Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts

On (Almost) Ten Years Of Blogging



“What is Callie’s favorite productive hobby?”

I sat there sipping my blueberry limonata while everyone scribbled away in the notebooks Derek passed out.  My 30th birthday party, and my sweet husband came up with a contest for whoever could get the most questions about me right.  He knows my love of games - in my opinion they make any and every party better!

A few minutes later and he read off the answers, and when he got to the question I just mentioned, almost every single person in that room got the answer right.  Writing.  Blogging.

I expected to be surprised at some of the answers that the majority got wrong, but here I was surprised at the question that the majority got right.

—-

Yesterday I decided it was high time I purged my blog feed.  I wanted a clean, simple lineup of blogs I actually care to read, not blogs I followed because of a giveaway, or big bloggers who never knew my name.  I opened up the browser window and navigated to my “following” list.  As I scrolled down the page, I found out I actually wasn’t following too many big, impersonal blogs (just a few that were clogging up my feed).  But I was still following blog after blog written by people who have long abandoned writing on the internet.  I remembered each one.  I remembered what they looked like, how many kids they had, how many more or less years they were married than me.

Blog after blog written by people who no longer thought it was worth putting themselves out there for the world to see.

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I closed the window before I totally finished.  

—-

Somehow I’ve been pounding out my thoughts on this blog for nearly ten years.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I tentatively typed my first post, wondering if there was anyone out there who would read it.  Back then, none of my real life people knew I had a blog.  I didn’t tell anyone, not for years and years. There was a tiny part of me that was irrationally embarrassed. I didn’t tell anyone until I started making money at it. 

I don’t think I was the only one who kept their personal blog a secret.  It’s vulnerable to put yourself out there in the first place, even more so to have real-life people who may be reading, who may or may not “get” why you are writing.  

Then the professionals came on the scene, and we casual bloggers started to feel like maybe these kinds of posts weren’t really worth sharing.  Maybe this blogging thing was only worth doing if you were trying to make money at it.

—-

I’ve been thinking about the blogging community a lot lately, as I slowly approach the ten-year anniversary of this blog.  I added a blogroll back to my sidebar.  Somewhere along the way blogrolls in the sidebar became uncool, unprofessional, and if you wanted to “make something” of your blog you wouldn’t be caught with one anymore.  As my ten year anniversary approaches, I’m rejecting that.  It’s back.  It’s a short list, full of bloggers who proudly still write the kind of posts that I like to read.  Posts about their real life, things they saw and did, feelings that it takes a certain measure of bravery to launch into public.  

Blogging has changed so much, and we’ve lost alot.  It’s got me thinking that maybe all those times when we bloggers didn’t want to admit that we had a blog finally caught up to us somewhere along the way.  Maybe we did this to ourselves by not being willing to stake a claim, and say that no, these kinds of posts are worth writing.  To say that being willing to organize our thoughts and record them for posterity in a way that is interesting and relatable to other people is worth doing, not something to hide, even if you never make a dime from it.

In the end, after ten years and countless blogs lost, I am starting to think that when it’s all said and done, maybe these are the posts that are really worth writing in the end.  And maybe all us bloggers from the old school should have realized that before so many quit, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort.

So I’m here, and a lot of blogs have bitten the dust, but I have no plans to stop writing on this little blog that no longer makes any money.  I’ll write about my faith and thoughts and feelings and successes and regrets.  In the end, those things make up a life.

I’ll write it all out for my children, and maybe their children after them, and I won’t feel a bit sheepish that this is all I'm doing anymore.  I won’t feel a bit of embarrassment that almost everyone in my life seems to know that I write on here without any other incentive than I just want to.  Because years down the road, I just don’t think I’ll regret the times I wrote here for nothing more than the love of it. 

How To Start A Casual Blog



A few people have asked me in recent months how to start a blog. 

As a result of the professional blogging spike in the past five years, you can find a ton of posts about how should start a blog if you want to be a professional about it. However, I don't know that everyone who has considered starting a blog necessarily wants to make blogging their profession. 

Some people just want to have a place to write about whatever they feel like writing. Some people want to document a specific journey or adventure on which they are embarking. Some people just want to give it a go and see if it sticks. 

Unfortunately, there's not that many posts out there anymore telling you how to start blogging casually. So I thought I would just write my own so that the next time someone asks me about starting a blog, I have a post ready to go with the bare minimum of what they need to know and do to get started.

1. Set up your blog page. 

Before you can start to write you need to have a place to write, so you need to choose a blogging platform. There are two approaches to this:

A.  Start as if your blog will earn you money one day. 

Many bloggers who have monetized their blogs will advise you to start right off the bat with WordPress.org and hire someone to build an amazing website for you. If you you want to start a blog with the intent of earning money with it, and you are fully committed to that and have a plan, listen to those people. I have many blog friends who recommend the resources on Just A Girl And Her Blog for a professional approach to starting a blog.

However, I am not going to tell you to do that.

B. Just start. 

Personally, I don't think there's any sense in investing a ton of money until you really figure out if blogging is for you. You may absolutely love blogging, or you may write for a couple months and decide it's not your thing. Especially if you are more interested in personal reasons for blogging (documenting your life, connecting with other people, having your own platform to just write), I would recommend that you start on Blogger.com.  I've been on Blogger since the beginning, and I am still happy with it. The interface is very intuitive (you can just start!), they have a great designing dashboard that is easy to use (you can make it look how you want it to look), and it's FREE! You can sign up with Blogger and set up a basic blog in about ten minutes, so go do that. I'll wait.

