Tips and Tricks

My Top Six Blogging Tips {from #AltSummit}

What a great weekend of learning, networking and inspiration I just experienced at the Alt for Everyone conference! If you’ve never been, Alt (short for Altitude Summit) is a design, social media and blogging conference held every year in Salt Lake City….and again online for those of us who can’t travel cross-country in person because of work, kids or whatever. This was my first year “attending,” and I picked up loads of great information for this blog, for my full-time job, and for work-life balance in general. As bloggers, writers and artists, it’s important to recharge with other like-minded creatives from time to time; you get to hit the refresh button while picking up loads of great business and lifestyle tips, from rethinking your branding and styling to making sure you avoid burnout and screen-time overload.

IMG_5494
The classes streamed pretty late into the evening for East Coasters, but luckily I had a buddy to help me power through.

So what really rang true for me over three days of Alt for Everyone?

IT’S TIME TO QUIT FACEBOOK

Not because it’s bad for my blog–because it’s bad for my life. Letting go of the addiction (if it has become that for you, like it has for me) frees up all kinds of space to dislodge writer’s block, embrace creative hobbies, allow for “boredom brainstorms,” and enjoy your family again, instead of constantly plotting how something will look to the social media universe. Is it more important to help my baby learn to walk confidently, or capture her first steps on video so my Facebook followers share in it? I don’t want to be that person who is so busy cultivating an online persona that I’m missing out on my actual life, and nearing max capacity as I try to juggle my job, husband, daughter, house work, volunteering, hobbies, and exercise alongside blogging.  I’ve been saying I’m going to cut back on Facebook for months. It’s time to actually do it.

YOUR BLOG IS A BUSINESS — TREAT IT THAT WAY!

Don’t sell yourself short! That was my big takeaway. It doesn’t matter how much this blog earns — it’s a business, and it needs the right legal documents (privacy policy, affiliate/sponsorship disclosures, invoicing template, tax ID number) and promotional tools (slam-dunk media kit, editorial calendar, style guide, top-notch photo staging). I learned a ton about the right way to pitch potential sponsors and advertisers, and got a general pep talk about remembering to sell myself, hone my aesthetic perspective and stick by it, and be egotistical in negotiations. This last one should have been a no-brainer for me, because I do PR for a living: it’s critical to save press clips and testimonials to share with potential advertisers. DUH! Now I’m on it.

REPEAT AFTER ME: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE

According to Jaime Derringer of Design Milk, it can take 6 months (at least) to show a return on your investment in a particular advertising partner. Most brands are willing to wait for you to show them what your blog can do for them, and amplification of your blog posts featuring their brand — on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. — can be just as important to them as actual conversion rates. There are lots of different ad-selling arrangements out there, and it will likely take time to evaluate each one properly and find the most lucrative space and method on your blog for each.

YOU NEED TO BE USING RICH PINS

This I already knew, but had been avoiding. Rich pins are especially critical for food bloggers, because they allow recipe embedding right in your pin, meaning nobody can override you as the original source. I had been thinking about rich pins as something that would take me more time, not necessarily prevent other pinners from stealing my content without attribution. Now I’m definitely adding this to my to-do list. Read more about how to do rich pinning here!

NURTURE YOUR CREATIVITY & REAP THE BENEFITS

Ideas I loved:
  • Mood boards are my friend. Am I drawn to black and white? Bright colors? Rustic? Masculine? Modern? Lived-in? Feminine? Joy Cho posted a great example this week of how to do this in writing about developing her latest collaboration with Target.
  • Create a secret Pinterest board with examples of blog templates, photo styling, and color palettes that you love.
  • Imitate with abandon to get the ideas flowing…but throw the imitation away before you publish a ripoff. Redraft, and watch something even better emerge.
  • Analyze those you idolize (as a musician, I know this intrinsically). Look for patterns you love — just like in music — and replicate the sensibility.

AUTHENTICITY COUNTS

We’ve all heard it before: authentic content is king. Turns out, that’s because it’s true. Brands are looking for good engagement from your readers and lots of genuine content…not necessarily high page views or tons of previous sponsored posts (that can actually be a red flag, because you may appear un-discerning). For someone like me, that read as a challenge, because my page views have been skyrocketing lately but my ad revenue and my engagement have flat-lined. So now I have a very real charge for the months ahead (in addition to the redesign I was already planning!) Hand-in-hand with authenticity is the notion of consistency. Don’t leave your readers wondering when you’ll post, or why your photos and overall post format vary so widely in design. Be organized and predictable!

THERE WERE ALSO SOME VERY QUOTABLE MOMENTS.

A few of my favorites, from the webinars I took:

“Be a visual DJ”

“Boredom gives you the best ideas”

“When you don’t have butterflies, it means you are doing the same thing over and over.”

