Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TNO's First Survey!

Okay reader friends!

I need you!  {Picture me pointing a finger straight at you, but - you know - with a happy, smiling face!}

I have a ton more of BlogHer info posts lined up for you this week and next, but in the meantime I have a few questions for you!  If you have a few minutes of time {I promise it won't take long!}, I'd be ever so appreciative if you could follow this link and fill out my survey!!!

Take the Survey here!

When I get enough responses and close the survey, I'll definitely sum up the results and let you all know the general answers to the questions I posted!

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TNO's July Sponsors!

Happy end of July everyone!  Check out the links below to my round up of amazing sponsors this month!  
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Mrs. Patel's

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Here at Mrs. Patel's we're on a mission to help nursing mothers.  We believe our products can help women heal faster after giving birth as well as increase their milk supply.  The postpartum period can be overwhelming and we want to make it easier.  Nursing and pumping can be frustrating and we want to help!
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The Savvy Craft

The Savvy Craft is a daily deal site all about support and love of all things handmade.  It is our pledge to feature only handmade craft artisans and their amazing creations.
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The MB Diaries

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My name is Tiffany, but around here I am the Momma Bear! I am many things, I am Mom, Wife, Blog Designer, etc... This is where I share it all. I may not blog as often as some, but when I do I like to blog about whatever is on my mind, or our most recent adventures!
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GreatProofreading.com

GreatProofreading.com helps bloggers make money on their blogs by improving their pagerank and content and connecting them with sponsors.  We write SEO content to make your business stand out in a Google search and write email campaigns that get more clicks.  Reasonable rates, excellent relationships with clients, and a dedication to giving back to the global community set us apart from other web editing and marketing companies.  Email edit@greatproofreading.com to see how we can help you.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BlogHer13 Recap ~ the Stay & the Food!

Okay.  Guys.  I'm overwhelmed.

If you've followed TNO blog for a while, you already know that I planned to go to BlogHer for about a year before the actual conference even happened.  All the planning and preparations led up to the fantastic week I had last week in Chicago.  It was amazing.

And now I'm slightly flustered as to where even to start describing my time there.

I did so many things in the whirlwind five days I spent in the Windy City and experienced so many awesome new people, places, and concepts that it was tough to even figure out where to start.  However, I went back and read a few of the posts that were the most helpful for me when planning for BlogHer, and thought I'd progress giving out information about BlogHer 13 in a similar manner - based on specific topics such as lodging, food, sessions, parties, the expo and SWAG!  I'll highlight just a few of those categories each post, so keep reading for the rest of the week to hear more.

Let's start with the basics - lodging and food!


Lodging:

This year at BlogHer, the official hotel was the Sheraton.  After reading up on a few of the BlogHer Facebook groups though, I quickly realized that almost all of the sessions were to be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, which is connected via walkway to the Hyatt Regency McCormick.  I fully recognize that there is a host hotel for a reason and in any other circumstance would have chosen to stay at the hotel designated by BlogHer but it just didn't work for myself and my roommates this trip.  After we factored in the lower cost {almost $100 cheaper to stay at the Hyatt}, the included breakfast, the included parking {which otherwise cost around $40-50 a night}, and the ease of pumping for MJ & I - the Hyatt was a simple choice.

Photo from Hyatt website
Staying at the Sheraton, or the host hotel, would have given us a little easier access to the parties at night and room drops {or little bags of goodies from the BlogHer team each day}, but overall it was just a better choice for our room of ladies to stay at the Hyatt.  Thankfully, I'm a really lucky gal to have Heather as a friend - because she was staying at the Sheraton and was so lovely to pick up an extra room key for me and let me pump in her room during the nighttime events.

Overall, I was really pleased with the Hyatt.  The service was timely and the staff was polite.  The room was extremely new, modern, and clean.  The bed was suuuuper comfortable and I'm pretty sure Kate used our shower {pictured below} about three times a day because she liked it so much.  My only complaints were that the iron got unreasonably hot and burned a hole through one of my shirts {RIP maroon H&M blouse....} and that they used flat sheets in place of a fitted sheet which was a little awkward.


Food:

When registering for the full conference pass to BlogHer, you're signing up for a BlogHer provided breakfast and lunch on Friday and Saturday as well.  When attending any parties, there are also typically appetizers and some full meals served.  I found the food to be good overall, but didn't go into it with very high expectations knowing that they'd be serving thousands of bloggers in a buffet-style set up.  I also know I get the hangries when I don't eat so I packed part of my bag full of snacks just in case.

