Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

My Favorite Things (So Far) This Year

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

The best books, tv, movies, podcasts and products I’ve purchased in 2022!

Hello, my friends! I hope that you’re having a wonderful summer! I thought it might be fun to talk about my favorite things (so far) this year.

Personally, I get bogged down with those end-of-year recaps so I thought a mid-year surprise might be a lovely escape for summer.

Please consider today’s list as INTERACTIVE! Please leave a comment and tell me what’s topped YOUR list this year! It can be anything- books, podcasts, apps, recipes, clothing, organizers- WHATEVER. I love and miss the interactions we share in these spaces.

My Favorite Things (So Far) This Year from

My Favorite Things (So Far) This Year

Please keep in mind, these are new-to-me discoveries and may not have been released this year.

The Best Apps of the Year (So Far)

Two apps changed my mental health journey this year and I’m forever grateful.

Loona App


I have been struggling with nighttime anxiety and this app came recommended to me by my therapist to help with my sleep anxiety and insomnia.

Friends, it has helped me more than ANYTHING we have tried.

In particular, it has helped so much with my racing thoughts and inability to shutdown.

Throw on a pair of headphones and immerse yourself in these gorgeous interactive sleep stories.

The narrator acts as a guide, giving you directions for coloring in images and you tap the screen to fill in the colors.

As you tap, it has ASMR sounds that are beautifully pleasant as an added reinforcement. Sounds like tapping floor boards, paper shuffling, rocking a chair, or spinning a metal toy- that kind of thing.

The music and narration are just beautiful and will transport you somewhere else.

I don’t use this app only for bed though.

In fact, I’m listening to the work/study music while I type this post.

Other musical options include lullabies, sleep songs, music to wake up to, and calming tunes.

We share an account as a family and every family member has tried (and loved) this app too.

Sunnyside App (formerly Cutback Coach)

Sunnyside App (formerly known as the Cutback Coach App)

Last summer I decided I wanted to reign in my evening drinking habit and I used this app to help reinforce my commitment to myself.

Can some people do it without an app?


Did I ever honor a commitment that I didn’t invest into and get spelled out to me in black-and-white?

No, I didn’t.

Each week I would make a commitment to the amount I would drink that week and it would coach me every evening to remind me of that commitment I made to myself. It sent me charts on saved money, sleep hours reclaimed, and calories saved.

Gradually, I went from two drinks in the evening (or more) to being a girl who has a glass of wine on special occasions.

Admittedly, the holidays were weird this year and I now notice how I used alcohol to brave social situations.

It was the hardest and best gift I could have ever given myself to feel so aware of my actions.

Alcohol no longer plays a role in my life really at all and it was because of this app.

The Best Podcasts of the Year (So Far)

You know I have to mention the launch of the Book Gang Podcast (subscribe wherever you get podcasts!). The challenge with podcasting has been making shows AND listening to other people’s shows. That said, these are two that I loved this year.

Maintenance Phase Podcast

Maintenance Phase

When people talk about podcast hosts feeling like friends, I never really got that. I have always been pretty grounded in the separation in these feelings…that is until this podcast came along.

Fun fact that might change how you feel about me- I deeply despise harmful wellness culture and dieting fads.

These hosts, it turns out, do too, and they debunk and explore the myths around these topics in their show. They tackle everything from fad diets that we perceive as healthy to the problematic Dr. Oz and don’t mind exposing a few wellness influencers and their dramatic demises.

I have belly-laughed through so many of these episodes and appreciate the extensive lengths to their research they go to on why this culture and how fat-shaming is so harmful.

Sidedoor Podcast

Smithsonian Sidedoor

This podcast is going on its eighth season and I’ve enjoyed every single episode.

This takes you through the side door to learn the stories behind the exhibits from the experts themselves.

Each episode is different and utilizes the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers, and astrophysicists to tell the story behind the story.

I promise, you’ll fall in love with this one too. It’s also (relatively) family-friendly, but you can go through episode-by-episode if you have smaller children to pick topics they might enjoy.

I always learn something new and have fun trivia for any dinner party.

The Best Books of the Year (So Far)

If you thought I could narrow it down to just one, I can’t.

These two books that I’m sharing today transported me to a different time and place that I never wanted to end.

They both are coming out this summer so get those pre-orders in.

Carrie Soto is Back

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Masterful storyteller Taylor Jenkins Reid serves her readers a healthy dose of love and drama on and off the courts in Carrie Soto is Back

Carie fights for all of her tennis titles but refuses to be a media darling.

If she’s tough (shrug), that is on you.

She can’t be friendly and kick your ass at the same time.

Her nickname, Battle Axe, was won through her ruthless game.

After winning every title (and facing an injury), a girl should just enjoy retiring.


Well, Carrie refuses to take take the easy road.

She jumps back into training and challenges her body beyond its capabilities to try to win Wimbledon again.

She also discovers that it is okay to be loved and needed by others along the way.

This is CINEMATIC in nature and pure book club catnip.

Sweet, but never saccharine. Bitingly feminist-forward. 

It asks us to examine how we think about women in sports.

Why must we be likable?

Why are men held to different standards?

What does it mean to age out?

How can we find joy in the later years?

I held my breath through tennis matches when I care nothing about sports.

I snickered through trash-talk.

I ugly-cried through the ending and then cried again that this was over.

I am trying to be measured with praise and I can’t.

Reid has written another fully fleshed character that makes this book feel like a memoir.

Was Carrie real? Is there a Wikipedia page on her?

Since her debut, I have followed this author and have read her entire backlist in real-time.

I did my homework, and I’m telling you, this is going to be your favorite book too.

This book hits store on shelves on August 30th. Thank you to the publishing house for this sneak peek.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin is a tried-and-true storyteller, but no one could have prepared me for the epic and sweeping journey she crafted for these characters in her latest book Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.

For three decades, we follow two unlikely friends who find each other in a children’s hospital.

Sadie’s sister is receiving treatment for cancer, and Sam is recovering from a series of surgeries after a tragic car accident.

They bond over their shared love of video games in the gaming room of the hospital.

However, when Sam discovers that Sadie has been tallying her visits to fulfill her bat mitzvah service, he feels like her charity project instead of a friend.

It ends the fast friendship abruptly, but they find one another again in college when Sadie shares another computer game she has been developing.

The two decide to develop a game together, which follows their success in the gaming industry with their first game.

It also follows the consequences of virtual world-building when they build a world where all are welcome that ends in violence and the dissolution of their formed partnership.

Sam’s chronic pain from his foot injury are written so beautifully and help us understand the daily challenges of chronic pain and learning to find peace with our disabilities when we face them.

This experience is unlike any other that a reader could imagine because Zevin writes each of the games for this company in beautiful and intricate ways that each feels fully fleshed from idea to execution.

I shared these scenes with my software developer husband, who was equally astounded by this remarkable execution.

One world she built, in particular, left me in a puddle on the ground.

It is a journey within a journey within a journey.

Publishers Weekly put it best when they said this book is a “one-of-a-kind achievement.”

Again, I assure you that this will be your favorite book too.

This book hits store on shelves on July 5th. Thank you to the publishing house for this sneak peek.

Best Movies of the Year (So Far)

I try to see a movie every week (both in theatre and/or streaming).

If you need some inspiration for dating yourself, here is an action shot of me on my weekly solo movie date and you could also try this fun new streaming tradition I’m going to do every year for the awards season.

This is another challenging category to narrow down so I’m going to share three that packed a punch this year.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Everything Everywhere All At Once (watch the trailer)

I can’t recall the last time that a movie has transported me MORE than Everything Everywhere All At Once. We went into this one knowing very little and I am really glad we did.

This is the official blurb for the film- “An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.”

It pretty much tells you NOTHING.

Keep it that way.

This is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve seen on the challenges of mothering our daughters. It made me laugh and cry- sometimes at the same time.

The film was astonishing and visually spectacular.

It was so visually stunning, in fact, that we felt guilty that we didn’t pay for a live theater ticket to see it.

It also is spectacularly strange as she goes through the different universes.

I loved every minute of it and the statements it made about what it means to be family and to fight for those you love.

Captive Audience

Captive Audience (on Hulu- watch the trailer)

I’ve been obsessed with true crime this year, and this series was one of the best I’ve seen.

Honestly, I’ve been surprised that I haven’t heard more people talk about it.

This documentary follows the life of Steven Stayner and his family, diving into the family’s 50-year journey to unravel the tale of two brothers, one deemed a villain and the other a hero.

Don’t Google anything if you are unfamiliar with the case- allow yourself to be immersed in this family’s story (told by their mother).

What made this one so compelling isn’t just the true crime case itself but the unique use of narration they used to tell this story.

The documentarians brought back the made-for-tv cast to read the scenes from the movie that was made about this case.

It sounds cheesy, but these readings were phenomenal, and they also reminisced on their own experience acting in these roles in a really beautiful reflective exercise about how they felt for their own characters.

If you are highly sensitive, the storytelling is compassionate and beautifully told.

The Best TV of the Year (So Far)

I am REALLY having a hard time today with this category because television has been so exceptional this year.

I’m narrowing it down to the best in ensemble casts and outstanding women’s lead performances today.

I do want to give two honorable mentions to The Righteous Gemstones & Physical this year.

The Thing About Pam

The Thing About Pam (on Peacock- watch the trailer)

This true crime tv series is based on the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria that resulted in her husband, Russ’ conviction. All along, Russ swore his innocence, but who else could have done it?

Well, it turns out this brutal crime was committed by her weird friend, Pam Hupp, who has felt MORE than entitled to a few of the finer things in life.

Again, narration wins for this one as it utilizes Keith Morrison, the journalist who first covered the mystery in a 2016 episode of Dateline as the narrator for this saga.

This dark comedy of errors could not be illustrated better and Zellweger deserves every award she receives for playing this role.

Abbott Elementary

Abbott Elementary (on Hulu- watch the trailer)

My friend Kelly recommended this show as one of her favorites, and we devoured this first season.

This adorable mockumentary series follows a group of teachers as they navigate the financial challenges of one public school.

This has so much heart and humor to it.

You can really tell that Quinta Brunson has been a powerful observer in her own mother’s teaching career.