“Study your heroes” and “follow your competitors!”

“think like a marketer”

“fake it ’til you make it”

“start thinking like a window dresser” and “create an environment that people want to visit often.”

***

That’s it! I learned so much more, applicable to this blog, my day job and my creative life, and I am definitely feeling motivated, empowered and excited to take things to the next level in all these areas.

Altbutton

Special thanks to instructors Laurie Smithwick of Leap Design, Raphael Aquino-Jose of Bing, Jenner Brown of Lumineux Films, Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society, Whitney English of Whitney English, Melanie Burk of Caravan, Chris Gardner of Curbly, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte, Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine, Alison Faulkner of The Alison Show, Monique Malcolm of Antisparkle, Kelly Beall of Design Crush and Susan Brinson of House of Brinson.

***

Did you go? What did you learn? And if you are from Boston and you participated in #AltforEveryone, do you want to meet up for coffee and debrief/network/commiserate over our long task list?!?!

Baby · News

Prepping for fall, naturally

Fall has hit New England with a bang! Suddenly there’s a snap in the air, and the leaves are starting to turn. You know what that means: time to go apple picking, bake some pies and crisp, rake the last of the leaves, store the patio furniture for the winter, and give the house one last scrubbing before it’s too cold to leave the windows open.

In our house, we’ve been prepping the car for winter (oil change, snow wipers, check hoses & fluids), storing our summer clothes with the last of our vacations behind us, buying Georgia a winter wardrobe in her new size, and insulating some key sections of our house that always let in the cold, such as eaves and overhangs that jut away from our foundation. I always talk about how important it is to use natural cleaning products from reputable, environmentally-conscious companies such as Honest, Norwex and Babyganics, but do you know what we’ve discovered that many people probably never even consider when renovating or deep-cleaning their homes? The surprising prevalence of asbestos in everyday life.

We ran into this when we started to do a “simple” renovation to our bathroom in preparation for Georgia’s arrival last year, a project that started with re-tiling our tub and ended with us having to take the entire side of our 100-year-old house down in a hail storm of lead paint, black mold and rotten wood. Being pregnant at the time, I knew we had to take precautions to make sure I and the baby weren’t exposed to any toxic substances used when our house was built in 1920. We had professionals taking those things into consideration, so I knew we were safe. But I didn’t realize until very recently that you also have to keep guard against things like lead and asbestos in everyday products — and that asbestos is still the top cause of occupational cancer (Mesothelioma) in the United States, more than 30 years after its peak use in construction of schools, houses and municipal buildings.

dangers-of-asbestos
Courtesy Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

In recognition of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is today, I’d like to share the story of Heather Von St. James, a survivor of Mesothelioma. Her story is alarming and inspiring, and as a natural mama this seemed important to share. It’s also close to my heart, because my grandfather died of mesothelioma after a lifetime working in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Eight years ago, at the very young age of 36, Heather gave birth to her daughter, Lily. Three months later, she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure — only she had never worked with asbestos. She was given just 15 months to live, but she beat the odds.

Even more shocking?

  • Asbestos is still found in many schools, homes, and industrial buildings
  • It is still used in building materials and consumer products manufactured in the developing world
  • On average, 30 million pounds are still being used in the US today
  • Only a few asbestos-containing materials are currently banned by the EPA

mesothelioma facts

Were you inspired by Heather’s story, too? Then share it, educate yourself about the dangers of first- and second-hand exposure to asbestos, and spread the word that there is hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Visit Heather’s website to learn more and share.

By being smart about the toxic substances we’re all still at risk of being exposed to in everyday life, we can help keep our families safe. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this worthy cause.

Baby · Restaurant Reviews

Bites in Brooklyn

Hey everyone ~ whew, what a yucky past couple of weeks this has been in our house. I thought we’d seen the worst of the back-to-school bugs, but apparently these germs weren’t quite done with us! Two weeks, two chest colds and a couple of very gross stomach bugs later, I’m back on the blog and ready to share some great fall recipe ideas and snippets from our life. This past Monday, Mark and I left Georgia with her grandmother and took a mommy-daddy day trip to Brooklyn. He was shooting an episode for the travel channel at Brooklyn Fire Proof sound stages, so I hung out for a couple hours at the attached gallery/cafe space, BFPEast. Boy, did I feel old and square killing time with the hipsters in East Williamsburg. But I had an awesome lunch and found the company pretty laid-back and friendly, especially considering how little I ate relative to how long I lingered:

IMG_5418

I overheard two climate change activists talking about their weekend, which included bfpeast’s $5 brunch. It sounded awesome. Personally, I tried the mac n’ cheese with jalapenos on top. omgdelicious.

