Tastemaker Challenge #3 Meals in a Time Crunch

Friday, January 29, 2010

For the third and final Tastemaker 2010 challenge, we were to prepare a meal in 30 minutes or less. I found a Loaded Baked Potato soup recipe to use up all the potatoes I had leftover from the last challenge.

If I make this again I'll only use 3 potatoes instead of 5 and increase the chicken stock to 3 1/2 - 4 cups. The soup went from liquid-y to almost mashed potato consistency after I turned it off as the potatoes soaked up all the moisture. 

Being part of the Tastemaker Challenge was fun. It was a little out of my comfort zone since I'm no chef but I liked looking for the recipes. 
I'm looking forward to our final challenge at Blissdom. If you'll be there please RSVP for the party and make sure you say hello!

Video #1- Potatoes Celebrate National Seafood Month here.
Video #2- Meals on a Budget here.
Video #3- Nutrition in a Time Crunch here.
The US Potato Board and Fleishman-Hillard are covering my costs to attend the Blissdom conference and provided money to buy and/or ingredients for the Tastemaker meals.

You Know You're Coupon Crazy When

Thursday, January 28, 2010

...this happens and it almost makes you cry.

Tastemaker 2010 Challenge #2: Nutrition on a Budget

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Something I've been wanting and needing to do is start menu planning. I'm the type who, come 4 o'clock, is usually still not sure what I'll be serving for dinner. I know that menu planning saves time and money. I know what I'm supposed to be doing, I just haven't had the motivation to do it.

Since my first real experience using coupons and grocery store circulars, I'm feeling more confident about how to shop and maximize savings so menu planning seems like the next logical step. In my second Tastemaker video, I talk a little bit about how I plan to get started as well as make a recipe using some featured sale items from this week's Vons circular.

The recipe is from Rachel Ray. I changed mine slightly, omitting the sour cream, heavy cream and carrots. 

A few other Tastemaker notes:
*If you are going to be at Blissdom, please RSVP for the Tastemaker Showdown Party and say hello. I need all the support I can get!

*View the new video and the first, Ideas for a Movie Night themed party on You Tube.  Don't forget to rank the videos with five stars please!

*Get to know the other Tastemaker Challengers, view recipes and learn about potato nutrition on the Mom's Dinner Helper site.

The US Potato Board provided a stipend for supplies to make my recipe and are covering my expenses for the Blissdom conference. Thank you Fleishman-Hillard for being so beyond patient!

I Thrive Under Pressure (I Hope)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Let's hope the second and third wind I used to get when I was a working mom kicks into high gear soon.

-I will most likely have to re-shoot part of my Tastemaker video.
-I still have one more video to make.
-Blissdom is right around the corner.
-I still need to arrange after school childcare for Tyler for while I'm away.

-Our family vacation is right after that.
-I still need to arrange for cat sitting while we're away.
-Said cat shit on the carpet this morning.
-I used the Spot Bot and promptly spilled the dirty water back into the carpet.
-I'm taking Tyler to the doctor shortly because the side of his neck is swollen and tender to the touch since yesterday.

The pressure is on, but I can take it. How has your day been so far?

Wordless Wednesday: Underwater Parks Day at SEALIFE Aquarium

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Advice for Newbies: Attending Blog Conferences

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Even though I'm not a seasoned conference goer I did learn a few things (read: made a lot of mistakes) from going to BlogHer and the two trips right after wards that I hope will help other newbies:

Your carry-on
My dad works for the TSA so I asked what I could do to speed up the security check through process. I bought an airport approved laptop sleeve and everything went into ziptop bags: cords, chargers and flash drives in one, breath mints, tissues, a pen, compact, lip balm, travel size hand lotion, a few individually wrapped Wet Ones and a granola bar in another. All my makeup went into the checked bag (I saw someone fighting to keep her expensive foundation - she lost). After all that caution it was my banana that got me pulled me aside! I wore my lace-up tennis shoes for comfort's sake and it was a pain. This time I'm wearing slip-ons with Peds and carry a pair of fuzzy socks.

