On the Internet, labors of love can gather large loyal followings.
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Blogs, for the most part, are better in theory than in practice. For every Julie Powell—the New York–based blogger whose daily musings about chopping, stirring and measuring her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking morphed into the 2009 Meryl Streep movie, Julie & Julia—there are countless thousands of well-intentioned correspondents who run out of gas after a dozen or so posts.
Among New Jersey’s blogging successes are several who have cultivated national and international followings; three of their stories follow—plus a selection of other notable Jersey bloggers.
Georgine Kaczmarek knows that blogging about bargain hunting is not going to make her rich. But because she has the know-how, she doesn’t see why she shouldn’t help others find a little extra money.
Georgine Saves, which Kaczmarek started from her Ridgefield home in January 2009, is not about Kaczmarek’s personal saving adventures, even though she continues to astonish cashiers—and readers—with her ability to pay only about 30 percent of what the average shopper might spend on a cart full of groceries. The blog is more about helping readers save.
“I provide information about coupon offers, giveaways and money-saving tips with the hopes that my readers won’t spend a penny more than they have to,” says Kaczmarek, a 62-year-old grandmother who has been a coupon-clipper since her teenage years. (Her mother used to get annoyed with her because she would peel the labels off cans in the pantry to mail them in for rebates. “She could never tell what was in the cans, because they had no labels,” Kaczmarek says.)
“Specifically, GeorgineSaves.com gives readers the heads-up on retail specials, coupon offers, rebates and deals that are too good to pass up. And it acts as a community for those looking to get the most for their money,” she says. That community stretches well beyond New Jersey.
“Most of the deals I publish are national and can be used in all states,” she says. But “with the addition of New Jersey- and region-specific deals, residents of New Jersey can take advantage of approximately 95 percent of the deals I post,” says Kaczmarek.
Kaczmarek says her site typically gets 35,000 unique monthly visitors—among them, money-savers from England, Australia and the Cayman Islands. “Things cost a lot more in England,” she explains. “Probably people there don’t mind spending extra on postage if they can get a deal shopping online through something I’ve posted.”
Kaczmarek is usually at the computer by 8:30 am every day and sometimes does not log off until 11:30 pm, often posting several deals throughout the day—including her signature daily shopping tip. She has gotten plenty of attention for her efforts, including coverage on TV and in the Washington Post and Consumer Reports. She also makes a little money. Occasionally, the companies behind the offers she posts pay her a small percentage of their sales. “But it’s really not much,” says Kaczmarek. “This is just a way for me to help people, something I love.”
One-Minute Book Reviews
Blogging is a labor of love, even when what issues from the blog has less in common with a big red heart than a critic with freshly sharpened knives. Just ask Janice Harayda, the Montclair-based blogger behind One-Minute Book Reviews.
Harayda is a former book editor for the Plain Dealer of Cleveland and a novelist, whose books include Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2004) and The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy (St. Martin’s, 1999). At one point in her career, when working as a freelance textbook editor, she happened to read the Mitch Albom book For One More Day. “I thought, this can’t be above sixth-grade level reading,” she says, recalling the post that brought her international attention from the literary world when she started blogging in October 2006.
Following up her hunch, she typed sections of Albom’s novel into her computer and ran a test: For One More Day, it calculated, was written at third-grade reading level. She posted the results, and her readership soared. “I was getting thousands of visitors a day for a while there,” plus mentions in major national and international newspapers.
“In my first year, I was the number 6 ranked book-review site on Google,” says Harayda, who spends roughly 20 hours a week on One-Minute Book Reviews, most of it at night and on weekends, sometimes while she’s in her nightgown, she says. Now, her blog attracts 25,000 to 30,000 unique visitors per month.
Though Harayda, who declines to reveal her age but says she is a baby boomer, is brave enough to call out what she deems the year’s worst books, via One-Minute Book Review’s annual Delete Key Awards, her aim is not to skewer fellow writers. Rather, she hopes to “maintain a really high level of quality for my ideal reader, who doesn’t want to read writing that’s of a lower standard or dumbed down,” she says.
