Her Story with Kayla Dyer: A Jane of All Trades
Kayla Dyer is one of those people that exudes coolness. It seems like everything she puts out in this world is beautiful, fun or smart and usually all three. So it’s worked out well that she’s created a platform to share all this wisdom and inspiration with her blog, Mountain Gypsy.
This blog and her Instagram feed are full of gorgeous photos, creative shots, thoughtful words and inspiring concepts. Once you start reading, you will get sucked in. And you’ll probably also want to be best friends with her.
You’ll see in her writing, both in her blog and her answers below, that she’s also so relatable and so real. Like us, she’s dealt with not knowing what she wanted to do in life and feeling lost, has had unexpected curve balls thrown at her, and has had to make some big life decisions. But, she’s been able to keep moving forward, in the direction of her big dreams, because she’s been willing to take a (well-planned :)) leap into the unknown each time and give herself the grace that not every single leap will work out exactly as planned. And that’s okay because she’ll have at least learned something from each experience.
Below you’ll find out what Kayla is currently working towards, what you should know if you want to start a blog too, her favorite tools that make life easier, her top 5 favorite blogs that she’s written (one has to do with birth control pills …), her daily routines, how she’s changed her mindset around having MS, and what she does when her husband’s not home!
My husband and I have been together for 13 years - since I was 16!
I'm what you might call a Jane of All Trades. When my husband gets asked what his wife does, it's a long answer! I have a journalism degree, and I'm almost finished with my Master's degree in teaching. I want to get my PhD in writing so I can teach at the college level. I have published works and I'm hoping to write a book soon. And last but not least, I am a Stylist with Stella & Dot with my sister. So yeah - lots of things going on with me!
I like to play this game called "Death Row Meal" at gatherings, because I think it says a lot about people. You ask everyone what they would want their last meal to be, and it is always fun to hear the answers! Mine would be a cheese board with good bread, olive oil, fruits, and meats, and an entire bottle of red wine.
I taught myself most of the crafty skills I have - crocheting, hand-lettering, wood-burning. My mom is very crafty, too, so I think I got that gene from her.
When my husband is out of town, I submit to what Carrie Bradshaw called SSB - Secret Single Behavior. Carrie said on Sex in the City that her SSB was standing in the kitchen eating saltine crackers with grape jelly. For me, I put on my ugliest sweatshirt (old Marshall University one with peeled off letters), watch creepy murder shows (which my husband hates) and eat chips and salsa until my mouth is raw (I will eat however many chips are in front of me). It's not really about being secretive about this, because my husband has definitely seen me do this around him. It's just about doing whatever you want without having to answer any questions or ask anyone what they think!
Where’s She’s At: Huntington, WV
Tell us about your blog, Mountain Gypsy!
Mountain Gypsy started with the following statement: A place for the girl who never misses a bonfire, carries a tambourine, likes her whiskey neat and knows that life is the biggest adventure.
I soon realized those things describe me, and in order to connect with others, I had to create a space that was welcoming to everyone, even if you don't relate to those things. I love the connection that Mountain Gypsy gives me. I interact with people from everywhere and discuss topics all across the board. My journalism background gives me that drive, I think.
Above all, I want to create content that people connect with on a deeper level than just scrolling through an Instagram post. That's been my goal from the start, and I'm still working on perfecting that. Even though my mission (and content) has changed since the start of this blog, I still hold true to that statement's idea. It's not about people liking those specific things, but more about understanding that you can be whoever you are, and do so openly. For me, Mountain Gypsy is a place for authenticity, a place for being yourself, a place for feeling seen.
How did it get it’s start?
I planned MG for months, and launched it in January of 2013. I wanted to start a blog that allowed me to connect with people in a way that reflected my heritage (West Virginia, Appalachia), while also writing about the things I love to read about on other blogs, like DIYs, cooking, and beauty.