Carrying your stuff around at the conference
I was fortunate to have TJ Maxx and Marshalls as sponsors and bought a laptop shoulder bag on one of my shopping trips. It was stylish, fit my laptop and had many pockets. But holy pedometer! I wasn't thinking about the amount of walking I would be doing. 

Between the laptop, cords, camera, Flip, notebook, my wallet, water bottle, snacks and things I picked up along the way, my bag was HEAVY. My neck and shoulders were killing me by the end of day one. I ended up transferring everything to the backpack I got at the Mom Select suite and it worked out so much better. It didn't 'look' nice (in terms of fashion) but it was much more practical and saved my hide when I was 10 pounds over my luggage weight limit for the flight home.

Extra bags
My mom suggested I take an extra duffel bag with me and I'm so glad I listened to her. She had several small, foldable handle bags that zipped closed and she let me borrow one. 

Again, totally necessary when I was over my luggage weight limit. I moved my dirty laundry to the zippered duffel and made it my second piece of checked luggage. I prayed it wouldn't open and my undies would would be all over the conveyor belt. In addition to a small bag I'm also planning to bring one of my re-usable shopping bags.

Business cards
I had plenty to take with me, but what I didn't do the first day was carry enough on me. I borrowed a Gucci wallet from my mom because it's nice and slim. I thought it would be perfect for carrying my cards and storing the cards I received rather than just dropping them into my bag. It didn't quite work that way. I gave out all the cards I had on me and the skinny wallet was bulging after the morning speed dating session.

For Blissdom I'm going to carry a lot more cards on me (your conference badge has a pocket, keep some cards in there, too) and probably be tacky and keep a ziptop bag to store all the ones I receive. At least they'll all be in the same place and I won't be gathering cards from all my pockets at the end of the day. If you don't have cards yet, get to ordering! Plenty of sites offer free cards. I had those last year and was kind of ashamed not to have professionally designed ones, but I definitely wasn't the only one. Don't be embarrassed, it's not a big deal.

A lightweight wrap
I am ALWAYS cold (case in point, I have a room heater going at full blast at my feet as I type). BlogHer, the General Mills tour and MarMaxx event were in July and August and though the weather was nice, it was freezing in the conference rooms! 

(Katrina from Fickle Feline and Alli from Mrs. Fussypants. 
Sorry to Tricia and JoLynne, PicNik cut you off! )

I purposely stashed a wrap in my bag at all the events and I'm so glad I did. The wrap I have only covers my shoulders. I wish I'd chosen a slightly wider one, but I still plan to take it with me to Blissdom and Disney since it travels really well.

Contact information -keep it handy
I am pretty anal when it comes to details. I had every itinerary, contact sheet, flight schedule and parking reservation printed out. Those things were in my email too but several airports had really bad free WiFi that I couldn't access at all. If I'd relied on having access with my laptop or iPod Touch when I missed my flight to Boston, I'd have been screwed. I also sent the info to my mom, dad and Phil, just in case (See? Anal).

Don't forget to update all your Apps (especially the flight tracker if you have it) and download all your books and movies. I finished my book on the flight in to BlogHer and refused to pay airport prices for a new one.

If you're new to blogging as well as the conference scene, Melanie has a great post with links to other articles that will get you started.

If you have a tip for attending conferences or trips please share it!

I Know You're Out There: Delurker Day 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm pretty average when it come to leaving comments on other people's blogs. I have 162 subscriptions in my reader. I try to comment since I know how much they mean to me, but it's challenging. Sometimes a post doesn't warrant a comment but more often than not I lurk because I can't think of anything to say. I feel this pressure to be funny or insightful, not piss anyone off too badly, appear knowledgeable or appropriately sympathetic. I realize that's my own hang up, but it's there nonetheless. 

We can all see how many people are stopping by. For me, it's frustrating sometimes not to have comments at least somewhat closely match the visitors. But then I think of my issues and wonder if the people who read me feel the same way. 

