An Uncomplicated Life Blog: December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Otto's Birth Story Trial Run

The morning of December 1 I was woken up by contractions. Actually, that's a lie, I was woken up by having to pee for the fifth time in three hours, then noticed the contractions. They came every 2-3 minutes for an hour. So I woke up hubs and said, "I think this is it!!" Except, it was not it. It was just a hilarious trial run to the hospital to have little Otto.

But y'all need to hear this, because it's GOOD. Yes this is a long post. It's like a chapter book instead of a picture book. But the story is good and I think you'll be entertained if you can hang and read it out with me! Let's wind back to 2:30am on December 1:

I wake up to pee for the 3,498th time that night. Come back to bed and cause an earthquake get situated on my right side. And I notice my whole abdomen is seizing up and somewhat painful. "Hmmm, contraction! Whatever. Knock that off, I'm tired and want to sleep more." But then shortly after the first one, before I was able to drift off into a peaceful slumber odd-pregnancy-dream-laden-mess I've been accepting as sleep for the past few months, another one came. And another. And more.

Hubs jumps out of bed. I didn't wake him, he did it on his own. He grabs the baby monitor with a camera on Henry and checks on him. This stupid contraption is bright enough to guide planes in on a landing strip, and our whole room becomes illuminated. "Do you think it's cold in here? Henry is sitting up! I think he's cold" he says to me. "No; I'm 9 months pregnant and having a hot flash. If you're worried about him, go give him another blanket!" and I roll over, annoyed and contracting.

I decide, hey, maybe I should time these things. Maybe these aren't more practice contractions - I was 1cm dilated at my last prenatal appointment which, because of Thanksgiving, was over two weeks ago, and I wasn't going in to be seen/checked again until December 7. So I pull the iPhone closer and start keeping tabs on these things. Hubs didn't give Henry another blanket, he just laid back down and fidgeted before he started snoring softly. I'm convinced he was actually sleep walking and not fully awake and with the program.

The contractions didn't slow, but didn't pick up either. Just every 2-3 minutes. For an hour. "Crap! It might be time. Lemme Google when you're supposed to go in..." You know, because I had Henry early and via emergency c-section, I didn't know these things! Most online sources said to go in when they were every 5 minutes for one hour straight, lasting a minute or more. Ok, I thought, time to wake people up!

Hubs was NOT impressed. When I got out of bed, he asked me what I was doing. "Um... putting on clothes to go to the hospital?" I replied. "What?!" he asked. Oh lord, I thought, he's still sleepwalking and I'm going to kill this man before we even leave the house... I just looked at him and said very clearly, "I'm having the baby now." To which he replied, "But I don't want to have the baby right now..." and I had to walk away before I decked him.

I head into my closet. I swear, the contractions took any and all limited brain power I had in the middle of the night, shat on it, and put it back in my head. I stood there for a solid 5 minutes, wondering what people wear to the hospital. I looked for some yoga pants but couldn't find any I liked. So I gave up and started to pick out what JEWELRY I was going to wear. I mean, what?! Then I realized I was still naked and actually getting cold in our home I keep at 67 overnight to ward off hot flashes...

So what do I grab to wear? My pre-pregnancy, decidedly non-maternity size 26 skinny jeans. Y'all, I couldn't get those over my big toe if I wanted to at this point, but that's what I thought I should "wear into labor and delivery." C'mon Paige. Luckily, I realized how dumb I was before I even attempted to put them on (and therefore start to cry because no 9 month preggo is a skinny jean size 26) and put them back for a pair of leggings, tank, cardigan and Uggs.

Hubs got my mom up, and she came to see how things were going. She told hubs to call either the hospital or my OB to see what they or she would want us to do about going in (FINALLY, someone with a brain to offer good advice!) Hubs asked me for the phone number. "I don't know the hospital's phone number or my doctor's after-hours number! Google it!" What does he do? He goes off in search of a packet they give you when you have your first prenatal appointment. Who knows where that is or how long that would take him vs. pulling up Safari on his phone and making a quick search of it; no, he wanted a paper-source number.

Like it was 1946 and we needed a yellow pages to find this information or something. 

But hey, that was cool, because I was busy trying to pick out what jewelry and non-maternity designer jeans to wear to labor and delivery.  We each were our own brand of stupid.

Not this time, little Otto... I had to wait over two more weeks to finally meet you!

Finally, my mom gave up on him and called the hospital herself. They said to check with my OB. I called my OB, and she said I should come in to get checked since I have a history of early labor and a previous c section. We load up the car, and as we kiss my mom goodbye at around 4am, hubs still says, "I just don't want him to come right now!" Get it together, buddy, you don't get to chose!