It mimics, I’m sure, the challenges that so many of today’s teachers face. It also showcases brilliantly creative ways teachers work around budget constraints in the show’s thoughtful details.

The Dropout

The Dropout (on Hulu- watch the trailer)

Our fascination with con artists knew no bounds this year, did it?

I think I’ve watched every single con documentary and film that has come out this year. This is the one that I enjoyed the most though.

This limited tv series, chronicles Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ attempt to revolutionize the healthcare industry after dropping out of college and starting a technology company.

Thanks to all of this coverage on the case, I felt like I knew this story inside out.

Still, nothing prepared me for the performances of these actors or the way that they would tell this story.

It is such a binge-worthy series that you will have a hard time stopping once you start it. The writing of this story is so thoughtful and there are jaw-dropping performances in this cast too.

Amanda Seyfried could not have been more perfectly cast as Elizabeth Holmes.

The Best Purchases of the Year (So Far)

We continue to embrace minimalism. The purchases that I make and share about will always be authentically chosen. These are the things that have made my life better this year.

Conway AirMega Air Purifier

Conway AirMega Air Purifier

For the record, I’ve never owned an air purifier, but since I bought this I cannot imagine a day without it.

This gadget came highly rated by NYT and has done a phenomenal job not only reducing the odors in our home, but it also has reduced our difficulties with allergies.

The biggest glow-up from this device is when I am cooking. It has an eco-friendly setting that kicks on to clean out detected odors quickly. While I’m cooking, it efficiently cleans up smells before we have even sat down to dinner.

It also does a stellar job with pets, teenagers, sweaty workout smells, and trash.

Thirdlove Classic Uplift Plunge Bra

Thirdlove Classic Uplift Plunge Bra

I had been dealing with unbearable shoulder pain this year and never thought a poorly fitted bra could have contributed so much to this pain.

I had one bra, in particular, that was my go-to, but they went through some pandemic manufacturing changes that really affected the quality (and my body, it turns out!).

This company boasts half-sizing on bras and smart inclusions like a soft-back detail that doesn’t hurt and ways to adjust pads if you have two different cup sizes.

I can’t believe how much better I feel and imagine there might be a few others out there who haven’t seen a bra update since the pandemic that might benefit from a switch too.

Florence Cream Blush

Florence Cream Blush

I’m not sure why it is so hard to find a cream blush with staying power, but my quest ended when I discovered this product this year.

Do you recognize this brand owner? (I had no clue until my daughter told me this fun fact today)

The hue (Glowing G) adds a natural flush that lasts all day. Although it is a little bit pricier than my usual drugstore options, the tiniest bit goes a long way without any need for a second application.

Home Edit Organizers

The Home Edit Organizers Sets (from Walmart)

Our home has been so disorganized since the pandemic and part of the problem is that so many of our organizing systems have been failing us.

I implemented some of these organizing systems in our poorly functioning bathroom closet, pantry, and laundry area with REAL success.

Particularly, we had been stockpiling a lot of canned food during these past couple of years and these stacked tiers have stopped me from buying repeat purchases.

Dishwasher Sign

The Dishwasher Sign

It’s all about communication-free communication at our house. This magnetic dishwasher sign lets everyone know if things are clean or dirty, reducing the stacked dishes with people claiming they couldn’t figure it out.

If you need one more communication-free communication strategy, here’s my final hot tip.

Tell me, what have been your favorite things (so far) this year? Are you going to try anything from today’s list? If you love this list, be sure to sign up for my newsletter for a weekly dose of this fun!

this post contains affiliate links

other things we are loving this year:

The Best Beach Reads For Your Summer Stack from
11 beach reads that I loved for your summer
join my book club for a great read year of reading

m challenge: Tips & Benefits of “Slow Blogging” with Tiffany King

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Note: With May as our M Challenge Focus on Technology, I was really excited when Tiffany King, from Eat At Home, offered to share her expertise about growing your blog slowly – and why that can be a good thing. It’s been a privilege to see her blog grow and I know if you are a blogger you will learn so much from her tips! 

Tips and Benefits to Grow Your Blog Slowly with Tiffany King

There has been a lot of talk around the internet over the last six months or so of bloggers feeling burned out. That has prompted conversations on slow blogging.

Going slow with a blog is nothing new to me.  My site, Eat at Home, has grown very slowly but steadily over the last six and a half years.  Yes, there have been plateaus and challenges.  Many times it’s been frustrating to watch other sites grow faster.  But looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Like many of you who are also blogging, I have several kids and other obligations as well.  I don’t have the hours to devote full-time work to my blog.  Instead, I’ve applied slow and steady work and the blog has grown and matured. Just like when you put food in a slow cooker – it will eventually come to a boil and cook.  It will take longer than if you use the stove-top or oven, but it will cook.

There are a few things I’ve learned over the years about how to grow a site without putting in long hours, or working until 2 am or neglecting time with family.  I don’t want to come across like I have this all figured out.  Far from it!  But I do know that it’s possible to work reasonable hours and still have a successful site. These are things that have worked for me.  Maybe some of them will work in your situation too!

Time and Patience

If you’re planning to grow your site without putting in long hours all at once, you will have to give it time.  It does take a lot of work to build a successful site.  You don’t have to put all those hours in over a small amount of time.  What others have done in six months, it’s taken me years. But I’ve been able to work the hours that fit my family’s schedule.  Yes, it’s frustrating at times to not see quicker growth.  But the growth does come if you just keep at it.

Focus on Your Goal

– Do you want or need to earn an income?

– Are you trying to build a platform so you can get a book published?

– Do you want to build a community of people who can support each other or do good in the world?

Knowing what your main objective is will help you determine where to spend your time.  If you want to build a community of bloggers, it would be helpful to attend quite a few conferences so you can meet people face to face.  If you want to earn an income, you’ll need to focus on activities that will make a profit.

Work the path that makes the most sense for you and your goals.

Focus on Your Readers

Getting super clear on who your readers are and what they want is really important in growing a site.  Figure out what their pain points are.  Then create content and products that solve those problems for them.  This isn’t new info, but it is important enough to mention again.

Maximize Your Momentum Points

A momentum point is any event, blog post, product, affiliate relationship etc that brings you more results than you normally get.

You are probably familiar with the 80/20 Principle.  Also called the “Law of the Vital Few”, this principle states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. This means that 80% of your traffic is coming from 20% of your blog posts.  80% of your revenue is coming from 20% of your work.  80% of your social media traffic is most likely coming from one outlet.

This 20% of the effort in any area is a momentum point that you can capitalize on.

Here are a few examples of things that could be momentum points:

• A post that gets linked to by a large blog, sending lots of traffic your way.

• A post that goes viral on a social media site.

• A product you create and sell that earns a good profit.

• A series you write that readers love and share.

• A sponsored post you write that the brand loves.

All of these things, and many more, can be momentum points. But to really make them work, you have to push harder on those places.  Take advantage of the movement that has been created and keep it building.

Here’s an example from my blog:

100 Days of Summer Slow Cooker via Eat At Home

A few summers ago I had a post to do with very little time.  I threw up a list of summer slow cooker recipes that I have on my site.  I think there were 15-20 links.  I didn’t include photos. It was a very basic post that I viewed as quick filler. But that post did really well, sending lots of traffic and pins.  It was a momentum point.

So the next summer I promoted that old post, but also created a summer-long series of 75 days of summer slow cooker recipes.  I linked to other bloggers and to my own recipes, as well as put out some new recipes for the series.  I posted every day that summer. The Summer Slow Cooker Series did really well.  It was good for me, because a lot of them were very easy posts.  And good for traffic because readers loved them.

So the next summer I increased the series to 100 days and hired my VA to do a lot of the work for it. She even did some ghost writing of the posts (the only time I’ve ever done that).  I was able to step away from the blog to enjoy summer and work more on creating and promoting my products.

Using that original Summer Slow Cooker post to create momentum, I was able to leap the blog forward.  And eventually, it afforded me time for pushing other types of work forward as well.

What is one momentum point that you could push forward on your blog right now?

Momentum points can happen by some outside force (large site linking to you), by accident (writing a post that takes off unexpectedly) or by creating it.  Creating momentum points is trial and error, but as you study things that have worked in your business, you’ll begin to see trends that you can use for creating more momentum.

Skip the Friction Points

A few friction points that are common to all of us are:

• Comparison

• Jealousy

• Tracking down stolen content

All of this is a waste of time and a huge energy drain.  They’re also easy traps to fall into.  But effort spent on any of these things will never pay off.

Other possible friction points:

• Doing work you hate, instead of finding someone else to do it or skipping it all together (if possible).

• Trying to perfect things that are already good enough and working.  (Site designs, photos, About pages, old posts, SEO…)

• Spending a lot of time working on something that is not part of the 20% that gets you 80% of the results.  (Writing long tutorial posts on a topic that doesn’t answer the problems your readers have.)

Consistent, Focused Work + Time = Results

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently.  ~Gretchen Rubin

It is possible to grow a successful site by working slowly and consistently.  It will take longer.  It will require patience and focus. It will also pay off with more time to spend with family, a healthier and balanced life and a successful site.


What Do You Do All Day? The Real Story Behind My Niche Blog!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

One of the biggest questions that I get asked is, “What exactly is your job?” It is one of those things that people are often curious about, and admittedly are confused about,  since my job is so difficult to explain. Today I wanted to offer a behind-the-scenes look at what it is like to run a niche blog.

I have been blogging for 9 1/2 years now which makes me a dinosaur in this business! The blog that you see today is very different than the blog I started out with. The site has grown a lot over the years and many  of you have been through all of its growing pains. For those of you that have been following our journey, I wanted to share with you what my business has evolved into.

What is a Typical Day Like For You?

I am a busy mom of two kiddos so my day-to-life is probably a lot like yours. I handle the day-to-day routines and schedules of my kids. I take my kids to their extra curricular activities, I volunteer weekly at my kid’s school helping with kids that are struggling with reading, we go to worship once a week, and I do my best to workout at the gym three days a week.

Every pocket of time that I have beyond that though is spent working on projects for one of the many freelance clients I write for. I am either shopping for my clients, creating tutorials for craft/diy/food, photographing projects, or writing for them. Since many of my clients are running on magazine calendar deadlines, you will often find me shopping for Easter supplies in the dead of winter or working on Christmas crafts in the Fall.