Harayda makes no money from her blog, but blogging has its own rewards. “Being a novelist is fun,” she says, “but it requires you to spend thousands of hours a year alone. You can end up like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, talking to a face you’ve drawn on a volleyball because no one is around. So I started One-Minute Book Reviews partly to avoid becoming Mrs. Hanks. I didn’t want to end up giving names to any volleyballs that rolled into view and talking to them instead of people.”
Steven Dublanica does not disclose where he lives, other than to say it’s in Bergen County. Still, the author of the Waiter Rant blog—and its related book, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (Harper Collins, 2008)—has this advice for fledgling bloggers: “Don’t try to do it anonymously. You will always be found out.”
He should know. Dublanica, 42, started blogging in 2004 “as a goof.” He was a waiter at the time in what he is legally bound to describe only as a New York City-area restaurant. (“If you search around the Internet long enough, you’ll find out where,” he says.) Like many restaurant workers, Dublanica was in need of a place to, well, rant. He started to blog about his tyrannical bosses, his overly demanding, sometimes cheapo customers, even his fellow waiters—signing his posts simply, “Waiter.” The site’s readership soared in 2007 and 2008 owing to his tantalizing blend of humor and candor.
“At the height of it, I had hundreds of thousands of readers a month,” says Dublanica. (That number is now in the tens of thousands.) With his popularity came mounting pressure to reveal himself as the Waiter. By the time the New York Post finally published his name in August 2008, his book had just been published, and the rest is successful-blogger history.
Dublanica is now a full-time writer, not a waiter. Harper Collins published his second book, Keep the Change, in November. Rather than another memoir, the new book is “all about tipping,” says Dublanica. Fans who want more autobiographical material can still turn to Waiter Rant, where Dublanica now posts once or twice a week from his front porch.
“I used to post every day, but when you’re writing a book you just don’t have the energy,” he says. “At the end of the day you just want to watch soap operas.” His recent posts also reflect a move beyond the world of dinner specials and folded napkins, examining such subjects as his dog and his dating life.
Dublanica has not abandoned the bread and butter: “I still write about the restaurant world on there when I go out to eat and see something particularly crazy,” he says. “It actually happens a lot.”
Bookmark: NJ BLOGS
Eating in South Jersey
BLOGGERS: Lisa Howard-Fusco and John Howard-Fusco, Forked River
SINCE: April 2008
WHAT IT IS: A place for South Jersey foodies and anyone in need of a South Jersey restaurant recommendation.
“In addition to reviewing restaurants—from burgers and dogs to ethnic to fine dining—we regularly list festivals, food events, food news, cooking classes, interviews with local chefs and food personalities, food-related books we like and the occasional recipe,” says Lisa Howard-Fusco. In food blogging, as in real estate, location is everything. “Much of the New Jersey food media’s focus is on Northern New Jersey and New York City,” she says. “We’re proud of our attempts to be a listing resource for more local happenings.”
POSTS: Usually daily
READERS: “On average, we get 1,500 to 2,500 unique visitors per month.”
Drawing On Observations
BLOGGER: Larry Roibal, South Plainfield
SINCE: March 2008
WHAT IT IS: A blog for visual types.
“Unlike most serious bloggers, I’m not a writer, I’m an illustrator,” says Roibal. He’s also a self-described news junkie. Roibal got into the habit of creating a morning doodle as he read the day’s news. “These spontaneous doodles appealed to me, but having no practical value, I had been tossing them away in the recycling bin.” Then, it struck him: “I already had a website with my commercial work on it, so I decided to use the doodles as a basis for my blog.”
Now, says Roibal, “Before 9 am every weekday I post a portrait of the day [drawn] on that day’s paper. A newsmaker. I like how the text and date add context and attach the drawing to a time and place. This isn’t a portfolio piece that I labored over for hours or days, it’s a few-minute doodle, done that morning on today’s paper.”