We get on the freeway. I ask hubs if he knows where he's going. He casually says (you know, like most men do when they have NO IDEA where they're going but don't ask for directions either) "Um, what's the exit I should take again?" So there I am, contracting and navigating for my dear husband. I get him to the hospital campus, but don't know exactly where labor and delivery is. He decides the most prudent route to take with a wife in labor is to just drive around until he sees it.

This is one of the biggest hospitals in the fourth largest city in America folks. The hospital is... Oh, I don't know... NOT SMALL.

After a full circle of the property, I tell him to pull over and GOOGLE IT. My answer for everything while in labor, I guess. See, the thing is people (and by people I mean my family) always ask me the questions and come to me for answers; I was smart enough to know I was too dumb to know anything and therefore should delegate to Google.

Hubs searches for the address, and we take off in what we think is the right direction. Except... The building is under construction. "It's the same building we were at last time, right?" he asks. "Yes, it's where we had Henry. That doesn't even look familiar!" I reply. "Well, this is the address it's giving me so let's park and find a way in."

NO. I knew it wasn't right. They have VIP parking for women in labor, and it was brand new when we were there last May, so it wouldn't be under construction. I pull out my phone and search it. I got a way different address. "THIS is where we need to go babe!" He still thinks his idea is a good one, and that we should park and walk to the address he found. It was all I could do to keep from ejecting him from my car and driving to the address I had found myself...

So obvi, we go to the address I found and it was it.

We park and hubs tries to get me to go in a door I knew wasn't labor and delivery. "See that sign? That says LABOR AND DELIVERY. That's where we want to go!" and I walk off and leave him in the street, miffed that he was still being so hardheaded and stupid at 4:30am. I thought, "I don't normally want to kill him, so I must be in labor..."

We go in and they give us our own room right away. The bonus about a middle-of-the-night-labor scare is no triage! It's straight to your own room. I had a lovely nurse who asked me 1,283,947 questions. Then the resident came in and checked me. She told me my stats, and said she was going to call my OB. By this point, I'm noticing my contractions aren't 2-3 mins apart anymore. She comes back with the news I expected: I'd be much more comfortable at home, because I could end up being there for a good while, and would likely face interventions that weren't necessary because of it.

No baby this time! In fact, I wasn't even in real labor. Early labor yes; but not active labor. I had to wait 18 more days to meet Otto. His REAL birth story is forthcoming!

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2016

What New Year's resolutions do you have planned for 2016?

I find that there are two kind of people in the world: the "I love setting resolutions every January!" kind and the "that's so dumb, why are you setting yourself up to fail" kind. I'm more towards the love them kind, but I like my resolutions served with a big side of reality. It's dumb to say *this is the year* you're going to master chef techniques when you currently burn microwave popcorn or go from couch potato to Boston marathon runner. But New Year's resolutions as manageable goals? Heck yes, I'm down!

We already know that I love publicly setting SMART goals for this blog, keeping you informed of what I'm up to behind the scenes and holding myself accountable for growing this space as a creative business venture for myself. Here's a blend of both professional/blog and personal "resolutions" I have for 2016!

Run my first road race since 2013. The last race I ran was the Plano Balloon Festival Half Marathon in September 2013 when I was pregnant with Henry but didn't yet know it. I PR'd. And then promptly stopped road race running... And, pretty much stopped all running. Two back to back pregnancies will do that to you! But I'd like to get back into it again this year. It'd be great to run just a 5k before it gets too hot, so I'm thinking this race will be a great {re}introduction to road racing!

Diversify where my blog traffic comes from. When I wrote this post, I had no idea my "traffic bubble" had just popped. Here I was, sitting at nearly 200k page views a month and I thought, "FINALLY! I've made it as a blogger!" But all that traffic was coming from Stumble Upon. It wasn't just one post - all my posts, all summer, exploded on SU. I'm at least smart enough to know that one post going viral on a promotion site doesn't equal blog fame! But I thought the traffic would last - and it did, for about three months. Then it died off. When I realized it was a "bubble" I knew I had to diversify where my blog traffic comes from so that I can consistently get the page views I want (need?) to grow my brand. So I focused on growing Pinterest. And learned some social media hacks. I want to continue driving referring site diversification through this year!

Figure out this whole "mom of two" thing. Whoohoo, I've got a newborn and a toddler! I'm not sure it gets harder than that. Oh wait, I work from home without a nanny... Indeed it does! I want to give myself the time I need to spend with my boys, adjust to this new season in motherhood. Hopefully, without going cray cray.

Are you a New Year's Resolutions kinda person, or do you think they're strange? Tell me what yours are if you're into them, and why they're weird if you're not. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas Holiday Break!

Merry Christmas to all my readers celebrating the season! Happy Holidays to all that don't! I'm taking the week to celebrate with my family. Enjoy your time with your loved ones, spiked eggnog, lights, and late night visits from Santa Claus.

Peace and love to you! I'll see you back here on Monday (Dec. 28) for some fresh content before we jump into the new year!