So, in honor of Delurker Day, I want you all to know I have no expectations whatsoever when it comes to your comments, other than just leave one. I appreciate everyone who stops by my little square of the web. Thanks for sharing part of your day with me. You keep me going in more ways than one. 

From the Cute Things My Kid Says Files: Never Have, Never Will

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Scene: The family decides to relax in the neighborhood jacuzzi before dinner. The son, who had been splashing in the pool, is told to come into the jacuzzi if he'd like to warm up before the walk home. The son, who is 7 going on 17, has of late perfected eye rolling, sarcasm and the ability to convey to his parents he feels they know absolutely nothing at all with just one word. Son get in the jacuzzi and makes the following announcement.

Son: I had to partner with K again at school today. She's so annoying.

Mother: What did you have to partner up for?

Son: Some math thing.

Father: Why do you say she's annoying?

Son: She just is.

[Mother and Father exchange a look, complete with raised eyebrows]

Father: Is K cute?

Son: [looks horror stricken] Nooo-wuh! 
(Translation: Whatever. It's like you don't even know me! And? You're old.)

Mother: Well, who do you think is cute at school?

Son: I don't think anyone is cute. Never have, never will.
[Mother breathes a sigh of relief]


*That's not K in the picture. It's actually Deb's daughter.

Quick Poll Question

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If you're in a reader please click through to take this 1-question poll. Thanks!

Bloggers, Conferences and Sponsorships: Think Outside the Box

Friday, January 8, 2010

I think conferences are going to be really big again this year, possibly bigger than last year, both for attendees and sponsors (even with the new FTC guidelines). It seems many bloggers and companies started to see the value of learning and interacting in addition to the parties and fun. Conference season goes into full swing with Chicks Who Click in a few weeks and Blissdom and Mom 2.0 next month. There seem to be new conferences debuting this year, too (Mom It Forward has a good list compiled of almost all the conferences for 2010)

Last year, especially after BlogHer, there was a lot of "discussion" on the BlogHer site about sponsorships, what bloggers were doing to get them and how they were to fulfill their obligations once at the event.

Conference organizers have taken note of the attendees' concerns and changed or added to guidelines on sponsored bloggers and how they need to comport themselves while at a conference. I hope companies are paying attention and ready to start thinking outside the box in terms of how to sponsor a blogger, what they are going to require of the blogger and what types of things bloggers are going to offer in their sponsorship packages.

Last year, a company decided to sponsor a blogger and held a contest: write a post about why going to (insert conference) is important to you, link back to us and get people to vote on your post. That seemed to be the standard MO. Which, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I was a finalist in the same type of contest and am thankful I had the opportunity. But, how many of those types of posts can one person write? When does it go from being authentic to copy and paste?

After I didn't win the sponsorship I was reluctant to enter any more contests.  I was afraid to turn off my readers who had zero interest in the conferences and afraid to seem so hard up to go that I would sell myself to the highest bidder (even though I was). Plus, it took a lot of time asking for votes and keeping up with my progress. Looking back, I can only remember three companies who offered to sponsor bloggers and I'm sure there had to be at least 10. I didn't buy their products either so really, how effective could that tactic have been?

If a company has the conference(es) in mind where they'd like to establish a presence, now is the time to start planning. I have a feeling there will be many more bloggers looking for such opportunities this year. Someone is going to be a good fit for the brand. Send out a query to your current contact list just to get an idea of who's interested. Start following the hashtags on Twitter, check to see if there are fan pages on Facebook, Mom Bloggers Club or Twitter Moms. The interest is there, and it could pay off really big for a company not afraid to do a little homework.

I also hope more bloggers take a pro-active approach this year and go after sponsorships on their own. I was terrified to pitch to Foot Petals, TJ Maxx/Marshalls and Nimli* but it totally paid off. I got to work with brands I was excited about and had great new clothes, shoes and custom jewelry to wear. Think of businesses you frequent, products you already use or companies you admire and ask the question. Your passion for them will be your biggest asset. Think of what you have to offer and create a proposal. The worst that can do is the company says no! 