 A Note About Designing

If you want to fiddle around with the design template on Blogger you probably will figure out how to make it look the way you want it to look you all by yourself. You may also consider creating or commissioning a graphic designer for a header image, because that is the first impression of your blog page (nice, but not strictly necessary). You can also search on Etsy for blog templates; some sellers will even install it for you. This is the template designer I used when I wanted to update my template to be mobile-responsive (i.e. so my blog would adjust to screen on your phone), and I'd recommend her - she was very helpful!

2. Start writing.

The next thing you need to do to get going with your blog is just to write. 

The professional blogging community will also tell you to create several posts before you launch your site so that you have content already waiting for your potential readers. I don't think this is a bad idea at all.  When you have posts already published and ready to promote, it makes it look like you've been writing for more than a day.  This is nice, but I'd like to emphasize that it is in no way necessary.  It's more important to just start, so if pre-creating content is going to slow you down, I say just skip it.

Just go ahead and write whatever you want to for your first post and publish it. In the long run, what makes most bloggers successful is just writing, and being consistent about it. 

The more you write, the more you think of to write, and the more creative you force yourself to be, the more creativity comes to you. So just get started. Try to make a goal of writing x-amount of times per week.  If you stick to it for a while, you're going to come up with some good content, and it's going to get easier and easier to come up with good content.


3. Start reading blogs.

You may want to do this before you actually start creating your blog, but after you start writing I think it's especially helpful to read other blogs. There are two reasons for this.

A. To spark your own ideas. 

First, reading other blogs will often spark ideas for posts for your own blog. Seeing how other bloggers write will also give you a better idea of how to format posts on your blog, and the kind of feeling you want your blog and writing to have.

B. To become a reciprocal blogger.  

The second reason I recommend reading other blogs is not only to get ideas, but also to start creating your network. Blogging is way way more fun if you have people actually reading your blog and interacting with it, and a good way to encourage that is to become a reciprocal blogger - meaning you leave comments on other blogs, and return comments when you receive them on your blog. 

This used to be the norm in the blogging world, but unfortunately blogging has gotten a lot more self-focused over the last five years, with an emphasis on pageviews rather than relationships.  If you want to have a casual blog and make it fun, focus on building relationships. The good news is that I sense a shift back to building a sense of community among bloggers, and I hope this continues. 

If you are just starting out with a casual blog, I recommend commenting frequently and widely on blogs that look similar to yours, and I almost guarantee a few of those bloggers will end up coming back and reading your blog too.

4. Get your posts out there. 

By this I mean to go ahead and share your posts on social media.  In the blogging world today, commenting, while important for casual bloggers, is not as effective as it used to be in getting people to visit your blog.  You need a way to let people know that you have some new content.  There are several ways to do this:

A. Instagram.  

I highly recommend joining Instagram, even for a casual blog these days.  Not only will this help you get your blog out there to people who might be interested in reading what you have to say, the (sort of sad) truth is you will most likely get more responses to your content on Instagram than on your actual blog.  I've found it's almost easier to find blog friends this way, because it's so quick and easy to comment back!

B. Facebook. 

There are a few ways to use Facebook - you can create a page for your blog so you can share new content, or you can just share new content right on your personal Facebook if you don't mind everyone in your friend list potentially reading your blog. You may also consider joining a Facebook group for bloggers.  I don't use my blogging Facebook groups that much because they are typically geared more toward the business side of blogging, but sometimes they can be fun.  The Peony Project is a one for women bloggers. 

C. Linkups.  

A lot of people have great luck finding blog readers through participating in linkups.  A linkup is a collection of blog links surrounding a specific theme, and it is hosted on someone else's blog.  You would typically write a post that would fit with the theme of the linkup, and then go to the host blog and add your link.  If you are going to participate in a linkup to find blog friends/readers, do not just drop your link and run.  You have to comment on other people's posts too.  I don't do that many linkups, personally, but if you are interested I'd check A Joy Filled Life and/or Girl On The Move for their link party lists.


Frequently Asked Questions

What should I write about? 

There are typically two kinds of blogs out there: niche blogs, and lifestyle blogs.  Niche blogs are focused on one particular topic, such as cooking blogs, fashion blogs, homeschooling blogs, etc.  If you want to create a niche blog, I think it's important to really be focused and only write things that relate in some way to your topic.  My blog is not a niche blog.  I would classify it as a lifestyle or personal blog.  I just write about whatever in the world I feel like writing. You can make a blog work either way, you don't necessarily have to have a niche.  It's also totally okay to change your focus, especially when you are just blogging casually (which is what this post is all about) - you can try niche writing for a while, and if it doesn't work, change it up.

How do I get people to send me items to review? 

A lot of blogs, as they grow, can become a weird hybrid of a casual personal blog, and a money-making blog.  My blog might be a good example of this - I mostly write what I please, but I also accept products to review and sponsored posts occasionally - either for fun or to help my family.  Because of these occasional sponsored posts, I frequently have friends asking me how they can get free products or compensation through blogging.  

In order to get items to review or be offered compensation for writing a post, you have to build something of a readership first.  Companies want to make sure their investment of money or a product is going to yield some sort of return, so you just aren't going to get these kinds of offers until you start getting a certain amount of monthly pageviews.  Gaining pageviews does take a lot of work, and if this is going to be your focus from the start I would say you are probably not wanting to be a casual blogger - you are hoping to make money with your blog, so I'd check out more of the resources for professional blogging at the link near the top of this post.

How did you start getting sponsored content or products to review?

If you don't necessarily want to start with the goal of making money, but are just kind of curious on how that works, here's my story.  

