Thursday, June 30, 2011

Easy Canvas Prints: Review and Giveaway!

When I got an email from a rep with Easy Canvas Prints asking if I'd like to review their product, I was pretty excited. When they also agreed to do a Giveaway for you guys, my readers, I jumped on the opportunity. If you'd like a chance to win your own photo canvas, keep reading!
After a looooong deliberation, I settled on the last professional family photo we had taken...and sadly, it was several years old. We had a shoot at a local historic home, and it was one of my favorite sessions ever.

I loved how easy the site made it for me to complete the order in 4 simple steps:
1. Choose the Canvas Size
2. Upload My Photo
3. Select Canvas Borders
4. Apply Image Effects

The only negative that I could come up with is that I wish the preview area for the photo was a bit larger. I couldn't really tell how dark my image was (I went with black and white), and it could have turned out darker than I would liked.

My 11 x 14 canvas is sturdy, good quality canvas, and wrapped tightly and firmly without being stretched too much. I went with the "Image Wrap," which wraps your photo around the borders of the canvas.

I'm a happy camper. For now, my canvas is resting on our built-ins in the Addition, but I want to create a black and white gallery wall in the Family room with my new canvas and some old "heirloom" ancestor photos.

Easy Canvas Prints is going to give one lucky reader a FREE 8 x 10 Canvas!

Here's How You Can Enter. Please leave a separate comment for each entry!

1. (mandatory) Leave me a comment telling me what kind of photo you'd like print on canvas.
For Extra Entries:
2. Facebook this Giveaway with a link to this post
3. Tweet (copy and paste) the Following: Win a Free 8x10 Photo Canvas from Easy Canvas Prints via @SerenityNowGirl & @EasyCanvas #Giveaway
4. "Like" Easy Canvas Prints on Facebook
5. Join my Weekend Bloggy Reading party this weekend and link back to me or include my party button within your post for an automatic entry!

Giveaway open until 10 pm (ET) on Sunday night. (open to US residents only)

I hope you'll come back tomorrow to link up YOUR best post of the week to Weekend Bloggy Reading. Recipes, crafts, home decor, book reviews, funny stories, you name it. Come prepared to showcase your blog and find some great weekend reads.
Weekend Bloggy Reading

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Childhood Relics Make a Desperate Comeback

There comes a moment in every mom's summer where she realizes that she must either hide in the closet and chant "Serenity Now" over and over to herself, be committed to a mental institution, or come up with something brilliant and innovative enough to distract her children from the hour-long battle they have been waging over the Barbie doll with the shoes that light up.

What? Your kids don't do that? Well, humor me and pretend they do so I don't completely lose here, 'mkay? (And if you are reading this and do not have children yet, I am assuming the first paragraph of this post will serve as an excellent form of birth control.)

So, that moment arrived for me a couple of weeks ago. I had enough of the screaming, the whining, the running-through-the-house, the "she scratched me she bit me she hit me she looked at me funny." I was pretty desperate, and when Natalie asked me to put on some music so she could host an impromptu ball in the Addition (to which Michaela Byrd was not invited, it should be noted), I looked my CD player in a different light.

Does anyone know what these are?

If you guessed "colorful plastic rectangles" you would be close, but not correct.

These would be books on cassette tape from the 80s that I found in the closet of my old room at my mom's house. The books are long gone, but I thought it would be worth a try to see if the tapes still worked.

It took me a minute to explain to the girls that they were going to sit on the couch and listen to a story on a tape. Natalie, my five year old, had a hard time comprehending that she could listen to a tape without seeing any pictures on a screen or on the pages of a book like she does when I am a good mom and read to her.

I opened the cassette tape compartment (never used) on my old CD player and breathed a prayer that the tape would work. I'd hyped up the idea of a story on tape so much that I couldn't bear the thought of returning to my day job as a fight club referee in the event that the old tapes wouldn't work.

There was some creaking, a bit of static...and magically some music played an Intro and the narrator began Disney's story of "The Three Little Pigs."

The girls were mesmerized.

For several minutes, there was no talking. I washed the dishes to utter, complete, and beautiful silence. The girls stayed planted on the couch, facing the CD player for the full effect...very much like I imagine people must have done when all they had were radios.

Yeah, it was sort of weird to know that something I enjoyed as a child (much like my favorite TV shows from the 80s) could be classified as ancient relics by today's kids.

And it was a glorious moment for me to remember how great it is to be able to sit and use your imagination to color the stories in your head. The kids didn't have to sit and stare at a TV screen to get the full effect...they did just fine with what they were able to imagine.