However, things have evolved since then, and the topics on my heart are quite different now. As it changes, I want it to reflect a stronger sense of authenticity and inspiration for people. I started Mountain Gypsy when I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, and I was really struggling to figure out how I wanted to live in this world. I didn't know what my purpose was, but I knew I loved writing and wanted a life that allowed me to work for myself. I follow so many amazing people who work as bloggers full time, and I thought that sounded like an amazing life. I don't know if I'll ever get to that point, because I also love teaching and writing so much, but being able to work for myself is the ultimate dream. Mountain Gypsy was the beginning of me finding a way to have my own space in the world, leave a mark when I'm gone, and live my life the way I want to live it without feeling pressured to be something I'm not.
For those of us also looking to start a blog, what should we know about starting, keeping up with it and building an audience that we may not be aware of? Any challenges to be aware of? Recipe for success?
Oh gosh, this is a tough one. I don't feel like I know even a fraction what there is to know about this world, and what I have learned has been purely by trial and error. Here are a few things I can suggest:
Don't start without some planning. Figure out your mission, your look, etc., before leaping into it. It takes planning. It's so easy these days to just get a URL and start something online without much thought. The more you plan, the better it will be.
Decide what type of post schedule you can keep up with. Right now, I've realized that Instagram works better for me. That's not always the case, but it is much easier for me to post a little "mini blog" to Instagram than to plan a full blog post. Because of grad school, this is what is working for me. It's still my brand and my name, it's just an adjustment I've had to make right now. If you think you can do a full blog post five times a week, go for it. But realize it may burn you out. Do what is best for you and your schedule, and do it in a way that isn't going to overwhelm you.
Building an audience is something I'm still working on, but I think my biggest piece of advice is something I heard from Jenna Kutcher. You don't need everyone to follow you, you just need the right people to follow you. Quality over quantity and all that. If you "buy" followers, that does nothing for you. Take the time and be patient to build a following that is real and authentic.
Edit. Edit. Edit. I see so many bloggers who simply cannot write very well, and it is distracting from their content and image. If you need help, hire an editor or copy editor or someone who can help you. Find your voice and edit your work.
Be yourself. Don't try to copy someone else's blog post content. I've done this, and it almost never goes well. Do something new and real! It's better that way.
What are you looking forward to in the future with Mountain Gypsy? Any big plans?
The blog has already changed so much since I started it, and my husband and I are in the process of giving it a big overhaul/rebranding. Although, as I mentioned, I'm in graduate school and things are chaotic. I am trying to learn to give myself grace and focus on one thing at a time.
I started the blog when I was 25, and now at 30, I feel it could be so much more. I want it to evolve with me, rather than trying to force myself to fit into a box I've created. Things have evolved since then, and my topics are different now. I still talk about cooking or beauty or what have you, but I am learning to do it in a way that connects more closely to my mission.
So many of us don't know what we want to do in life, but whatever we're currently doing isn't it. You went through some transitions that lead you to a soon-to-be career in teaching. Can you tell us a little about that process?
This is a really tough place to be in, and I know it too well. As I mentioned, when I started MG, I was in a weird place. I was working retail (and hating it) and feeling unfulfilled. I had a journalism degree, but I didn't want to work for a newspaper. I could write, but no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I was in a funk, to say the least.
When my husband and I moved back to West Virginia, I got a substitute teaching certification and figured it would be an easy way to get a paycheck. The counties need subs every day, so I'd always be able to work. I lucked into a long-term substitute position for a teacher taking maternity leave, and I was hooked. I absolutely loved being at school. The following school year, I lucked into another long-term position in an English classroom, and that's when it really started.
I realized I wanted to do that for real, which is what led me to getting my Master's degree. The first day I stepped back onto Marshall University's campus as a graduate student, I was hit with this realization: I could get my PhD and work as a writing professor (essentially the two things I want to do all the time anyway). Working for a college still has plenty of hoops you have to jump through, but I know I would have more flexibility and be able to do what I love: write.