POSTS: Monday through Friday and occasionally on the weekend
READERS: Roughly 26,000 visitors per month
BLOGGER: Stephen L. Baker, Montclair
WHAT IT IS: A blog for the tech savvy, and possibly for the paranoid.
Baker started his blog by discussing themes in his book The Numerati. “How we are being watched, modeled and predicted by the people who study our shopping, web-surfing, banking, voting data, etc.,” he says. “But now it has grown into a broader blog looking at tech trends and how they affect our lives.”
Lately, Baker has been blogging about another book he authored that came out in February, Final Jeopardy—Man Vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything.
“It’s a project at IBM where researchers [built] a computer that can understand complicated English and answer puzzling questions.” The computer, known as Watson, made headlines playing human champions in the TV game of Jeopardy! in February. “I’m convinced that the development of this type of smart machine will change our jobs and our lives.”
READERS: “Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 a day if you include people who subscribe to the site’s RSS feed.”
And I Ask Myself, How Did I Get Here (formerly A Widow for a Year)
BLOGGER: Sandra Trovato, Vernon
SINCE: November 2007, just after her husband died.
WHAT IT IS: A blog for those coping with the death of a spouse or single motherhood.
“It began as a grief blog, a young widow’s journey through the grief process after losing her husband,” Trovato says. “Now I would say there is no real category for my blog. I still discuss my grief, but not as often; I discuss raising my children alone, but I also wouldn’t call myself a mommy blogger. I discuss television shows I enjoy, books I like to read. I post recipes. The blog has become a catchall for whatever is on my mind or going on in my life at the time.”
POSTS: Almost daily
READERS: “I have never checked out the stats on that. I think when you start to look at numbers, you stop being sincere. You stop writing for yourself and begin writing for others. I don’t ever want to do that.”
Ann Delaney Beach Blog
BLOGGER: Ann Delaney, Avalon and Stone Harbor
SINCE: November 2006
WHAT IT IS: A lifestyle blog for those interested in the perspective of a year-round Jersey Shore resident—especially those interested in Shore real estate.
Delaney, a real estate agent, was considering creating a website but decided to start a blog instead. “I wanted to be different.”
POSTS: Usually every day, and also on Twitter at twitter.com/AnnDelaneyBeach
READERS: “I don’t have a counter on my site, so I really don’t know. I’m always thrilled to hear that someone is reading my posts!”
The Budget Fashionista
BLOGGER: Kathryn Finney, Jersey City
SINCE: 2003 (“When I started blogging Google was new!”)
WHAT IT IS: A site for fashion mavens put off by designer price tags.
“I started blogging because of a love of fashion and lack of cash,” says Finney. “I was a newlywed living in Philadelphia and spending way too much money shopping for clothing, etc. My new husband, who is in the tech industry, suggested I start a blog to chronicle my shopping adventures. It worked.”
POSTS: Several times per day, including online coupons, deals and fashion news.
READERS: Finney claims about 1 million unique visitors a month.
Pink Cake Box
BLOGGERS: Jesse & Anne Heap, Denville
SINCE: Fall 2005
WHAT IT IS: A place to browse extraordinary reality-TV-worthy cakes and confections.
“Our blog offers over 1,000 photos and videos of specialty cakes, wedding cakes, cookies and cupcakes,” says Anne Heap. “It helps people find inspiration when planning a party, wedding, or life celebration.”
POSTS: Five times a week
READERS: “We have over 5,000 regular subscribers [via email or RSS].”
NJ Politics Unusual
BLOGGER: Joey Novick, Flemington
WHAT IT IS: A political blog by a comedian (and lawyer).
“I enjoy the opportunity to reach a wider audience interested in politics in New Jersey from a humorous point of view,” Novick says. Blogging, for him, is a way to exercise “the freedoms we have as Americans to express ourselves, while sitting at home in sweatpants, eating ice cream.”
POSTS: About five times a week
READERS: “Tough to say, because I cross post at [the political sites PolitickerNJ and BlueJersey.com]. I get lots of readers there.”
