An Uncomplicated Life Blog

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scones

Traditional Irish St. Patrick's Day fare includes a breakfast with scones. Make these to celebrate the holiday, or any time of year for a fresh baked treat!

Y'all know I love me a good holiday! Any excuse to decorate my home, or make special foods is a fun time, in my book. We're not Irish, and since we have so many young children, we don't do the American-ized version of celebrating St. Patty's Day anymore (although I had some doozy St. Patrick's Days back in my 20's that are a bit hazy to remember!) Instead, it's fun to make themed food in the spirit of the Irish holiday. I did a little research this year to see how the Irish actually celebrate this holiday, and what kinds of foods they actually eat. Turns out, corned beef and cabbage is largely an American tradition; soda breads and scones are in fact more authentically Irish. I needed no further excuse to make up a recipe in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day. Low an behold, my creative flavorful take on an Irish breakfast staple: The Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scone.

Now, while corned beef and cabbage isn't traditional, that doesn't mean it isn't DELICIOUS. If you're looking for a recipe for that for a well rounded St. Patrick's Day, look no further than this recipe I created a few years ago. I converted my non-cabbage loving husband! This one is seriously honestly one of my tastiest recipes, and will make the perfect dinner compliment to this lemon pumpkin seed scone you're about to enjoy for breakfast. Bake these scones the night before, throw the corned beef in the oven the morning of, and you're all set to have a few morning libations and still feed your family some delicious food as you "celebrate the luck of the Irish." 

Scones are a cross between a muffin and a biscuit, and take less than 30 minutes to make from scratch, including baking time!

Homemade take 5 minutes to mix together and just 25 minutes to bake!
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This flavor profile is a tad unexpected. It's true, I was looking for yellow and green elements to make this recipe, and low and behold I came across a really excellent combination! The key here is to use FRESH lemon zest and FRESH lemon juice. If you don't have a zester, just use a fine cheese grater. If you don't have a juicer, use your hands to squeeze the juice out of the lemon while catching seeds with the other hand (squeeze with one hand, let the juice run through your fingers and catch seeds with the other). Store bought juice will lead to disappointment in this recipe! 

Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scones
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 a teaspoon if using unsalted pumpkin seeds)
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

Lemon glaze
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

In a small skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds over low heat until you can start to smell them, shaking or stirring them regularly so they don't burn. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the lemon zest, milk and butter and loosely incorporate. Just like pancakes and biscuits, you don't want to over mix this dough! Add the pumpkin seeds and dump the mixture onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Form dough into a circle, being careful not to over-pack it (and therefore making a dense scone). Cut the circular loaf into six pieces, and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

How under-mixed your dough should be
Lightly formed into a circle. Don't over-pack the dough or it will become a brick! Then slice into 6 pieces

While the scones are baking, mix together the lemon glaze. You don't want it too runny, so start with just a tablespoon of lemon juice and add slowly from there! Wait for the scones to cool completely, then drizzle over the cooled scones. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea (or an Irish coffee if you're in the St. Patrick's Day spirit!)

I'd eat these lemon pumpkin seed scones the same day, max two days, and leave them out on the counter. Covering them or putting them in Tupperware will turn them soggy. You can freeze them after baking. Allow to defrost on the counter. To crispen up the edges again, put in the oven for 5 minutes at 275 degrees. They'll be good as new!

Monday, February 4, 2019

What Happened When I Stopped Caring About Social Media

As a blogger, I'm supposed to care about my engagement and stats on social media. I stopped all that, took the pressure off of myself, and this is what happened.

I hope we're friends on Instagram, and I hope you check out my stories. A few weeks ago, I had an "honesty chat" where I shared I completely stopped working the Instagram Game. You know, liking a bajillion photos a day, commenting on dang near everyone's pics, going through the hashtags I planned to use the next day and liking/commenting there... Basically, wasting my life away in that app just to "build community" aka get engagement on my account. On Facebook, I stopped sharing others content (finding good content to share was getting so hard to find!), and only made a few posts myself per week. Twitter? Yup, I only scheduled out a single tweet per day. Basically, I decided to reclaim my own life and get off social media so that I could really live it and be present with it. So what happened to all my accounts? The accounts that get me paid, that I've spent years building up? What happened to my page views on my blog? What happened to my mental health? This is what happened when I stopped caring about social media, and started caring more about living my present life.

My actual blogging work space... In the playroom because we have too many kids in all our bedrooms for me to have an office!

