Disclosure: Some posts on this blog are sponsored, meaning that I received goods, services, or monetary payment for my writing. My opinions however, are not 'purchased' and are always 100% my own. Posts contain affiliate links that I earn a commission on. This disclosure is done in accordance with the FTC 10 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Hotel Victor: Iconic Art-Deco Building is the host for Oyster Bash

boutique hotels in miamiAlthough I received my entrance to this event for free in order to provide media coverage and write this piece, please understand that my opinions and words are 100% my own.

If you've ever been to the famed art-deco district of Miami, you know two things. One: The view along Ocean Drive is absolutely gorgeous. Two: There are so many people, places, events, stores, hotels and restaurants that look wonderfully tantalizing that it is nearly impossible to decide what to do, see, or eat first.
boutique hotels on ocean drive
Only about once a month do I get the chance to head into this area, and when I do, I make certain to choose where I spend my time wisely. Usually I spend about two-thirds of my time checking out new spots, and the rest of my time catching up at places I deem to be my 'favorites'.

hotel victor marqueeDuring the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (which is a huge event hosted by +FOOD & WINE each year), I was invited to the Oyster Bash at the Hotel Victor so that I could cover the event!

With my love of food and my appreciation for art-deco firmly in hand, I headed to Miami Beach ready for a good time and excited to check out the beautiful renovations I knew had been done at Hotel Victor. I was certainly not disappointed.

art deco pendant lightingWhen you first walk up to the exterior of the hotel, you feel slightly transported to a different time. The sidewalk behind you fades away as you stare up the gorgeous eight-story building; the jazzy type-font of the hotel marquee drawing one's gaze up to the eyebrowed balconies and ribbon windows.

hotels with pools on ocean driveOnce indoors I was hit with the freshness of the place - tones of white, cream, and tan give life to the high-ceilinged lobby and the snappy marble floors. The staff was courteous in showing me up the stairs towards the roof-top lounge area which was my destination for the night. Situated on the second floor, the large balcony party area has a lead-out into the stylish hotel-pool along with a lovely view of the ocean and the famed Ocean Drive below.

oyster bash at hotel victorAlthough the Oyster Bash event had been sold out, the rooftop had no trouble hosting the multitude of guests attending this long-awaited (and delicious) foodie-affair. Taking center-stage for the evening's festivities were big names in the oyster world: Chef Jeremy Sewall of +Island Creek Oysters was there with a crew fresh-sucking oysters into two large boats filled with ice all evening long. Famed Chef Ming Tsai was there promoting the Double Cross Vodka line while serving up a delicious oyster pancake creation. Chefs David Bracha and John England were there working side by side to represent The River Seafood & Oyster Bar. Top Chef winner Chef Hung Huynh from CATCH Miami was there serving up fresh-shucked oysters that he was searing in-the-shell over a hot bed of charcoal. And finally Chef Jeff Raider was there from Lure Fishbar serving up Kushi and Beau Soleil Oysters to provide event-goers with a taste of spicy and sweet.

cloudy bay at oyster bashI was amazed to be surrounded by so many well-known chefs of the foodie-world, and I was more than a little excited to get photos of them and with them all! As a matter of fact, I was enjoying myself so much, I nearly forgot to try the oysters! Upon trying the delicacies provided at each booth, it was perfectly clear to me why and how these chefs have managed to carve a name for themselves as top culinary experts. Not only did the oysters (provided by Island Creek Oysters) have a clean taste with a smoothly-crisp mouthfeel, but each chef's creation was distinctly different and made me feel like I wasn't trying 'just another oyster', but a new dish altogether.

chef john england and chef david brachaAt the end of the night I had a glass of some excellent wine by Cloudy Bay and went on rounds through the airy patio area to see what people had thought of the night and the beautiful location.

oyster bash sashimiChef John England had this to say as he and Chef David Bracha enjoyed a drink together at the end of the night: "Chef [Bracha] and I had a really good time here. It's a great event...great oysters, [Island Creek Oysters is a] great company to work with. And one of the biggest things is, for me, talking to these people - I'm spoiled. I sit on a deck, looking at the water, at 9:30 in the morning. I call these guys up and it's below zero, and they're getting my oysters. (Laughing) And so I just rub it in all the time. It's just nice to meet them in person. They're really, really great people. It's a great event. I'm really happy they invited Chef [Bracha] here to do this."