I wrote on my blog consistently for several years, made blog friends, and generally just had fun with it.  I gained some like-minded followers.  Pinterest came out, and I had a moderate amount of success with some of my party-related posts, which afforded me even more regular pageviews.  Once my pageviews reached a certain level, I had companies occasionally contact me to see if I'd like to receive a product to review - of course I said yes (when it was something I would be interested in)!  Then I went through a brief phase when I decided to try to gain more sponsored post opportunities through sponsored content networks, and I had some success with that because I had a certain amount of pageviews and an audience that those companies were looking for.  

Product reviews and sponsored posts can be a lot of fun, but they only come once in a while, and I don't think they should be your only reason for blogging.  Most people aren't that interested in a blog that only puts out sponsored content and product reviews.  After trying to earn more money with my blog for a year or two there, I decided I was becoming exhausted with the whole thing and had more fun with blogging when I focused more on friendships with other bloggers, so I shifted back to a more casual/personal approach.  I still do occasional sponsored content, but I'm more particular and don't accept those posts as often anymore.

But what about your book reviews?

Okay, if you are wanting to know how to get books to review, that's a whole other ball game!  I love reviewing books on my blog, and I think it fits in nicely with a more casual approach to blogging.  Let me know if you are interested in more on that, and maybe I'll put together another post on how I receive free books in exchange for reviews!

Blog buddies, what do you think?  Would you add anything to this post for people who may be interested in starting to blog casually?


Why I Stopped Using Disqus

 (Edit: Please see first comment!  It explains how to turn off affiliate links in Disqus. Very helpful, but at this point I personally am not putting it back on my site because I still don't like other people making money off of my hard work and I'm a little upset that this is apparently the default setting.)

Today, I have a sad blogging tale for you, especially if you use the commenting widget, Disqus, on your blog.  I started writing a quick blurb about this for my Tuesday old-fashioned blogging post, but it became rather long, and considering the popularity of Disqus, I thought it might be worthy of it's own post.

A couple years ago, I jumped on the Disqus blog commenting bandwagon.  A lot of bloggers (especially those on Blogger) were using it because Disqus makes it easier to respond to comments on your blog.  You respond once, and the person who commented gets an automatic email with your response in case they want to continue the conversation.  Since responding to every comment via email was becoming more popular, this streamlined the process.  

I was a little skeptical, because I think Disqus also makes it harder to visit the blogs of commenters (unless they add their blog to their Disqus profile, there is no way of finding their blog).  But the ease of responding and the clean look won me over.  I got the widget, made sure my blog was linked from my Disqus profile, and I didn't look back.

Where It All Went Downhill

A few months ago I was offered a sponsored post from an online clothing company.  It was before Christmas, and I could use the extra cash for presents, so I jumped on it.  One of their few requirements was that I not use affiliate links in that particular post.  No problem, I thought, because I  rarely use affiliate links anyway unless it's for something very specific.

The post went live, and I sent the company my links so they could approve the post...and they emailed back letting me know they had detected affiliate links in the post.  What?  So I went to click on a few links to see if I could catch what they were talking about, and indeed, an affiliate network redirect was attached to each link.  What was this?  Had I been hacked?

I apologized profusely to the company and let them know I was getting to the bottom of these links.  My mom picked up the kids to help me out, and I spent literally the entire day trying to figure it out.  I checked the html of the post.  Nothing. I clicked on product links in other posts, and spotted the same redirect, and realized it had to be something in my blog template.  I spent hours scouring the html of my template, trying to find the piece of code that was doing this.  I tried out my template on my design test blog, and it was the same problem.  I tested out an entirely new template and it didn't fix the problem.  I could not figure it out!  I was crying as I finally decided to remove every gadget on my blog to see if that helped anything.

And then I deleted the Disqus gadget I was using for blog comments.  Poof. Problem solved.  I no longer saw any affiliate links in my posts.

Of course by then my template was in shambles from all my hunting, and I had to re-install everything and contact the girl who designed my current template so she could help me fix it.  What a mess!

I tried spreading my sorry tale in a small Facebook blogging group, and no one else reported the same problem back (yet), but I can't help but wonder if they weren't looking close enough.  I checked out a couple other blogs with Disqus, and I did see the same type of affiliate links on those blogs as well.  I tried to find an email for the company who runs Disqus to let them know that their gadget may have been hijacked to insert affiliate links without the site-owner's permission (which is what I thought was happening at the time), but I couldn't find any contact information or support email.

So now I'm telling you, in case any of you has Disqus! You should know that somebody somewhere might be making money off of your blog links without your knowledge.

It is possible there is some sort of permission for affiliate links in Disqus's terms of use, but I wasn't aware of it before signing up, and I wouldn't have installed the gadget if I had known about the links.  I would have never realized this was happening unless that company had told me they had detected affiliate links.

I had this same problem one other time with a different gadget, an old analytics gadget called Sitemeter that had apparently been hacked to include affiliate links as well (Sitemeter has long since been deleted from my blog).  Some external gadgets don't necessarily update their security measures, and over time they can be hacked and the code used for purposes like this.  I don't know if that is what is going on with Disqus or not, but my experience with Sitemeter makes me wonder.  I wish I had remembered that previous problem gadget before I tore my whole layout apart trying to figure out the culprit - which was Disqus!



What Should You Do?

If you want to see if your Disqus gadget has turned on you as well, try linking to an online clothing store in a post (I tested with a Forever21 product link).  Then go to the post on your blog, and click the link while watching your web address bar.  It should go to the page smoothly and show only the clothing store link in the address field - if you see an odd flash of a different address before it switches to the clothing store link, that's an affiliate link.  

Needless to say, I removed Disqus, and I have since been a little more suspicious of externally-made gadgets (i.e. those outside of the ones that are included in Blogger).  Finding unsuspected affiliate links has happened to me twice now, and I know that I have never had problems with Blogger's internal gadgets.