Image source

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blogger Christmas Gift Swap

I read about the blogger Christmas Gift Swap over at Jasmine's blog (she is an AMAZING beauty blogger, btw. Her looks are always beautiful!) I had never done anything like it before and thought it would be a fun way to get involved with some other bloggers over the Christmas holiday and spread some cheer.

I was right. It was fun! And so simple to participate! I just filled out a google doc form, was paired with a blogger, sent her a few emails about her likes/dislikes and went shopping. Then I packaged it all up and mailed it to her, and she did the same for me.

There were a few hiccups... Like, the Dallas post office was a friggin nightmare the day I was supposed to mail my blogger's things to her. The line was out the door and when I got in, they were out of the size of box I needed AND bubble wrap. So I did the best I could with a few bubbles a stranger was kind enough to give me and a Target bag I blew some air into. Of course I decided to mail her a monogrammed teacup that was highly breakable with several items to roll around in said box to smash it. I was so relived when I got word her things arrived safely! Note to self: Next year, but shipping packaging at Target instead of relying on the shoddy post office...

Mistle from Sweet Tea and Hydrangeas went above and beyond with my package! Two packs of hot cocoa, two nail polishes in colors I adore, a lip treatment, my favorite lip balm, lip gloss, Starbucks and spa gift cards (!), and the best mascara I've ever tried to date. She was so thoughtful and so giving! It was a blast to get her package, and it put a serious smile on my face.

Beauty and lifestyle items from the Blogger Christmas Gift Swap

If you've ever considered participating in some sort of blogger swap, I highly recommend it! It's a fun way to connect with other bloggers and get introduced to some new products. It's also fun to see how people interpret you from a questionnaire and from your blog! Mistle did a FANTASTIC job "reading" me, and Jasmine did a wonderful job coordinating this blogger Christmas gift swap! I'm already excited for next year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Currently December 16 Edition

It's been a long time since I've written a life update post, and I'm not at ALL doing what I thought I'd be doing or where I'd thought I'd be for mid-December. Like, not at all! So here's the quick gist of what's going on over at my place in east Dallas:

- I'm still pregnant. At 34 weeks they *thought* they saw some growth issues with Otto that would have resulted in a 36-37 week delivery. I went to a {very expensive, out of network} specialist a few days later to confirm that, and she basically said, "Yeah, I'm not sure what they were seeing, but your baby boy is textbook perfect and very healthy! He's sizing great." I followed up with my OB who did her own ultrasound (instead of the tech) and she said the same thing: "He's looking great!" So no inductions. And unlike his brother, he's pretty happy in here, so despite contractions and dilation, no baby. Yet. Still. Why. Get out. Now.

A photo posted by Paige AnUncomplicatedLifeBlog (@anuncomplicatedlifeblog) on

- Today is Henry's Christmas pageant at school! He's a sheep. Can you even?! Hahaha! I can't wait. If there's a silver lining of still being pregnant, it's that I get to watch Henry attempt to be still and play a sheep at the birth of Jesus. This is going to be hysterical! And totally adorable. $50 says he takes a Shepard's staff and throws hay.

- Remember when I wrote these birth predictions? So the early part isn't true, and I'm also changing what I said about heartburn and hair color. I'm now operating at heartburn level one million and am eating Tums like it's my job. Perhaps another blond baby like Henry will eventually join us, because that child damn near killed me with heartburn and came out as bald/blond/peachfuzzy as they come!

- I JUST started my Christmas shopping. Like, *just* as in, I'm going to do it in a minute, right after I finish this post. Any other late shoppers out there? It's me EVERY year. Who are these people who get it done by Black Friday? What are their secrets?!

Ok, I need to end this post here. Because if I don't skip out and actually do this Christmas shopping NOW, hubs wont have anything and I'll be a terrible wife. Henry is too young to know or care, and honestly, he thinks the wrapping paper is the best part anyway, so I'll still be a rockstar mom to him regardless. I have a great post coming up Friday that you wont want to miss! I'm off for consumerism hell, tootles. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Helpful Gaget For Newborns

This machine assists in making frequent newborn feedings easy!

Fact: I'm not a gadget person. I don't get into technology and don't get amazed by the latest thing that will "revolutionize" something. My husband is! You should see our remote control for the TV. Heck, you should see our TV... It's a miracle I can even turn it on. Anyway, Gerber® found out I was having a new baby and sent me a BabyNes®. For the first time in 31 years, I got excited over a gadget that will be SO helpful for the tough newborn phase with Otto!

If you or someone you know is having a new baby soon, check this awesome & helpful baby gadget out! Gerber® BabyNes®

Here's the quick synopsis of how the BabyNes® gadget/machine works: You get formula cups with nutrition designed for the age of your infant. You put it in the BabyNes. Press on. And in under 60 seconds, you have a warm bottle of formula ready to go, in the perfect serving size for your baby's age. Sound kinda like a Keurig for babies? Yeah, same simple-to-use concept with the added benefit of targeted nutrition for your kiddo!