Before I left his table, I asked if he wanted to let foodies everywhere know anything about The River and he filled me in on their brunch: "We have brunch and it is kickin'-off. You never had to make brunch reservations until now, but you have to make reservations now because it's off the hook."
chef ming tsai double cross vodka
Brunch is available at The River Seafood & Oyster Bar on Sundays, but make sure to grab reservations if you want a table. And don't forget to invite your buddies when you go, because in the words of Chef England, "Brunch is about very good food with friends."

top chef hung huynhAfter speaking with the chefs I headed over to the covered area near the pool where people were taking great advantage of the wet-bar and plush, white relaxation area. One couple I met said that it was their second year attending the Oyster Bash at Hotel Victor and that it is their favorite event during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. "It is the best. It's the most accessible, it's super fun, it is amazing... and Ming Tsai loves me!"

oysters over charcoalThe couple, Mary and Charlie, were there hoping to get pictures with famed Chef Tsai for the second year in a row and succeeded. They were more than pleased with the evening and spent their time after eating sitting in the lovely lounge area socializing with other couples who had attended the event for the evening. They were also hoping to win a Ming Tsai Aero Knife in a prize-winning game with the free spin each attendee was given. They got t-shirts, but Charlie did have this quote to send up as a shout-out to Chef Tsai: "I want the knife!"

chef jeremy sewall at oyster bashOne man they were speaking with, Joseph Hermann, summed the evening up in a spectacular way: "We're at the Ming Tsai Oyster Event. The big order tonight, is 'shuck and suck'. Shuck-and-suck oysters, and Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. It's a delicious combination: lovely evening, nice people, beautiful weather; welcome to South Florida."

Joe - I couldn't have said it better myself.

You can find out more about the Hotel Victor by visiting them at their website at www.hotelvictorsouthbeach.com. Or, you can check them out in social media by following them on Facebook or Twitter!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Check out PediaONE and keep your kids hydrated!

Every mommy (at some point or another) gets to wake up to that one horrid sound of their little one throwing up in the middle of the night.

The first time it happened for me, I remember being confused and fearful as my son cried out for me in a terrified voice. He had never gotten sick like that before, and he didn't know what was about to happen. I held him, helpless as we all are in that situation, as my poor baby found out first-hand that throwing up is one of the worst feelings there is.

Over the course of the next few days I played the role of nurse-mom; and my son alternated from the semi-cheerful demeanor of the sick child who is feeling 'a little bit better' - to the pitiful crying that ensues from a toddler just before they throw up again.

Growing up in a houseful of kids, I knew that one of the most important things to keep an eye out for during sickness is dehydration. At the time, I flooded my son with popsicles and ginger-ale, hoping that he could keep those fluids down yet at the same time worrying about the quality of his teeth and health from all that sugar! After all, soda and frozen treats aren't exactly good for you.

Mere weeks after this episode, my blogging friend +Army Wife & Mommy was hosting a giveaway of a product called PediaONE after she did a review of it on her blog. I had never heard of this company before, and assumed it was like many other products that were for hydrating children during sickness. However, this company's name recently came up again in my social circle and I decided to give it another look-see.

What do I now love about +PediaONE? In addition the usual hydrating formula full of minerals and vitamins, this company goes a step further with non-GMO ingredients! That is huge to me! My family is dedicated to eating as natural and as organic as possible, and GMO's just have no place in our healthful lifestyle.

Another thing that I love is that they have a variety of products meant to help out anywhere, anytime. You can get PediaONE in powder packs that enable you to keep a few of them in a diaper bag or purse for emergencies or re-hydration on-the-run. Carrying around an extra bottle in a diaper bag is doable, but heavy. Powder packs are a much better option and allow you the comfort of knowing you are prepared for anything.

Although we haven't had anymore stomach upsets in our house since that night, I know the time is coming eventually. But this time, I'll be ready!

Want to connect with PediaONE and find out more?

You can check them out on their website at www.PediaONE.com, or find them on their social media profiles through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or YouTube.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions were purely my own.

(The giveaway that was associated with this post has expired, please check out our giveaways tab for a list of available contests!)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Taco-Chicken Salad

As some of you may have heard, there's a 30-Day Salad Swap challenge going around, and I joined in on it. Because I decided that I could certainly stand to lose a little weight, I jumped in on the challenge. That, of course, led to a whole slew of salad ideas and recipes.

Here's the recipe from the salad we had on our first day of the salad challenge. Although in the picture it looks like we piled the dressing on, in actuality it was probably less than 2 tablespoons! Because the bulk of this salad is made up of a zesty vegetable mix, it is both good for you and filling! The tender chicken chunks have a delicately spicy flavor that pairs perfectly with ranch or blue cheese dressing, and an easy cheese quesadilla on the side provides the perfect accompaniment to create a balanced meal.

Taco Chicken Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1-1/2 lbs chicken breasts (frozen chicken works well for this)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 dark-skinned (Hass) avocado or 1/2 of a light-skinned (Hall) avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 teaspoon of cilantro paste from a brand like +Gourmet Garden Herbs and Spices
  • 2 tablespoons dressing, ranch or blue cheese work well
  • 1 bag fresh salad mix (10 to 12 oz size works best)

Directions:

Pour water and vinegar into a large shallow pan and put chicken breasts inside. Bring vinegar mixture to a boil and then simmer for eight minutes. Cover the pan during simmering and flip the chicken at least once.

