Thursday, August 2, 2012

Caryl questions: The Her in Blogher

A more informative headline for this post might be Ronnie Citron-Fink's Life Well-Said, to borrow the tagline from  Ronnie is a blogger extraordinaire. She will be among the more than 5,000 women converging on New York City today for their annual conference on blogging.   This growing--both in numbers and power--cohort will attend workshops and parties and snag swag from commercial sponsors.The sponsors aren't the only ones courting the bloggers' influence. Among the speakers this year are: Katie Couric (she needs to promote a new show premiering on ABC this September); Martha Stewart (she needs to resuscitate an aging magazine looking for younger subscribers); and, by satellite, Barack Obama (he's running for re-election and needs the female vote.)  Maryl and I will also be attending.  

But back to Ronnie. . .  She's the founder of and also managing editor of Moms Clean Air Force (MCAF)--and a friend  from the Hudson Valley who helped inspire my own nascent blogging career.  Between her vacation on Martha's Vineyard and working at Blogher (if you're there, stop by booth 309 to meet her), she answered a few questions about how she turned her own blog into a career that not only maximizes her first life skills but is personally-satisfying and financially-rewarding.  And, did I mention she's helping save the environment at the same time?

First Life                                                                                       Second Life

 Can you tell us about your first life as a teacher, a wife, a mother, a head of a school?

My first life was filled to the brim with family and work. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I entered college. I knew I loved kids, and I had a lot of creative and physical outlets (I’m a pretty decent skier and a so-so tennis player). I read a lot and wrote a little, so I kind of stumbled into being an English teacher. I loved everything about teaching. It kept my mind and my body active. I worked my way up from teacher to co-administrator at the Randolph School, a small progressive private school. It was a wonderful job when my two kids, Lainey and Ben, were young. The kids and I had the same hours and the same vacation, and summers off felt like a working mom’s gift. Teaching allowed me to be a hands-on mom and also have a work life.

You told me once that you felt burned out and decided to quit teaching. What was the cause of burnout? Or, what was your catalyst for change? 

I think I said I was burnt. I worked for years with a mentor who was incredibly supportive of my teaching skills and my creative pursuits. It was because of my co-administrator, Eric Tomlins. that I stayed in teaching, and it was because of him that I left.
The last few years of my 30-year-long teaching career, I was getting antsy. I still loved working with the children, but the internal conflicts of running a school were stressful. I started magazine writing on the side. I found it rewarding and relaxing. I wrote lots of DIY and feature articles. I discussed my taking a leave of absence with Eric. Then he was diagnosed with ALS. I knew he was going to die, and I knew I didn’t want to be at the school without him. He encouraged me to give myself space to figure out whether it was time to pursue other passions. I made the decision to leave the year before he died at 56 years old. I stayed on the Board of Trustees at the school until a few months ago when my current work life just got too busy to be going to Board meetings on weekends.

Did you have another plan when you quit? Had you already started blogging? 

Ronnie  writing what she knows:  She's led the green eco-world life for three decades 

The same month I left teaching (I was 52), I ran into an acquaintance that was the editor-in-chief of, an online network that empowers millions of people to lead a healthy, sustainable lifestyle and support socially responsible causes. She offered me a blogging position as the green home design blogger. I discovered that I had a niche and a knack for blogging about sustainable design. My husband Ted (Fink) is an environmental planning consultant, and I’ve been immersed in that squeaky green eco-world my whole married life (29 years). My dad was a designer (and so is my daughter), and I’ve always been attracted to good design. I named the Care2 blog, Econesting. and bought the URL five years ago. I wrote hundreds of posts for Care2 (for low pay) and became a popular blogger. Yahoo named me one of the Top Ten Living Green Experts. At Care2, I amassed a strong following. The new editor encouraged me to start blogging on my Econesting site, which I did. Hundreds of my Care2 readers signed up and started following me. It was because of a post I wrote about Heirloom Design that I was “discovered” by the editor of Treehugger and Planet Green, MaryAnn O’Neill. She offered me a position at those high profile sites--also, for pretty low pay. I took it and began cranking out two or three blog posts a day. I was starting to make a meager income as a blogger. Throughout this period--about two to three years--I kept writing for Care2 and for local print publications. My name was popping up all over the web, including at the Huffington Post and Inhabitat, where I still write from time to time.

