An Uncomplicated Life Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The State Of Blogging

Why have bloggers become extensions of brands, spitting out nonstop marketing content and affiliate links?

I had reserved myself to no longer blog about blogging, because I was informed that no "big time, career blogger" talks about "how to blog." I was told not to blog for other bloggers, but instead to try to reach the general public. Article after article and professional resource after professional resource will tell you this, and it makes sense. Bloggers make up a small portion of the population, and if you really want to "reach" people and make a career of blogging, you have to think bigger. "Niche down!" They say. "Only talk about your niche so people know what to expect and you become the expert in that area!" Well, I'm here to call bu**sh*t on that. All of that hoopla is ruining the state of blogging, if you ask me.

I don't mean to say that those recommendations aren't the recipe for success. Maybe they are. But it also ruins your blog. Why? Because it makes you BORING.

Blogging with affiliate links, niching down, and what else NOT to do with your blog

One of my former favorite bloggers and the true inspiration I had for creating my own blog easily makes six figures a year blogging now. At first, I liked her because she was funny and genuine and was passionate about what she was writing about - hair. Yes, even me - the anti-beauty blog - got into blogging by reading a beauty blog, she was that good! I looked forward to pulling her site up everyday on my lunch break to see her personality come through in her video tutorials or a life update post. She talked about date nights with her husband, the struggle she had trying to conceive her first son and the shock she had at her surprise second pregnancy a few short months after the birth of her first baby. Of course, there would be hair and style posts scattered in there too, and I bought clothes off her links more than a few times.

I felt like she and I would be best friends, if we only lived in the same city! And ummm, you know, if she knew I even existed.

Today, I no longer read her blog. I check in every now and again, but it just makes me sad. She has entire posts created for the sole purpose of pushing her affiliate links on her readers. "Gift guides" and "makeup must haves" posts have replaced her likable, relateable posts on her life and family. She landed some huuuuuuuge contracts with Ponds and an eye wear company and had a post a week on how great those products were. It was forced content and painful to read. It was the same post, chewed up and regurgitated week after week with a "different angle." I officially stopped reading her when her videos began lacking her fun and playful personality and started to be more about the products and tools she was schlepping.

It's a bizarre thing to admit, but it was like the loss of a good friend! A friend who wouldn't know my name if she saw me on the street, but a friend nonetheless.

And here's another thing painful to admit: More and more of my blogging friends are dropping like flies, abandoning their fun personalities and lovable quirks to push affiliate links and sponsored content, talking about one subject ad nauseam. Now let me be clear - I have sponsored content here. I also have affiliate links. But I don't create posts for the sole purpose of including those links, like a makeup gift guide or promoting the Nordstrom sale. That doesn't make me better than anyone (hell, I'm not making a few grand off the NSale like some of my friends - I'm lucky if I can pay my phone bill with my Amazon link income!) But ladies... I wish I had my friends back. I wish I still enjoyed reading your blog for your personality, life updates, funny stories involving your husband or dogs or your kids. But all that has been replaced by "niching down!" and "becoming the expert!" and making money off promoting sales and products.

I went to check out a few new blogs from a blog support group on Facebook. Many of the bloggers are young and fairly new to blogging, so I thought it would be refreshing to read some posts from people who are just getting their feet wet and still blogging about what they're passionate about. My expectations were sadly mistaken. Even from bloggers who have been at it for 6 months or less, the posts were developed solely to push the affiliate links from the programs they've signed up for. One post had a great title on something I was interested in, but the post was completely the opposite! It was supposed to be low key beauty but the blogger listed (and linked) about 30 products she uses for her "low key" look. Ugh! Why?!

Besides nonstop affiliate links and out of character sponsored content, the other thing killing blogging is this drive to ALWAYS be engaged. "Reply to every comment on Instagram!" "Build a community!" "Always offer your reader value!" "VALUE ADD VALUE ADD VALUE ADD!" "Engagement is king, nobody cares about your follower count anymore! Engage engage engage!" Y'all, the social media component alone is enough to drain a blogger! I could easily spend four hours a day on Instagram, "engaging." It's insane. And right as you think you've built an engaged community, Instagram changes it's algorithm and your statistics drop. There's nothing quite like counting your worth (as a blogger, mom, woman, etc) in terms of the number of likes a photo gets, eh? *insert major eye roll*

Valid question bloggers should ask themselves

I've taken a huge step back from sponsored content this month. I wanted to take some time and really focus on why I was so bummed out with the state of blogging, and what I planned on doing about it. I needed to figure out if I was going to continue participating in some of my blog groups, or if it was time to let them go. I had already let my first 'blog crush' and inspiration go, because she was no longer inspirational. I need to be excited about using social media again, because right now it feels like a big, dumb chore.