If you want my recommendation, I would test out your links.  If you find the same issue of affiliate links that you didn't add yourself and weren't aware of, remove all Disqus code from your blog (update! or view the first comment below on how to turn off these affiliate links).  

The good news is that Blogger has improved the look and formatting of their internal commenting system since the days when I installed Disqus! I still have to respond via e-mail separately, but that is a price worth paying to keep my blog free of these types of issues.

Do you use Disqus for blog comments?  






Here's My Christmas Card To You!



I love sending and receiving Christmas cards.  It's one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season! Almost every time I pick up the mail I have a card waiting for me from a sweet friend, and it just completely brightens my day! The Christmas card mail basically makes my whole year.  (Though I have to say, it's been a slower card year than some.  I have a good collection, but not the same as last year.)

If I could, I would send every one of my blog friends a Christmas card.  I so appreciate all of you who have stuck around during the ups and downs of blogging, and I love having this space to connect with you!  I'm blessed to know so many of you, and even if you have read and never commented, I feel like we are friends in a way.

So consider this my Christmas card to you! I wish I could send you all a physical card, but this will have to do.  This is the card we sent out this year (when we ran out I just sent a regular card with a picture in it - I never seem to order enough cards).  I used a couple of pictures from Clarice's one year old photo shoot (I promise I'll share the whole session soon!).  









Merry Christmas, friends!  
May you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus!  
And may your weekend be filled with lots of pie too.

Old-Fashioned Blogging



This past fall my eight year blogging anniversary quietly passed by.

I’ve been blogging for eight years.  Do you know how ancient that makes me in blog years?  

I didn't start at the very beginning of blogging (there are some out there who have been blogging five years longer than me), but I remember why I started at the time.  I had just gotten married, the first of my friends, and I wanted to connect with other young married women.  Since there were none in my immediate circle, I turned to the world wide web.

Back then, that’s why people blogged - just to connect.  And we wrote about silly things.  Much of it was neither profound nor pinnable.  It was glorious.

I remember, after a year of blogging, telling my mom how I had 20 followers now, and I hoped I wouldn’t get much more than that, because if my blog grew too big, how would I reciprocate by reading and commenting on more than 20 blogs every day?  Everything about that sentence tells you how blogging has changed.

I remember when it started to change - it was the year I had Gwen, and all of a sudden there was a crop of brand-new bloggers, and with them came change.  Their blogs grew rapidly, companies started sponsoring posts, and before we all knew it, blogging purely to share your life became no longer relevant.  It’s nice that your child started walking, but how many pageviews did you get last week?  It’s nice that you went on vacation, but when was the last time you got a sponsored post?  It’s nice that you want to share what you’ve learned while mothering, but why don’t you turn it into a link-up?

(Do you see the time that I am publishing this?  That’s because I wrote it in the parking lot while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and I published it as soon as I could connect to wi-fi after I finished writing it.  I didn’t schedule it for tomorrow morning.  I’m posting on Tuesday, the slowest day of the blogging week.  I didn’t even take time to create a highly clickable post title, or create a pinnable image!  Do you know how many modern blogging rules I am breaking with this post?)

Adapt or die, that’s the survival of the fittest rule, and it seemed to apply to blogging.  Those who had no desire to adapt to this new blogging scheme slowly petered out.  And those who did adapt lost something.

I want to bring it back.  Just a little.

I want to tell you I bought a Christmas graphic tee.  I’m tempted to turn it into a mini series about how to style a Christmas graphic tee, and I might.  But why can’t I first just tell you I bought a fun t-shirt that I like?

I want to tell you that this fall I helped to host a women’s Bible study at church.  Four months have gone by and I’m just now telling you that.  I want to tell you how fun and encouraging it was, I want to tell you about the quirky ladies.  I want to tell you about how I had to quit, and how one of the ladies gave me a Starbucks gift card as a farewell present (bless her, just bless her, she knows I need my caffeine!). I want to tell you all this without having to turn it into a “Ten Reasons You Should Join A Bible Study”, or some such impersonal silliness.

I want to tell you about how I had the kids packed up, and I walked out the door this morning to a chorus of muffled howls coming from the car because I took too long to get the kids their Pop-tarts (our breakfast-on-the-go of choice).  How I felt slightly bad before I broke out laughing because it was so cute and ridiculous.  And there is really no way to turn that into a post either pinnable or clickable, but I want to share it, these little bits of life.

So let’s do this again, shall we?  Let’s take some time to share bits of life and a cup of tea on a Tuesday.  See you at the same time next week.  

(Or not, because I am going to be wild and crazy and not schedule a post ahead of time!  Just check back sometime on Tuesday and I’ll have something up.)

What I’m Drinking: Dirty Chai tea from Celestial Seasonings, mixed with a hot chocolate packet. It is delicious.

Also note: This spur-of-the-moment post prompted by Cassidy's post on blogging like the old days.  I'm not the only one who misses it.

Update: Please read this blog post on more about how we lost old-fashioned blogging, and how to get it back!

Why I Don't Read Blog Strategy Posts Anymore



"How I Gained 1,000 Followers In One Week"

"Three Ways To Grow Your Pinterest Following"

"How To Make Money Blogging"

I see titles like these every single day in my newsfeed, and if you are a blogger, my guess is that you do too.  When I first started blogging, I searched high and low for posts like these, trying to figure out what in the world I was doing.

How I Stop Comparing On Social Media





I'm sitting down with a bowl of salad and scrolling through my Facebook feed.  I have carefully curated my feed to make sure that I will only see updates that I want to see - updates on what my good friends are doing, pictures of their cute kids, interesting articles.  I have blocked all complain-y posts and I'm not friends with anyone who annoys me, so it's about as harmless as a Facebook feed can get.