First, a bit more on why I stopped caring about social media. It's a funny thing. I've been on Facebook since it started as a way to share your party pics in college. You had to have a college email address to sign up and you could only "friend" people in your network - people at the same college or university that you went to. That was Facebook in 2004. By the time I graduated in 2006, my sorority was having workshops on social media, and why it's not a good idea to have "party pics" of you out there when you're trying to get a job. Nice foresight Kappa Kappa Gamma! I didn't post party photos of myself (I graduated in 3 years with nearly a 4.0 GPA; I was too busy studying and working to party much. Saved that for graduate school!) but I did enjoy checking out others' debauchery. 

Facebook opened up to everyone sometime in 2007 or 2008 and that's when the first big change happened. Now everyone could see you and you had to be respectable! Family members joined. Businesses joined. Groups were formed. It became a "thing." I remember I saw my first Social Media Manager job posted sometime in 2010 and laughed. "That's a REAL job?! What a joke!" I thought.

Yup, definitely a thing. That same year I helped write a social media policy for my employer. Two years later, social media marketing tasks were added to my job. By 2014, I started a blog and social media marketing WAS my job. It was easier back then. There weren't algorithms, and if people liked your page, they saw your content. You didn't even have the option to pay for ads, it wasn't a thing yet. Instagram wasn't popular yet. Heck, my account was still in my private name! There was very little strategy outside of post your content consistently and respond to messages and comments.

Fast forward to 2017 and people were making six figures just from an Instagram account. You had to have at least 10k followers for brands to want to work with you. There were expensive guides sold on how to build up these big accounts and the word "influencer" became a thing. A real job, that made real money, just by posting photos on the internet. Nobody was laughing at a job titled Social Media Manager anymore because they were too busy trying to figure out how to become influencers, where the real money was!

Towards the end of 2017, I told a small group of bloggers I'm close with that this whole Instagram thing was no longer sustainable. People were buying followers, faking likes and doing various "tricks" to make their accounts look popular so that brands would pay them big bucks to post photos that never actually reached their target market. Blogging went from creating fun content for your site to being all about your social media channels - the blog was just the after thought that people clicked through to if they had the time. Everyone was trying to figure out how to game the system, trick the algorithms and gain more followers and more likes, no matter who those followers were or where those likes came from. 

For me, it took the fun out of blogging and using social media.

It was a constant internal battle I had with myself: Do I do the same things others are doing in order to stay competitive and relevant? I hated that I had to spend so much time in Instagram, just to build or maintain my account! Just to try to garner every follower who might be remotely interested in me (or, more accurately, interested in a follow back from me) or who might give me a like on a photo, or a Facebook like on a link to my blog. 

It had gotten bananas. Bloggers were hiring out help for their Instagram accounts alone. Most of the likes they were getting were from "like all threads" or "chore threads" and while they weren't fake, they weren't genuine either. Don't even get me started on giveaways... A way to buy followers without actually saying you're buying them. Ughhh. It was all just a huge game on false popularity. Fortunately, PR agencies and brands noticed (finally!) and wrote into contracts that hired influencers couldn't implement these practices or they'd be fired from the project. I thought that would help right the ship, as it were, but it didn't.

Sometime after seeing my 90th giveaway in my feed during the holiday season of 2018, I said ENOUGH. I'm so sick of  liking liking liking, engaging, commenting, always being present, responding to just about every DM, always having fresh Instagram Stories up, always having a queue of tweets going out, scrolling Facebook nonstop for great content to share, liking and commenting, liking and commenting... Just to remain relevant and seen in each platform's algorithms. ENOUGH. 

So I stopped. 

I stopped all "games" and simply posted content when I wanted to, and only liked a few photos a day from my feed. Only liked a few Facebook posts on others' pages and didn't share any content. And that lack of activity on my account showed. Immediately.

My Facebook impressions plummeted. At first, my Instagram engagement was cut in half. Then in half again, and again, until I was getting 50-150 likes on a photo when I had been 500-1,000+. It was a kick to the gut. I'd love to tell you that I didn't care, but I did. It was Christmas time, so I had plenty to do besides care about social media stats, but I was worried. Worried how it would effect my ability to get paid projects. Worried what that engagement rate looked like to others. Worried how my blog would fare and worried about future paychecks that might no longer come. 

After a week, I was ready to throw in the towel and jump back into spending all my time on social media again, just to save my account (and, honestly, to save face and boost my ego again too.) But I stuck with it. I said, no Paige! Just commit to taking the holiday season off and see what happens. Maybe things will bounce back! Maybe brands will still want to work with you. Just give it time and see. I resolved to get through December 2018 and January 2019, then reevaluate to see where things stood. I had a lot going on to keep me busy with newborn twins and two toddlers, so it was easy to follow through with my lack of social media plan!