Niching down can go straight to hell. I get that my classification is "mommy blogger" and that's cool - I work from home and hang out with my kids all day. It would be weird for me not to talk about them! But I love DIY beauty and I love decorating for the holidays and I love to cook. So I'm going to write about that, too. And no, they're not kid friendly recipes, have you seen my toddler?! That kid will eat cheese, crackers, fruit/veggie pouches and the occasional fish stick. If I only cooked "toddler friendly" recipes, we'd be malnourished over here.

This post isn't intended as a rant against bloggers who've decided to monetize. Hell, this blog did it too. I think I've just reached my threshold with the state of blogging. It's become one massive blogging blob of consumerism. Bloggers use and reuse the word "obsessed" and "crushing on" and "this needs to be on your radar" because they have no other way to describe the links they're trying to get you to click and the crap they want you to buy. And in terms of social media, if you leave me a meaningful comment, I'll certainly try to get back to you! I love getting them. But I can't be on my phone all day anymore. It's bumming me (and my kids!) out.

I say, write about what you're passionate about, let your personality shine through, and stop hustling your affiliate links and brand partnerships so hard. If you only talk about beauty, or only talk about fashion, or only talk about motherhood, you're limiting your audience... And quite frankly, you're most likely pretty boring. Posts purely for links are the WORST. It's not genuine. It's painful to read. I'll readily admit that this blog perhaps became painful to read at times. But I intend to fix that. I'm bummed about the state of blogging but that doesn't mean I need to be bummed about my own blog. I'm going to let profit margins take a backseat and focus on the things that I love an enjoy. Hopefully that love shines through in my posts and hopefully, more bloggers follow suit. We as bloggers can change the state of blogging, even if brands and marketers are trying to ruin it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Better Than Campbell's Crockpot Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of mushroom soup is in many holiday dishes, but the canned stuff is full of preservatives. Make your own in the crockpot for a healthy, cost effective holiday season!

Green bean casserole. Gravies and sauces. Specialty side dishes. Cream of mushroom soup is in lots of food served during the holiday season, isn't it? And those creamy dishes are soooo good too! However, the stuff that's in Campbell's cream of mushroom soup is disgusting. Did you know it has over a five year shelf life - for a product that contains dairy? At least, I think there's dairy in it, I can barely pronounce the derivatives and preserved versions of the whole food products. It comes as a surprise to nobody that I'm not into that. And I've devised my own recipe, that's super easy to make (it's done in the Crockpot so the work is done for you!) that tastes even BETTER than Campbell's, minus all the preservative crap.

So easy to make in the Crockpot and so much better for you than Campbell's!

The extra bonus is that this all organic, homemade, better tasting cream of mushroom soup is almost as cost effective as Campbell's. In Dallas, canned soup is $1.19 a can. I bought all these ingredients at Whole Foods and dollar cost averaged the price per mason jar out to $1.88. So for an extra 69 cents and the time it takes you to throw this stuff into a Crockpot, you can have fresh, homemade, preservative free, REAL food cream of mushroom soup for your holiday dishes. 

And the best part is that you can make it right now and freeze it. I bought 8 and 16oz mason jars to store it in my freezer. Then you can take them out as you need them for recipes. This soup is condensed, so no need to change grandma's recipe - just use this soup as a trade in for Campbell's! You're going to be amazed at how much better your food tastes when you use whole foods and real ingredients. Why cook from a can when it's so easy to make your own?

Better Than Campbell's Crockpot Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

- 1 pkg white button mushrooms, chopped*
- 1/2 pkg mini portabella mushrooms, chopped*
- half a white onion, finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 1 stick of butter
- 3/4 C flour
- 1T salt
- 1 32oz container chicken stock
- 1 can evaporated milk

*I chopped my mushrooms to slightly larger than the chunks you'd see in a can of Campbell's. They cook down, too. 

