900 steps is not that much more and reaching the goal by year end will be a great accomplishment toward keeping fit. I hope more of you will join me in this, even if you have a late start.

If you have been considering buying an activity tracker like the Fitbit line but need more information about what they will do for you I invite you to read this post I authored back in May: Why Buy a Fitbit?

Posted in Activity Tracker, exercise, Fitbit, Fitness, health, Personal Goals, Personal Health, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Million Steps to 2017

It is the time of the year when countdowns are the rage. The countdown to Halloween, when the spooks and candy collectors reign is only 24 days. Perhaps you like thanksgiving the time to feast, watch football and count your many blessings. For that you must wait 48 days. All the United States retailers have circled November 25th, which is Black Friday  and 49 days from today. Then the granddaddy of them all is the countdown to Christmas, which is now only 79 days away. Finally there is 92 days between October 1st and Deecember 31st.

But I want to introduce a new and different type of countdown. This one is related to my Fitbit that I have had since the first of February. I decided to motivate myself to get back to what I started in the spring with a new personal challenge. I want to log 1 million steps between October 1st and December 31st. That sounds like a monumental goal, but in fact it really is not.

Fitbit and other activity trackers are consistent in  providing you a target for fitness of at least 10,000 steps each day. While 10,000 steps can seem to be a tough goal you have to think about the quantity of steps you can collect just doing your daily activities. True you must increase some of your moving to get this, but the benefit is well worth it.

If you do the math 1,000,000 steps divided by 92 days from October 1st to January 1st of 2017 equates to 10,869 steps on average every day to reach the goal. This is day 7 of 92, but all I have counted so far is up through 6 days of my personal challenge. So far I have knocked out 53,216 steps of the 1 million, or an average of 10,643, just slightly below the pace I need. I have made more of a conscious effort to get up and get moving as I try to achieve this goal.


To achieve this I will need others to help keep me accountable and ask about my progress. I invite anyone who reads this to do just that, to ask about how it is going and to join me if you have a fitness tracker of your own. We can work on getting fit together.

I will be posting frequently to update the progress, so keep checking back to see how this adventure progresses.



Posted in Activity Tracker, exercise, Fitbit, Fitness, Personal Goals, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Come See My Hometown – Barter Theater – Abingdon, VA

In 1939 a fellow named Robert Porterfield decided to re-frame the arts scene in the small town of Abingdon, VA, located half way between Roanoke, Virginia and Knoxville, TN forever. His idea was to establish a playhouse where local folks could take in some of the great playwrights of the world. When he started this the area around my hometown was still trying to recover from the great depression and on the cusp of World War II, so economic times were difficult. His brainchild was a place where potential theater-goers could barter for their admission, with vegetables, fruits and livestock


Posted in Travel, Virginia, Writing | Leave a comment

Thunderhead and Stormy Skies – Skywatch Friday 10 June 2016

For Skywatch Friday. If you have never looked you should!



Posted in Photo Challenge, Photography, Skywatch Friday, weather, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Write About Harambe, Cecil or Trump and Other SEO Lessons

My Facebook is littered with memes about the Gorilla that was recently killed at the Cincinnati, Ohio zoo because a young child managed to find his way into the animal enclosure. While this is indeed a scary example of why having wild animals in such close proximity to humans is risky, people are up in arms on both sides of the issue.

In my opinion there is fault on both sides. Number one why were the parents not in more control of their son? My wife and I have raised two children and taken groups of children to the zoo before and have never had a problem. Number two, how in the world did a four year old defeat the zoo “security” fences. If a four year old can master this feat  imagine what a field trip of Kindergartners might mean.

But I digress from the subject of my post. I am not breaking my own rule about choosing not to write about this type of event, I just had to get that five minute commentary out of my head so I can keep the other good stuff cooking. So why do I not join the masses in stuffing my pages with stories about Harambe, Cecil and Donald Trump? SEO, that is why.

What is SEO? Oh my word, if you are a blogger, even a semi-serious one you have to know about SEO. IT is short for Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization means that when you title your post you find the sweet spot as far as the way you attract people searching for your topic. One of the biggest keys to getting your previously posted work relevant is to write about topics that do not have a limited shelf life.