Even my free time is often accounted for because I share it with you. I try to read four books a month for our reviews and you will rarely find me sitting still when I am watching television because I am usually working on a craft project at the same time for the blog.

Much like you, I am sure, I am pretty beat at the end of the day! By the time the kids go to bed, I am ready for bed myself. I usually head to bed pretty early so I can start the whole routine again!

Who Works With You?

I think one of the things that people have found most surprising about our site is that I was the only writer & contributor on my site for over nine years alone. My husband did all of the coding and design of our site and I managed all the content.

When our site experienced a lot of growth from Pinterest, I realized that there was no way that I could manage all of this on my own. My email inbox had over 50,000 unopened emails, my taxes and paperwork for my business were a mess, and I had been treating my work like a hobby rather than a business.

This last month I hired a virtual assistant to help  me with some of the things my readers had come to expect here, but didn’t really showcase my personality- the weekly freebie list, our weekly notebook, and our giveaway link list. She got my inbox down to zero within two months and I finally felt like I could breathe a little bit. She is, in one word, amazing, and has brought back a quality of life that I felt like I had been lacking.

We also hired an accountant to handle our taxes this year, something that had burdened us greatly over the years, and I also started using FreshBooks (affiliate) to help me keep track of my accounting better (a recommendation made by my amazing friend over at Dine & Dish). Invoicing, following up on payments with clients, and paperwork for them takes up a good portion of my day so any people/products I can use to make my day go smoother really helps me.

embroidery thread egg for Kenmore


Why Do You Work For So Many Brands?

I write a lot of content for brands because, frankly, it helps pay the bills. I write professionally for five to six clients monthly and those projects help our family financially, but much of the earnings go towards keeping my site up and running.

When our site was smaller, we had an inexpensive web host and I was able to do everything on my own. Our site grew by 100,000 users this year alone, which is incredible and awesome, but our web host couldn’t handle the traffic! It was time to invest in the business and move to Liquid Web (affiliate), who can handle anything we throw at them. We currently spend about a thousand dollars a month to pay for web hosting, photography props/equipment, our accountant, and my assistant. Many of my projects that I write for just go towards keeping the business afloat and paying my self-employment taxes.

No, I Was Asking How Much You Make?

Yup, I get asked that all the time although I have NEVER asked anyone what their salary is. It is such a weird job that people are always dying to know how much you make. I make a full-time income thanks to the companies I work for as a content writer/creator, ambassador, and spokesperson for. If I was living on our ad revenue alone, we could pay for our web host and maybe a bill or two. In all honesty though,  my income fluctuates a lot because it depends on what jobs come through for me for the year. This past year all my time was devoted towards my book which was a rewarding experience, but also prevented me from taking on a lot of paying jobs.

How Do You Do It All?

I don’t think I do more than many of the other working parents that I know, but people constantly ask me this. I think the main reason is because when people do these types of projects around their house they aren’t pointing a bunch of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram traffic over to it like,


Here is an example of a typical month of projects  for my clients.

I knitted a scarf for a new yarn line that Walmart was carrying.

I painted vases with my kids for Kenmore.

I took my kids over to the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit at Brookfield Zoo to write a review for a local magazine I write for.

I gathered up ideas for things to do with old books for Goodwill.

I made homemade laundry detergent for Walmart.

I made a cookbook with my kids for Kenmore (post coming soon!)

I made whole wheat toasted tarts with Walmart.

There are several other projects, but this gives you an idea of what I am up to. If I look at it as a whole, I am completely overwhelmed. On any given week I could have anywhere between two to four projects for clients. Since I do all of  the shopping, crafting/cooking and then my own writing & photography for these projects, each project is very time-consuming.

I also am maintaining the writing that I do here on  my blog like sharing yummy recipes for pecan-crusted chicken fingers, whipping up Peep-tinis, & sharing all those fun book reviews and making sure we have plenty of content for the rest of the week. All of that, and I haven’t even touched on the social media side of things which is just as consuming now that my readers can connect with me through every available social media channel!

Usually the most surprising amount of time I spend is on the shopping and the staging for photos. I will get a brilliant idea for a client and then get to the store and find out that the items I need aren’t sold there or that I have to completely rethink a project. What’s worse is if I spend a whole day on a recipe and it flops.

Although it appears I take every opportunity given to me, I take about half or less of the projects offered. If you look at the projects above, you might be surprised they were even for companies because they are just the types of projects I would want to share with you anyway. Since the companies supply a budget for supplies, it helps to offset some of the costs to crank out this many projects monthly.

Time management is a tricky terrain with a juggle like this. I have learned that is better to tackle a few recipes in one day and then edit & write the content the other days. Many days it looks like a bomb exploded in my house because I am in some stage of creation for someone. It doesn’t make my Type-A heart very happy, but it is one of those things that comes with the job. I try to look at it the way I see my kids LEGO’s all over the floor or all their art supplies out, I am just proud they are creative and they are making something. I want to always be surrounded by creativity.

Basically, I take it all day by day.

How Does Your Job Impact Your Family Life?

I am so thankful for my job because it usually has a positive impact on our family life. My kids and I see these projects as opportunities to spend time together and the recipes that I create in our kitchen are enjoyed by all at our family dinners. How many people get to craft all day long and call it work? Not many! It almost sounds too good to be true sometimes.

I have gotten to travel to places that I thought I would only read about in books, I got to fulfill a life goal to write a book, my kids have gotten to go to places we couldn’t have afforded, and I’ve met a lot of truly amazing men & women who blog that my life would have never crossed paths with.


Let me be honest though, there are positive and negative aspects about my work. For example, since our holiday content is written months in advance, I am usually not sitting around making rainbow cakes with my kids on St. Patrick’s Day or being a super creative parent like I want to be. By the time the holidays roll around, they are usually lucky if I dye their milk green because we have already done those projects together ages ago and I am on to the next holiday.

Traveling can be hard especially when my jobs end up interfering with family events. One year I had to travel on my daughter’s birthday and I cried a lot over that. It didn’t matter that I had thrown three parties for her, I was not there on the actual day. Inevitably, some kid gets sick or they have a fancy holiday show and I am off promoting the latest product for a company or have a speaking engagement for my work that has been planned months in advance. I am thankful for Skype on days like those so that I can see their faces and feel like I am there. I am sure every working parent feels that way sometimes.

Operating at a frantic pace each week can also have negative impacts on me and my health. I was two years overdue for a lot of routine check-ups for myself this year, my stomach issues have increased, and there are times where I feel completely overwhelmed or just don’t want to do all of this. It is hard to escape your work when it is always there!

We are not celebrities by any stretch of the imagination, but our family does not have an anonymous life. Some of us thrive better than others with this and there are days where we miss that.

There are times where I want to be political or snarky, but I worry how that might reflect to my readers so it definitely censors me in my social media life.I am sure this is a good thing in the long run.

All in all, the positives have outweighed the negatives though. If it starts to turn the other direction, we will have to make a decision to continue or not as a family. We operate under the, “All for one, one for all,” family motto. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a question for me? Feel free to ask it!

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Food Photography 101

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Food Photography 101

I have been getting a lot of emails and comments lately requesting that I share a little bit about my experience with food photography. In full discretion, I am not a food stylist or food photographer at all. In fact, I know nothing about photography except what I have learned through my own trial and error and the tips from friends and books that I have read.

Let’s start with what my food photography looked like when I started blogging.

First, I started my blog with no photography.

Or paragraphs.

Or spacing between sentences.

Basically, it was one giant wall of text about food that we ate.

Then I decided to venture into taking photos of the food we ate. Let me tell you, if you made my recipes when my food looked like this, then you must have had a lot of faith in what that recipe would actually yield.

Food Photography 101

These examples really showcase where my first pictures of food started from. I had no clue about how to set the white balance on my camera, I thought all photos should be staged on top of my oven, and there was little thought to plating or creating a mood with my photography. Unless that mood was orange. Which, mind you, I fully succeeded at.

At the same time, I also know I am a very busy mom with very hungry children to feed. I spend my days running errands, activities, and volunteering. The idea of staging an entire photo session in my kitchen in the middle of the day still seems pretty impossible to me at this stage in our lives. My approach towards food photography is that it has to fit with my lifestyle and our family.  The tips I am offering are hopefully approachable and can help you in whatever stage of photography you are in.


Set Your White Balance


No matter what type of camera that you own, setting your white balance is something that can help you achieve better pictures from the start. You can set your white balance with the preset balance options in your Camera Menu or you can customize the white balance on your camera by simply taking a picture of a white sheet of paper.

The Auto White Balance (AWB) option isn’t always the best option for your food photography. If the day is cloudy or if you have lights on where you taking your photography, you will need to take in account what types of bulbs or lighting situations you are dealing with. For a more in-depth look at setting the White Balance, be sure to read this post on Figuring Out Your White Balance.

Use Natural Light When Possible


Food Photography 101

Natural light is always the best option for beautiful food photography. Turn off all of the lights in your house and take pictures in a well-lit room for the best naturally lit photos.

I noticed a huge difference when I simply turned off the lights in my kitchen since the light bulbs really added a lot of orange and yellow hues into my photography, making my food less appetizing.

If you find that there are shadows in your pictures, it can help to use a foam board to bounce the light from your kitchen windows to create even natural lighting.

Whatever you do, keep the flash off on your camera. This may require a bit of reading in your camera manual, but your pictures will be a thousand times better if you can turn the flash on your camera off.  Flash photography in food photos will, guaranteed, not create the beauty and the look that you are going for with your photography.

Practice taking pictures in different areas of your home to find the one spot in your house where the lighting is the best. I have found that I have great lighting in my kitchen during the daytime, but my front room also provides beautiful lighting when I move my console table out of the direct sunlight.

Stock Up on Thrifty Props


Food Photography 101

Creating beautiful scenes with food does not have to be an expensive endeavor at all. I love to visit thrift stores for unique tableware, glassware, and for fabric to use for my food photos. The best part about food props is that you can often take advantage of clearance items or patterns you might not use in your everyday life.

When I first started out I just used white plates for my food photos. These are simple, classic, and truly let the food take center stage. They also show every little spill and splatter so messier food can be trickier to photograph on them.