Plug your Crockpot and turn it on high. Add half the chicken stock to begin warming. In a large skillet, take 2 tablespoons of butter and brown the mushrooms. Add them to the Crockpot and chicken stock. Use the same skillet to saute the onions and celery. Add the rest of the butter once the veggies are soft. Add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes to cook the "flour" taste out of the super thick roux. 

Whisk the flour-butter-veggie mixture in to the Crockpot. Let everything come to temperature, then add the remaining stock. Add the salt. Let simmer on high while covered for about 2 hours. The soup should be thick and simmering. Then remove the lid and cook on high for another 2 hours to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. This is what "condenses" the soup! 

Finally, after the soup has been on high for 4 hours, it should be really thick and chunky with the mushrooms. Add the evaporated milk and stir. Turn off the Crockpot and let cool for an hour or so before ladling into your desired storage containers.  This makes exactly 64oz of condensed soup. 

Great recipe to make your own copycat Campbell's soup for all those holiday recipes! So easy and so much healthier

Use as you would Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup in any recipe! This one is so much better, you'll even want to eat it as a bowl of soup this fall and winter. Just remember to dilute it with water or milk. Enjoy your more flavorful, healthier and less sodium laden holiday season!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Ditching All Mommy Facebook Groups Made Me A Happier Mom

Mom groups on Facebook are abundant and an active social scene. But these Facebook mommy groups can also be destructive.

I'm sitting down to write this at 5:25am. I've been up since a quarter past 4am, looked at the clock and immediately began to anticipate my husband's annoying alarm going off at 5:30. If he were gone for business, I'd have had no trouble going back to sleep until 6am, but today, I get the joy of being up at 4am just because of that dang impending alarm. Anyone else like that?! Long way to say, I'm already annoyed. But not nearly as annoyed, not even CLOSE to the level of annoyance, I got from a few Facebook mommy groups. Recently, I clicked "unjoin group" on all of them. Every single one. Sounds extreme, but lo and behold, I became a happier mom after I did it.

"But, um, weren't those groups started to HELP moms?" You're probably {not} asking. Yes, I think so. I don't think anyone says, "Hey, I'mma start this group so that we all have a place to complain and whine and commiserate!" Well, actually, I'm not sure about that one entirely... People are pretty weird. And mommy groups? They're especially weird.

Mommy Facebook groups have become a toxic place to be a mom - ditch yours and watch yourself become happier!

Let me rewind to a few weeks ago, before I joyfully hit "unjoin group" again and again until there were no more mommy Facebook groups to unjoin. I rarely scroll my personal Facebook page. After dealing with my blog's social medial all day, I rarely care to do anything personal on it. I'm over-saturated with the social medias, you know? Anyway, this one day I decided to check things out. Bad move, Paige. This is what I saw:

One mom in one group wrote a 2000 word manifesto on a night she had with her daughter. Her almost two year old still gets up at least once a night to eat (yeah, hold the eff on, what?! Why are you allowing that to happen at nearly 2?!) and this time, she couldn't get her back down. The manifesto went on and on about how she gave her daughter whatever she wanted, including sugary snacks, but she couldn't get her daughter to listen to her. A 2000 word manuscript on the play by play that lasted until normal people are well out of bed and up for the day. And friends, I'm not an early riser... So we're talking almost 9am! Did she end it with, "Help me, this can't go on, what are some tips you have to getting a toddler back in bed in the night?" Nope. She didn't want to hear any of that. She wasn't using the group for what the group was intended for. She hijacked that group's purpose for her own dysfunctional gain.

The comments on her post were many. All were commiserating comments. Other parents who not only have been there, no - moms who deal with the same thing regularly! And wonder why. "My Sarah is the same way. I give her whatever she wants from midnight to 7am, and she still won't go back to sleep! It's a nightly struggle. You're doing a good job mama!" Then there were other, "Stay strong mama, you can do this! You're being a great mom! Coffee, stat!"

Ummm, hold on. Nope. She's NOT doing a good job. Her toddler is an a$$hole and the mom is enabling her. Her daughter isn't listening to her not because she doesn't want to, but because the toddler is smarter than her mom and she knows she doesn't have to. Why is that getting congratulated in a mommy Facebook group? If this mom dealt with that and didn't blast it on social media for all to commiserate with her, THEN she'd be a good mom, because she'd be dealing with the monster she created (both literally and figuratively) and managing it quietly. Not begging for attention or praise or desperately seeking validation on her terrible parenting choices publicly.