Y'all know from this story that I breastfed Henry for three months and then transitioned to formula. I also plan on breastfeeding Otto for at least the same amount of time, if not longer. It's nearly 2016, and we all know that Breast Is Best, even formula companies like Gerber®! I'm a breastfeeding advocate and feel confident partnering with companies like Gerber because they support breastfeeding women. And bottle feeding women. And mom's in general, no judgement from them anyway you go about feeding your baby! That's the message I support.

Gerber® BabyNes® nutrition system
As an experienced mom, here's the thing you absolutely cannot plan for with an infant: The effects of sleep deprivation. It is NO JOKE. You also can't control if you'll have a big eater and constant nurser, like I had with Henry. He wanted to nurse every two hours, around the clock! That meant I was getting about one hour of sleep at a time, and a total of about four hours per night. That's not a sustainable plan, my friends, and why formula can be a Godsend to moms - even those of us who have no latch or supply issues! It's clearly a saving grace for moms who, for whatever reason, cannot nurse at all.

Formula for the BabyNes®
Now that I know what sleep deprivation can feel like, I have a pretty solid plan for breastfeeding my second son, and the BabyNes® fits into it PERFECTLY. Of course, babies have a tendency to have their own plans so I realize this might go straight out the window. Regardless, my current plan is to breast feed Otto during the day, then give him a good last feed before I go to sleep. If he's an eater like Henry, hubs and I will switch on and off between me getting up and feeding him and hubs getting up and giving him a bottle from the BabyNes®. If he's a good sleeper and only wants to eat once or twice at night, hubs and I will trade off nights of who's on "baby feeding duty."

After we got our BabyNes® and saw how friggin' cool it is and easy to use, we decided to keep it in our master bath so that we have easy access to it during the night. That sounds gross, but chill out - our master bath is about 350 square feet (that's an entire apartment in NYC!) and the toilet is in it's own room, so I'm not worried about bacteria splashing up and infecting Otto's bottles any more than bacteria would get into them from the kitchen sink. Having it steps from our bed and Otto's bassinet will make our lives so much easier - and let us return to sleeping that much faster!

Having a newborn is exhausting work. Your life revolves around diaper changes and feedings. But the BabyNes® makes it easier, even if you're planning to breastfeed like I am! Having daddy be able to take one feeding per night off my hands makes me feel more confident already about breastfeeding my second baby. The prospect of having a bottle ready for Otto in under 60 seconds is mind-blowing to this experienced mama. Instead of dreading the newborn phase, I find myself prepared to tackle the challenges, and excited to use this helpful gadget for our newborn!

Friday, December 11, 2015

5 Common Grammar Mistakes To Stop Making Immediately

Correct 5 common grammar errors with these easy rules!

Hey look, I get it. English and grammar isn't everyone's strong point. Maybe you snoozed in class, maybe there are too many rules to remember, or maybe there are too many exceptions to the rules to remember! When I was learning French, I remember distinctly hating all those dang exceptions after I memorized verb conjugations, so I totally get it. But if you're employed and writing emails on behalf of your employer, if you're a blogger writing on the internet, or if you still hand write letters, we need to talk about 5 grammar mistakes to stop making IMMEDIATELY.

Forgive me if I appear snarky. I'm very pregnant. And very tired of having to re-read sentences because the grammar is so bad, I can't tell what you're actually trying to say. Here are the biggest mistakes I'm seeing, and how to fix them:

1) When to use "me" and when to use "I"
This is the biggest offender by far! So many times, people think they're writing correctly by saying, "My sister and I" or "My husband and I." But many, many times, the I is incorrect. It should be "me." How do you know when to use I and when to use me? Simple. Take the other subject out of the sentence. Does it make more sense to have I there, or me? Here's an example:

"We were hoping for a call back today, but nobody has spoken to my mother or I." To determine is this sentence is gramatticaly correct, take "my mother" out of it. You're left with "We were hoping for a call back today, but nobody has spoken to I." Does that make sense? No. You'd use me here. The sentence should read, "We were hoping for a call back today, but nobody has spoken to my mother or me."

When in doubt, take the other subject out, and you can figure it out! I should trademark that. Copyright of Paige, right there.

2) The difference between "your" and "you're"
This is probably the second biggest offender I see on blogs. Which is surprising, because it's not a complicated grammar rule to follow. In fact, was doing some blog pinning and came across a pin talking about what to do "now that your done with college." I thought, for real?! Is that supposed to be a joke?! Are you sure you even graduated college...? Ok, I'm getting too snarky. Pregnancy hormones, y'all. Regardless, check out the difference in meaning:

YOUR: Possessive adjective. Signifies ownership. Your car, your house, your children, it's all yours. It's describing something (adjective) that is yours (possessive).
YOU'RE: Contraction of a pronoun and a verb. It means "you are." You're coming with me, right? It signifies that the pronoun (you) is utilizing the verb "to be" (which conjugated for you is "are").