How did you make the transition to Moms Clean Air Force?

I received an advance copy of Dominique Browning’s book, “Slow Love” and wrote a book review for Care2. Then I requested a phone interview  for Planet Green. Dominique and I chatted about her books, our blogs (hers is SlowLoveLife), our lives. She started following me on Econesting, and we kept in touch by email. When Dominique told me about an exciting new campaign she was founding with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), called Moms Clean Air Force, I was jazzed. I started as one of the core bloggers. Right before the MCAF official launch last year, Dominique asked me to be Managing Editor of the newly designed website

Moms Clean Air Force: Ronnie (left) and Dominque Browning, former editor of House & Garden

Was it hard to go from writing content to managing content? 

This was…is…a perfect position for me. I was an English teacher, I am very versed in online content-management and publishing, I had created many deep connections in the blogosphere eco-world, I managed a school community for years working with parents and children, and I am passionate about environmental issues, particularly global warming which is directly impacted by hazardous pollution. The position came at a great time in my life. My son, Ben, now 23, was in his last year of college and my daughter, Lainey, now 27, was launched in her career as a graphic designer. (Can I gush and plug her new design studio—Bluerock Design?) I love the life Ted and I created in a beautiful Hudson Valley town, and working from home is a joy. But before I joined MCAF, I was beginning to think it would be so wonderful to be compensated for all the long hours of writing required to keep those blog posts flowing. 

Love (of the planet) and marriage: Ronnie with her husband Ted Fink, an environmental planning consultant

Do you get to blog on your own site much anymore?

Ah, blogging has taken a back seat to editing, which I also absolutely love, love. I am still constantly sourcing great stuff for Econesting, and I’ve got lots of unpublished drafts in my queue, but the time it takes to write a thoughtful post is not in the cards on most days. My fabulous Econesting followers have stuck with me while I limp along on a few posts a month. And they send nice notes about missing my “voice.” And I miss my online readers, but right now I’m focused on MCAF. I really want to make a difference in our kids' future. I truly believe this is the time to create a legacy of caring for the planet. 

Finally, since we are running this to concur with Blogher 2012, can you give some advice to women who are considering a second life in blogging? 
Ronnie and a blogger's best friend: a reason to leave the laptop and go outside

MCAF sent me last year to BlogHer in San Diego (MCAF is a non-profit Blogher sponsor), and it opened my eyes to the world of sponsored bloggers. These women were courted heavily by marketers, and I know a few who are making mega bucks. Personally, I have a ying/yang feeling about sponsored blogging that often causes me to click away when I encounter a sponsored post. Like most women, my time is limited and I like to read authentic voices. That said, there are a few really fine sponsored writers who are making a good living blogging because they don’t compromise their integrity. They only accept sponsors who are aligned with their mission. I respect that. I make no money from Econesting, and for me blogging has become a stepping-stone to creating a new career.

 Most bloggers do it for love, not money.  Any suggestions for how
blogging could help underwrite a second life?

I do see three possible ways to monetize a blog:
1. Write sponsored posts, but don’t sell your soul. I don’t know any sites other than big multi-blogger platforms that make money from ads alone and those are just getting by.
2. Sell something on your blog: a book, a handmade product, a service--something that brings in a steady income.
3. Write well-written posts for websites that you like for low pay (or guest posts) and keep slogging away at it. Create relationships with other bloggers and editors. It’s a content rich approach, but you may be able to save the world in the process.

 Any pitfalls to life behind the laptop?

First, I am not a photographer. But, my posts are very image-driven. In fact, I’m often inspired to write when I see an incredible photo or a lovely piece of art. Luckily, I have a few photographer friends who let me use their photos with attribution. And, secondly, I miss being active. My not-so-sprite body sometimes pays the price with back and wrist issues. But, I figure if I can solve our climate crisis quick, I’ll get back on my skis this winter!