I'm already on the lookout for more books on tape. We stuck them in a photo box that gets stashed in the media unit in the living room. Out of the way, but easily accessible to the girls.

Now to see if I can locate a Barbie Dream House, circa 1987?

**Last day for the June Silhouette Promo here on my 25% off your purchase (aside from download codes and gift cards) when you use my SERENITY code.
Silhouette Electronic Cutting Tool

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blogging Myth #2: Blogging is an Easy Money Maker

Welcome to the second post in my new series for bloggers, Blogging Myths. We'll be covering some common misconceptions that many bloggers (and readers!) have about blogging. If you want to start from the beginning, you can click here.

Myth #2: Blogging is an Easy Money Maker

I think that the majority of bloggers open a site because they either want to post family related updates and stories, or because they need an outlet to share creative thoughts and projects.

But there are people out there who see some of the bigger blogs with sponsors, expensive Giveaways, and ad networks and think, "How hard can it be? It'll only be a matter of weeks until I'm counting my money bags."

This weeks' myth is slightly misleading because it is really twofold:

Blogging is not Easy. And it is most decidedly not an easy Money Maker. 

I think it's easiest for readers, and perhaps for new bloggers, to click on a blog wondering, "What's the big deal? I'll just slap some pictures and words on the screen, hit "Publish," and link up to a bunch of blog parties."

Why is Blogging Hard?
It's really not difficult, if you are genuinely starting a blog for fun, and you don't care about reaching a certain number of readers and you're not looking to make an income from your work.

But before you can even think about making money from your blog, you have to look at certain variables that go into growing a blog beyond publishing good content:
  • Networking
As we discussed with Blogging Myth #1, you can have great content, but if no one knows you are there, they aren't going to stop by and read. There is a fine balance between over-exposing yourself by linking up to too many blog parties, annoying your Twitter/Facebook fans with too many links and not enough you. Basic, genuine networking with fellow bloggers and readers is your best bet to loyal readers.
  • Time
A lot goes into writing weekly posts beyond just taking photos and jotting down the accompanying words. Coming up with ideas, making drafts, editing and uploading photos, proofing, making sure to update Twitter and Facebook...and let's not forget those days that you have a bit of writer's block and you still want to produce fresh content for your site!

Add more man-hours if you're working on a craft or a project to update your home. I don't know of any DIY bloggers whose board and batten has finished itself!

  • Pressure
Pressure to perform, pressure to be funny/crafty/creative/brilliant (insert your pressure here), pressure to keep up with everyone else. How do you think I became a Pinterest addict? Everyone else was doing it! (And, okay, it's a pretty awesome way to catalog all those neat things you see online)

Bloggers who are blogging for an income (even if it's a small one!) feel pressure to post regularly, stay on top of comments, host blog parties, and come up with fabulous things to write about.

Why isn't Blogging an Easy Money Maker?
I suppose there is something to the old adage "you have to spend money to make money."

When you become serious about blogging, you have to think about site redesigns, blog buttons, paying for link party hosting sites, photo hosting services, and more.

I haven't dealt with any ad networks or Google Adsense (yet), but I can say from experience that thinking about adding Sponsors to your blog is a big deal, and it certainly does not make blogging easier. In addition to everything listed above, you have to stay on top of a whole new ball game.

Why I recommend waiting at least a year before you add Sponsors:

This has nothing to do with competition, because anyone can see there are enough Etsy shops, small businesses, home businesses, online businesses, and corporations to keep us all afloat.

Instead of jumping in to finding sponsors for a fledgling blog, I challenge you to get your feet wet first. Find your voice, find an audience, and establish your blog before you try to earn an income off of it. Sponsors want to know all sorts of things beyond your stats. They'll check out your blog to see how often you post, what your niche is, and what kind of content you offer.

Take some time to work on your writing skills, beef up your projects, get some good photos, and build up an audience before you venture into the world of Sponsorship. Remember that with paid ads comes the pressure to perform/post regularly/stay motivated and on a schedule.

And, most importantly, readers need to be able to trust you. If you've collected hundreds of Followers in two or three months from linking up to blog parties like an insane person, chances are you haven't done much by the way of real networking. Readers are smart. They know when they see a fakey fake plug for a product you have no business hawking. Do the work to win loyal readers and you are more likely to get a better response when you do take on paid ads.

Is blogging easy? No. Can you make money off of it? Yes.

But don't stress about it. When you are ready, ease into things. Forget about the frantic rush for success that seems to be so prevalent in the blogosphere these days and focus on your work.

Good things come to those who wait.

Hope you'll join me next week to check out Myth #3!