Here's a tip on how to always implement it correctly: When using you(re)(r) take the r or the re off and insert "are." If the addition of "are" makes sense, you want the contraction "you're." Example: "When we leave, should we take you're car or mine?" Is that sentence correct? Let's see. By taking the re off you're, we're left with: "Should we take you are car or mine?" NOPE. You'd want to use your in this case. For the college education pin I mentioned above: "What to do now that your done with college" would read "What do now that you are done with college." Make sense? YES! So the blogger really meant to use the contraction here, not the possessive adjective. I'm hoping she really learned that in college grade school and it was just a typo.

3) Where to put a period mark when using quotations
Here's one I learned the hard way! I remember it well. It was 2009 and I was submitting chapters of my Master's thesis to my committee chair for editing. I myself didn't know if the period should be inside or outside the quotation marks, but my best guess was out. WRONG. My chair was so annoyed with me, she refused to correct any more of my work until I corrected all my quotations (and in a thesis, you're quoting a ton of sources!) by placing them inside the quotation marks.

In MLA, Chicago and AP (Alternative Press) styles, which are the standard for media writing, the period ALWAYS goes inside the quotation mark. You don't have "floating periods." <--- case in point. Nothing should ever look like "this". <---floating period.

4) The use of the word "irregardless"
This one is really simple. There are no rules with this word. Why? BECAUSE IT IS NOT A WORD. Regardless is a word (I used it in number two intentionally to demonstrate meaning) but irregardless? Double negative. Not a real word, despite it's use in American speech. Don't believe me? Look it up (oh hey, I did it for you!) You start to use this word in your writing and you may as well use gooblygunk instead. Actually, that may be a word. Irregardless is not.

5)The use of the word "alot"
This one is also super simple. ALOT IS NOT A WORD. It's a lot. Two words. They're separated. With a space. In fact, spell check is angry with me just for writing that, so I'm not sure why I see it so often, but I do. I get that spell check doesn't catch everything, especially grammar, but dang! Run a spell check over your post or your email before you hit publish or send, and you'll look a whole lot smarter.

I hope that was helpful for a grammar brush up, or maybe even a learning opportunity if it's been a while since you've reviewed English grammar rules! Heck, you could even be flipping me the bird for my grammar-police-snarky commentary throughout this post, I don't care. As long as these 5 common grammar mistakes are stopped immediately and your communication is more clear because of it, it's a win-win in my book!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Blog Year-End Review

Conducting a year-end review for your blog to increase page views and business for the upcoming year

There's two kinds of bloggers, I've found: Hobby bloggers who do this purely for fun or for family. They don't post terribly consistently, don't usually attend blog conferences and rarely know the first thing about SEO. Then there's the professional bloggers, who look at their blogs like a business. They research, learn, and attend conferences; solicit brands and change things when they don't work. I fall into the latter camp, and view this blog like my business. So, just like in the working world, I'm conducting a year end performance review, and thought I'd share it so that any other professional bloggers can do the same with their blogs and brands!

Conducting a Blog A Year-End Review 

Year-end reviews always go over successes and goals met, highlight a few really great/bright spots in the year, discuss areas for growth and set a plan to address those areas moving forward. That either sounds really dry to you or gets you really interested! Likely, if you're a professional blogger and have an entrepreneurial side, it gets you excited. Either way, I'll keep it brief. The longest year-end review I had to write was nearly 70 pages and had an indices (fact!), and aint nobody got time for dat.

I started writing these posts because to be honest, reading other bloggers goal and income/traffic reports are what's responsible for my blog's success. I started this blog with no idea what I was doing or how to grow it. I only knew that I loved writing and creating, and hoped one day I would be good enough to earn some money with it. I learned through posts like this WHAT was possible and HOW to do it. 
An Uncomplicated Life Blog: Year-End Review
  • Monetized. I successfully started bringing in consistent income through this blog. I wrote this post on how I did it and some mistakes I made, but overall I feel really good about it. I went from averaging about $50/mo in early 2015 to $250 by the spring, and well over $1,000/mo by the end of the year.
  • Learned and implemented SEO basics. I look back on what I used to title posts, and while they were clever and funny, they didn't reveal anything about the actual post. AKA, they weren't searchable, didn't use keywords and therefore, people couldn't find my content. I read up on SEO and attended two blog conferences, and Google is now in my top 5 referring sites.
  • Site traffic more than quadrupled. At the beginning of the year, I was getting about 10K page views a month. Over the summer, I had an explosive 3 months with Stumble Upon and got up to 200K page views a month. I've settled into a constantly increasing but normalized growth pattern, and now average about 50k page views a month. Not as glorious as my summer traffic, but I'll take consistent growth!
  • I learned how to use Pinterest to drive traffic. All the way up until May 2015, I thought, "lifestyle bloggers don't need Pinterest! We talk about life, how does that translate to a pinnable pin?!" SMACKS FOREHEAD. In May, I got over myself and realized that I indeed needed Pinterest. I took three solid months and focused exclusively on this channel. I read every Pinterest article I could find, took my followers from about 280 to over 1,400, started creating pinnable images in my posts and now Pinterest is always in the top 3 traffic drivers to my site. If you're interested in doing the same for your blog, read this.