I started visiting the clearance section of the housewares and realized that I could inexpensively create unique displays for my food without a huge expense. My favorite plates so far are inexpensive salad and appetizer plates that look like real plates,but are just plastic tableware. My trick is always to look for small plates and bowls for my food photos. Using these smaller plates helps the plates look fuller than what they are.


Food Photography 101This bowl of Roasted Brussels Sprouts, for example,  looks like a normal size bowl of Brussels Sprouts. This is actually one of our little applesauce bowls set on top of a plastic appetizer plate I found on clearance at Target.

The big joke around our house is that these tiny plates are how I stay so thin. These pretty plates are usually how I eat my dinner after I photograph them while the rest of my family eats on regular plates. My daughter is always irritated that my food is prettier than her food. I am sure this will lead to weird sessions in a counselor’s office one day.

Get a Weathered Table…Or Not.

Food Photography 101

The other question I always had when I looked at other people’s photos is where they got all these beautiful ancient weathered tables?  Most bloggers actually don’t have a bunch of varieties of weathered tables in their home. I know…that kind of shocked me too.

I discovered you could buy weathered wood wallpaper fairly inexpensively on eBay. I also found this weathered wood paper, pictured above, that is just paper from a teacher’s supplies store that has worked really well for creating the wood look.

Food Photography 101

Don’t think of your faux wooden backdrops as being only used in one way, like a tabletop.  Here is an example of how if you have a large enough backdrop, you can actually use it to cover both the back of the photo as well as covering the tabletop. I found some wipeable  backdrops that were for sale on a deal-for-a-day site and bought several different varieties. Just to prove that you don’t have to have a fancy set-up, this is actually taped with electrical tape to my kitchen pantry door and is actually on the floor in the corner of my kitchen, right next to the window.

Rethink Your Backgrounds

Wooden cutting boards provide richness to food photos, place mats and fabric napkins can add more color and dimension to your food photography, and even the rusty bottoms of cookie sheets, inverted,  can create uniqueness to your food photos (as learned through a fabulous BlogHer Food session).

Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

I have found tile can be an inexpensive purchase at our local Habitat for Humanity, at just fifty cents per tile at our store. This is four pieces of tile (two upright and two flat) to create this surface for my Quinoa Berry Bowls.  Did I mention I also found swoon-worthy antique spoons at that store? I love when I happen upon a place like that for the unexpected prop!

Food Photography 101

An inexpensive way to shoot a photo and still capture the beauty of your dishes is simply using foam board from your local hardware store. In this shot of my Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, the background and the base of this shot are two pieces of foam board. You can’t get any more inexpensive than that and this simple background lends itself well to creating a pretty title to your photos.

Create Your Own Mini Photo Studio


Indiana winters are a struggle for me because I have a limited window of truly great natural light in my kitchen. After battling with bad lighting for many years, I finally decided to create my own mini photo studio to help. While this lighting isn’t as lovely as the natural lighting in the morning in my home, it has provided consistent results for creating the types of pictures that I want when I am dealing with low-light situations.

I purchased this Lowell EGO Light set with backdrops and bounce board (currently priced at $214.99 total) for my food photography. These lights are set up on a small cabinet in my office in our sub-basement. There are no other lights on when I take my food photos and these two lights provide optimal light for my food photography.

The lights come with Daylight bulbs in them. I simply switch my White Balance to shoot in the Daylight setting (the setting with the Sun icon) to begin shooting.

Here is the shot that I took in my basement with all of the lights off and using my two Lowell EGO lights. It still shocks me that this was taken at 8PM, in the dead of winter, and in my sub-basement of my home. I do think that the lighting is a little flatter than the natural light, but it is so much better than I could achieve with those scenarios going on any other time. (Picture of my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Orzo Pasta)

homemade_tomato_soup Here is the very first shot that I took with my Lowell EGO lights. I angled one of those lights so it appeared that this Homemade Tomato Soup was being shined upon by sunlight. Little does anyone know that this was all after we ate our dinner and shot in the dark depths of my basement. Since this is the first shot I took, you can see that even though I had no real clue what I was doing that I was able to achieve wonderful results with very little effort.

food_photography_101_7 Here is another shot of my set-up. I have my tripod in front of my little mini-studio. Below the lights are my plates, back drops, cups, fabric, napkins, etc.. in the two lower shelves so I can grab what I need and switch out colors and accessories as I need to.

Were the lights a big expense? Yes! Have they been worth it? Worth absolutely every penny for this busy mom and novice food photographer.

Get Familiar With Your Camera


I am definitely no expert when it comes to shooting in Manual mode, although I do shoot in this mode sometimes, but I love shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) for most of my food photography. Aperture Priority means that you set the camera’s Aperture and then the camera automatically figures out the shutter speed that you need to achieve the best photos. You can consult your camera manual to find out how to switch your own camera to Aperture Priority.

I had my lens cap on when I took this photo (thus the ISO displayed), but I wanted to show you that even while shooting in Aperture Priority, you can still adjust the settings for your situation.

Food Photography 101

Exposure and Aperture are usually the two settings that I play with most on my camera for my food photography. I really like light-filled photos and tend to go for a brighter photo than what it automatically chooses for me. The box that is highlighted above determines your Exposure of your photos. Basically, the exposure simply determines if the picture is too bright or too dark. Usually when it’s set to 0, or right in the middle of that green box shown above, it is just the right setting for exposure. In Aperture Priority mode, it will always stay at 0 unless you specifically tell it to move. If you decide that you want more light in your photos, like me, you can bump this to the right. If you want your photos to be darker, you can bump your Exposure composition the left, to create a food with less light. Sometimes I will bump it lower especially when I am dealing with dark plates (like red, black, or blue)  since it tends to overexpose the rest of the shot.

(Pictured Above: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad)

Food Photography 101

Getting that blurred background is probably the coolest thing about getting your first DSLR. Of course, you want to be sure that you are telling the whole story about your food photos and aren’t always shooting with this large of an Aperture. I usually like my Aperture around F5.6 unless I am really trying to blur something out behind the food, like the spoon in the picture above.

If you are looking for more information on understanding Exposure and Aperture, I really love this down-to-basics guide to understanding Aperture on i heart nap time.  For understanding Exposure and Exposure Compensation, I really, really loved this series, “31 Days to a Better Photo,” on my 3 boybarians. You can also visit my Pinterest Photography Fun Board for lots of other links to great tutorials on the blogs.

Edit, But Edit Wisely


Food Photography 101

If you take really great food photos, you will not need to make a lot of edits to them. My editing is usually just saturating my color (just a touch), sometimes adjusting the exposure, and cropping my photos.

I had been using PicMonkey to edit my food photos although my goal this year is to switch my editing process over to LightRoom. I just recommend concentrating your efforts on taking a great photo and use a program to help add a little saturation or adjust your exposure. Just remember that sometimes one can get carried away with the editing and you have pictures with all sorts of crazy fluorescent food. It is disappointing for your readers when they are unable to achieve what you have photographed at home. I always try to keep things as natural as possible so my readers know that the dishes can be created just as they have seen on the blog.

(Pictured Above: Homemade Whole Wheat Toasted Tarts)

Sometimes It Just Ain’t Pretty


Food Photography 101

Food Photography 101

No matter how you look at it, sometimes it can be impossible getting a pretty picture of food. Chicken and Dumplings are absolutely delicious, but they don’t yield gorgeous and rich food photos without a lot of work. A green smoothie might be a great energy-booster, but the pictures of it weren’t among my favorites.

I find that in situations like this that I try to rely on richer content in these cases and hope that the readers will look past the unappetizing photos and read about how delicious the food is.

Here are the most FAQ questions that people have asked me about taking food photography…

Food Photography 101

What equipment do you recommend and what do you have?

A:  I am not an expert on buying camera equipment, but I can tell you what I do know about it. I have always heard that it is much wiser to spend your money on your lens than the body of your camera. That is not to say to totally skimp on the body, but the body of cameras is constantly changing and being improved upon. I started out with the Canon Rebel T1i and, if you can believe it,  they already have many more versions of my camera since I got this and they cost quite a bit more than my already antique and outdated camera! The truth is, I will never stay current with the body of my camera because within a few months, a new one will already be replacing my ancient equipment.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a great point-and-shoot camera that has the same functionality as the DSLR, but you don’t have to buy lenses and make a huge investment, I loved my Canon PowerShot (the link takes you to the current model). I am a Canon girl and was really happy with this point-and-shoot camera. It is the camera that I recommend to my friends and I have always heard how happy my girlfriends are with their Canon PowerShots. Agonizing amounts of research were done before I selected that camera and I was very happy with it!

If you are still on a budget, but want to make a long-term investment in your food photography, I can share with you the lens and camera that I have. As an aside, we found our lens on eBay from a photographer who was upgrading his equipment, but I am linking through Amazon for convenience sake. I now own the Canon 7D and we bought the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm lens.  They have kit lenses that are around $100 or more each and I have seen people take great pictures with these, but we made the investment in one really good lens that would do just about everything for me for the rest of my life and until I die amen. This lens is all I really need in most situations.

Food Photography 101

What Other Photography Equipment Is Useful For Food Photography?

Other very useful tools for food photography include a good beginner tripod, a tabletop tripod,  and a remote for your camera so you don’t have to lug around your camera while taking shots while in food preparation mode. A reflector can also be a smart inexpensive investment to help bring more even lighting into your photos or create moodiness in your pictures.

If you are low on funds, I recommend asking for these great gadgets and more food props for holiday & birthday gifts. I have been accumulating my collection over the last three years since I really started getting excited about food photography.

The most important thing to buy though is a lens filter to protect your lens. If for some reason you scratch your lens or something happens to the outside of it, this $10-$20 filter will protect the lens and be what breaks instead of your $100-$1,000 investment. Trust me, you will thank me later if you have this!

Food Photography 101

Do you have any good books or websites to visit that can help me learn more about photography?

My absolute favorite book on food photography is, “From Plate to Pixel.” It is the one resource I would really recommend investing in to help with your food photos.

I am also a HUGE fan of Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Books 1, 2, & 3. See if your library has these and check them out for smartly written, witty, and down-to-earth tutorials on how to use your camera. I love that he says, “If you want a good portrait, turn you dial to this,” instead of high-brow photography terms that, as a mom,  I just don’t understand.  I just want someone to tell me what to do, not make me feel stupid!