Mix together the chopped tomato, chopped onion, frozen corn and black beans in a colander and rinse well under lukewarm water, until the corn is no longer frozen. Set aside while you wait for the chicken to finish cooking.

Remove the chicken from the pan when it is done simmering, and slice it into 1/2" pieces.

Reduce the liquid in the pan to about 1 cup, and return the chicken to the pan.

Add the taco seasoning and cilantro paste in with the chicken, and stir well. If the spices seem to be too 'sticky', add water in increments of 2 tablespoons until the mixture is a good cooking consistency. Allow the chicken to cook for another 4 minutes (or until the liquid has simmered out), remembering to stir frequently.

Slice the avocado into thin strips.

Dress the salad by creating a bed of lettuce, followed by the vegetable mix and chicken. Top with avocado slices and dressing. Serve with a simple quesadilla on the side for a complete meal.

Enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Relationship Maintenance: The Man Cave

Once upon a time, a loooong time ago... back when I was still a single lady and looking for my Mister... I encountered the Man Cave of all Man Caves. It belonged to the best friend of my at-the-time boyfriend. The thing so special about his Man Cave was that it encompassed most of his house. He had recently gotten engaged to his girlfriend, and I was amused at the -tiny- space he had told her she could do "whatever she wanted with". In the rest of the house, if you didn't know any better, you'd think a woman had never set foot in the place.

One afternoon I cornered her in the kitchen (the one room that was fast-becoming her domain) and asked her how she could stand to let him refuse her any space in the home.

what do men want"Well," she told me, "I guess I'm looking at it like this: Men are hard to change overnight. And I won't change him overnight if I start trying, I'll just make him push me away. I know he's being a little ridiculous because he's scared of commitment and ours just got serious. That's why I've been moving one of his things to the rec room each week, and replacing it with something small of mine. This time next year, he'll have a pretty sweet man-cave, and we won't have to argue over everything of mine I want to put in the house."

True to her word (I could never have just let things ride like that - she had great amounts of willpower), once a week she would put something she'd purchased into one of the rooms that his Man-Cave was spilling out onto, and move one of his bachelor-things into the ping-pong room. She did it with an admirable amount of suavity too. She'd come home with a lamp that was modern and that both of them could enjoy, then drop hints that allowed him to come to the decision of moving his beer sign into the rec room all on his own. By the end of the year (as they were getting ready to be married), the entire house had a couples' feel to it that was all them. The last remaining object that got moved was his TV, and that got moved by them together after they bought a brand new one for the living room.

Sometime after they had gotten married, I jokingly asked him, "Did you know that she was condensing your man-cave?"

"Yeah, I knew," he told me in all seriousness, "It didn't hit me until she was about half-finished, but I realized it the same time I realized I liked seeing her stuff around, so I let her keep thinking she was pulling a fast one."

Moral of the story? Well, obviously ladies, the story here is that there is a way to get men to do something we would like them to do without any kind of an argument. That's definitely something that needs to be tested out and investigated! The other story though, is that our men need their personal spaces. Sometimes it's nice to have everything be 'we' space, but they need a little something to hold onto that makes them feel manly among our throw pillows and candles.

don't nag your husbandMy husband currently has an old beer sign hanging in a prominent place in our bedroom, but it's kind of an unspoken thing between the two of us that the beer sign stays. Eventually we'll move into a new home, and the beer sign won't be making it's way back into our bedroom. He knows it and I know it, but we don't talk about it and I don't push for him to get rid of it sooner.

Letting your spouse see that you respect his space (and the things that he owned before you) is a great way to build trust and mutual understanding - not to mention avoid arguments that can ruin a nice time! Let your man decide when it's time to move his things to a new area, or wait until opportunities arise that will allow the items to be 'retired' while keeping your husband's dignity in place.

Don't foresee a good opportunity in the near future? You can create one!

Contributing to your spouse's pile of 'manly things' (especially when the items are gaudy or coarse) may not seem like the best idea at the time, but it can be a great way to give your guy a 'just because' gift and prompt him to move his things to a specific area. Cleaning out a little-used shed (or purchasing a shed) and giving it a manly renovation can be a spectacular surprise-gift to a guy; giving him the garage (if it's doable) is even better!

The point is ladies, don't strip your man of his right-to-own any of his bachelor accoutrements just because you don't care for them. Just like you are probably hanging onto a few memorable clothing items that you can't quite squeeze into anymore, he's holding onto the items from his 'glory days'.

man cave ideasGive him an area that is man-only (without redecorating input from you!) and he'll not only be appreciative of your thoughtfulness, but seeing all the things from his bachelor days might just have him coming after you like the young, frisky guy he was when you first met him!