But as I scroll, there is a small knot in my stomach that twists a little.  

Oh, she got to go to Hawaii?  How fun is that?  Why can't we afford Hawaii?  

Oh my goodness, look at her adorable baby.  Perfectly styled, no less.  I need to buy new outfits and take new pictures of the kids.  

Oh, the newlyweds are on another date night.  I think they've had about five date nights since Derek and I went out last.  Was that three or four months ago?

Suddenly I am feeling a little jealous and much less content with my life.  

And you know what, I can't even blame my Facebook feed - it's carefully curated, remember?  I want to see this stuff.  No, the problem isn't with social media or anything else.  It's with me.

I have a comparison problem.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with comparison - this is a hot topic.  But no matter how many articles I read on the subject, no matter how much I am reminded that I have it pretty darn good too, it is still hard not to let that knot twist me into a discontented mess.

(Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.)


I was excited when I saw a book available for review called "I'm Happy For You . . . Sort Of . . . Not Really" by Kay Willis Wyma.  Don't you love that title?  I'm not going to lie, I have secretly had those feelings in that exact order.  Many times.

This book was so helpful to me in this struggle with comparison.  As I was reading through it I was more aware of comparison than I normally am, and I realized just how much it affects my day-to-day happiness.  When I am so focused one what everyone else is doing, it's harder to be happy for the things I have, and this book brought sharply into focus for me.

The chapters addressed different areas of comparison and reasons why this is such a struggle in our modern culture.  One thing that stood out to me in this book is that comparing to others is the way we can be sucked into the sin of coveting.  Whenever we desire something that someone else has (often through comparing what we have to what they have and coming up wanting), we are coveting.  Comparison doesn't just "steal our joy", it is also a gateway into sin.

I love the solution this book offers to the comparison problem - to say "I'm happy for you" and mean it.  Without a hint of sarcasm.  It's not easy to do, but the book made me realize that being happy for someone isn't just something I feel, it is something I actively choose to do.  

It's hard to pick a favorite chapter because the whole book was so good, but I really appreciated the chapter on the need to belong.  This chapter was a good wake-up call to me that people want to feel known.  It should have been obvious to me, because I know that I want others to notice and encourage me - so of course other people want the same.  I felt challenged to look at those around me with fresh eyes, notice what makes them unique, and maybe even tell them.  I want to be the person who can make someone else feel noticed and special.

Since I started reading this book I have been trying to truly be happy for those around me.  So when I scroll through my Facebook feed, my goal is to turn off the train of thought that will lead me to be jealous of my friends, and instead smile to myself at their blessings. 

And the one thing that has helped me most in overcoming the comparison game? 

I like the status update and comment with something encouraging.  

It is really hard not to be happy for someone when you focus on crafting a non-sarcastic, truly happy comment.  It's the perfect solution because it encourages them, and I feel my own heart changing in the process.  It's a chance to slow down and remember that I do really care about this person, and I am really happy for them, regardless of my own situation.  It takes my eyes off me, and puts it onto others - and maybe even directs my mind to God as I shoot up a "thanks for blessing my friend" prayer.

So the next time you find yourself feeling a little jealous as you scroll through your social media feed?  Type out a nice comment and mean it.  I know it's made Facebook a lot more fun for me!

Do you struggle with comparison and jealousy on social media?  What do you do to overcome it?

Note:  I received a copy of "I'm Happy For You" for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.



(Also, yes, I didn't paint my toes for this picture.  (1) It's the dead of winter, and (2) no time.)

Tipping Point


Paintingblog
(A watercolor painting experiment I did this summer of my older two kiddos.)

I've been having a hard time finding my balance this year.

I think each mother has her tipping point, when she goes from feeling like things are totally manageable to feeling totally overwhelmed.  For some it might be with with their first child - maybe when their baby is colicky, or when their child gives up naps.  I've heard from several friends that figuring out the balance with two kids was when they started to feel overwhelmed - maybe when they were pregnant with a toddler to run after, maybe after their second child was born.

For me - this was it.  This summer was my tipping point.

In all fairness, it wasn't just one thing.  It wasn't just adding a third baby to our family - it's been the fact that I also happened to sign up to help run our MOPS blog this year, I started writing for Tommy Nelson, Wyatt is starting preschool, and the times when all three kids are napping have been more rare.

I was trying to keep up the pace I have always kept, and in the midst of everything I repeatedly heard stories from others of times when the Lord asked them to give up something.  With every story, I felt a little nudge in my heart.  But I kept pushing it down, because I couldn't think of anything to give up, except one thing I really didn't want to give up - my blog.

When I thought about giving up my blog, I had mixed feelings.  Half of me felt like it might be time.  But the other half of me felt like the Lord was still opening doors, and I didn't think I should not blog at all.

Then one week, when deadlines were rushing up on me, and I was sleep deprived, and the house was a mess, I had a meltdown.  Like a complete, sobbing on the floor, Derek had to calm me down with a glass of water type meltdown.  When I settled down, I thought over that week and realized that I couldn't remember actually looking at the kids in a few days.  I mean really looking at them.  Noticing how the color of Clyde's eyes were changing.  Running Gwen's soft curls through my fingers. Talking to Wyatt about which Hot Wheels cars were his current favorites.

And I realized if something had to give (and something clearly did have to give), it couldn't be really looking at my kids.  I couldn't let their childhood slip by while I rushed around, keeping up this insane pace that I had set for myself.

I thought it through.  I finally saw that I needed to step back.  To just slow down.