  • Getting my first real check was pretty awesome! I had done posts for product in 2014, but actually getting money to write and do what I love was AMAZING.
  • I was featured via One2One Network.
  • This post was my most viewed in 2015, and I'm so so so thrilled at the supportive response I got from it! It's true, I was paid for it, but it goes to show that when you tell your personal story about utilizing a product, people connect with both you and the brand - and that makes both you and the brand some very happy campers!
  • My sponsor chose to pay to promote this post for me on their social media channels. They have nearly 5 million followers! I got the traffic boost and they got the promoted message. Another example of a blog-brand collaboration win-win. Because of their promotion on my post, it was my second most viewed post of 2015.

Improvements needed:
  • Instagram. Photography doesn't come naturally to me. I have to think about images and plan and edit them. Basically, images are the most work behind all blog posts for me. Instagram is like it's own driving force of images and your blog's brand. You can't hyperlink in it (yet?! I hope that changes in 2016) so it's not a traffic driver to your blog - it's simply it's own thing that can make you money, support your brand, or ultimately end up hurting your brand if it's not done well. I think my account is decent. I want it to be GREAT. And running a GREAT Instagram account is nearly as much work (to me) as running this blog.
  • Diversification. The bulk of my blog's income comes from two sources. I need to diversify that if I ever want to make full-time level money blogging. Late in 2015 I added affiliate links but I need to learn how to implement these well/effectively. I was also just accepted to two more brand-blogger connection agencies - SITS Girls (iSway) and Pollinate Media Group. I need to continue diversifying who pays me to really round out a solid income stream in 2016.
  • Fashion posts. I started doing more fashion-focused posts at the end of 2015 - mostly on Instagram. And I was overwhelmed with the response! Pea in the Pod, Mothers In Protest, Warby Parker, and countless others all reached out and said, "We want to work with you!" As a non-fashionista, I'm shocked. And flattered! I need to determine if this is something I want to focus just my Instagram on (see first bullet above) or if having a regular series is blog-worthy. 
  • Photography. Ahhh, photography. See bullet one. But apply it to my blog, too. Add in the fact my host is Blogger, and it changes your images up (read: lowers the quality) despite the best editing. I *think* I've figured out how to get my images the same size (no, it's not as simple as sizing them the same pixels, not on Blogger!) and I've really worked to improve them (see my point about Pinterest) but when I see great blogs with great shots, I realize how far I have yet to go.

Plan for improvements:  
  • Take a photography course. Thank goodness I live in a massive city, with ample access to both community colleges and photography stores and centers. The Dallas Photography Center offers a ton of classes - day long, weekend long, or multiple week stuff. I want to take one of those to work on improving both my blog and Instagram images.
  • Utilize the different income streams I have access to. I'm now a member of seven blog-brand connectors, and just added an 8th. Being a member is the first step, but doesn't translate into income unless I utilize those resources! I want to make it a point to interact with these people and the brands they represent frequently to increase and diversify my income. 
  • Start DOING. A lot of blogging is planning and preparing. You see it in editorial calendars, and in blog groups of Facebook that have endless questions from potential bloggers doing their research before they actually start DOING. Heck, when I go to blog conferences, I usually meet at least a handful of attendees who haven't even launched a blog yet! They're "busy planning and getting ideas" for their potential, future blog. WHAT? Seriously? Having a plan is cool, but you need to start acting on it! Case in point, my ambivalence about fashion. I can plan, read up on, scheme and strategize for months on that... But who the heck knows what will actually happen until I start DOING it? My best advice for other bloggers is to get moving and start doing, so I'm going to take a page from my own book (like that pun?!) and just start doing things to see what works and what's successful there. 