Here's how it all panned out: Emotionally, I was SO MUCH HAPPIER. I got SO many hours to my week back! I could actually spend time writing (which is why I started blogging to begin with) and improving my photography skills. I started blogging to BLOG, not to spend time promoting my brand on social media. So that was a refreshing reboot for my brain. In my experience, when you're refreshed, you write better content. I started to have all these blog post ideas that I was actually excited to write (and would be excited to read, if I were a follower). It was a huge boost for my morale and creativity - I have such a great list of posts to write this year!

Why using comment pods and engagement threads harm your blog and social media channels if you want to be a paid blogger

Monetarily speaking, my December was completely middle of the road. Not a great month, not a bad month. However. I wasn't hired for any "social media only" work. It was all blog posts! That correlation is interesting; get better at what you love doing anyway and people hire you for it. January was more telling, since the effects of abandoning my social media had time to set in. Hold on to your hats... It was my BEST MONTH EVER. Five years of blogging, and once I started not caring about social media likes/engagement and just had fun with creating my content, and I landed two HUGE contracts for social media only work. Multi-month, multi-figure contracts. One of which is with my "dream brand" because I actually buy and use it regularly and it's in my perfect organic niche.

I remember it was January 16 and I was sitting on my couch in awe of what was happening (I secured the contracts within hours of each other). I pulled up my Instagram and had a measly 53 likes on my last photo, yet had secured this work from brands WHO REACHED OUT TO ME, and whom I was able to negotiate MORE pay with. I did not honestly expect to share with you that my pay increased. I merely hoped I'd be able to share that it didn't negatively impact it! Now, was this just a fluke month? One super successful month that will be followed by a desert of no interest? Maybe! It's hard to say when you're self employed and work month to month building an income from scratch every time. But if it's a fluke, it's pretty bizarrely timed.

Moral of the story: don't let likes stress you out. Don't let a high number of likes make your day. I wish there was a way to completely hide like counts and comments on social media posts in fact! Giving up the ghost on caring about that trivial stuff is not only freeing, if you're in social media for a living like I am, it's not detrimental to your business. It resulted in more fun, creative content on my end, and brands noticed. I'm guessing brands also noticed that my engagement was entirely genuine, and reaching 75 people who actually read and interacted with my content was far better than 670 who liked it because I liked several of their photos and were just doing it to reciprocate, not because they're actually invested in me, my account or what I have to say. As it would turn out, when you stop "caring" about social media, good things happen AND you become a happier, less stressed out person!

Monday, January 28, 2019

What I Learned Postpartum From Twins

Reflections on life changes immediately after delivering twins

There's so much anticipation leading up to delivering a baby. Or two babies. The last stages of pregnancy are hard physically and emotionally. With multiples, odds are extremely high that you'll be on bed rest, attempting to get every last minute you can keeping those babies gestating, as most twins are delivered at 35 weeks. Then in a blink of an eye, you deliver them and boom! You're officially in the postpartum stage. In my opinion, no matter how hard your pregnancy was or wasn't, the three months immediately after delivering the baby/babies is far more challenging. Exponentially so. If you're a first time mom, there is no book you can read or class you can take to prepare you for it. If you're a second or more time mom, odds are good you've forgotten what it's *really* like (funny how that happens... It's natures way of getting us to keep reproducing, I swear!) If you're like me and expecting or recovering from having multiples, you're in for a whole new level of postpartum chaos! (I wanted to use the word hell there, but thought that was a little strong for an introductory paragraph. But it's hell. Postpartum is hell.) Twins magnify the postpartum chaos/hell exponentially, too. Here's what I learned, postpartum from twins:

Me sleeping with Knox in the bed; hubby holding Teddy

- I need more alone time than ever before and it needs to be made a priority
This one is hard because at no time in my life was I more needed... Around the clock! And that's probably why I discovered myself needing away and alone time. Clearly that couldn't happen every day, but if I could escape for a lunch by myself, or some work time at a coffee shop even twice a week, I was not only a much happier person, I was a better mom when I was with my kids. The constantly being needed, touched, spit up on, and caring for children made me NEED time away to sit in silence or have a complete, uninterrupted thought.

To this end, I think the older I get, the more I'm transitioning to an introvert. I was an extreme extrovert in my 20s. I loved and was energized by people. Now, I'm down to a 50/50 split - I love to socialize and do indeed get depressed when I haven't filled our social calendar with enough events, but I'm also drained when I'm constantly around people (yes, even little people like my kids). Peace and quiet is absolutely glorious. After four kids, mom life has completely sunk in and I absolutely relish any alone time I can find. Any time I'm not being touched or my name being called or refereeing a fight or bouncing a baby on my knee is precious, precious time.