For websites, every single day I am inspired by food bloggers and their photography. Some of my favorite sites to visit for inspiration are GoodLife Eats, Picky Palate, Two Peas & Their Pod, Steamy Kitchen, Dine & Dish,  and Food Gawker.

(Pictured Above: Baked Strawberry Doughnuts)

Food Photography 101
I hope that these tips will help inspire you and your own food photography. I am really proud of the progress I have made over the last few years to achieve food photos that I hope inspire you to create new dishes in your kitchen.

If I could have given myself advice when I first started out, I would have told myself all these tips that I have shared with you. I also would have told you that adding more color into your food photos is always a great idea, to strive to incorporate bits of the preparation into your food photos,  to use natural ingredients for props, and to not be afraid to experiment with my camera more. We all have to start somewhere and I hope this encourages you, from one novice to another! (Pictured above: Red, White, & Blueberry Trifle)


Do you have any tips that have helped you with your food photography? If you take food photos what is the one tip you wish someone told you when you first started out? Let’s chat it up!!



Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate your camera equipment and tools easily. Feel free to order through our site, but we always encourage shopping around for the best bang for your buck! Happy picture-taking!

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How To Be a Pinterest Superstar

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

It seems that everyone I know is crazy for Pinterest. In fact, my friends who may have never read a blog a day in their lives are now pinning fools.  From a business perspective, Pinterest is one of the best things that has ever happened to our website. Since starting to use it in April, we have had a steady growth of traffic averaging around 100,000 page views each month.  What is the secret to the traffic growth through Pinterest? I think it is a combination of many things that I have been working on and refining since I started using this tool for my site.

I wanted to share with you a few ideas for growing your web traffic using Pinterest and how to help your own site or blog grow. Anyone can be a Pinterest superstar, but you may need to make small changes in the way you blog to truly gain the traffic you desire.


Get Visual- For those that aren’t familiar with Pinterest, it is a basically a visual way to bookmark and categorize great things that you see on the web. Instead of a list of text bookmarks, it provides a bulletin board where you can visually see all the great projects, recipes, tips, and techniques all in one pretty space.

Since the bookmarks are visual, pictures are what get people pinning. If you have a wall of text and no pictures, no one will ever pin your content because they will have no images to grab. Of course, the prettier the picture, the more likely you will have pins and repins to your blog.  The best advice I can give you is to focus on developing your camera skills so that you can capture images that will capture the hearts of Pinterest users.

Next month I want to share with you some more photography tips, but feel free to browse our other photography tutorials that we offer on here for now.



Make Pinning Simple– Although I am not a huge fan of text on my photos, adding text into your pictures will make pinning from your site easier.

When a user grabs images from your site, they can add a few words describing why they are pinning that image. More often than not, people skip this step and just pin the image of the item. By adding text right into your pictures that describes the item and it helps that image to go a little bit further.  Perhaps this wreath picture would be fine on it’s own, but the Loopy Flower Valentine’s Day Yarn Wreath really lets the reader know that they are going to learn how to make it for the holidays.

Let me illustrate why text in pictures can be so important…


A picture of this Salted Caramel Mocha does not move me to repin this if the original pinner does not have a description. What is this? Why would I want to repin it?



A picture that clearly states that this is a Salted Caramel Mocha coffee drink? Heck ya! Let me repin that for you.



Source Yourself– Not sure what is being pinned on Pinterest from your site?  It is simple to see what your users are pinning on Pinterest.  I just go to to see the pins from my site. You can do the same thing by simply replacing the last part of that URL with your own web address.

What happens when you source yourself? You can see exactly what people love on your site and it helps to guide the content on your site in a direction that can help with your traffic grow. It was through seeing the pins from my own site that I could see what people wanted more of. When I witnessed a wall of coffee pins, for example, I knew that I should create more fun coffee drink creations. As I created more of the content our readers loved, I created more pins and, in turn, created more readers.

Make Archives Accessible & Visual– It always surprises and makes me happy when an old post starts gaining traction on Pinterest. I understand that my readers don’t have time to sift through eight years of content to find the gems. I don’t have time like that to devote to my own site so that is why it is important that you make those archives accessible and visual for your readers.

Try adding a plugin like Link Within or Outbrain that will create pictures with links at the end of your post guiding readers to dig deeper into the site. This will get people clicking and pinning into your site without the necessity of creating even more content. Make sure that you are checking Pinterest so that you can see what old posts are being dusted off and pinned.

My photography was terrible when I started the site and so I do cringe often when I see old pictures going up on Pinterest. If you have the time to switch the pictures to freshen them up, I encourage you to do that to attract more pins. Once again, getting familiar with your camera and your camera manual is one of the best things you can do for your blog and will pay you back over and over again if you invest the time in it.


Jump on What is Trending- I like to visit the Popular link on Pinterest to see what the most popular pins are on Pinterest and to help me brainstorm content for the site. Jot down the ideas and themes that you see are popular and try to create your own unique spin on popular topics.

When I saw Mustaches were trending on the Popular section, we developed Mustache printables & Mustache Mug Templates that our readers could use. Mustaches weren’t necessarily a topic that I had planned to explore, but it worked out for us when the mustache fun hit Pinterest and attracted new readers to the site.

I do think that Pinterest has impacted our content in a positive way. Niche blogs benefit greatly from Pinterest, but any blogger can find ways to weave in content that can attract Pinterest users while sticking to the core content themes of their blog. Don’t be afraid to get creative or step out of your usual content box.

Create a Unique Pinterest Board to Engage Readers- Our readers may remember our 100 Days of Summer Pinterest board that I created at the beginning of last summer. I wanted to create an activity board of 100 activities you could do with your kids to keep them busy over the summer. Instead of sitting at my computer all summer, I switched my posting schedule and used Instagram to document the activities we completed off of the list.

Creating a unique Pinterest Board that could attract new readers is a fun way to interact with your community and bring more traffic to your site. If you run a blog on organizing, for example, you could create a 30 day organizational challenge and pin ideas from other bloggers and weave in a few pins from your own site on how readers could take on a challenge like this.

Install a Pinterest Plugin To Your Site– If you want to make pinning even easier for your readers, consider adding a Pinterest plugin to your blog. We recently added the Pin It On Pinterest plugin to inspire you to pin from our site. With this plugin, I am able to select the pictures that I would like people to pin from the post and even fill in a description of the pin so our readers can simply click and have the pin ready for them, making it easier to spread your content quickly.

Pin Yourself– You can absolutely pin yourself on Pinterest and I encourage you to do that! I like to treat Pinterest just like I treat all of my other social media outlets I belong to.  I try to pin lots of other great bloggers and pin myself every ten pins or so. I don’t want people to think I am only about self-promotion so I concentrate on the things that I think those that follow my boards would really like from our site.

Pin Wisely– Just as I have shared about other aspects of my career, I treat Pinterest with the same professional manner I treat my Twitter stream and Facebook stream. While I may find certain things funny on Pinterest, I have to remember what my readers may think is funny might not be the same as my idea of funny. More importantly, working for other brands also keeps me conscious that I am pinning things that reflect well for my job with them. Hopefully one day Pinterest will have private boards where I can muck it up a bit, but for now I try to keep my pins family-friendly and brand-friendly.

Just Get Pinning- It’s time to get pinning and build your presence. Don’t be afraid to set up your own network of bloggers to help promote each other on Pinterest. Just like all things in blogging, the beauty is in the community that you surround yourself with and sharing the traffic love!

I hope you will follow me on Pinterest because I  love new friends.

I really, really do.

Let’s talk about using Pinterest for your business! What has helped you build your presence on Pinterest? What tips do you have for other bloggers? Do you have any questions for me about how I use Pinterest? Have any Pinterest tutorials you would like to share? Feel free to link them up below!

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I Did it My Way: Long-Term Blogging Success Tips

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Almost seven years ago, I came to my husband with a few sketch drawings for a concept that I had for launching a website. Our family had suffered an almost year of unemployment and I was a new mother trying to find a way to stay home with my one year-old son. A woman desperate to make her husband’s paycheck stretch as far as it could go, I became a human sponge for anything and everything that was frugal.  It was before the truly big days of blogging, before the days of Facebook and Twitter, when being frugal was far from the minds of most people. It was me, with ideas, and Yahoo groups and forums trying to share information on frugality with anyone who would listen…

It was me with a tiny little megaphone shouting my message of frugality to a very small niche community.

The beauty of that, for me, was that I didn’t have the noise that bloggers have now coming at them from all angles. No one was sending me on trips, no one was pushing products to me, no one wanted to hire me to do anything, my inbox was relatively empty, my guests were few, my failures great. It was me with just my written words and trying to figure out who I was.

I had time to experiment with finding flow, and discovering what I wanted to stand for. I can’t imagine how different my approach would have been if I started now and where I would have concentrated my efforts.

It was the roots of that time without the noise that I cling to and that I still can easily fall back into. It is those little nuggets that I want to share with you today for how to have long-term blogging success in a saturated blogging world.

Write What You are Passionate About– I knew from day one that I was passionate about saving families money and showcasing ways to make their life beautiful for less. I could talk all day and night about how to change life’s little budget-draining habits, I loved to share how families can create a restaurant experience within their own home, I loved anything that was free, and I loved finding ingenious ways that others have found that too. I still love it and it is still what I am talking about today.

I will admit, reading my earlier work makes me cringe a little inside, but it also has served to remind me how far my writing has come. Even in those cringe-worthy days, that passionate life was fiercely alive.

People ask me all the time if I encounter writer’s block and the short answer is no. The longer answer is, I don’t have writer’s block because I am wildly passionate about what I am talking about and I live my life with that same passionate. While I have never really had an editorial calendar necessarily, I do have a flow for my writing that has served this passion for frugality well. Find what you are wildly passionate about and make that your top priority. If you are not passionate about it, no one else will be either.

To learn more about how to develop great content, I encourage you to read what I shared this past year at BlissDom!

You are Worth More Than Free Yogurt– Free stuff is often one of the perks that bloggers get most excited about. As someone who was watching her spending, it was something I was very enthusiastic about when I started. Here’s the thing I wish someone would have told me…your blog is worth more than a carton of free yogurt.