So after that, I took the pressure off myself.  I'm keeping my commitments, but I'm not adding any new ones.  I still blog, but if a post doesn't go up one week, it's okay.

I'm giving my best, but my best goes to my kids and Derek first, because they are my only tasks that will last forever.  If I fail at everything else, but I succeed with my family, I will enter eternity satisfied.

I think that nudge I felt was the Holy Spirit - and He was trying to get me to give up something.  He was telling me to give up trying to do everything, and to focus on being the best at this one thing - being a good wife and mother to these people God has given me.  I'm still figuring out what I can and can't handle in this season of my life, but I have a better starting point now - give everything I can to serving the Lord by serving my family, and then I can split up whatever I have left among everything else.

And now I feel like the scales are back in balance.

---

Have you ever felt like you had gone over your tipping point?  How did you get everything back in balance?

Topic Dump

You know when there are some things that make you think "I should blog about this", but they never seem to fit into a post?  I'm dumping them all into this post today.  You are welcome.



"Our Show"

Derek is starting to travel more again for work, and I miss him a lot.  The summer was far too short for us.  I want to try to think of more date-type things that we can do at home, but for now we have a standard date on Sunday nights, watching "our show", The Hunt.

For those of you who don't know, I have been hunting big game since I was twelve years old - but this show is pretty hard core!  It's all about hunting Alaskan brown bears in Kodiak, but the way it is filmed is so impressive to me.  I honestly don't know how the cameramen get such clear shots of the bears, and they do a great job of presenting the stories of the hunters and guides, and the reason behind hunting (conservation). It's very well done.

These big bears are cannibalistic, and they will kill off any cubs they come across.  They may charge the hunters at any moment, which makes the show pretty exciting and scary.

(I was pretty much completely paranoid about the kids getting too close to this rail at the zoo, especially afar watching this show.  Those bears are dangerous!)

Anyway, it's a fascinating show.  Hunting shows have come a long way since I used to watch them with my dad on the Outdoor Channel when I was growing up.



I actually need some shows that I can watch by myself during the week when Derek is gone though - does anyone have a favorite show I should check out?  I get so bored and lonely when he's not here.  I need distraction.



A Free Gift

IMG 3397blog

I got an e-mail from a company called Red Envelope a while back, saying that they liked my blog and they just wanted to send me a gift.  No strings attached.  They didn't want me to review it on my blog or anything!  That has never happened to me before.  It was such a pleasant surprise, so of course I had to mention it on the blog anyway.  They sent us this cute little "tummy time mat" for Clyde - personalized and everything!  It is so cute and soft.  They sell lots of cute baby gifts, if you want to check them out!

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MOPS Publicity Team

I am serving on the publicity team for MOPS this year.  This basically involves coming up with content for our group's blog and running all online MOPS group activity - so I have been working on a new blog design for the last few weeks. I tell you, I have never had so much to think about for a blog design (I usually just design for myself, or a friend occasionally).  It's just different trying to come up with something for a whole group, as opposed to an individual.  I think it's almost done, and I am so happy.  I'm ready to think less about HTML and more about content.  

337959 1 ftc
(I saw the title of the book above and I jumped at the chance to read it - hoping for inspiration.)

The theme for MOPS this year is "Be you, Bravely".  I thought that was very appropriate since it was a big deal for me to tell the MOPS girls that I have a blog.  I don't know why, but I don't usually mention it people.  Anyway, if you see any brave-related resources, send them my way!  I need all the ideas I can get for content.  It feels different writing things for our MOPS blog.  Here I can just write whatever I want (as evidenced by this completely random post).


Some Exciting News

Finally - I have some exciting news!  

I have been a part of Tommy Nelson's "Tommy Mommy" program for a little over a year - this is the program that allows me to review and give away most of the children's books I post about on the blog.
  
Well, a couple months ago, Tommy Nelson asked me to join a team of moms who write for their blog!  I'll be writing a post for them once a month.  I am so honored that they liked my blog enough to choose me for the position, and I am so excited about my first post coming up next week - so keep an eye out for that.



We're also having a Tommy Mommy meet-up in Nashville in September - they are flying all of us out for a weekend!  I have never done anything like that before, so this is a big deal for me.  Have any of you ever gone to a blogger conference or meet-up?  Anything I should do to prepare?


That is all I have for now.  I feel like these type of list posts can be clumsy, but it is the best and easiest way to handle those straggler topics that I want to mention, but that won't take up a full post.  Am I right?  

On Using A Blog Writing Program


For several years now I have used a writing program to write my blog posts, instead of composing posts directly in Blogger - and I have to say, I love it!  I've never been able to go back to writing in Blogger since I started using a program, so today I thought I'd talk about a few reasons why I like it.


1. It allows me to compose posts offline.  This was especially useful when we had a more finicky internet service, but when you are working with a writer, your post drafts are saved to your computer.  So if you are not in a place where you can access the internet, you can still prepare blog posts, format them, and get everything ready to hit "publish".

2. It is easier to add and position photos.  Maybe it's just my computer, but I always have a hard time moving photos around when I try to add them into a post in Blogger.  With a writer, you can just drag photos into the post you are composing, and it's easy to move photos around in a post. 

3. Photos are resized for you and uploaded in one batch.  When you add photos to your post, you can either choose the exact dimensions you want it to be, or in some writers you can even drag the corners of a photo to size it a precise way.  Then when you upload your post, everything is uploaded in one batch, and the sizes of the photos are exactly how you sized them in the writer.  This makes the uploading much faster because the photos are not being uploaded at full size, and it saves me work and space in my Picasa albums by re-sizing photos for me.

Those are the main things I like about using a writer, though I'm sure others could list more benefits that I haven't really utilized.  So what writer do I use?