Ahhhh, there! I said it. No, not all moms do a good job. I don't always do a good job. But seeking praise for when you air your dirty laundry in a Facebook mommy group is just a bizarre way to behave.

I wanted to respond, "You're wondering why your daughter won't listen to you, but your answer is in your own manuscript. If she's up in the middle of the night, you make it a quick affair - water/Tylenol/whatever the immediate need is gets done quickly. Then it's back to bed. You don't offer her choices and you don't take her downstairs for a snack and you sure as hell don't give her sugar and expect her to go back to bed! She has no boundaries. She doesn't listen to you because she knows she going to get what she wants anyway. How can you not see this?!" But did I say that? No, I know better. This mom, and the other commiserating moms, would have jumped down my throat with that common sense, obvious, smack you upside the head with some truth comment. So I eye rolled, didn't feel even a tad sorry this woman hasn't slept in nearly two years, and scrolled on.

Another group I was in I had to pay to be in. It was a local group. They had events and elected leadership, thus the fee to join. This group was a real piece of work, because the SAHM scene in Dallas is insane. Competitive, braggy, elitest... some other adjectives come to mind but I'll keep those to myself. Anyway, some women just commented to comment. Like, "Hey, is there still a dry cleaners on Walnut and Skillman? I should know this but with the construction of the new Sprouts and my sleep deprivation, my mind escapes me! Thanks ladies." What, you couldn't pull up Safari on your phone and google that in less than the amount of time it took you to write the post in the group?! Did you comment just to make sure we all knew you were still around, or what? Perhaps you felt the need to participate in a non-offensive way to get your annual membership fees worth?!

Then there were the real intense people who would respond to questions: I remember one woman wanted to know how much a medical procedure would cost for her kid at a local clinic given her insurance company. I used to work in insurance so I commented with general rules about in network/out of network, copays and coinsurance. Then a particular woman (who had commented previously lashing out at a woman for CIO and was a breastfeeding martyr in the Dallas La Leche League too, so you already know I don't like her) comments, "No, that's now how it worked for me and my insurance!" Ok lady. That's YOU and YOUR insurance. Not helpful to the commenter or her question. You piped up just to be an a$$hole. One more piped up that I was wrong too. She had military insurance - not even related to what the original commenter was asking about! But she had to put her two cents in to create controversy.

(If you're wondering how that comment thread ended, I held my tongue on the idiots and told the original commenter to call the number on the back of her insurance card for a specific quote. I tried to exit that scene as quickly as I {mistakenly} entered it.)

Here's the thing: Mommy Facebook groups have become a place to commiserate. To dump all the ways your toddler isn't behaving the way the mom wants, and not get tips on how to correct it - just to bitch about it. I'm sorry, I just don't find motherhood to be that awful! My kids aren't perfect, but they're pretty kicka$$. We have fun together. If my toddler misbehaves, I discipline him. Trust me, not all of my nights as a mom have been good, but when I did have a bad night, I wouldn't put it in a group and expect to be told I was doing a great job! I don't need validation on my parenting from women I don't know.

I left mommy Facebook groups because all the nonstop complaining of their children was exhausting. If anyone attempted to provide some insight or tips, even in the most encouraging way, she was lashed out against by the moms who wanted to keep it a bitch-fest. If you didn't go there to complain about something, you asked a stupid question that was better answered by google. Like I said, I don't spend much personal time on Facebook anymore. I finally got my act together and decided that when I do, I don't want to see these ridiculous groups with their ridiculous comments. If I have a bad day, I'm texting a girlfriend who will say, "Ohhhhh nooooo! I can be over after nap time. Rose or Pinot and one bottle or two?" And while I don't go to dry cleaners anymore, if I didn't know where one was, I'd pull up my phone and have a quick chat with Siri.

Since ditching these groups I'm happier and more confident in my own parenting. I don't have to worry about what overzealous moms think about CIO ("cry it out" if you're wondering) and my feed isn't clogged with other mom's negative experiences with their toddlers. I no longer spend my time rolling my eyes at the moms so desperate for validation from others. I simply do what I think is best given the personalities of my children. Ditching mommy Facebook groups has made my feed (and my general overall mood) so much more positive! If you're sick of the martyrdom, I suggest you do the same. It's freeing!