I use yogurt only as a free analogy, but I am saddened at how many seem to compromise their blogging space for free stuff. I would encourage you to really think about what your time is worth and select opportunities that are really worth the time you are spending on them. Focus your efforts on the things that promote your passions and that will benefit your community.

This means you have to turn down opportunities, it means you will be overlooked for trip opportunities, it means you might not be able to receive a pay check from a company… and you know why all that is okay? Because your readers will respect you. And that is worth more than a free yogurt, more than a trip, and even more than a pay check.  It is that loyalty that will help your community grow and will translate into paid opportunities that do fit with you.

The stuff that I have turned down sometimes was really hard. I had an opportunity to do my grocery shopping for free, but they wanted me to showcase convenience foods you could buy to start the school year off right. A stocked fridge would have been great, but would you have respected me for telling you to buy crap food to stock your freezer to get your kid’s day started out right?

This is not an  exclusive opportunity, I get something like that in my inbox all of the time. I refuse a lot of it because I respect your opinion more than a corporation’s opinion. It means I have moved to the D-list for a lot of invites and parties, but I hope I made the A-List for my readers!

Be sure to read this article on how to do great product reviews!

Find a Rhythm You Can Live With– Blogger balance is a topic that comes up all of the time  and I always love to hear how people find their own work/home life balance. I will tell you my secret that has held this site together over the years…I chose a balance to posting and taking on assignments that I can live with.

Here is what I had envisioned for myself when I started. I wanted to be able to be home with my children, do what I love, and do it when I wanted,  in a way that would not take away from the time I wanted to spend with my kids. It meant I had to step away from time-sensitive posts, and to instead concentrate my efforts on providing evergreen content that I could develop on the weekends.

I work primarily Saturday, rising early before the rest of the family, and then Sunday afternoon through the evening. I write all of the content for the week and schedule to air on the weekday mornings. The rest of the week, I do my best to maintain my email inbox, take pictures and create for the next week,  share on our Facebook page, and do a little tweeting when I feel like it.

I found a rhythm to my posting schedule that I would not have a hard time creating and that my readers could expect from me each day.  The rhythm of a recipe a week, a craft/money-saving-tip/organizing idea/mommy time management (once idea highlighted each month), a notebook of inspiration, and a weekly dose of freebies has serviced our site well.

Note, I will never be a social media starlet and I will never make a million dollars on my blog… and I have found that I am okay with that. I am paid in sticky kisses from my kids and more time being the mom I really desire to be which is so much cooler.

Be sure to read this article on finding your own blogger balance!

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone– Blogging requires  a lot of bravery.  I thought I was brave just blogging, but I never dreamed all of the things that I would try over the years to stay in the blogging game and providing creative content for our readers. I have done a podcast, I did our local news for a year, I joined Twitter, I created a fan page on Facebook, I vlogged, I consulted companies, I did cooking demos, I did media tours, I created content for brands…. and none of those things were things that I ever imagined I would attempt in a million years.

Keeping up with the trends and finding new ways to interact with your readers becomes essential for growing your audience. It doesn’t mean that you will always have to stick with it, but it is great if you can try things that are out of your comfort zone.

I have found that no matter what type of medium I attempt, I feel most comfortable writing. Vlogging is my least favorite thing to do because I am a perfectionist and it requires take after take for me. Live segments, however,  go really well because I don’t have the opportunity to rethink thing.  Podcasting is fun, but required time and effort that I didn’t have extra of. Doing demos for brands has been my favorite thing to do yet and I never thought I could have done that. It is attempting something out of the ordinary that helped our site continue to grow.

It doesn’t mean you always have to do what doesn’t feel right in your comfort zone, but it feels good to know that you can if someone requests it!

Embrace Your Inner Madonna- Along with stepping out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to not be afraid to reinvent yourself and your blog. In the beginning I wanted my blog to be very personal to me and to my family. Living in a small town and being a girl that craves privacy, this format just didn’t work for me. While you hopefully still see my personality and what I am passionate about you will find that I also don’t disclose a lot about my family online to protect who they are. It was a risk I took and it has paid off.

Likewise, if you find new passions and talents, don’t be afraid to take your readers on that journey with you. Over the years, I have discovered a new talent for knitting, love fumbling around with my camera, and I have embraced my inner bookworm. Those hobbies might not interest all of my readers, but they do bring in new ones while still maintaining my tried-and-true categories of the site.

Want to learn more about my commandments for blogging? Read my 5 Commandments for Blogging!

Be Humble And Grateful- If there is anything that I am working so hard on it is to recognize what a gift that this journey has been.  I don’t know what else to say except that I am so thankful for every little blessing that has come. I do my best to never feel entitled,  I stay clear of drama, and I would probably cry if anyone thought I was a diva. The best compliment I have ever gotten is, “You write exactly like you are.”

My grandma is from the South and if there is ever any wisdom that was passed down from her and our Tennessee roots, it was  that it was always important to be a lady… oh, and wear a slip under your dress!

The best part about being a lady in this business though is that if you do your very best, you are genuine,  and you always follow-up business opportunities with a thank you, then you will find that the most amazing opportunities happen to you!

And when they do, count your blessings!

This past week on our Facebook page, I asked what you wanted to know about me and about blogging. Here are some of those questions that were asked and my answers.

Q: How do you come up with so many great ideas to keep people interested?

A:  I think the beauty of our site has been that we started the site when my son was only a year old. We were exploring ways to save as a family who were dealing with the budget-busters of having an infant. In those days, I was sharing on topics like baby food, cloth diapers, and how to baby proof your home without spending a lot.

Now my children are eight and four and we are sharing on how to save on lunches for school, how to organize those homework papers, and how to keep your children entertained during those long summer breaks. We don’t plan to go back to cloth diapering and baby food, but those topics are there in the archives for our readers! We will continue to press on as we discover and strive to live our simple life as our kids get older and we will continue to face new budget-challenges and share those with our readers.

That being said, I also try to appeal to universal subjects that all people struggle  with- how to get dinner on the table every day, how to manage those household routines, how to keep entertainment affordable, and how to manage the day-to-day of a busy life. That is why we have readers that aren’t moms and why there is something for everyone no matter what ages your children are at!

The ideas come from just living my life. I like learning new things!  I like being a sponge on new topics and it makes me happy to find new ways to save for families. I gain a lot of inspiration from reading other bloggers, reading magazines, and watching a whole heck of a lot of Food Network & TLC!

Q: How do you get sponsors for giveaways?

A:  I only do product reviews very infrequently anymore because they are time-consuming and I don’t really have a great desire to clutter up our house with a lot of products. Instead if a company reaches out to me about a review, I try to see if there is a way we can offer a great giveaway for our readers instead. I know that our readers are leading a budget-minded life and there is nothing I enjoy more than sharing items with our readers.

I did a lot of product reviews in the beginning though to establish relationships with the companies that reached out to me and then established giveaways through them.  I would encourage you to reach out to companies that you are passionate about (even if you just send out a tweet) and see if they would like to do a giveaway with you.

I don’t know if anyone has any better advice than this, please feel free to share in the comments below.

Q: I would like to know how you get Facebook followers to follow the blog?

A: I am still pretty new to Facebook and I am still trying to grow that page. I think if you are trying to get people to head over to the blog, that you need to offer some value-added benefits to being a part of your community. On our site we try to share other sites, freebies, a daily menu idea, and something from the archives that would be helpful during that month from the archived articles. Try pushing traffic back to the work you have already done because chances are that it will be new to someone and they will begin to explore and want to follow your blog.

In the beginning I found Twitter to be a great way to attract readers to the site and create new blog followers. I don’t find that Twitter is half as effective as it used to be for me, personally, and Facebook has been a bigger attractor for us. It is my belief that on Facebook there is often a personal investment there. Who wouldn’t want to see what their old high school friend is up to or what the mom down the road is doing to save money? It really is that personal investment that translates into traffic for me and those people are often my biggest referrers and happily share about my site with their friends.

(mobile upload: on set with Cheer)

Q: How do you get relationships with brands?

I have never approached a company about working with them as a spokesperson, they have always found me. I will tell you though the two things that have helped me secure jobs with brands.

The first thing is that I wrote about topics that would make me perfect for certain brands, unknowingly, but that is how the jobs have come to me. For example, I wrote a lot about ways to save with your appliances and Kenmore reached out to me about working with them as their spokesperson teaching moms  home management tips and ways to save with their appliances. When I wrote about how to save moms time cleaning, Cascade hired me to work with them to write materials on how to save time in the kitchen. When I wrote about how to save money on gifts and the holidays, Glade approached me to be their spokesperson and showcase  gifts and ideas for the holidays for cash-strapped moms. Keep that in mind when you are writing your blogs and articles that brands might be looking to hire someone just like you to represent their product.

The second recommendation would be to get some on-camera work. Contact your local news about working with them and doing a segment or a series of segments on what you write about. If you can’t get on your local news (if you live in a larger city), then put together some vlogs that showcase your camera work.  Get comfortable in front of the camera because a brand is going to hire someone who can handle interviews, media tours, commercials, and online campaigns and represent their product well.

Honestly, I find being on camera to be nerve-wracking. The first five months that I did our local news, I never slept the night before my segments. I  have learned to choose colors that won’t showcase how sweaty I get and I have to buy that prescripition strength deodorant. I am always thankful that I did years and years of theater though (even when I was pregnant with my Ethan) and it is that time invested in community theater that has helped me get through all of the camera work today.

Q: How/when do you fine time to read 5 books in a month for the Great Reads section with all that you do? Do you stay up late, get up early?

I am not a morning person, but I have been forced to be now that the kids are in school. I don’t have a lot of time to read in the mornings anymore though because both kids have to head to school in the morning at two different times. I used to do my best reading first thing in the morning.

The truth is, I don’t really watch a lot of television during the week.  My husband freelances on the side and has a busy job as a web designer so I read a lot in the evenings after the kids go to bed . Keep in mind my kids are also 4 and 8 now- it was much harder when they were younger.

I truly just take advantage of those tiny pockets of time- an hour here and there in the afternoons, reading in the tub (seriously), time in the evenings, and when I travel all I do is read in the down time on my layovers.  Does it also help to know that I used to help our English teacher and volunteered to help teach kids speed reading in middle school? I am a fast reader, especially if the book is a good one!