Windows Live Writer For PC

I first started using a writer when I had a PC, and the program I used was Windows Live Writer.  If you are a PC person, you are in luck!  I loved Live Writer, and I've never been able to find another program that is quite the same after I switched to Mac. 

I was pretty sad to not be able to use Live Writer anymore when we switched - I've adapted a lot since then, so I don't remember all of the things I could do with Live Writer that I lost.  But I do remember the photo-sizing options being more smooth and easy to use because you can drag the corners of photos to size them a certain way.  Live Writer also formats the program so that it looks like the format of your blog - so you can really see how the post is going to look before uploading it.  

I think it also allows you to edit posts that have already been published, and I seem to remember being able to back up my posts from Live Writer (correct me if I'm wrong - it's been a long time).  I think you can also choose to have your photos uploaded to a website other than Picasa, which is nice if your Picasa albums fill up.  All perks of Live Writer.  And the best part is that you can get it for free! You can download Live Writer for free here.


MarsEdit For Mac

I did a lot of research after switching to Mac, and I finally decided on getting MarsEdit.  It's similar to Live Writer, and it looks like they've even improved a lot of things since I downloaded my current version - you can now edit the HTML of a post in MarsEdit, and they've also added a preview feature and an option to format a template to match your blog.  

With the version I have, you can only compose drafts in MarsEdit, you can't update posts that have already been published.  You also can't resize images by dragging the corners (you have to pick the size you want when you add them to your post).  I'm not sure if those things are different in the new version or not.

Live Writer is definitely the best out there, but I've actually come to really like MarsEdit too. It still allows me to compose posts offline and save drafts until I'm ready to publish them, and it still is way nicer for dealing with photos.  I wouldn't trade MarsEdit for composing in Blogger.

Unfortunately you actually have to pay for MarsEdit - I think it's $40 from the app store?  We got a free gift card to use for apps when we bought our Mac, so it didn't really cost me anything extra at the time.  You can try a free 30 day trial of MarsEdit here.


Do any of you use a writing program for your blog posts?  What is your favorite program?  What are some of the reasons you like your writer?  I can only speak about the two that I've used, so I'm curious to hear what you all think!

How Do You Find Time To Blog?




I have been asked a few times how I find time to blog with two (now three) kids.  There is a long and short answer to that.

Short answer: nap time!

But since I know most of the people who asked are probably looking for a little more than that, I'll give you the long answer as well. . .



When Do I Blog?

I mostly blog while the kids are napping, hence why the short answer is "nap time".  I am very blessed that both of my kids all three kids nap at the same time right now, and they are typically really good nappers - I usually get at least two hours all to myself in the afternoon.

I could clean the house or whatever, and sometimes I do use the time to work on projects.  But typically I use it to do something I like to do.  Blogging is one of those things that I like to do.  It's my hobby, it's not stressful to me.  It is actually relaxing and re-energizing for me to sit down and write or work on my blog design - it is my main creative outlet.  For that reason I often choose to spend those nap time hours working on my blog.

I think I also have more down time than a lot of women for a few reasons.

Because we live in a rural area, I try to consolidate my trips into town, so we spend the whole day at home for three days out of most weeks.  That's three days of good, solid nap times, which translates into about six hours of blog time that I can usually count on each week.

Having a husband who travels a lot for work, though it stinks for me, is actually not too bad for the blog either - since I'm alone in the evenings during the weeks when Derek is gone I sometimes spend a little time blogging before bed.  I have to cut myself off at some point, because I have a tendency to get caught up in what I'm doing when I blog at night and stay up too late, but several months out of the year I have weeknights after the kids are in bed.

Honestly, my blogging time is probably going to change a little now that I have Clyde - I'm not sure my luck will hold out and I'll have three kids who nap at the same time.  (Though for now they are all napping at once!  Newborns sleep so much.)  Wyatt is also going to stop taking naps one of these days.  My blogging frequency may drop at that point, but I'm hoping I'll find another way to carve out time for it - when I have to cross that bridge I'll let you know how it goes!



Making The Most Of My Blog Time

Just as important as finding the time to blog is making the limited amount of time I have as productive as possible.  There are several ways I do that.


I write when I feel inspired.  If I think of a topic that I really want to write about, I try to make sure to work on it within a day or two.  If I wait too long to write down my thoughts, many times they will slip away, and I won't be able to gather the same motivation to get that post written.  If it means putting off a different post I was going to work on, that's what I'll do.  If I can't work on the post right away, I jot a few ideas down in a notebook so I can more easily remind myself of what I wanted to say when I do have time.

I write several of the same types of posts at once.  If I think of a topic and the words are just flowing, I'll write rough drafts of several different posts at once, and then I'll deal with getting them "blog ready" later.

I work in stages.  I find it best and most time efficient to work on blog posts in stages.  Sometimes I'll be in a writing mood, so I might spend my blog time writing out a few different posts, without really worrying about proofreading or getting it "just right".  The next day I might work on pictures or graphics for those posts.  Then the next day I might get the posts finalized, links added, and schedule them.  Working on one thing at a time helps me get more posts written than if I spent time doing all those things in a chronological order for each post.

I don't feel the need to publish the posts right after I write them.   I often write several posts at once, and then hold them in reserve.  This helps me get ahead so that when I am not able to spend as much time blogging I already have a few posts that are mostly ready to go (like this post today - I wrote the rough draft of this post months ago).

I sometimes split posts into multiple parts.  If I'm writing a post that is turning out to be particularly long, sometimes I'll decide if it's something that I can split into smaller posts.  This works best if it is a topic that has sub-topics or categories to it.  If it is a post that I can split up I can stretch it into several days of blog material instead of just one.