Our snack drawer, including the most amazing popcorn Nicole brought!
Both days of breakfasts included items such as: scrambled eggs, scrambled tofu, potatoes, fruit, pastries, breakfast meats, juice, coffee, etc.  As far as lunches go, I actually didn't make it to either BlogHer lunch.  My lunch on Friday was provided by the US Cellular sponsored luncheon and on Saturday I ended up making myself a peanut butter sandwich in our hotel room after I pumped.  But, I have it on good authority that lunches mainly consisted of salads, sandwiches, and soups.

As far as dinners, those were not reported to be included in the BlogHer program.  But, I do feel like if you brought just a snack or two {maybe a Larabar?} for around dinnertime, you could get by with dinner by going to the nightly parties.  It seemed like at the nightly parties, BlogHer had a ton of appetizers and real food set up for the party-goers.  At the fashion show after party on Saturday, there were buffet-style tables set up with full entrees and appetizers of both greek and asian-inspired cuisines - as well as a full dessert table.  If you're trying to do BlogHer on the cheap, there are definitely ways to get by on the food without spending a bunch more cash.

I will say, though, that BlogHer's food was quite a bit frustrating for one of my roommates.  While I was able to fairly easily navigate the meals to avoid most of the meat, one of my roommates had a really tough time trying to avoid dairy.  I know it's difficult to please all diets out there nowadays {and BlogHer did have both vegan and gluten free options that I saw in several locations}, but I don't think it would have been that difficult for them to offer cheese on the side of their eggs or some of the other offerings at the buffets.  The BlogHer provided meals were also not anything I'd write home about in terms of culinary genius {and I'm not a foodie in any meaning of the word}.  However, I was just happy enough to be able to eat a meal I didn't have to prepare with two hands while it was still warm and no one else was eating off of my plate.

Overall, I think the food situation was just fine for me, even with the dietary restriction that I prefer not to eat meat.

In the next post, we can chat a little more about the BlogHer sessions I attended and the parties.  But in the meantime -

If you went to BlogHer, what were your opinions on the hotel(s) and food?

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Monday, July 29, 2013

First things first .... What I WORE to BlogHer 13!

It's official.

My BlogHer13 trip is over as of last night, and after an errand or two I'm phoning it in today and putting on a cartoon for Little Man while all three of us snuggle on the couch.  {Because mama needs a few snuggles from my littles.... and also the couch.  Yes.}

But while we're snuggling today and then I put all of my thoughts, feelings, and information {about the conference, the parties, the connections, the sessions, the food, and - yes - the swag} down to paper in the next few days, let's enjoy a little slideshow of what I wore to the conference at each specific event.

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer

Let's play it out day by day

Wednesday ~

I drove up to Chicago on Wednesday, checked into the hotel, and met with my internet turned in real life bestie Nicole in the afternoon.  After a little hanging around the hotel, we met up with Drea and had some eats and snuggles with her newest squish.  Here's what I wore:

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Dress: Target, Cardigan: H&M, Shoes: Old Navy, Necklace: Charming Charlie, Sunglasses: Target}
Thursday ~

Thursday was an extremely busy day for me, including trying to stop by the Evening at the Expo and the People's Party.  Here's what I wore throughout the day:

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Blouse & Shorts: H&M, Shoes: Target}

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Sweater & Dress: H&M, Shoes: Kohl's, Bracelet: Fossil, Necklace: Lia Sophia, Hair: courtesy of the weather}
Also, hey random dude in my picture.  Where ya goin' so fast?

Friday ~

The schedule for Friday was a little less crazy than Thursday - but not by much.  I attended the BlogHer newbie breakfast since this was my first year, followed by the Keynote/BlogHer speed dating and one session in the morning.  For lunch, I attended the Better Moments Luncheon sponsored by US Cellular.  In the afternoon, I attended the DSLR session followed by a break, dinner, a little more Expo hall, and a twidge of the Voices of the Year Keynote.  Then it was off to a few parties, like the FlyDIY party to meet up with my girl Heather.  This is what I wore to those events:

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Sweater, Skirt, Tank: H&M, Shoes: Kohl's, Bag: Target, Necklace: Very Jane}

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Dress: H&M, Bag and Shoes: Target, Jacket: Old Navy, Necklace: Borrowed from MJ, but I think it's from Forever 21}
Saturday ~ 