Down the Shore With Jen
BLOGGER: Jen A. Miller, Collingswood
SINCE: Summer 2007
WHAT IT IS: A place to read about Shore life and events
“The area between Atlantic City and Cape May is my main focus, but I do write about the entire coast,” says Miller, a former South Jersey bureau chief for New Jersey Monthly. “The town I probably write most about that isn’t in my region is Asbury Park.”
POSTS: In the summer, at least five times a week. Sometimes twice a day.
READERS: “It varies. In the high point of summer, I can get over 1,000 a month.
It’s a very niche blog, so I’m happy with that.”
BLOGGER: Stacey Caron, Summit
SINCE: July 2008
WHAT IT IS: A blog for those in search of tonight’s dinner recipe.
An antiques dealer and appraiser, Caron is a self-described amateur cook who loves to entertain. “I was reading food blogs one day searching for recipes, and I said to my husband, ‘I would love to write a food blog.’ And he responded, ‘Why don’t you?’” she says. Equipped with a cell phone camera and a passion for cooking, Caron started breaking down her favorite recipes. Now her site boasts 2,000 subscribers. “My blog is a collection of recipes, area restaurant reviews and a little ranting and raving,” she laughs. “But most people just stop by to see what I’m making for dinner.”
POSTS: Six days a week.
READERS: About 2,500 visits per day.
Where Is the Line Between North and South Jersey
BLOGGER: Steve Chernoski, Lambertville
SINCE: Summer 2007
WHAT IT IS: A place to enter the fracas over what delineates North Jersey from South Jersey, geographically and otherwise.
Chernoski started to blog to promote his film, New Jersey: the Movie (newjerseythemovie.com), but never stopped. “The blog attempts to settle all North-South Jersey issues,” he says. “And it lets Central Jersey readers know where on the cultural dividing line they fall. We hope it’s water-cooler conversation.”
POSTS: About twice a month
READERS: “We have over 800 visits on average per month.”
Hitchcock and Me
BLOGGER: Adam Philips, Glen Ridge
SINCE: December 2009
WHAT IT IS: A film buff’s quest to watch and blog about every movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Philips thought he had seen every Alfred Hitchcock movie ever created. Then he stumbled upon a few that had escaped him. “I did some research and found out that I only saw about a quarter of his output,” Philips says. “I just thought it would be a fun project to watch all these movies.” While his initial goal was to watch them all in one year, life got in the way. “I’m down to the last three now,” he laughs. He peppers his posts about the movies with reactions to books and articles written by the English filmmaker. Philips intends to keep the site going, blogging on books written about Hitchcock.
POSTS: Twice a week.
READERS: More than 100 visits a day.
Additional reporting by Ashley J. Cerasaro.
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A Meal for Amiel
As mentioned earlier in the week, on February 8, chef Florian Wehrli, along with top chefs from New York and Northern New Jersey will collaborate on a benefit dinner at Perona Farms to raise money to build a greenhouse/interactive classroom for Frankford Township School. The five-course tasting meal will feature regionally grown meats, cheeses and produce.
Early in Saturday night's American premiere of a work by the South African choreographer Robyn Orlin, the dancers of the all-male Senegalese troupe Jant-Bi begin to advance steadfastly toward and then literally into the audience--standing on the backs and armrests of occupied seats and striking a pose of invincible, unyielding bravado.
At that point, who could guess that this pinwheeling, sometimes perplexing, affair at Montclair State's Kasser Theater would culminate in a flood of joy uniting audience and performers?
For some reason, that is my favorite line in what I like to think of as my favorite play, Waiting For Godot. I certainly will not forget this particular carrot. That I can't explain the contents of this picture is part of what I like about it. In other words, you can't make this stuff up.
Snow everywhere in Jersey. Nonetheless, you can celebrate the Super Bowl on the beach in Sea Bright. In Driftwood Cabana Club's rebuilt, enclosed, all-weather tiki bar, "You kind of feel like you are on a cruise ship," says beverage director Beau Keegan, "because all you see is water.”