Think of the phrase “fifteen minutes of fame”. Sure Harambe and the Cincinnati Zoo are all the rage today, but who remembers when Cecil the Lion was shot by the dentist? It was a huge deal for a wek or maybe two, but now? Eh, we are a fickle lot. It doesn’t;t take much to wrench our attention away to something else.

You think Donald Trump has staying power? Only if he manages to win the 2016 election. Otherwise he will join Mitt Romney as a jeopardy politics trivia question answer. The same goes for Hillary Clinton. One of them will become irrelevant on November 9. Sure, plenty of words will be written between now and then about them, but I plan to keep collecting eye balls for my writing for years to come.

Okay I see you nodding your head and crossing your heart that you don’t care about how many visitors see your blog posts. You are fooling no one by claiming such. Anyone who writes does so with the desire to have their work read, enjoyed and followed. It is why Blogger, WordPress and other sites spend so much time quantifying your numbers for you.

The key to success is writing about “evergreen” topics. What is an evergreen topic, you ask? It is something people will search for on Google and every other search platform across the internet. My flagship evergreen post is one called Growing Wave Petunias. I posted it on May 19,2013. Since then it has collected 1,271 views. How do I know that? WordPress gives you this number in the data with the post.


Granted the interest in this post is heavily centered on the March to June timeframe, but I don’t know many people who will scoff at 12-20 visits for a post every day of the week. I also have two other posts that seem to have staying power, called The Best Annuals for Hanging Baskets, Part 1 and Part 2. While they aren’t gangbusters, it has taught me about how to title my posts.

Google, the authority of all things internet has SEO tools to help bloggers succeed in this never ending chase for viewers. One of my favorites is the Adwords site. If you want to see what people are searching for you can go to the site and type in your keywords and get the combinations most searched.


In my example I searched for homemade Christmas ornaments. It is no surprise the most interest for this topic is in October, November and December. You will also notice that the phrase Christmas ornaments gets a high amount of traffic. If you title your post with Christmas ornaments somewhere in it you are likely to see traffic.

Using another tool by Google I can prove the validity of Trump’s short shelf life unless he can mange to capture the keys to the Oval office. This chart shows the amount of interest in Trump from 2004 through today, June 3, 2016.


Here is the same analysis about The Force Awakens, the long awaited seventh chapter of George Lucas’ space odyssey.


I want my writing to stay relevant for longer than either of these two subjects. Unless I was to feature it on a subject specific blog, such as a movie review or television show review where it would be part of a larger collection and thus become more of a repository the idea is to make it open-ended in its appeal.

So I guess what I am saying is take Harambe, Cecil, Trump and all the others that fill up the 24 hour news cycle while I dig deeper for my evergreens!





Posted in Adwords, Blogging, Google Trends, Search Engine Optimization, SEO, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Numbers – WPC – 3 June 2016

Seeing everyone’s choice of response for the Weekly Photo Challenge is an exciting part of ending each week. This week we trade letters for numbers. My approach will be unorthodox I am sure, but numbers are unorthodox for us writers anyway!


In January I finally decided to change one of the longest running numbers in my life, namely the amount of years I had delayed beginning a hobby I had wanted to enjoy for almost three decades, model railroading. I took the leap in a big way, buying track, rolling stock and an engine. What I did not immediately appreciate was the number on my engine, which I call Mary Kate, for a reason you might guess.


Of course you can see the 245 underneath the window of the cab. Each engine you see on your local rails will have a unique number so it can be identified by the railroad company. The interesting thing is that every replica engine and car manufactured for the hobby has a unique number too.

Here is some train cars I bought from eBay that are part of the Southern Railway delineation and each has a unique five digit identifying number. All five of mine are part of the 74000 series, which may not always happen if you buy the cars piece by piece. I am not a purist at this point in my brief journey so that is not as big a requirement as it might be to some others in the hobby.