- Don't fight your spouse. You NEED your spouse
When I finally started getting out of the house again after birthing twins, or finally invited some friends over to see/hold the babies, the constant question I got was, "So, do you want to kill your husband?!" And my answer was no. Nope. Not at all! My husband was my most helpful assistant after we had the twins. Not only was he entirely hands on, he also understood all my ticks and annoyances, so he was helpful in a way that wasn't obnoxious/draining/actually resulting in more work for me - he was simply helpful. With twins, your spouse is your co-pilot. Y'all are on the same team, working towards the same goals. So don't fight your spouse! Figure out how you're going to teamwork it all out.

It's hard, I know. After our first baby we didn't fight because it was just one baby and in hindsight, one child is SO EASY! After four kids, I want to punch one-baby-Paige in the face for thinking it was so hard! But after our second, we fought constantly. I truly think it's because with two, it's all hands on deck and he had to make some of the same sacrifices I had to make after one baby: no more 45 minute showers, eat a [cold] meal in under 10 minutes (maybe even five), get ready for the day with children hanging off of you, and so on. We were already at that level of understanding when we had the twins, and also had some marriage counseling to help our communication skills to boot, so shockingly, the twins were a relatively easy transition for our marriage. We had already solidified as a parenting team. If we had started with twins though... I honestly might be singing an entirely different tune as a single mom. If you're a first time parent expecting twins, my best advice for you is to get a really good marriage counselor and see him or her often. I'm totally serious. The demands of twins on unprepared parents *could* completely ruin you, and the odds are strong that you'll need outside help so that you don't fight your spouse... Constantly.

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- Enjoy whatever moments you can
Sleep deprivation is real with a new baby, but times it by about 100 with twins. Again, I'm not kidding. In the early weeks, one baby would go down to bed well and the other wouldn't. He'd stay up until the next feed. Then they'd trade, and the sleeping baby would be up while the formerly feisty one would fall asleep. There was more than a few nights where this went on ALL NIGHT LONG. Quite literally, zero chances for sleep at night. That makes enjoying your newborn really difficult, especially if you're like me and have other kids to care for during the day (so no naps for you!).

I resolved to get through this truly awful season of sleep-deprived-life by enjoying picking out the boys' outfits and dressing them alike. Yes, they were my third and fourth babies of the same gender, but I found myself buying tons of matching outfits, and really enjoying seeing them together, dressed alike. Also, it made it impossible for my husband, nanny and mom to tell them apart, which I got a kick out of! I know my husband enjoyed putting the twins in the stroller and having the older boys on their bikes, and going for walks in the neighborhood. This served a dual purpose, because I was then able to get 30 minutes of peace while they were out walking. Whatever it is that brings you joy, find it and plan it daily. Even if it's as trivial as an outfit. In those hard early days, having something to look forward to is essential. It does get easier (like when they get on the same sleep schedule! When they start to smile and coo at you!) but in those first few weeks postpartum, you've got to take whatever bright spots you can and hold on to them to get through.

Matchy matchy 3 month old twins

- It is a season, and this too shall pass
So cliche. But it's true. Sometimes, at 2am when you've been rocking and nursing babies for 12 hours straight and you'd literally cut off your baby toe to go to bed, it feels like it will never end. That you'll be in postpartum hell forever. That you'll never get a spare minute again, never get a hot shower and never sleep. But you will! You will. For us, we turned a huge corner at 10 weeks when the twins started to get regular chiropractor adjustments. That helped their gas issue almost entirely go away, which meant they weren't as fussy in the evenings and when they went down for naps. By 12 weeks, we were getting them to bed in 2 hours or less (instead of staying up with them until 2am, alternating which baby was awake!) By 3 months, we were in a pretty solid routine with consistent daytime naps and a concrete bedtime routine.

When I was a first time mom, I had pretty severe postpartum depression (PPD) and a big part of that was this massive feeling of doom, that the hard season would never end. That this was just what my life would be like now, and it was a sucky life at that. But it passes! It does get easier, even if you have twins. Yes, new challenges arise, but nothing (in my opinion) is as hard as those first three chaotic, hellish months postpartum.

The "4th trimester" is so hard because it's a huge learning curve. You're learning about being a parent, you're learning about the particular baby (yes, they're all different, even if you're having twins! My twins have nearly opposite personalities), and the baby is learning about you and the world around him. That makes the postpartum period HARD. With twins, it's insanely hard. There's essentially two learning curves taking place simultaneously, which is immensely stressful. I've learned things about myself and life in general after all of my children, but quite possibly my biggest postpartum period for growth and learning was after I had twins.