I think ahead when it comes to pictures.  If I know I have several book review posts to write, for example, I'll take pictures of all the books at the same time, whether I've read them yet or not.  I'll get them uploaded and edited all at the same time, and when I'm ready to post about certain books, I already have the pictures taken.  If I know I'm writing a post about my pregnancy that I want to use within the next week, I'll take a minute to take a picture of my belly while I already have the camera out.  If I think I might want to post about a recipe, or a house project, or my dog, or whatever, I'll take pictures of those things all in one day, file them in my "miscellaneous folder" on my computer, and they'll be ready to go whenever I actually sit down to write those posts.  Thinking ahead this way saves the time it would take to capture pictures individually for each post.

I schedule posts.  This is the secret for making it look like you update your blog every day without actually having to sit down at the computer every day.  I usually try to keep things scheduled out at least a week ahead, and that gives me more flexibility to not blog on days where I just don't have time (or don't want to).


Blogging like this has become a habit for me, but I didn't start out blogging this way.  If you usually write one post start to finish, it's not going to be easy to start working on multiple posts at once, but it does save time.

If this all seems overwhelming or way too messy for you, I'd say to start with carrying a notebook.  Write down blog ideas as they come to you.  If you have multiple ideas written down, it will be easier to remember to take pictures, or write an extra rough draft, or whatever, when you have the chance.  Eventually it will become a habit to plan multiple posts at once.  I have a hard time not thinking several blog posts ahead now.



One More Tip

The final thought I have about finding the time to blog is that you should only blog to the extent that you actually enjoy it.  That is going to look different from person to person.

The reason I have time to crank out 3-5 posts a week even after multiple kids is because of all of my strategies above, and because it is something that I enjoy doing.  This is how I like spending my free time - as I said, it's actually rather energizing to me.  When I get to that point where blogging starts to suck away energy instead of giving me energy, I take a step back.  I slow down.  And that's okay.

 If you enjoy blogging, try to strategize and make time to do it!  But if the thought of coming up with 3-5 posts a week is too much, just start small.  Shoot for one post a week.  Work your way up to more if you want.  But stop at the point where blogging becomes a chore.  If you don't enjoy it, it's not a good use of your limited alone time as a mom.  Do what you enjoy when you get that time.

Creating A Custom Watermark

Customwatermark

I was asked recently how I made the watermark I used on my photos, so I thought I'd write a little tutorial!

A watermark is just basically just the name of your blog or business, with or without a logo, that you can "stamp" onto your photos.  There are several reasons why I watermark my blog photos - to protect them from being stolen and used elsewhere on the web being chief among them.  If you are a blogger and you don't currently watermark your photos, it is something I strongly suggest that you consider.  Especially in this Pinterest age, it is very likely that your photos will end up somewhere else on the internet, and using a watermark ensures you protect your photos and it allows you to still get proper credit (because people don't always reference their sources properly - shocking, I know).

If you do not have your own photo editing program, you can still add the name of your blog to your photos using an online editor like PicMonkey - just type out your blog name or address into a text box, and you can adjust the colors and opacity to give it a watermark effect.

Personally, I use Photoshop Elements to watermark my photos - this really is the easiest way to watermark, because you can create a brush of your watermark.  Once you have the brush, it is literally just one click to add the watermark!  I first learned how to create a watermark brush in Photoshop by reading this tutorial, but I'll go ahead and tell you the steps here as well.

1. You want to create a blank file in PSE.  Just go to File>New>Blank File.


Newfile


2.  You can make your blank file up to 2500 pixels in width, but don't go over that.  You can't create brushes that are larger than 2500 pixels across.  Make sure the background is set as transparent.


Screen Shot 2014 03 12 at 1 16 56 PM


3.  Next, go ahead and create your watermark.  Get creative!  The one thing I didn't realize when I first made a watermark is that you aren't just limited to text - you can add shapes or whatever.  Just make your text and shapes black in color.  We're creating a brush, not an image, so the final color will just be whatever color you choose for your brush when you "stamp" your image.

Hint: If you add shapes, I recommend making sure the shapes are behind the text, and adjusting the opacity to make them more transparent than your font, like I did in the image below.

Note: If you are creating a watermark for your blog images and you ever plan on making money off your blog, make sure that you choose a font that is free for commercial use.  My first watermark was created with a font that was not free for commercial use, and when I started advertising I had to buy the font to still be legal - not fun.


Createwatermark


4.  Once you have your watermark the way you like it, you need to make it into a brush.  Go to Edit>Define Brush, and it will add it to whatever set of brushes you have open.


Definebrush

5. Name your new brush.

Namebrush


6.  Now you need to make sure that you save the brush into your set - otherwise it will be gone the next time you open PSE!  Click the drop down menu for your brushes, then click the little arrows that point right in that box.  You want to scroll down and click "Save Brushes".  Name your brush set and save.  If you can't find your brush later, you may need to load this specific brush set - follow the same steps here and click on "Load Brushes", and then select the set that you just saved, and your brush should be there!

Savebrushes


7.  Now you are all set to use your new brush!  Open an image to try it out.  Once you have your brush selected you can adjust the settings of you brush with the top settings bar:


Brushdetails


You can adjust size, type of brush, and opacity there.  I like the "Overlay" settings for watermarks because it has a more subtle effect, but feel free to experiment!  For example, here is the watermark used on the "Normal" setting, full opacity:


Brushnormal

Brushnormal2


And here it is used with the "Overlay" setting, full opacity:

Brushoverlay

Brushoverlay2

You can also make your brush different colors (I use white a lot too).

And that's it!  You now have a custom watermark that you can add to photos with one click.
Let me know if you have any questions!
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