That's the breakdown! It's really interesting to think back on this year and give it a thorough, comprehensive review. This process has helped me plan well into 2016 and has given me tons of ideas and concepts to work on moving forward. If you're looking to take your hobby blog to the next level or already are a professional level blogger, use this year end review template to conduct your own review to advance your brand and your blog in the coming new year!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Bringing Home A Second Baby

 Preparing to bring home a baby, from an experienced mom's perspective

We are in the final, final, final stretch of pregnancy before we bring little Otto home! A second baby is so much easier to prepare for than the first. I feel like I have somewhat of a clue this time around - what to buy, what NOT to buy, and in my case - because I'm having my second boy 19 months after my first - what to pull out of storage and wash! Being a more experienced mom has made preparing to bring our second baby home so much fun. Here are all the things we've done, some of the products that have made the transition of adding a second baby to our family easier, and some of my biggest take-aways to having another boy 19 months after I had my first. This is what bringing home a second baby is like! Affiliate links used.

Bringing home a baby soon? An experienced mom shares what you'll REALLY need to have ready for your little bundle of joy!

We've pulled the infant car seat out of storage and washed it. If you're going to re-use a car seat, check to make sure it hasn't expired! These things are only good for about 5 years. Like I said, Otto is just 19 months younger than Henry, so that wasn't a concern for us. Just make sure to properly wash everything, and brush up on your car seat instillation abilities. It's so surreal re-adjusting all the straps back down to the smallest sizes!

We re-inserted the infant holder into the baby swing. The swing has been out in the nursery this whole time. Henry took no interest in it (since he's long outgrown it) but as soon as I started to get it ready, that kid wants to put his stuffed animals in there and watch them swing. Hopefully, he just watches his brother swing too, and doesn't try any "big brother" moves on him... Wishful thinking? Be prepared for your older child to re-take interest in all the baby things. Swings, bouncers, tummy time mats - all of the things your first child long outgrew and lost interest in will become interesting to him or her again. Let your older child be a part of the cleaning, washing and preparing, and let them play with their old things again! It will help them transition to having a little baby in the house. We also got a little baby doll and I showed my older son how these things were for little babies, so he'd get used to seeing a little face in his old toys.

This time around, we got a fully loaded Pack 'n Play for our room. Newborns wake often, and it's easiest to keep them in your room with you for easy feeding and changing. With Henry, we just had a tiny bassinet and put a changing pad on a book case. It was a pain the the rump! So we smartened up with baby 2 and got a fancypants "system." I highly recommend having two changing stations in your home if you have more than one child in diapers! My children share a bedroom, so this way if one is napping and one is awake and needs to be changed, it's super easy. Even if your children won't be sharing a bedroom like mine, you'll want more than one location to change them so that if both your children need a change at once, you can divide and conquer, and each parent can take a child and change him or her.

Bringing home a new baby soon? Invest in a fully loaded Pack n Play to make midnight feedings and changes easier!

This pack n play is amazing! It has a removable bassinet, a sleeper that vibrates, plays music and makes white noise sounds, a changing table that can be folded down for storage (where I'm keeping burp cloths and muslin's - new moms, you'll want TONS of these on hand and at the ready!) with a LIGHT and diaper wipe storage container and diaper holder. It's like the fully loaded BMW of bassinets, y'all! Update: we've since had four sons, and I've used this pack n play for every single one of them! We set it up in our room for the changing station, and bring it with us on trips for the baby to sleep in when we travel. You will not regret getting something like this if you're having a baby, much less a second baby.

With Henry, we had the diapers and muslin's out and visible in our master bedroom and it just made the whole house feel consumed by "baby." But with this, I can easily store my Huggies wipes and Huggies Little Snugglers Diapers. They're easy to access quickly, but hidden away from eyesight. Perfect! I can tell you that the more children you have, the more your house starts to feel like your children own it and all the space in it. Anything you can do to hide baby stuff and make that space YOURS is a win.

Have your changing table stocked and ready for when you bring your newborn home! Nobody wants to go on midnight diaper runs.

Adding a second baby to your family is a huge adjustment. Use these tips to bring home your second baby and seamlessly incorporate them into your family! For us, the car seat is ready in the back of my car, the swing is ready, the nursery is set, our bassinet station is set up and we're well stocked with muslin's, burp cloths, wipes and Huggies Little Snugglers! That's just about everything I'll need to bring home baby 2.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Improving Your Personal Time

Personal time is rare for anyone, but there ARE ways to sneak in a quick moment just for you!

When was the last time you had a minute just for you? To think? To eat in peace? To be mindful and present? Quality "me time" is so rare these days, no matter what you do for a living. Whether you're a SAHM, a work at home mom, a work outside the home mom or not a mom at all, modern life is demanding and takes us away from simple moments in life! I thought I'd share how I like to improve my personal time, rare as it is, in hopes that you can squeeze in some quality "you time" this holiday season too!

Here's what I do to be a happy, healthy person - despite little to no "me time" and added stress of the holiday season:

1) Get moving. Spend some time on a yoga mat, go for a walk, go for a run, or hit up a fitness class. Getting yourself moving produces serotonin in your brain and makes you SO much happier. Oddly enough, it boosts your energy too! Just 20-30 minutes a day is all you need to feel the benefits of movement.