How do you forsee companies and bloggers approaching conference sponsorships this year? What do the FTC guidelines mean for those who are sponsored? 
*Those were my sponsors for BlogHer last year who provided products for me and for me to give away. I am going to Blissdom courtesy of the Tastemakers and US Potato Board. I'm speaking at Blissdom as well. We're attending Disney's Social Media Moms but it's on our dime.

Resolutions: To Make or Not to Make?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm always hesitant to make Resolutions. Somehow, it seems like setting myself up for failure if I don't stick to them or decide to blow them off by March. I prefer to use the term goals. Or maybe aspirations. But, in an effort to get my mojo back, both blogging and personal, I've been thinking of what areas in my life I'd like to see improvement. 

*I want to re-design the site. It's time for a new look. I'm thinking of moving to Wordpress unless Blogger can convince me to stay. I need to polish my media kit and finish my sponsorship and ad packages.

*Work on my writing. I want it to be better. I think of great posts when I'm in the shower, but then I sit at the keyboard and poof! Nada. Maybe I just need to keep shower crayons in the bathroom?

*Give myself a break. I pressure myself to blog on a regular basis. I don't want to spit something out just be able to say I posted. And, I know you don't want to read spit. If I have nothing to say, I need to be OK with that.

Social Media
*I want to attend at least two conferences this year. I have BlogHer on my mental vision board. Going to New York for the first time on my birthday? P.A.R.T.Y! And I think Mary might be my roommate. Watch out! 

*I'd also like to make the transition from offering advice to paid clients. As Kim told me, I need to stop giving it away for free. "Pick my brain" all you want but the invoice is in the mail.

*Continue to save money on groceries. I'm looking for freezer meal recipes and ways to use what's in our stockpile. I went shopping the last week in December and had my highest coupon savings to date: almost $56! Granted, I spent more than normal to use some of the coupons that were about to expire, but everything I bought is something we use.

*Get my house clean and organized! Our 'home office' is a total joke. I have business cards from BlogHer that still need to be organized and the garage sale pile is taking over. 

Hopefully this will be easier to stick to than in previous years. I'm definitely doing another 3 Day. I know I need to train more, train better and work something else like pilates or yoga into my routine. I had an x-ray on my ankle today so I'll know what's going on and how to proceed soon. I'm anxious to get back out there before my body forgets!

*Having my photo chosen for the calendar was a nice little confidence builder. I need to get the camera out more. There are photo worthy moments happening all around me and I'm missing them. The sunsets this week have been amazing! 

I keep the camera in a padded backpack so it will stay safe, but that's not doing me any good. I have to get over the fear that something is going to happen to it and start shooting. If I'm ever going to learn what all the buttons are for, I need to actually use it!

*Learn what all the buttons are for.

What are your aspirations for the year?

2010 Reading List

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I didn't do such a great job at keeping up with my reading list last year. I'd like to do better this year because it is nice to be able to look back and see what books impacted me and in what ways. I'll move this over to the sidebar shortly along with the lists for 2008 and 2009. (all links are Amazon affiliate)

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else - (Michael Gates Gill) This wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be. Still, it was interesting to read about and "old, white guy" losing his status and privilege but finding meaning and happiness in working for others.

Love and Other Natural Disasters - (Holly Shumas) Loved it! A good, fast read about infidelity in a marriage. I've felt an emotional affair would be much harder to overcome than a physical one and this book confirms that.

Never Change - (Elizabeth Berg) I said before in last year's reading list that she's one of my new favorites and this book didn't disappoint.

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing -  (Melissa Bank) Loved it! I really like her writing style and some of her sentences were beautiful. Very fast read.

U is for Undertow (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) - (Sue Grafton) Not as good as some of her other alphabet series but still enjoyable and super fast.