We did the entire trip in one day, and managed this only because we avoided Manhattan, where the UN was starting their high-level meetings. We even made it through Connecticut in time to stop for dinner at our favorite road trip break spot, Rein’s Deli. When I was pregnant and suffering big-time with “morning” sickness, Mark stopped here to get me matzoh ball soup and pickles on his way back from a job in New York. I hated having him drive alone, but I was pumped that he brought home some amazing comfort food for me and our baby-to-be!

Speaking of which, guess who walked this weekend (finally)????

Of course, she squats whenever I try to take a photo of her walking by herself, but you’ll have to take my word for it. We took her to brunch Sunday and she made the waitresses practice walking with her up and down the middle of the restaurant! She also took off on her own when we went shoe shopping at Carter’s and she spotted the Lego table in the middle of the store. The cat has the same effect…poor kitty. I don’t think she’s gotten over the idea of Georgia crawling yet, and now this?

We took G for her one-year appointment last week, and she’s right in the 50th percentile for height and weight…everything except her enormous head. Have I mentioned this yet? Her head has been tracking in the 98th percentile since she was about 5 months old, and after ruling out any dangerous reasons for it at Children’s, we just have to laugh at the way she outgrows clothes “head first” and how we have to buy her hats meant for four-year-olds. We have a gorgeous winter hat from Restoration Hardware that a relative bought us and she wore exactly once before her potato head couldn’t squeeze into it anymore. Fed up with such difficulties, and fueled by the desire to own a trendy winter hat myself, I knitted us matching slouchy hats on the car ride to and from New York:

IMG_5436

Georgia’s hat has just a baby amount of slouch. The pattern is pretty easy — you just knit in the round in a 2×1 rib for however long you want the headband to be, then switch to seed stitch on larger needles (I used 11 and 13) until the desired size. I fit mine to my own head on the go, and then just used up the leftover yarn from one skein of Lion Brand Thick & Quick for Georgia’s hat. With no decreases (which would eliminate the slouch), you simply bind off after purling together three and then two stitches at a time and pull the yarn through the remaining loops at the top! It’s so easy. I want to go make a hundred more in different colors.

IMG_5272

Oh! Before I forget…is anyone else “going to” Alt for Everyone this weekend? I am super excited to be joining in this year! I can’t wait to translate lots of what I learn back to this community as well as the web family I manage at my day job. If you’re going, I’d love to connect online this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ll be the one on a sugar high from the delicious lemon candies they sent in the swag bag!

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. In my free time (ha!) I am already shopping for Georgia’s Christmas outfit (because, you know, booking holiday photos for the Christmas card has to happen in September these days…) and my strategy this year is probably going to be stalking ThredUP and Kidizen for fancy consignment duds. The thing gets worn twice at best! Seems smart to go second hand, yes?

Have a great rest of the week, everyone!

Baby · News

Catching up from vacation!

Hi everyone! We had an extremely restful week in Myrtle Beach (book-ended by a couple harrowing flying experiences, but that’s a tale for another day). I’m trying to get caught up at work these days, and trying to STAY caught up with my now-toddler, who is crazy! 

She’s definitely in the middle of a growth spurt and I am struggling to keep her from eating us out of house and home. New favorites for her include a hummus sandwich on two bagel thins, kiwi, papaya, jicama, macaroni & cheese, and grits. She also learned how to bite into crackers and take a small piece to chew, which opened up a whole new category of food for us! The hardest part about feeding her these days is the fact that she only wants what WE are having, even if her own favorites are sitting right there in front of her. This has caused me to realize that I eat way more chocolate chip cookies, mini snickers and sour cream & onion chips than I was ready to admit before Georgia took notice.

IMG_4952

I’m also struggling to get over the fact that summer is over, and that I have to rein in my diet after going whole hog with that tasty Southern cuisine. 

I bought up the last couple bottles of lemonade and limeade at Trader Joe’s this weekend so that I can hang on to that taste of summer for as long as possible. I like to combine them with seltzer to cut the sweetness and calories (a few of my top combinations below):

It’s still nice enough out in Boston for me to walk Georgia home from daycare, which will be great once Mark starts rehearsals for his next show on Monday. Being a one-car household as we are, my feet are my vehicle when he’s rehearsing and tech-ing!

I’ll be sharing photos of our trip very soon. In the meantime, check out this awesome video that Daddy and Georgia made right before we went away. It kind of went viral last week when ABC in New York picked it up 🙂

Until next time, read all about the science behind the most delicious cookies, and why the world’s most Michelin-starred chef has decided to reopen his Paris restaurant with a nearly meat-free menu. Plus, have you seen Cookie Monster’s famous sugar cookie recipe (with illustrated directions?) It’s adorable.