{What's the most difficult thing about blogging for you?}

Monday, June 27, 2011

There's No Place Like...a Beach Front Condo

I know Dorothy always said that "there's no place like home," but I feel the need to contradict her today. Kate is hosting a little Vacation Destination Party today at Centsational Girl, and I thought it would be fun to share one of my very favorite vacation spots with you all today.

I've done a fair amount of traveling compared to some. I've been to Europe twice, the Bahamas, Jamaica, various little islands, Mexico, and all over the US. I once spent the night in a real medieval castle in Germany. I've seen Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I climbed stairs at the Empire State Building. I've been hit on in a casino in Las Vegas (when I was pregnant!). I've been in a West Virginia coal mine. I walked through the Alamo on every childhood visit to San Antonio so my brother could get his Davy Crockett fix. Like Johnny Cash says, "I been everywhere, man..."

But really, my most favorite spot is a little beach condo in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

That picture pretty much sums it up for me. There's nothing like that first sight of the ocean as you hit the top of the dunes or hearing the waves crash on the shore as the salty air brushes your cheeks.

I'm not much of an outdoorsy girl, but I love the beach. My grandparents bought a little vacation condo when I was a couple of years old and every summer, without fail, my parents would load three kids in our Volvo and make the trip to North Carolina. Down the coast, past Nagshead, where everyone else seemed to stop, until we reached Atlantic Beach.

I love that the beach is private, so it's not packed with travelers jockeying for a coveted shoreline spot. It was perfect for my sister and I to build sand castles and make "sand soup," which my mother dutifully pretended to enjoy when she wasn't trying to rinse sand off of our brother.

When we grew older, we enjoyed dancing parties in the condo family room before heading out on the town for dinner.

Speaking of out on the town, we loved crossing the bridge back to "mainland" Morehead City, North Carolina for dinner at the best seafood place you will ever find, Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant. Yes, it is the worst name ever for an eatery, but it opened in the 1930s as a fish market and the owners wanted to demonstrate their compliance with local codes.
On any given night you'll see loads of people hanging out on the dock, waiting for a table to open. Best hushpuppies you'll ever eat.

I've sported my Sanitary t-shirt in various cities across the country, and I always run into someone who loves to dine there.

Sadly, my deadbeat aunt has been living in our family vacation spot for several years now. My exasperated mom rented out a separate condo a couple of times so we could all enjoy the beach life, but the last time we visited was in 2007, when I was pregnant with Michaela Byrd.

The stars aligned and my mom decided to rent a condo in the same complex as our old vacation spot. It even overlooks the pool I grew up splashing around in with my brother and sister. At the end of July, the girls and I will spend a week with my mom, sister, niece, sister-in-law, and nephew. It's been several years since we've been on a real vacation, and I am so excited. I'm already thinking about trips to the little shops in Beaufort, the aquarium, and yes..the hushpuppies at the Sanitary.

I can almost feel that salt air on my cheeks!

{What's your favorite vacation spot?}

*Stop in tomorrow for Session #2 in my new Blogging Myths series!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Highlighted Links--Share Your Best Post!

Good morning, friends! If you're here to link up to Weekend Bloggy Reading, it's open for new links until 10 pm (ET) tonight. Please share your best post of the week with us...crafts, recipes, home decor, book reviews--all kinds of posts are welcome.

Here are a few links from Weekend Bloggy Reading that caught my eye!

~How to Style with Accessories

~4th of July Windsocks

~Deviled Eggs Recipe

~Chalk Painted Kitchen Cabinets

~Patriotic Wreath Tutorial

~Old Pink Shutter and Chalk Paint

*Please, if you haven't already, take a few moments to visit a few of the other links from the party if you linked up this weekend. I love hosting, and I love commenting on posts...but it's no fun for anyone if we just have stale links sitting around. Get out there and find some fun reads! {wink}

Did I feature you today? If the answer is "yes," feel free to grab this button for your sidebar!
Featured At Serenity Now

Today is my last day of "rest" before my in-laws bring the girls home from their road trip tonight. It's also the last day before VBS starts at our church. This will be my first year in a classroom, helping my friend Heather teach a group of graduated kindergartners. I've always worked in the "Snack Shack" with the older kids, so this will be a real eye-opener for sure. I feel the need to go overboard with excessive fun today, specifically for that reason.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Highlighted Weekend Links-- Share Your Best Post!

Happy Saturday! I hope you're enjoying your weekend. Please pop in to link up YOUR best post of the week at my Weekend Bloggy Reading party. Open for new links until Sunday at 10 pm (ET).

All kinds of posts are welcome: We have recipes, home remedies, room makeovers, crafts, fashion advice, book reviews, and more! The code for the button is near the end of this post.

There are a lot of fabulous posts this weekend! If you haven't yet, please be sure to visit some of the other links from the party and say a quick howdy to those who have taken the time to visit you. That's how a good blog party works--lots of participation. Otherwise we just have a bunch of stagnant links, and that's no fun for anyone!

I'd also really appreciate it if you'd take the time to link back to me within your post(s)...I like to return the favor by Featuring the bloggers who follow through with good old fashioned blogging etiquette! I see fewer and fewer link-backs these days, and it's very discouraging to bloggers who work hard to put out consistent parties week after week.

Keep reading to see just a few of the posts that caught my eye so far:

~Organizing Tips for Moms

~Ceiling Medallion Mirror

~Master Bedroom Mood Board

~Mandarin Orange Cake

~Antique Window Turned Coat Hook

~Strawberry Peach Jame (Canning 101)

So, what did you have up your sleeve this week? Come by and share it with us here! Be sure to check out some of the other bloggers' work too. Here's the button in case you'd rather use that than a link back.
Weekend Bloggy Reading

I'm working at commenting as well as balancing my family and fun time this weekend...thanks for your patience!

If I've featured you, feel free to snag this button for your blog:
Featured At Serenity Now

I'll be back tomorrow with more Highlights!

Friday, June 24, 2011

::Weekend Bloggy Reading:: Link Up!

Welcome to Weekend Bloggy Reading. I hope you'll link up your best post of the week today, and maybe leave me some comment love!

All kinds of posts are welcome--recipes, crafts, funny stories, home decor, etc.; but please do not link to Etsy shops, businesses, items for sale, etc. (I have a Sponsors section, if you'd like to Advertise with me.)

Here are a few of my faves from this week:

sources listed below

~Melissa came up with a great Summer Chore System for kids.

~Lisa brought a Summer Theme on a shoestring budget to her home with some vintage sports equipment.

~Crystal's whimsical take on a Big Girl Bedroom Design will inspire you!

~This hand-me-down Headboard Makeover will make you smile. Great update!

~You must read Richella's Advice for a Lasting Marriage.

~And me? This week featured:

Silhouette Electronic Cutting Tool

Time to link up your best post of the week (please take the time to include a link-back or my party button and visit some of the other participants!)

Here's the button code if you'd prefer to use that rather than a link-back:
Weekend Bloggy Reading

Party is open until 10 pm (ET) on Sunday night.

Remember that blog parties work best when bloggers participate, so if you have a chance to visit a few of the other links, you might find a new friend or two!

My in-laws are taking Natalie and Michaela Byrd on a little trip for a T family reunion this weekend. I'm honestly not thrilled about the girls going so far away (my 3 year old has never been away without me before), but T pretty much insisted that they be allowed to go. So I am sucking it up and vowing to enjoy my Saturday and Sunday. Trying to convince my mom to go to IKEA with me on Sunday, and I have plans to yard sale tomorrow. By myself!

What are you up to this weekend?

I'll be back tomorrow with some highlights from Weekend Bloggy Reading!

(This Code is for blogs featured today!):
Featured At Serenity Now

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Tattoo Fun

As cool as I thought my Child Safety Temporary Tattoos turned out, my girls were relatively unimpressed. Natalie wanted something a little more "fancy," so I agreed to come up with something more to her liking.

Like I said on Tuesday, the beauty of Silhouette's temporary tattoo paper is that you don't have to own a Silhouette machine or software to make your own tattoo creations.

I did a quick search on Google for a cute Tinkerbell image, saved it, and printed out a sheet of the images right onto the Temporary Tattoo Paper. It only takes a minute to smooth the green adhesive paper on with a pot scraper and cut the images out.

When I was finished, I had a nice little pile of Tinkerbell tattoos...ready to go up to the party closet for Natalie's (December) birthday party. (Tip: I hit Target's Dollar Spot throughout the year to find inexpensive party favors so I don't have to fork over $$$ when the birthdays roll around)

Of course, I couldn't get away with stowing all of the tattoos. I had two product testers who were more than willing to try them out for me:

Have you been itching to buy your Silhouette SD? You can details on an awesome June Silhouette Promo here on my 25% off your purchase (aside from download codes and gift cards) when you use my SERENITY code.
Silhouette Electronic Cutting Tool

I hope you'll come back tomorrow to link up YOUR best post of the week to Weekend Bloggy Reading. Recipes, crafts, home decor, book reviews, funny stories, you name it. Come prepared to showcase your blog and find some great weekend reads.
Weekend Bloggy Reading

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