(The giveaway that was associated with this post has expired, please check out our giveaways tab for a list of available contests.)

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post and, as always, my opinions are purely my own.


De-Stress naturally... and have fun doing it!

Stress. We all have it, we all hate it. And how can we not have it? We live in a world that is full of fast-paced ideas, technology, entertainment, and demands. Even if you choose not to keep up with the latest and greatest, it can come back to get you later if you suddenly find yourself forced into using it and have to learn it all in a night! (As I found out when I upgraded my super-old +Nokia to a smart-phone, and had no idea what a smart-phone even was.)

Is it any wonder then that everywhere you look, someone is claiming to have a product that will relieve your stress? Products range anywhere from $1 paperbacks with the 'secrets for less stress', to aromatherapy kits that are upwards of $60. Personally, I'd rather go for the cheapest route there is, which usually ends up being the most natural. Besides, if you have to go to great lengths or spend a lot of money to de-stress, I think it defeats the purpose!

So here are a few simple things that anyone can do to have a little less stress and a little more happiness:

Make a stress-relieving meal

stress relieving foodsIf you search for 'foods that relieve stress' on the internet, you're going to find yourself swamped with site after site that claims to have the best list of foods. The funny thing is, if you look through all of those lists, they all have completely different ideas of what the 'best' stress-relieving foods are. After browsing through page after page, I realized that almost every list had one important type of food in them: Magnesium-rich foods. Why? Because Magnesium can help you get better sleep, a boost of energy, and clear your head - all of which goes a long way towards relieving stress. Luckily, magnesium comes in all sorts of foods, so even if you don't like your green-veggies (such as broccoli or spinach), there are other options such as bananas or oysters. A great way to start the day is with a magnesium-rich breakfast: Sliced bananas in a cup of oatmeal with a glass of soy milk will get you to a little over a third of the daily recommended amount of magnesium.

Get a little touchy-feely

what relieves stressFeeling down? Hugs actually help! So does a simple massage, holding hands, or any other activity that involves skin-to-skin. Why is that? It's because the feel of another's skin can cause your nerve endings to react. They send messages to the brain that can slow the release of cortisol, which will in turn lower your heart rate and reduce blood-pressure. No humans around to snuggle with? Your pet companions can provide the same stress-relief. As a bonus, they won't interrupt the bonding time by asking questions like, "What's for dinner?" or "Did you pay the bills yet?".

Turn it all off

There is no denying the fact that our technology eats up a lot of our attention. If you've gotten to the point that you can't go to bed at night without wondering what is going on in your +Twitter feed, this section is for you! Find a quiet place and just relax. Bring a hot beverage, light a candle with a stress-relieving scent (if you have one), and just reflect on your day, on your life, on anything and everything except your to-do list and never-ending obligations. Day-dream about what you'd do if you won the lotto, about the perfect outfit, about the cat you had in high school. Sit and be peaceful for twenty whole minutes, and don't let your worries creep through. (This is easier said than done, but when accomplished, oh-so-rewarding.) For some people, peaceful white noise sounds may make this experience even more relaxing. By the end of your twenty minutes, you should feel about the same level of tranquility as you would at a spa.

Take a break and play

stress relieving games
Yes, these are my crazy-awesome parents.
Okay, so adults don't usually get to play in the true sense of the word (when's the last time you saw a grown man climb a tree?), but that doesn't mean that we can't have our fun. A short break can be just what you need to recharge before finishing your to-do list. I was recently sent on a mission by +Smiley360 to try out the free-to-play game site, Dailybreak.com.

I was a bit worried at first since I tend to play, and then play some more, and then play some more... but I got a pleasant surprise when I started playing on this site. They limit the number of challenges you can complete in a time-period, and when you've finished them, you can't play more until you've let a few hours pass. This keeps us adults on track for completing our daily obligations and still allows us to have some guilty-pleasure time all to ourselves!

The games on the site aren't the usual 'on-and-on-forever-see-how-high-you-can-score' type of games either. They work your mind, make you smarter, and help keep you sharp - all of which has been shown to deter diseases like Alzheimer's. You can use the coins you win to buy things in auctions or purchase raffle tickets for certain drawings, and there are several automatic entry drawings that you get just for completing challenge games. You can create your own account here to get your own short break for the day.

If all else fails... get some exercise!