2) Don't eat garbage. "You are what you eat, so don't be cheap, fast or fake." Ever heard that? One of my favorite sayings. But in our world, we often NEED fast if we're going to eat at all. I'm a huge fan of these protein bars! I can throw them in my bag and eat on the run, and know that I'm not eating my weight in fat grams or ten times my weight in sodium! Even better, you can click here for a coupon to try them at a discount!

3) Play YOUR favorite tunes in the car. I don't usually get "drive alone" time anymore - I've always got little passenger(s) with me. Driving used to be my de-stresser time, and when I started to stay home I nearly went cray cray. So I decided that, as the driver, adult and therefore decision-maker, I would continue to play what I wanted to hear while we drove to help relax me. Now Henry is all about dem jams, and more times then not, I see him with his hands up in the back seat, having just as good a time as me!

4) Make snacking healthy and communal. Henry still eats some "toddler food" but mostly, he wants whatever I'm eating. He's still too young for nuts (no allergies - just not enough molars to grind them down. FYI, toddlers shouldn't have nuts until over 2! Nut butters are totally cool provided there are no allergies) so I found my favorite brand of protein bars in an oatmeal chocolate flavor. When he gets super fussy the hunger hits, I break out one of these for us to share. I love that it's full of protein! Getting a toddler to eat protein after they've discovered carbs is no easy task, amirite mamas?!

5) Let go of guilt. If you need a minute, you need a minute! Don't feel bad about taking some time for yourself. We all need mental health breaks to relax, meditate, be present and remember how grateful we are for what we have. If you repeatedly don't take these moments for you, you'll be grumpy and agitated. Slow down, calm down, and focus for YOU, even if only for a few minutes each day.

Improving your personal time is so important, especially over busy holiday schedules! Remember that it only takes a few minutes a day, a little planning and the benefits of having some "you time" are enormous!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Leftover Turkey Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Looking for new flavors and a creative way to use up the dark meat from your holiday turkey?

Thanksgiving has come and gone and the next wave of holidays are quickly approaching! Basically, it's turkey season. And turkey season means leftovers. Lots of them too, if your family is like mine. While I love stuffing, and leftover-inspired sandwiches and soups, here's the deal: I can only eat so much butter-induced, sage-flavored, overly-rich food before I want to brush my teeth and not eat for a straight week! I also never know what to do with all the dark meat that gets picked over. This year, I did a massive "flavor change" and mixed things up with a big pot of gumbo. And let me please tell you, this will be a new tradition!

A great, healthy and tasty way to use up holiday turkey, especially the unpopular dark meat!

Any of you who cook regularly can understand me on this one: I think I'm a good cook, but it always tastes better when someone (mom, I'm looking at you!) makes it. So I rarely ever impress myself with my cooking - it's just good to really good. But y'all. Y'ALL. I straight up impressed myself with this pot of gumbo! Even as the cook, I wanted to lick my bowl clean!

Leftover Turkey Andouille Sausage Gumbo

- 1 package andouille sausage
- 1 C leftover turkey (I used all dark meat)
- 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 bell peppers (I used orange and red; green is classic but hubs hates green bell peppers)
- 1 medium onion
- 32oz vegetable stock
- 1/2 C flour
- 1/2 C olive oil
- 3-4 bay leaves
- 2t thyme
- 2T Worcestershire sauce
- 2 C uncooked rice (white or brown, we used brown)
- Salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste

Dice up the onion and bell peppers into medium bite-sized pieces. In about 2T of olive oil, saute in a large dutch oven style pan. When they've just turned soft, remove from pan and set aside. Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan, and brown the sausage on medium-high heat.

Once the sausage is browned (you'll want a nice, deep color on it) add the flour to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the leftover turkey. Pour about a half cup of the vegetable stock to the pan to "de-glaze" it (aka, get all the flour and sausage bits off the bottom of the pan with the liquid and stirring) and then add the remainder of the stock. Add the diced tomatoes, sauteed veggies, bay leaves, thyme and Worcestershire sauce. 

I love eating all these colors after a monochromatic holiday meal!
Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for an hour, uncovered and stirring occasionally. In a sauce pan, cook the rice. PRO TIP: If you want your rice to turn out fluffy and not sticky, use half the amount of water called for by the directions on the package. It took me over 30 years to figure that out! (Also works for fluffy quinoa - use half the water called for, always!) Taste the gumbo and season with salt and pepper to taste. I found that with the sausage, turkey and veggie stock, very little salt was needed!

Serve in a bowl, with the gumbo going in first, then spoon in a large spoonful of rice. Add hot sauce to taste. I paired mine with a Louisiana cane sugar root beer (LOVE being neighbors with Louisiana and having their products readily available in my Texas grocery stores!) and found that the sugar went really well with the spicy, savory gumbo. Enjoy some Leftover Turkey Andouille Sausage Gumbo!