Once I finish my Master's, this will be my next step. I will always be a writer. If that means I'm always a blogger, too, then great. I just know this is the closest I've been to being able to have the best of both worlds, and I'm going for it. It took me some time to get here, but that's okay. I'm here now.
It's so easy to look at people's social media "highlight reel" these days and think we're the only one that failing miserably or going through a tough time time. Would you be willing to share a challenge you have you had to overcome to get where you are now? How were you able to overcome that or what are you doing now to overcome that’s working?
Social media today is such a weird place, and I think we've all been in that place where we feel like everyone else is perfect and we are a mess. I mean, how many of us have been sitting on our couch in leggings and a dirty t-shirt, scrolling through perfectly groomed goddess-women? Probably all of us! But of course, we all have struggles.
One of the most uncertain times in my life was when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is an auto-immune disease that affects the nervous system in a way that can disrupt the messages between the brain and the body. I have relapsing-remitting MS, which means I can go a long time without symptoms. I truly never think about it now; it's just a regular part of my life. I take care of myself, I take medication, and I try to do all the things that help me feel my best. I am healthy and rarely experience serious symptoms.
However, when I was diagnosed, it was a terrifying time. I was living in Louisville, and my husband and I were in our first year of marriage. I got my diagnosis and my first instinct was "We have to move home." My husband and I had always talked about moving back home eventually, because our families are in West Virginia and we ultimately wanted to be with them. When I was diagnosed, it seemed like a sign that it was time to make that move.
My husband proposed to his boss that he work from home so we could move, which worked out perfectly (and actually allowed him to grow the company!). I quit my retail job and started packing our apartment. It was a bittersweet time, but I was anxious to get to the comforts of my people during a scary time.
The same year I was diagnosed, I ran my first half marathon, got my substitute teaching license, and started re-evaluating my goals in life. This challenged pretty much every aspect of who I am: my faith, my strength, my patience, my health, my pride. Everything. But, I think it helped me put things into perspective, too.
I still struggle with this sometimes. For instance, when my church was hosting a huge "Be the Match" bone marrow drive for a little girl in our community, I wasn't able to give: I didn't realize it, but MS falls under the diseases that aren't eligible for bone marrow donations. I started having a pity party while my husband and hundreds of other people filled out the paperwork. It was the first time someone had told me "no" because of this thing I have. BUT — that precious girl found a match. I wasn't meant to be her match, because God already had that figured out, so there was no need to feel sorry for myself.
What most helps me overcome this struggle is not letting this diagnosis dictate my life. If I want to do something, I do it. I don't think to myself "Well, I have MS, so maybe I shouldn't." I just do the thing! No, I couldn't give bone marrow, but I can do a lot of other things. I can walk, run, write, teach, laugh, drink wine on my porch, and read good books. As long as I can remember that I've got a lot going for me, I feel like I can handle this hard situation.
What would you say has been the main key so far to helping you get to where you are now in your life?
By no means do I feel like I'm where I want to be in life. However, I think any success I've had has been because I'm not afraid to leap. Sometimes, this bites me in the ass - but I believe in trying, even if I fail.
I'm also a big planner. I love lists and thinking through ideas. This goes hand in hand with the "taking the leap" part. I get to a point where I have planned enough and need to try something out. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. But, I think it's important to test our ideas as much as possible.
Also, most importantly, I have the best family and husband in the world. I know everyone says that, but I know I wouldn't have anything to show for my life if it weren't for them. West Virginians believe in roots and family, and I think that belief has helped keep me grounded through everything. My people are so supportive and encouraging in so many ways, and I couldn't do anything without them.
What are some tools that help make life easier/better for blogging or for personal development?
Glow app, and Seed Cycling - I use this app to track my cycle on my phone. I also started seed cycling this year and it has helped me so much. I went off of birth control for the first time in 12 years, and used Seed Cycling to help get my cycle and my organs back on track. If you haven't heard of Seed Cycling, definitely check it out!