If your body is really just too worked up to relax, use that energy in a good way and burn off some of the cortisol that is keeping you pumped up. In return, you'll get a rush of endorphins and other feel-good hormones that will tell your body to relax and feel safe. To get the full benefits of stress-relief from exercise, it's best to routinely go through a work-out. Even a few minutes a day can help. No time to fit exercise in? Try fifteen minutes in the morning before your shower and fifteen minutes in the evening. Anything from brisk walking to lifting hand-weights can help out. No weights at home? That's okay, lift a can of food instead... some weigh right around a pound - the perfect weight for someone who is just beginning to do lifting!

Got a stress-relief tip of your own you'd like to share? Let me know about it in the comments! I love to hear feedback from others about what works for them!

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post and, as always, my opinions are purely my own.

30-Day Salad Swap Challenge!

Yesterday as I was freshening up an old blog post, I happened to notice that the photo of me a year ago is looking a lot slimmer than the photos of me now. Unfortunately, as often happens, the stresses of life can make it easy to reach for fast frozen dinners and cheap junk food in place of a healthy home-cooked meal or a dish full of fresh veggies.

Today when I logged into my MomsMeet account (a site for moms to get coupons and information on their favorite organic or natural foods) I saw that I had a Fresh Express Salad Challenge sitting in my quest-log. (Yeah, that's right, MomsMeet does quests!)

Of course, being the avid quester that I am (haha) I had to take it! In actuality, I feel I 'have to' take it because I've just not been able to shake those last twenty pounds I put on while I was pregnant with my daughter. One of my worst problems when trying to get healthy is holding myself accountable. Luckily, there is a pretty easy solution for that!

Research (and indeed, even shows like +The Biggest Loser) has shown that telling the community-at-large about your goals to lose weight and how you plan to lose it has a tremendous impact in sticking to a diet or exercise program.

So here's my announcement: I'm going to try and lose the first 10 lbs by the end of this month. And I'm going to do it by eating a salad everyday in place of a regular meal.

To make my goal fun, Fresh Express has a nifty little online app that allows me to see my calorie count, how much weight I've lost, how many salads I've eaten, and how many salads I have left to go! I'm going to be using this app for the next 30 days, and to reward me, Fresh Express will give me coupons for their salad as I 'check in' the codes on their salad bags into my online profile! (How cool is that?!)

Another pretty cool feature is their 'salad swap' chart. You pick what you want to eat (and oh how I really, really want that bacon cheeseburger that is pictured below!) and they will turn it into a salad for you, resulting in far less calorie consumption.


As for me, I'm going to be using a lot of Pinterest-salad-ideas to fill in when I don't see a salad-swap suggestion that does it for me. I adore +Pinterest when it comes to finding recipes, and I can already see my new 'I <3 Salad' board getting a lot of use in the near future.

Ready to go on a 30-day Salad Swap Challenge of your own? You can find the online program here: app.saladswap.com.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions are purely my own.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Product Review: Organizher On-the-Go Family Planner

organizher productsNo, I didn't spell it wrong, the name of this product line by Mead is Organizher. This particular item is the On-the-Go Family Planner from this collection. I originally bought this specific planner because I was looking for something I could pick up and use regardless of what time of year it was. The planners (and other products from this line) come in a variety of patterns and colors and I have only been able to find them in-store at +Target. (Although you can also purchase them online from several e-stores.)

organizher plannerThis planner is divided into sections by month, and the numbers are left off of the calendar so that they can be filled in at any time, for any year. I love that because I can buy one and not worry about wasting half a year's worth (or more) of a planner just so that I can get myself organized.

Each month has two calendars, a small one for "at-a-glance" knowledge of your month, and another that goes by week. There is a bit of redundancy since you fill in dates twice for each month, but at least you get flexibility.

planners at targetThe planner contains a set of stickers like most of the family calendars you see these days. These are small, so they are perfect for putting onto the month calendar, but then there is no room to really put any information, which means you end up having to write out times and dates on the weekly calendar. I don't mind this so much since I often forget to use the stickers, but it does make for a nice instant visual.

In the end, the only thing I use the whole month calendar for is seeing which dates I've already got an appointment, that way I don't over-schedule myself.

The planner also contains sections for each month where you can write in a list of tasks and to-do items. Again, I found this to be slightly redundant, but if you have a ton of things to do, it can be very helpful as you try to remember them all and figure out when to do them.

I found that the best part of this planner was the week-by-week calendar. It provides a place for me to not only put all of my tasks, but also a place for me to write down what individual family members need to get done on any given day. Because there are only three people in my family other than me, I use the fourth spot to put things that everyone needs to do or be involved in.

any time plannerThe downside to the week-by-week calendar is that the separated sections mean smaller writing space. If you don't have more than one or two tasks a day to complete, this isn't so bad, but for some who face crunch-time on a daily basis, this means that you may be writing in microscopic font.

planner and organizerAt the very bottom of the week-by-week section is a spot for putting meal information. This is handy for me because I like to plan out meals ahead of time. I try to plan recipes around what I already have in the house, and often I'm missing one or two smaller ingredients. I use this spot mostly to write out what I need for a particular recipe.