Do you have any questions for me that you would like to ask? I am an open book on the topic of blogging and will do my best to answer them!

10 Useful Tools for Twitter Users

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
Photo Credit: Panduro Tveskov

By now, most people are familiar with Twitter and how it works. If not though, we have a handy article, What in the World is Twitter?, that can help you decide if Twitter would be beneficial for you personally or for your blog/business.

There are many applications and tools that you can use to help bump up your Twitter experience. Here is a gathering of great tools to make your tweet time a little more effective.

Reminder & Organizational Tools:

Twitter Timer: Add this guy to your list of friends and send him a direct message (DM) when you need to remember to go to the dentist or a friendly reminder that next week is your best friend’s birthday.

Remember the Milk: We highlighted Remember the Milk in our family planning tools, but Remember the Milk can also be used through Twitter as well. Add Remember the Milk to your list of friends and send DM’s to remind yourself to pick up milk…or your kids. You know, those important things in life!

Commuter Feed: Wouldn’t your morning commute be smoother if you knew where traffic was backed up or where accidents have occurred? Commuter Feed is a free service that lets you see reports on traffic incidents in your local area using Twitter. It works for any city that has an IATA airport code worldwide. Even if you don’t input the information yourself, you can look up your city and see what was recently posted to keep up-to-date on what is happening in your neck of the woods.

Fuel Frog: This great site works with Twitter and help you easily track the gas mileage on your vehicle. This can be a great way to track the fluctuating gas prices, see how you are doing on your gas mileage, and keep track of mileage for your job.

Twitter Efficiency Tools:

Twitter Snooze: Is someone being a tad too chatty and you are feeling overwhelmed with their tweets? Is someone live-blogging at an event and you just want to tune their tweets out for a bit? You can visit Twitter Snooze and put their posts to sleep until the event is over, without blocking your friend or ruining that great relationship.

Twitter Search: This is great if you are off of Twitter for a long time and want to double-check to make sure you didn’t miss any posts about yourself. Just search for your username (in my case, momadvice) and it will pop up all of the conversations you have had or any tweets that were intended for you. You can also use the search to keep up with something/someone you are interested in. You can read what everyone is talking about in the current events, politics, fashion and find out what people are sharing on your favorite topics.

Twitter Feed: This service works with your blog’s feed and automatically sends out a message to let everyone know when your feed (blog) has been updated. This is a great way to automate the process to let your readers know when you have new and amazing stuff on your blog.

TweetDeck: This is great for people who like to micro-manage their micro-blogging tools. TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed (All Tweets) into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. You can group people into groups (locals, PF Bloggers, Must Read Mommas) so you never miss an important tweet again. Once created these additional columns will automatically update allowing the user to keep track of a twitter threads far easier. Basically, it makes it so you can see exactly what you want to see and you are able to view up to 48 hours worth of the tweets that you have deemed the most important, without having to hunt.

Lifestyle Improvement Tools:

Tweet What You Eat: If you are working on improving your eating habits, then this tool should help you in tracking your caloric intact for the day. Tweetwhatyoueat (TWYE for short) is a Twitter-based food diary. Use Twitter to track what you eat, and now your weight, by ‘tweeting’ food items to your personal food diary on from your mobile phone, IM or through Twitter.

Qwitter: This tool can help you if you trying to quit smoking. As with most of these tools, you can add Qwitter as your friend and then let them know when you have had a cigarette and journal how you are feeling as you taper off the cigarettes. This tool was brought to you by the state of Florida and I just love anything that can help people make a positive lifestyle change!

This list only encompasses ten great tools, but if you are looking for even more great ways to use Twitter, check out this list of 140 great Twitter Tools from Mashable!

Do you use any tools for twittering? Let us know what tools you find most helpful!

Play It Again, Momma: Simplifying Your To Do List

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and just felt completely and utterly overwhelmed before you even start? My day was often looking like that and rarely did I actually ever complete all of the things off of the list. I would end my day defeated before the next day had ever begun. While the high of checking things off the list was there, the items left unchecked left me feeling less euphoric about what was actually accomplished.

For the past couple of months, I have had the great opportunity to work with a business coach to help make my business better. Charrise McCorey, from Emergence Business Coaching, has been working with me to help me reach my business goals. It has been such a unique experience for me because I am able to actually discover how valuable my time is, increase my productivity, and discover what can emerge from finding balance in my life.

The first thing on our project list was tackling my to-do list and my feelings of constantly being overwhelmed. I felt like I was juggling way too many balls in the air so I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well, or feeling like a very good parent. I would start a project, abandon it or do a bad job on it, and then move on to the next thing.

The first thing we did was revamp what my to-do list looked like. Here is an example of what my to-do list looked like for my Monday routine- perhaps it looks like yours?

Amy’s Monday To-Do List

Sweep Kitchen Floors
Unload dishwasher
Load dishwasher
Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms

Now those were just my home management goals, we aren’t even tackling the business goals for the day. What ended up happening was that I would get a portion of the list done and then have to carry it over for Tuesday. Let’s say I got three of those things done. Now we will move on to Tuesday’s schedule and it will look like this:

Amy’s Tuesday To-Do List

Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands

And then, let’s say I got five things done, then Wednesday would carry over to this:

Amy’s Wednesday To-Do List

Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything

Usually by Friday, my list looked something like this:

Amy’s Friday To-Do List

Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything
Empty lower level trash
Dust lower level
Sweep lower level
Clean windows and mirrors on lower level
Clean and organize the home office
Visit the library
Clean out car
Update our Quicken software
Mow lawn
Baking day
Hate myself for accomplishing absolutely nothing

Oh, and did I mention I haven’t tackled anything in my business? Obviously, this to-do list was just a running list of things I would never get to and I would hate myself for accomplishing nothing. In tears, I explained to Charrise that I often feel like a bad mom because I had to keep up with my business AND my house and neither was looking good at all. As Charrise says over and over again to me when I say negative things, “That is a story you like to tell yourself. You can change your story.”

We decided to change my story. She advised completely revamping the to-do list. Instead of keeping a running list of things I would never do, why not make a shorter list that I could actually accomplish with great success? How would it feel if I could go to bed each night knowing that I had accomplished what was on my list? How would I sleep? Her advice was simple a list of only six things.

Make 3 Business Goals
Make 3 Personal Goals

Now my list looks something like this:

Amy’s Revamped Monday To-Do List

1. Set up contests for Tuesday on the blog
2. Complete my to-do list entry
3. Conference Call with Kenmore
4. Play on the floor with the kids for one hour
5. One load of laundry- whites
6. Pay Bills

At night before I go to bed, I make my list of six and go to sleep. At the end of the day, I usually can check most of the things off of the list and if something doesn’t get done, it just gets carried over to the next day. I have to say, it is a lot easier to carry over two things rather than twenty each day.

But, what about the bigger goals? I had so many things I needed to do on my list for the website and in my home, but I knew they would never fit on such a limited list.

This is where this comes into play:

Giant Wish List

Instead of adding these to my to-do list each day, take a piece of poster board and begin writing what your bigger goals are. She suggested writing down things you might be afraid to say out loud so that you can see your dreams come into fruition.

Amy’s Giant Wish List

Podcast Radio Show With Huge Corporate Sponsorship
Food Network Television Show
Get Featured in Real Simple Magazine
Regular Column in Good Housekeeping
Book Deal
Meet Brad Pitt
Possibly Marry Him

When I think of things that I want to do in the future, I just jot it down on my giant wish list. It is there, I won’t lose the idea or goal, but it isn’t on my r
unning list of six…yet.

Yes, one day I will have an opening on the list of six and when that happens maybe I might say, “Today is the day to meet Brad Pitt and possibly marry him.” I will add it to the list of six and just maybe, I might accomplish it.

You might ask what happened to all the cleaning on the list? Well, instead of writing it down, I just try and do it when I get my goals accomplished for the day. I either make it my goal to clean one day of the week or I just clean when I need to clean. I don’t hold myself to commitments about it. I know what needs to get done and when I need to do it, and I do the best I can.

It might not be perfect, but it doesn’t keep me up at night anymore.


(photo credits: image 1- one pretty thing image 2-gamookie)

What does your to-do list look like? Could you simplify it? What would you put on a giant wish list?

7 Tips For Leading a Balanced Blogger Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
(Photo Credit: Criss Cross Circus)

I have been talking to a lot of bloggers recently that have been asking my advice on blogging and balance. It can be tough to come up with great content week after week and still maintain your home and family activities.

My life is very busy with two small children. We have family obligations, business obligations, church obligations, friend obligations, and volunteer obligations… as most families do. I am thankful for all of these things that shape my life!

On top of those obligations though are my work obligations. As my site grows, the obligations grow too and that is when your life and your blogging can easily become out of balance. In this last year, it is something I have been really working on improving because my family is so important to me.

I would love to share with you some of the tips and techniques I have been using this year to help me lead a balanced life. I hope that they will offer some inspiration to those of you who are feeling tapped out and tired.

(Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan)

1. Schedule Working Hours– Some people might be surprised to know that I rarely write during the week. I have regularly scheduled time on my calendar on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings where I complete 90% of the work that I need to get done for the week. There are times where time sensitive items have to be scheduled during the week, but for the most part I rarely am working on my blog during weekdays.

Anything that I can get done during working hours, I do my best to get it done. Even tiny detail items like choosing a picture and title for time-sensitive entries is done during my scheduled work hours. These tiny details can easily suck up an hour’s worth of time so I know that anything I can get done during my work sessions will free up more time for me with my children during our week.

You can also schedule everything to appear at the same time each day. On here, for example, each entry is typically scheduled for 7:00 AM and publishes as scheduled in the morning. Now you all know that I am actually still laying in bed while all of these entries are posting. Did I deceive you with my supposed morning productivity? I hope so!

The information that I write is not time-sensitive so freebies/deals/coupon sites could not adapt to this schedule, but you could try to supplement deal information with how-to information that could be set up within your own working schedule.

(Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine)

2. Cut Down on Distractions & Set Limits– It is very easy to become distracted when doing your work and these distractions can slow down your pace. When you schedule your time to work, shut down social networks and other websites and tackle that to-do list with as little interruption as possible.