(Window seat and dog photos: Jen Kiaba Photography)


  1. Thank you so much for this post - I never had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie - we must have passed like ships in the night - or moms in the drop off circle. I have been a Randolph School parent for the last 4 years and I'm sure the excellence we encountered at Randolph had much to do with Ronnie's influence. I have recently started my own blogging life and so I found this doubly interesting.
    Thanks again!

    1. Part of teaching and running a school is creating an ongoing legacy. And, Ronnie has certainly done that!
      Plus with Moms Clean Air Fund, she continues to affect lasting change in the world. On
      another front, welcome to the blogosphere. Check out for a network of terrific women
      bloggers and a support system for newbies like you.

  2. Woohoo!! - Fantastic article. My children were taught by Ronnie, I worked at the same school Ronnie taught at and I took a "blogging class" given by Ronnie over a year ago which helped me get on my merry blogging-way! Her story is one that is being eeked out & lived by many women these days -- a second life. Her success is inspirational. All the best to Ronnie!

    1. Did you take her blogging class at Wing And Clover--or somewhere else? The beauty of blogging is that
      empowers you from the start. I was so impressed with the bloggers I met over the last three days. Their
      power and influence cannot be underestimated. Thanks for stopping by. I will pass on your good wishes
      to Ronnie. And thanks for the woohoo! I love that word.

  3. Keep up the good work. You are making a difference. The article is fantastic.
    All the pictures are great. Have a wonderful weekend experience.
    Love ya- M

    1. Thanks for the compliment but I can't take credit for the pictures (unless you count selecting and sizing).
      They are from Ronnie's private archives. That girl can't take a bad picture!!

  4. Well, I have been blushing since this profile arrived in my inbox minutes before I boarded the train to NYC for BlogHer. Thank you, Carrie for this and thank you all for your kind words...and believe me, I can take an awful picture!

    Breida, I'm not sure we met...I was the board when your children were at the school and attended a few school events. Good luck with your blog! Karen, I know you and your kids well...your blog is terrific. You have found your voice! Carrie, I taught a few Randolph teachers and parents how to start a blog. We had a lot of fun digging behind the dashboard. Anonymous, thank you. BlogHer was a blast...and exhausting!

    I just want to quickly say that had it not been for my first life as a teacher, I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to tackle these big environmental issues. I believe that being a teacher and parent is one of the most important jobs in the world. The lives you touch are forever changed and while I played and joked with my students (and my own children), I never took for granted the impression I was leaving on these little people. They are our future and we need to nurture and protect them at all costs.

    Now I will finally open my social media accounts and post this on Facebook and Twitter! Thank you all! xoR

    1. Nothing like a Monday morning lovefest to get the week going. And thank you in advance for putting our post on Facebook and Twitter. The conference persuaded me that social media is a critical tool to our mission. Like so many things that are important (i.e. parenting, teaching) you must put in the time and maintain consistency to influence the outcome. Someone wise woman told me when I a young mom that parenting was a pay as you go. You have to invest every day! I am afraid social media may require the
      same vigilance.

    2. Yes, on all accounts. Time...and enthusiasm. Just read this...

      "Peace and harmony come about through taking action, not necessarily through making prayers and good wishes. In order to carry action out, enthusiasm is very important, and enthusiasm comes from being clear about our goal and the possibility of our fulfilling it." ~ Dalai Lama

      So, so true.

  5. Ronnie is an amazing force and inspiration for any who are working on their second lives. I am still deciding what I would like to be when I grow up, but if it is anything like Ronnie's experience I will count myself a lucky woman. I only wish I had spent more time with the her and the women of the Second Lives Club at BlogHer!

  6. Caryl, this is such a wonderful post...I'm kicking myself that I missed meeting Ronnie at BlogHer. I've always admired the "Life Well Said" tagline so it's nice to know (but of course!) that an awesome blogger coined it. I've also done much PR work on behalf of Oberlin College, its landmark green building, and legendary environmental studies professor David Orr. But I digress. It was terrific, on so many levels, to meet you & Maryl at BlogHer. Thanks for following and we'll definitely stay in touch.