The planner also comes with a handy elastic strap to mark your spot, which I love since I hate flipping through pages to find my place.

password keeperIncluded at the very back of the planner are two pages for putting down website information - such as the web address, username and password - so that you won't forget it. I don't personally use this though since this is an "on-the-go" planner. It's one thing to accidentally leave your planner behind if it's full of notations like 'fold the laundry' and 'pick up kids'; but if you leave it somewhere with things like your banking password - not good!

movies to watchThe next section is one that I haven't had a chance to use just yet, but I find it helpful all the same since I'm sure I will be using it soon. There is a spot for writing down books you want to read and movies you want to see. I'm constantly poking my husband in the side during movie previews, loudly whispering at him which upcoming flicks I want to view. Somehow though, I always end up forgetting what those movies were, and when they were coming out, and I can't figure out where all those movies I wanted to see got around to. Now I'll finally be able to remember!

recipe plannerThe last section is a columned calendar for the year, full of holiday dates. I use this to quickly look up what holiday is next and write down birthdays for friends and family.

Again, the space to write in is a little on the small side, but the planner itself is about 7"x8.5" so that it can be easily carried, so smaller writing space is to be expected.

All in all this planner is well worth the money (about $10) that I spent on it. I found it a bit frustrating that they can only be purchased at Target, especially since it is harder to find the exact item you want in stock, but if that's what it takes to keep the price down, I guess I'm alright with that!

For more details on the +Organizher line of products, visit Mead's Facebook page or their official product line page here.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions are purely my own.

Spring Into a Stylin' Nursery Blogger Opp



Prizes:
$50 ToysRus Gift Card
$50 in Custom Wall-Art from LindseyBoo
24-Piece Beige Delta Nursery Organizer Set

Hosted by: MasterofMom.com

This blogger opp is free with announcement post. Co-host spot, extra paid links & special pages available.

Sign-ups close 3/5. Blogger with most referrals will receive five extra links for free.

Click HERE to sign-up!

**If you are a business that would like to have your product or brand promoted in a giveaway like this one, please click here to fill out MasterofMom.com's comment form.

Knock on Wood Blogger Opp

Prize:
JORD Sully Wooden Watch
and more...
ARV $140+
Hosted by:
A Lucky Ladybug
and 
Make Our Own Network
Sign-ups close 3/8
**The blogger with the most referrals will receive the additional links at no cost
Click HERE to sign up and for more html info.
M.O.O.N. has now added several perks/discounts for frequent participation in our events but you must be a member of our Facebook group to be eligible.  Please visit the M.O.O.N. group if you are a blogger and would like more information regarding these perks and other group events.

**If you are a company and would like to see your brand advertised in a M.O.O.N. event similar to this or a Blogger interested in working with M.O.O.N. please contact MakeOurOwnNetwork@gmail.com

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What I Wish I Had Known About Blogging in the Beginning

When you first start out blogging, you think you are going to have the world by the tail. In the beginning, you have a fresh canvas of a blog to work on, and you still have a firm grip on your prospective 'to-do' list. Unfortunately, this bright-eyed freshness doesn't last forever, and even the most determined of us can quickly fall into despair when reviewing the list of things that need done to keep our blogs going.

I started this blog because I have so many different interests and have had a life with a multitude of experiences that run the gambit from A to Z. I count myself lucky, but I know that not everyone has had those chances, and some aren't even sure where to start when it comes to squeezing in extra-curricular activities on a budget (or with kids). I thought it would be fun to share with others what I knew to help make their lives easier.

What I really, really wish I would have known though, is how time-consuming a blog is without proper preparation. These days, my work-hours are spent in equal parts of creating new content and playing catch-up by going back to fix things I should have done differently from the start.

Blogging is a great way to relieve stress and have fun, but it can quickly turn into a chore if you fall into some of the same pitfalls that I did. I'm just starting to get caught up and situated to a place that I feel good about myself and my work. I hope that this list of 'what-I-wish-I-had-known' will help a few of you out!

Do you blog already? What do you wish you had known about blogging before you started? Leave your comments below, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Ah, the fun-filled life of a blogger. You can sign up for a million things, cast your lines into the ocean of opportunity and sit and wait for a bite. It's fun to think of all the exciting prospects that are out there. At least, it's fun until way more prospects than you expected come right back to you with a positive answer. If you aren't an experienced blogger, receiving twenty emails back that say 'we'd love for you to write about us' is not exactly a good thing. Especially if you are working cheaply.