You know what your distractions are and what can take you away from the task at hand. Make it a goal that when you are working that you will try to tune all of the distractions out until you have completed your tasks.

Likewise, set limits for yourself on how much time you spend on social networks as they can definitely suck up a great deal of your day if you allow them to. For me, I try to not spend time on Twitter or Facebook on the weekends. I use my weekends to work and spend time with my family so I try to sign off of these networks on Friday and return back to socializing on Monday.

If you are looking for more information on staying on task in business and in life, I encourage you to read “The Power of Less,” by Leo Babauta (founder of It is a very quick read, but has helped me greatly in increasing my productivity while leading a fuller life. I found this book at the library and my husband and I both read it and got some great tips from it.

3. Slow Down Your Blogging Schedule– For me, this is one of the most difficult challenges because I love sharing new information with my readers. What I don’t realize though, is how few of you have read me every single day since I began blogging.

Don’t be afraid to shake the dust off of those entries in your archives and use them during the week. I do my best to reuse one article each week to give me a day off from creating new content. You could also utilize guest bloggers once a week or even dedicate a post that will share with your readers things that other people are writing.

Whatever your blogging schedule, routine has been essential in keeping my creativity flowing and knowing what to tackle throughout the week. On our blog, we typically offer recipes on Monday, crafts/things to do on Tuesday, highlighting others in our Notebook entries & tackling a project highlighted in the notebook on Wednesday, a Play it Again, Momma entry on Thursday (where I revisit an old entry), and freebies on Friday. Of those items, I am actually coming up with truly new information two or three times a week.

If at anytime I feel that something is too much or not working with our family schedule, it is my blog schedule to tinker with. I shared with you that my podcast would not work with our summer schedule and I switched our notebook entry to a day that fit better with my family life.

Remember that it is your schedule to switch, but know that whatever you set up your readers will begin to expect from you. It used to bother me when people would email me because A, B, or C had not been posted during the week. I began to realize that even if it was my schedule to switch, it is also imperative to let them know when and why I make these changes. Communication and consistency is the best way to keep your readers coming back for more!

(Photo Credit: Jennifer Rensel)

4. Figure Out What You Are Worth– My business coach offered this sound advice to me when we first began our sessions together. She encouraged me to figure out what my time was worth and then choose what was the best use of my time based on that dollar figure. Now that I am able to grasp how much my time is worth, I am better able to say no to things that do not bring in the money or the website traffic that I need for the opportunity to be lucrative.

If I am not sure if an opportunity is worth my time, I try to give it a thirty day evaluation. Within 30 days, I am able to take a look at my past month of web traffic and it can showcase whether or not an opportunity has brought in the traffic needed for it to be lucrative.

How do you figure out what your time is worth? As someone who is self-employed my worth varies from month to month, but I do have a dollar figure in mind when I am approached for an opportunity. The best way to figure out what your time is worth is to start tracking your time for one month and figure out how many hours you are working during a 30 day period. Now evaluate all that your site is bringing in during the month (even a rough average is great). Now you can use those numbers to figure out what that hourly rate is. This should give you a rough idea of what your time is worth and if an opportunity is worth that amount of time.

5. Limit the Extras– Just recently it seems that I have gotten a lot of opportunities to travel for my work. It is a wonderful opportunity to get to go into a company and see how they work or sit in a round table discussion about their products and services.

The pitfall of traveling though is that I am away from my children and my life begins to feel out of balance because I am not able to keep up with my normal routines. Going away for even two days can put my household routines behind, my work schedule can become interrupted, and I become stressed.

I am now being more selective about those extra opportunities that come along and picking things that will benefit my readers the most, relationships that I would like to form with specific companies, and paid opportunities. I have also made the decision that one trip a month is all that I feel I can handle and it has to fit our criteria for that opportunity to come into fruition.

This doesn’t just apply to travel though, this also applies to all of those extras that can take me away from spending time with my family. Things like guest blogging for others, product reviews that are not a good fit for my audience, and many of the unpaid extras that I would have done before have been greatly reduced in efforts to remain balanced.

6. Develop Household Management Routines– What does household management have to do with blogging? In my opinion, it has everything to do with feeling balanced and running a successful business out of your home.

Just as I suggest scheduling working hours, developing a schedule for your home management will free up the time that you need to spend with your family. Don’t go overboard with your routines, but develop a rhythm that will make those day-to-day tasks more manageable.

Make sure that your work area is a pleasant place to be by tackling those piles of papers and creating a space that will allow you to be the most productive you can be. Add this time of clearing your desk as part of your weekly routine so that you can be the best blogger you can be in a distraction-free zone!

If you are looking for home management inspiration, my weekly routine can be found here. There will always be things that can get in the way of those tasks, but I do my best to stay within this routine so that my home life can remain balanced.

(Photo Credit: Peacock Modern)

7. Allow Room for Creativity in Your Schedule– The best thing that I have started doing for myself is giving myself an hour to do whatever I want with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. I use this time to knit, read, craft, or listen to music.

Before I was doing this, I would go to bed with my stomach in a ball and my head swirling with all the things I needed to get done the next day.

Do something that is creative or calming to you that hour before you head to bed and see how much balance it can bring back into your life. I feel no guilt about it because the more creative I am the more inspiration I can offer to others.

Out of all of these tips though, the one thing I can tell you is that if you are not living a great life offline, it will be difficult to live a full life online. You have to be living, loving, and engaging with your friends and family in order to feel completely balanced.

If your well is tapped dry, sit down with a notebook and jot down ways that you can bring balance back into your life. It will be the best thing that you can do for yourself and everyone will benefit from it- your readers, your family… but most of all, YOURSELF!

Are you struggling with balance? What helps bring balance to your life? Do you have any questions on my blogging routine? Please share or ask away!

Play It Again, Momma: The Player Scores & Silence

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
Photo Credit: Stu Steeger

It is the last thirty seconds of the basketball game and the teams are tied. The star player moves down the court gracefully, dodging player after player, his eye on the prize. He dances around them as he dribbles, and, as the seconds slip by him, he makes a beeline towards the basket. The crowd begins to count down loudly, “Ten, nine, eight…” And just before the last second, he slams the ball into the basket. And the crowd sits silent.

Wait? What? Why would the crowd not cheer? This is the moment, the moment that he has worked towards and yet, you could hear a pin drop. How do you think that player feels?

Well, I have been that blogger a lot and it really stinks. To be honest, you have to really love the process and therapy that comes with your writing to endure the dead silence that you receive when you first start blogging.

Let’s take that player that we talked about, for instance, and how he would have felt if the crowd went wild instead of went silent. As someone who has done theater for years, I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing like the adrenaline rush that you feel from the crowd cheering. Your heart starts to pump, your face flushes, you get that natural high from the praise, and then something really great happens…you want to do it again. That praise, that rush, that love that you feel from the people around you motivates you and you feed off of it. Suddenly, you picture yourself doing it over and over again, but each time you vow that it is going to be better next time.

For me, the process of writing these entries can be very labor-intensive. Sixty shots of whatever I am eating before I get to eat it, reading books and magazines to stay on top of new subjects that might strike our fancy, researching and sharing about other blogs, and just plain working my butt off. Some of my entries take very little thought and others are put out there after hours of careful thought and research. What stinks is when you put it out there and receive no comments on all of that effort.

What can bring a blogger comfort when they receive no comments and what can you do to get more comments to come your way? Let’s chat about it!

Take Comfort In Your Stats- Remember how we talked about tracking your site/blog’s traffic? Well, sometimes you can take comfort in those numbers even if your comments are in the single digits. What brought me a lot of comfort in the beginning was knowing that fifty people visited my blog even if only four people commented on an entry. Just knowing that someone is out there reading your stuff can provide a lot of comfort.

Ask Advice- If you are blogging about a particular subject all of the time, it can become less interactive with your readers. Sometimes throwing a post out there and asking your reader’s take on a particular subject can bring in a lot of comments. It can be something as simple as, where do you find the best grocery prices, but if the readers can help it can become a great role-reversal and will give you more discussion than a post on here is where *I* think you should grocery shop.

Make Yourself Vulnerable- Oh, I know this is a tough one, but this can be a great way to show readers the real side of yourself. This one has been a tough one for me because I am striving to be a positive person and sometimes things in my life don’t feel so positive. Expressing some vulnerability and showing the real sides of our family makes that connection with your readers a little deeper. Be careful when being vulnerable though and protect your family and your privacy as best you can when sharing in this format.

Be the Commenter- If you are not getting comments, then be the commenter. When I say this, I mean it in two different ways. If you receive a comment in your own entry, comment back to that person. “Thanks so much, Jane, for your comment! Using powdered milk IS a great way to save on groceries- I will try that!” This not only boosts your comments by one (and yes, in the beginning stages you can count that!) and it also builds a conversation with your readers. They see that you are reading their comments and that makes them want to continue the discussion with you. Better yet, another person might want to throw their two cents in now that they see that you are learning something and sharing in this way. Not everyone comes back to read the comment thread, but sometimes I read comment threads just because it seems busy. If you answer your comments, that boosts people’s interest in wanting to see what all the fuss is about. See, you just roped your readers in!

The other way is to, of course, spend time commenting on other people’s blogs. This can be a very time-consuming process in the beginning, but it is so fun to read what other people are writing and it will help you with your own content. Be sincere in your comments and the other blogger will want to see who this amazingly thoughtful person is! They will visit your blog and then who knows where that one comment will lead?

Highlight Your Old Stuff- Maybe you put out a killer entry the first time around and not a single soul commented on it, but you knew it was sheer brilliance. What to do? Bring that old entry back! I have seen bloggers do great round-ups of their old entries daily, weekly, or monthly… it just depends on how much content you have to work with. We do a “Play It Again, Momma” where I bring back a single entry that I wished someone read. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! In fact, this week’s entry is an old one, but all new eyes are seeing it!

Here is what I will say, no matter how big of a blogger you are, those comments really mean something. I read every single comment that comes through my blog and I am so proud if someone tells me they appreciated something I did or said. I gloat so much that sometimes I save them and read them to my husband when he gets home. “Look, this person said that my line drying article saved them $20 this month on their bill. Isn’t that awesome?”

I try not to take the silence personally, but sometimes it is hard. Remember that a thoughtful comment can make a blogger stronger and give them that crazy rush they need to press on.