The Help  - (Kathryn Stockett) LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! I can't stop telling people about this book. I read it in a few days. It's a different take on white privilege, racism and class. I was skeptical of a book on those themes written by a white woman but Stockett did a great job.

Someone Like You - (Cathy Kelly) I really like her books. I've thought before they are a little longer than they need to be and had the same feeling with this one. The ending was predictable but it was still a good, light read.

The Friday Night Knitting Club - (Kate Jacobs) I've been wanting to read this for awhile. I like books about female friendships and bonding. This was a little cliche at times with the mother/daughter rebellious pre-teen relationship, but I liked and appreciated the way she handled the mixed couple and bi-racial daughter. An easy, quick read.

Little Earthquakes - (Jennifer Weiner) I've read all of her books, my favorites being Good in Bed and In Her Shoes. Typical me, they're light, fast easy reads.

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel - (Audrey Niffenegger) I loved The Time Traveler's Wife so much I feel the bar was set super high for her second book. It started slow but I kept at it. I ended up really enjoying it.

A Reliable Wife - (Robert Goolrick) Loved! Even though it felt a little slow at times it was really, really good. How this man could know what he knows but still love his wife anyway is amazing! I can't say much without ruining it but the twist at the end blindsided me.

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder - (Rebecca Wells) I read all the Ya Ya books and loved them. This one didn't read the same and I didn't like it as much, but it's still a good story overall. Read my full review here.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -  (Steig Larsson) I'd heard such great things about this book I expected to be blown away. I had a really hard time getting into it. Because of the raves I stuck with it but it didn't really start to hold my interest until about page 130. That's a loooonggg time for a book to be only 'OK'. But, it picked up after that I ended up enjoying it. I'll probably get the next book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, but definitely not a new copy.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Tony Hsieh) I really liked this. The Zappos CEO is a good storyteller and the from the ground up history of Zappos is fascinating. Read the full review here.

Very Valentine - (Adriana Trigiani) Loved. I started reading her with the Big Stone Gap series and I've been a fan ever since. I'm looking forward to the next in this series.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  - (Jamie Ford) I loved this book. It was recommended to me by someone with a connection to the real hotel featured in the book. It's a fast read and a great love story. Read my full review.

Goodbye, Jimmy Choo - (Annie Sanders) Of course I picked the book up because of the shoes. The story is about two women who are different but end up becoming friends and starting a business together. I didn't love it, but I liked it a lot better than I thought I would.

Belong to Me: A Novel - (Marissa de los Santos) I loved it. I read her other book, Love Walked In, and knew I'd enjoy her second book. I like stories of complicated family relationships and this one didn't disappoint.

The Kommandant's Girl - (Pam Jenoff) I like this book. It deals with the Nazi occupation of Poland but it's not as depressing as that sounds. I think the ending was a little abrupt but otherwise it was good.

The Girl Who Played with Fire - (Steig Larsson) The second in the trilogy. I definitely liked this better than Dragon Tattoo. It started off better and the pace was good. I think it only took me three days.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - (Steig Larsson) This is the last in the trilogy. I loved it. I read it in two days. All the plots come together nicely. I'm sad that it's over and hope the rumors of another novel are true.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

We stayed at my mom's house for a few days and I did something I haven't done in years. I went to church. Midnight mass at that. I was pleased that the lapsed Catholic in me still knows all the words to the prayers and when to stand, sit and kneel.

2009 seems to have kicked our collective blogging butts. I think that's part of the reason why I felt I needed to go to church. I wanted to let go of the negativity and sadness and open myself up for whatever this new year has in store for me in a place of peace and worship.

When it was time for communion I stayed in the pew and prayed. I said prayers for Anissa and Shellie. I prayed for everyone in our community who was touched by tragedy this past year. I can only hope that 2010 has better things up its sleeves.

Thank you all so much for sharing your time and thoughts and with me. I appreciate it more than you know. I wish you happiness and love in the coming year as well as peace and prosperity.

Happy New Year!


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