The problem? As a newbie, there are going to be a lot of things that are learn-as-you-go, and some of them take time to learn. You are going to be putting tons of effort and energy into things that may not interest you, that may be beyond your HTML expertise range, and may be far beyond your abilities time-wise. Send out pitch-letters in batches and give them each about a week to respond before sending out the next batch.

Pick a theme and stick with it.

No good ideas for a background just yet? There is nothing wrong with picking a simple theme and waiting it out. Play with ideas and decide what you want your background to say about you and your blog. This is going to be what your readers associate with you. When you decide on something, don't be afraid to ask for the opinions of others before you post it live to your blog. Then make that the background for all your social media platforms to tie things together.

The positive? You will have a true internet identity, allowing your readers to recognize your 'signature' style, picture, logo, etc. at a glance. Make yourself memorable.

Don't misuse labels.

Oh, we've all misused labels at some point, and my blog is filled with bad ones (although I'm trying hard to get them all into 'standard' labels, which is taking forever). Labels are nifty little things that allow you to group your posts together by words you think might interest your readers. It's a cataloging system that is meant to make blogging easier but is usually horribly abused. If you have 400 labels and each of them only has one or two posts attached to it, you have just made your life harder. Pick labels that are general enough that you can attach a lot of posts to them (i.e. Blogger Opps, Recipes, Giveaways) instead of post-specific ones (i.e. baby stroller blogger opp, smothered pork chop recipe, green soap dish giveaway).

The problem? As your blog gets bigger you are going to want to streamline your layout so that readers can quickly find past posts that interest them. The easiest way to do this in many instances is to create a page that links to a list of a specific label. For example, if you click on the giveaway tab at the top of my page, it will pull out all the posts that have 'Giveaways!' as a label. If you have 100 different labels for a hundred different giveaways, you won't be able to do this.

Get advice from another blogger before attempting to host a giveaway - small or large.

Believe it or not, there are a whole slew of rules that go along with doing giveaways. Some countries don't allow certain types of giveaways to be won, some social medias don't allow use of their platforms in a giveaway, some giveaways require very specific wording, and some prizes can't be won in certain places. And that's just for starts.

The positive? Getting advice from a peer in the blogging world will not only encourage a good relationship between the two of you (always nice to have someone on your side!), but it will give you insights that will give you an edge. I got help only after my first attempted giveaway because I was too shy to ask, and quickly discovered that I had made a bunch of rookie mistakes. It's all water under the bridge now, but I could have had a lot more success and gotten a lot better return on my time-investment if I had just asked someone with experience for help.

Don't jump into blogging without doing a little research on being a webmaster first.

While it can be oh-so-fun and tempting to create a blog on the spur of the moment, you're going to be missing out on so much if you don't do your research first. For example, did you know that there is alternate code that can be attached to all the pictures you post on your blog? This is what helps people to find your blog when they are looking through images. You could have thousands of pictures on your blog, but unless they are labeled, they aren't necessarily going to pop up in the search engine under 'images'.

The problem? Not only do you lose site-hits when you don't know about details like image alt-code, but you could get yourself into some hot water if you aren't careful. Google has rules about posting that could result in your site being removed from their search engine altogether if you break them!

Be prepared for tax time.

Although some bloggers don't necessarily receive any freebies, it costs almost all bloggers a little bit of money to keep their blog going. If you have a cooking blog and pay for your own ingredients, that counts as a cost. If you have a fashion blog and pay for your own clothes to write about, that counts as a cost. Keep track of your costs. Even if you aren't receiving any income on your blog in the beginning, sooner or later you will - and unless you have a record of your costs to offset your income, guess what? The tax-man cometh. Even items that you receive 'for free' count as income when it comes to taxes, and that can add up quicker than you would think.

The positive? Keeping a careful record as you go (and counting absolutely everything possible as a 'cost') will enable you to pay as few taxes as possible, and in some cases, no taxes! Keep a receipt book and update a ledger weekly to make sure you don't fall behind.

Don't forget about smaller platforms!

Facebook, +Twitter, +Pinterest, +Instagram, +Google+ ... these are just a few of the currently popular social media platforms that people use today. As a blogger, you'll be expected to maintain a presence on several platforms if you want to stay connected to your readers. Sometimes it can be tempting to put a lot of time and energy into a specific platform because you see results with it, but that isn't always the way to go. Make sure you are devoting equal amounts of time to several different platforms, even ones that don't seem trendy at the time.

The problem? Platforms are owned by their companies, and their relationship with you (and the way that they allow you to promote your content) is at-will. Facebook used to be a fantastic way for me to get hundreds of site hits per status update. Now I'm lucky if I can catch 50 site hits from an update. I didn't start really branching out and heavily using other platforms until about six months into blogging, so I have a marked difference in followers on places like Pinterest - which unfortunately happens to be one of the best ways right now for me to connect with my readers!

Write about what you know & love.

Don't jump into an article on something you hate or something you are clueless about just because it is trending. Plenty of subjects trend from day-to-day, you are bound to see one that you can hop on with some good insight. If you write about something that you don't know enough about, people are going to blast you with comments that insult your intelligence or tell you that your article wasted their time. Not a good thing. And if you write about things that don't really interest you, how will you get your readers interested?

The positive? The internet is full of possibility! If you can think of a subject and love it, chances are that someone else who loves that subject will find you eventually. Writing about stuff you love will not only help you connect with the readers that you actually have things in common with but it will keep you from becoming burned-out on filler-content. Blogging is about sharing ideas and a love of the things that make life special for you. Keep that close to your heart when writing and you'll find readers flocking to your site.

Perfectly Prepped Blogger Opp

Prize:
WonderTop Stainless Steel Food Prep Station
Kalorik 3 Tier Food Steamer
and more...
ARV $150+
Hosted by:
A Lucky Ladybug
and 
Make Our Own Network
Sign-ups close 3/8
**The blogger with the most referrals will receive the additional links at no cost
Click HERE to sign up and for more html info.
M.O.O.N. has now added several perks/discounts for frequent participation in our events but you must be a member of our Facebook group to be eligible.  Please visit the M.O.O.N. group if you are a blogger and would like more information regarding these perks and other group events.

**If you are a company and would like to see your brand advertised in a M.O.O.N. event similar to this or a Blogger interested in working with M.O.O.N. please contact MakeOurOwnNetwork@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

$250 Pay Deals Blogger Opp

Blogger Opportunity: 

Sponsored by PayDeals.com 
  • Bloggers will get one free link to a social media account in exchange for promoting this event at least three times a week and posting this announcement post. 
  • $10 Host Pages, plus extra link are available.
  • $1.00 for second links. 
  • Sign-up Here!

Shower in Style Blogger Opp

Make Our Own Network
Prize:
Uneekee Shower Curtain, Bath Mat and Towel in Pattern of Winners Choice
***The brand is also offering a special discount code starting now through the end of the giveaway for Free Shipping using "Ladybug".
ARV $175
Hosted by:
A Lucky Ladybug
and 
Make Our Own Network
Sign-ups close 2/15
**The blogger with the most referrals will receive the additional links at no cost
Click HERE to sign up and for more html info.
M.O.O.N. has now added several perks/discounts for frequent participation in our events but you must be a member of our Facebook group to be eligible.  Please visit the M.O.O.N. group if you are a blogger and would like more information regarding these perks and other group events.

**If you are a company and would like to see your brand advertised in a M.O.O.N. event similar to this or a Blogger interested in working with M.O.O.N. please contact MakeOurOwnNetwork@gmail.com

The Magic of March Blogger Opp

Prize:
ARV $250
Hosted by:
A Lucky Ladybug
and 
Make Our Own Network
Sign-ups close 2/25
**The blogger with the most referrals will receive the additional links at no cost
Click HERE to sign up and for more html info.
M.O.O.N. has now added several perks/discounts for frequent participation in our events but you must be a member of our Facebook group to be eligible.  Please visit the M.O.O.N. group if you are a blogger and would like more information regarding these perks and other group events.

**If you are a company and would like to see your brand advertised in a M.O.O.N. event similar to this or a Blogger interested in working with M.O.O.N. please contact MakeOurOwnNetwork@gmail.com

$100 PayPal Blogger Opp

Jenny Saved A Penny » A blog of reviews  sweeps  giveaways and more.
Hi everyone! I am super excited that Jenny Saved A Penny now has it’s own domain! What better way to celebrate than to host a $100 PayPal giveaway! There is an option for a free sign-up option with announcement of the blogger opp and this giveaway is for everyone. I am so excited to be hosting this giveaway and if you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email at jennysavedapenny@gmail.com. Feel free to check out the website Jenny Saved A Penny and give me feed back. It is still fairly new and a work in progress but I would love the input. The details are as follows.

Keepin' it Cool Blogger Opp!

A Lucky Ladybug
Prize:
4 Winners
Chili Technology Body Pad
ARV $200
Hosted by:
A Lucky Ladybug
and 
Make Our Own Network
Sign-ups close 2/22
**The blogger with the most referrals will receive the additional links at no cost
Click HERE to sign up and for more html info.
M.O.O.N. has now added several perks/discounts for frequent participation in our events but you must be a member of our Facebook group to be eligible.  Please visit the M.O.O.N. group if you are a blogger and would like more information regarding these perks and other group events.

**If you are a company and would like to see your brand advertised in a M.O.O.N. event similar to this or a Blogger interested in working with M.O.O.N. please contact MakeOurOwnNetwork@gmail.com