These seven cars were purchased at the first train show I attended over in Asheville, North Carolina in March of 2016. Tomorrow I will get to attend my second, in Johnson City, Tennessee at my alma mater and school my son will get a degree from in May and hopefully my daughter will in May of 2016, ETSU. Here is another number for you, the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders will boast 64,000 square feet of model railroad gear, layouts and a steam engine display.


If you want to know more about my train adventures please visit my train oriented blog, Alpine & Clinchport Railroad.

I will be looking for your numbers now that I have mine ready for your perusal.


Posted in Blogging Challenge, Model Railroading, Model Trains, photo, Photo Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Come See My Hometown – Plumb Alley Day – Abingdon, VA

IMG_20160429_171643855_HDRWithin the hills and mountains of Southwest Virginia, not West Virginia, now, but the west end of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is a small town named Abingdon. Each Memorial Day weekend on Saturday about 20,000 people swell the town’s population to enjoy a one day festival called Plumb Alley Day. Plumb Alley is a narrow lane that stretches most of the way through Abingdon “Plumb from one end to the other.”

Along this stretch of paved path you will find all manner of folks enjoying the beginning of the summer season. From yard sales to bake sales, kettle corn, Revolutionary War re-enactors and more the citizens come out to share the day. It is one of the highlights of my year, especially in a way of kicking off summer. Over the years I have taken part in multiple ways, including setting up a vendor location to sell greenhouse plants.

For 2016 I will be leading an effort from our church to provide a large scale outreach to our community. Plumb Alley Day is a great vehicle for trying such an outreach due to the nature of the event. You have folks from all walks of life and reaches of our region that attend.

Our location will be mixed among many others with varying purposes, all there due to the perfect mix of people wanting to share what they have and those wanting to receive what is offered.

What follows is photos I have made of my 2016 Plumb Alley experience.

Posted in America, Evangelism, Faith, Family, Mountains, Music, music festivals, Nature, Travel, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spare – Weekly Photo Challenge 27 May 2016

This week the Weekly Photo Challenge theme is Spare.

There is three definitions of spare to choose from for this challenge. I chose the first, an adjective form : Additional to what is required for ordinary use.



In the past I have been known to plant a big garden. It is one of the thing I love the most about summer. Sometimes I plant too much and cannot enjoy it all. I usually plant watermelons, which I did, but I hardly ever plant another member of the melon family, the Cantaloupe. It is not that I do not enjoy the Cantaloupes, I certainly do, but they just don’t do well for me. As it happens I got a tray of plants from my daughter’s boyfriend and decided to plant only the largest plants. After doing this I am left with a few to spare and replant if the others falter.


My other spare is an extra couple of Blackberry Lily plants that have found their way outside the bounds of one of our flower beds. So far I have been careful not to catch them with my trimmer when I am cutting the weeds, but I hope to transplant when they grow a little bigger.

What is your ideas for spare? I will be looking!

Posted in blooms, flowers, gardening, Photo Challenge, Photography | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Walking at Sunrise

I have been waking early lately and grabbing sunrise pictures to share for Skywatch Friday.


Then this past Saturday, when we had a huge graduation party planned we were watching the sky very intently and had to sit through multiple rains showers.

Created for SkyWatch Friday Meme.




Posted in Blogging Challenge, Nature, Photo Challenge, Photography, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Jubilant – Weekly Photo Challenge -20 May 2016


My daughter and her lifelong best friend were so jubilant about finally celebrating the end of their high school careers.


The Weekly Photo Challenge gives me the excuse to share the photos I collect incessantly about every experience in my life. Yes, that is a confession, I take a lot of photos!


This week the theme in my world has been centered on graduation. My youngest child, a daughter, completed her high school odyssey and celebrated jubilantly with 96 other classmates at a rain free ceremony on Thursday night.

On Friday night the fourth of our church’s graduating quartet was no so lucky weather-wise as her ceremony was rain-shortened. But, she was no less jubilant about collecting her proof of completion. Little did we know the rainforest theme would carry over into the 4 kid graduation party on Saturday.


Posted in Blogging Challenge, children, Family, People, Photo Challenge, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments