Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Favorite Things in My Town

Those of you who are long-time readers know that while I do share that I live in Virginia, I do not publicly share the name of my town. Call me crazy, call me's just not something I'm comfortable with. I realize that any 40 year old weirdo in his mom's basement in Iowa could probably do some sleuthing and track me down, but the knowledge that T would greatly enjoy brandishing his shotgun at an intruder makes me feel safer.

Aside from worries of 40 year old bachelor basement dwellers, I thought it might be fun to show you some of my town. Most of it looks like any other small suburban town. We have a few of my favorite stops: Target, Borders (not for much longer!), Starbucks, Panera, Hobby Lobby, and a mall. I can head just 30 to 40 minutes north to browse IKEA, and 60 minutes south to play at Pottery Barn. I love the Salvation Army.

What makes my town special is the history. The town's history dates back to the 1600s, and several of our founding fathers had ties to this area. The town played a role in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars! I don't go into "Old Towne" often, but it was really fun to take the girls and explore earlier this week.

The main street in Old Towne is filled with shops and restaurants, and lined with trees (at Christmastime, they are all lit).

The buildings are mostly old. Visitors get a kick out of seeing shops, homes, and churches that have been around for two hundred years. My girls love all the cool alleys and tunnels to explore.

As serious as all the history stuff may seen, you'll see a cheerful (even humorous side) with the brightly colored shops and apartments:

There are bistros, cafes, diners, fancy gourmet spots, and a well-recognized ice cream shop. Having choices right off the sidewalk was helpful when the girls started whining about being hungry. We chose a little diner known for its sweet potato fries.

There are loads of beautiful homes downtown, and several that offer tours. We had fun riding past many of them, until I felt kind of stalkerish for taking pics from the Swagger Wagon and decided to stop and let the girls stretch their legs again at one of the historic homes that allows visitors to walk the grounds.

As you can see, I kind of have the best of both worlds: proximity to large cities, culture, and shopping... and the hometown apple pie America factor.

Pretty sweet indeed!

Linking to Favorite Things in My Town at Centsational Girl.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt Surprised Me!

I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour conducted by Clever Girls on behalf of Dannon. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program but my opinions are my own.

For more information and recipe ideas, visit or I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

I'm going to admit something really embarrassing to you all...I actually fought my kids over a container of yogurt. It wasn't just any yogurt, mind you, it was the new Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt. I may or may not have run away from them with the container in my hand, shouting "there's no more!" and then gobbled up the rest down the hallway.

I was excited to try it out because I am not typically a fan of Greek yogurt, particularly the plain kind. I opted to taste test the Fruit on the Bottom variety (in blueberry). I wanted Dannon to surprise me, but I didn't have high hopes. I figured I'd be logging onto the blog to discuss the health merits of Greek yogurt, as opposed to the great taste.

Boy, oh boy, did Dannon prove me wrong! Even my pickiest eater, Michaela Byrd (whose four food groups are nuggets, fruit, green beans, and cake), has been begging me to pick up another 4 pack of containers at the store. If my picky three year old will eat it with no complaints or gagging, then I am sold!

Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt (with Fruit on the Bottom) is sweet without being too sugary or having a chemical taste to it. In doing my homework, I learned that Dannon® Oikos® is created through an authentic Greek straining process which gives it a rich and creamy-thick texture. The consistency is slightly thicker than regular yogurt, and it was a very filling snack.

As a mom who has been discussing healthier eating habits and plans on hosting a week of Family Friendly Food here on the blog in September, I can say that this is an excellent choice for my family. I've been taking a closer look at what I eat and I was pleased to see that Dannon® Oikos® Plain and Fruit on the Bottom contains 0% fat, while the Dannon® Oikos® traditional blended varieties contains about 3% fat. Both are an excellent source of protein, twice that of most regular lowfat yogurts. A pack of yogurt along with some granola would be a yummy addition to my preschooler and kindergartner's snacks at school this year.

You all know that I do not review or endorse products here on my blog that I don't feel are a good fit. I am always honest in my opinions, even when they might not be 100% positive. I can say with great certainty that the T household will be snacking on Dannon's new Greek yogurt for some time to come!

What's your favorite healthy snack?

Blogging Myth #9: "Big" Bloggers Are So Cliquey

It's time for another round of Blogging Myths. This series explores the common misconceptions that many bloggers and readers have about blogging. If you're new to my blog, you can start from the beginning of the series here.

Myth #9: "Big" bloggers are so cliquey. 

Suzie Blogger (insert popular blogger's name here) is probably too busy to help me with my question or respond to my comment. It seems like all she does is give shout-outs to other Suzie Blogger-types.

Every so often, I'll see a comment on another blog, or a mention on Facebook where someone complains that popular bloggers are too busy mixing and mingling to return comments or interact with their audience. I can see how it might be frustrating to spend time reading and commenting on a site, and to never hear a word from Suzie Blogger. As someone with a small to mid-size blog, I have been disappointed once or twice to not see a reply after leaving a heartfelt comment for someone.

If I've ever felt that way, I forced myself to stop and think about why I was commenting. Was I commenting because I enjoy the blog and find the writer's posts and projects inspiring, or was I commenting because I wanted clicks, a return comment, etc? If you've read my Commenting 101 series, then you know I see comments as a way to encourage others and build community--for me, it's not so much about hearing back from a blogger.

John Donne said it best: "No man is an island...." We all want to connect-why else would we blog?

It's easy to see posts and pictures from some of the successful bloggers out there and feel like you're looking in on an exclusive club. Yes, there will always be a few bloggers who use the old "look how great my friends and I are" approach to blogging, but you'll see that with blogs of all sizes. It's easy to single out larger blogs for this behavior because they are more noticeable.

The problem with that mentality is that we forget many of the popular bloggers we enjoy have been writing for two or three years, some more than that! Before the blogosphere exploded, there were far fewer blogs out there, particularly in the craft and home blogger fields. Many of those bloggers bonded early on, so it's only natural that friendships would have grown over the years.

There's something to be said, not so much for exclusive cliques, but for support groups, "commenting buddies," or tribes. is an excellent example of this: a website geared for the promotion and support of bloggers in the craft niche. Through campaigns, helpful Twitter chats, and a Facebook page, Crafterminds encourages bloggers to support each other. The site is run by several highly successful bloggers!

I have to be completely honest here and say that I usually find the bloggers with large followings to be more helpful and accommodating to their readers/fans than new bloggers or bloggers who are just starting out. I chalk it up to experience.

A lot of new bloggers have commented or emailed to let me know that they had no idea they could email responses to comments left on their posts, or that they could build a readership by returning visits made to their blogs. "Big" Bloggers may receive dozens and dozens of comments on each post and are unable to return every visit made to their blogs, but most do realize that connecting with readers is important. They learned this from their experience in growing a blog!

Many bloggers with large sites enjoy connecting with their readers on Facebook and Twitter. I've found that joining them via social media is a great way to ask a quick question or receive some feedback. They may not have time to visit your blog and comment on your latest post, but most are happy to take a minute or two to help a reader out, whether it's by answering a question or even retweeting/sharing one of your links. Some of them devote a lot of time to featuring other, smaller sites!

Don't be afraid to email someone with a larger blog than yours for advice. Bloggers are people, plain and simple; and most are very approachable. Just be patient, knowing that Suzie Blogger probably receives a hundred emails or more every day. I have personally been impressed when I receive an emailed reply from a blogger I admire, when I know they are busy with sponsors, conferences, posts, and networking.

So what do you do if you look around the blogosphere and feel like the odd man out?

Form your own support system! Find a group of bloggers with sites similar in size or niche to yours and promote/encourage each other through comments, Tweets, and Facebook "Likes." Whether it's a formal Facebook group or a casual bunch of commenters, you'll feel so much more connected if you make the attempt to interact with others.

Remember that we all start out as new bloggers with an empty "Followers" space on our sites. As a new blogger, it's easy to get frustrated when you see "Big" bloggers sharing and promoting each other within the blogosphere while you would be happy for just one comment. Chances are, most of those bloggers remember exactly how you feel right now: overwhelmed, maybe a little confused, not sure how to grow your readership. Don't be too scared to reach out and ask them for advice, encouragement, or even positive criticism.

You might be surprised!

How do you connect with your readers?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thrift Store Magazine Rack (Stencil Makeover)

It was true serendipity when I received an offer to review the new Martha Stewart Crafts Decorative Paint Line by Plaid. I am pleased to not only share my impressions of the product, but also to show you how I made over a thrift store find and turned it into something my girls are excited to use!

Our main bookshelf is downstairs, but my girls love books, and story time is part of our bedtime routine. Most of the books my girls bring up to their room end up like this:

When I found this magazine rack at a local thrift store for $3.50, I knew at once that I could use the goodies from the Martha Stewart/Plaid line to make it more presentable.

When I opened the box of crafty goodness, I was blown away. I had no idea that so many different tools for craft paint and stenciling existed! I'm pretty the "Hallelujah Chorus" was cued in the background.

My first job was to sand and wipe down the rack before priming and spray painting it white:

The only dilemma was choosing exactly which stencils and paint colors I wanted to use! There are over 160 paint colors in five finishes (Satin, High Gloss, Glitter, Pearl, Metallic) to choose from. They each come in 2 oz. bottles and are non-toxic, which meant I didn't need to stress when the girls wanted to help me pour the paints out.

I chose paints in satin and pearl finishes to coordinate with the bedding in the girls' room:

The stencils are sturdy and come in a handy resealable case. I was very impressed by the selection of patterns!

I eyeballed and marked off my stencil area with a pencil before taping the stencil down. I chose brushes designated for wood projects and got to work with my paints.

The stencils peeled off easily, with no problems. This was my first time using stencils on a project like this, so I was worried about paint escaping underneath, but I didn't really have any issues with that. I didn't want to go overboard and turn the rack into an 80s craft nightmare, so I made myself keep it simple:

I really liked the final product!

So were Natalie and Michaela Byrd:

It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Martha Stewart products! If you are interested, you can find the new craft paint line exclusively at Michaels craft stores in the US and Canada. You'll be blown away by the different crafting options the line can offer you: brushes to create stripes and waves, attachments to roll your paint on, sponges, glazes, and even a new product to help you create your own spray paint! The paints are formulated to work on all crafting surfaces, including wood, metal, glass, ceramic, terra-cotta, and fabric. It is indoor/outdoor safe, and dishwasher-safe on glass.

I see a lot of fun crafting in my future!

Full post disclosure here.

Linking to Just a GirlTatertots and JelloThrifty Decor Chick

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