Massage Therapy - I have an incredible massage therapist in town, and she is my go-to for body work. I try to go once a month, but with my school schedule, that's not always possible. It's not just a "treat yourself" appointment; it's an essential element of self-care and medicine.
MINDBODY app - I use this app to schedule my yoga classes in town, and I even use it when I'm traveling. It makes it super easy to find classes that fit my schedule.
A Color Story - I use this app for all of my photo editing. It has all the tools you need, plus beautifully designed filters that make editing easy.
She Reads Truth - This is the app I use to read the Bible. It is beautiful, user-friendly, and helps me understand things in the Bible in an easier way.
WordPress - This is the platform I use for my blog. I think it is the most user-friendly option, and in my opinion, it looks the best. It's also easy to save drafts for later.
Mimi - This app is exclusive to my Stella & Dot business, but it is truly wonderful. If you happen to be a Stella & Dot stylist, you need to be using Mimi. As for everyone else, find an app that makes your work as easy as possible!
What routines do you have that helped you stay on track with your goals and everything else you have going on? How do you start your mornings/end your days?
I think having a morning and evening routine is super important. If something is off from my routine, I feel off the entire day. Because I have such early work days as a teacher, I typically have a pretty basic morning routine. I try to focus my energy on my evening routines. Having a dedicated evening routine helps my mornings seem smoother, and helps me stay focused on the day ahead. I don't know how exciting these routines are, but here we go!
Mornings: I wake up around 5:30 every morning. I usually wash my face first thing, because it helps wake me up. My husband sets the coffee pot in the evenings so it kicks on automatically. While it's brewing, I do some stretches in the floor. Sometimes, this is just me laying in Child's Pose, basically falling back asleep. I fix two cups of coffee, and take them upstairs - one for me, one for Kyle. We both get ready for work and head out the door by 6:45.
Evenings: I leave work around 3:30, and Kyle and I both try to go to a workout around 5 or 6. We both sleep better if we've worked out. Kyle and I usually have dinner around 7:30, and I make sure to pack our lunches while I'm in the kitchen so they are ready for the morning. While we eat, we usually watch an episode of a show together. Some people don't like to watch TV while they eat dinner, but Kyle and I love movies and television (he could win Jeopardy on his Oscar's knowledge), so it brings us joy. We also don't have the TV on nonstop, so when we watch something during dinner, that's probably the only thing we watch for the day.
Because I'm finishing my Master's, I usually have to do school work for a little while before bed. I hate to work on my computer before bed if I can avoid it, but these days, it's not an option. Again, I have to give myself grace here. This part of my evening is where I really try to relax.
I'm a nighttime shower-er, so I shower and do all of my skincare before getting into bed. I try to use a good body oil or lotion after I shower, which helps me relax. Essential oils are also a must; lavender and peppermint are my favorites for nighttime. I also have some amazing blends that help prepare me for a good night's sleep.
If I need to wind down more, I will read a bit in bed. Sometimes I fall asleep after one page! It may take me a month to finish a book these days, but I like to always be reading something.
What is a book and/or podcast you would recommendation for others looking to start or grow their blog or just for general positive mindset motivation?
Lately, I have loved Jonathan Van Ness's podcast, "Getting Curious." He might be a lot for some people, but his positivity brings me true joy and happiness. I think we need more openly, unapologetically positive people in the world, and it's nearly impossible to be grumpy after listening to his podcast.
What have been some of your top or favorite MG articles?
How can people find out more about you, your blog and the other fun things you're up to?
Definitely follow me on Instagram - that is where I am most active and share everything you need to know!
Also, find my Stella & Dot page here - https://www.stelladot.com/sites/kayladyer
Know another amazing lady in your life that would be a great Her Story Spotlight? Drop me a line and let me know about her! Hello@herexchange.net