Saturday's breakfast and sessions began at 9 a.m., followed by a day filled with sessions, BlogHer lunch, and a few more sessions.  After another short break and dinner, I attended the closing keynote and the fashion show/fashion show party/CheeseburgHer party.  Here's what I wore Saturday:

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Blazer, Blouse, Scarf, and Cigarette Pants: H&M, Bag: Target, Shoes: Old Navy}

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Dress: H&M, Shoes: Kohl's, Necklace: Charming Charlie}
If you noticed what was on my hand {and hadn't been following my Instagram feed this weekend}, it's a henna tattoo, so pretty looking!!!

Sunday ~

Instead of rushing home Saturday night at like midnight {and getting in at 5 a.m. - no thanks}, I stayed over at the hotel one more night.  Sunday morning was filled with a few more hours of time with my roommates.  Then, back on the road again, folks, en route to my babies.  This is what I wore before I headed out:

What to Wear to BlogHer 13 / What I wore to BlogHer
{Dress, Sweater, Belt: H&M, Shoes: Target, Wristlet: Coach}
I was able to get away with several pieces that multi-tasked throughout the weekend, such as my wooden beaded Charming Charlie necklace, my Target bag, my sea green H&M sweater, and a few pairs of neutral shoes.  After the weekend was over, I only ended up with two extra outfits - so I'm glad to say that I didn't overpack on clothing.

Shoes, on the other hand?  Not so much.  I had originally packed probably six pairs of shoes {from the pictures you can see I wore four} but didn't even come close to touching the two high-wedge heels in my suitcase.  If I attend BlogHer again, I am only going to pack flats and not even bother wasting my space with the heels.

My roommates and I also participated in sort of a jewelry bar.  When we got into the hotel room, everyone basically laid their jewelry out on the TV console and we were able to borrow different accessories throughout the weekend.  It was great because we were all able to accessorize without spending a ton of cash buying new necklaces or bracelets.  I'd highly recommend that if you have roommates for the conference!

One last thing I'm really glad I did was bring layers.  I'd heard that the sessions were cold {and they were} but the weekend of BlogHer13 ended up being un-seasonably cold in Chicago, to the point where I was wearing a sweater or jacket over every outfit I had.  If I hadn't packed an extra jacket or two - I would have been one cold lady!

What do you all think of my BlogHer outfits?  Anything you love?

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

How I started blogging - & how to start your own blog!

Since this week is really blog-focused as is with my being up at BlogHer13, I thought I'd continue the theme and talk a little bit more about the beginnings of my cozy little space on the interwebs.

As some of you already know, I started up The Naptown Organizer blog very shortly after Little Man's first birthday - almost a year and a half ago - to share some organizational tips with friends.  Since then, it has blossomed into a happy place for me to share and connect with other ladies in the same phase of life.  But - setting up a blog takes a lot of work, a lot of know-how, and a lot of time.  So, let's chat about that a little more.



The first decision I had to make when starting my blog was where to host the blog.  Not having a clue if it was something I'd actually stick with, I wanted a free blog versus a self-hosted option to begin.  Two of the main free options are Blogger.com or Wordpress.com.  Starting out, I had not a clue of technical knowledge regarding the internet, so I stuck with the slightly-less-techie Blogger, and have stayed there ever since.  Blogger tends to be fairly easy to set up and easy to utilize, but doesn't have as many of the bells and whistles you can add on your own in Wordpress.  {I do use Wordpress when I blog for theBump.com, but as a low-tech mama I still prefer Blogger!}  Since I set up my own blog in Blogger, I'll focus on using Blogger to set up your own blog for the rest of this post.

Once you decide to use Blogger, then you have to choose your site name and layout.  Thankfully, Blogger has a TON of free blog templates you can use to get yourself started.  I know when I first began, this blog was a green background with grass and a dandelion on the top, prior to me upgrading to my self-designed yellow/linen/chevron look and then now upgrading to my current design by Tiffany Kuehl Designs.  I've had a bunch of questions from friends looking into starting their own blog about layout initially.  In my humble opinion, you should definitely use a free template to start.  Whether it's through the Blogger templates or a free template you find on the internet - you don't want to spend a ton of money on a hobby blog that you're not sure you'll even use yet.  Once you've been blogging consistently, for some time, then go ahead and upgrade your blog if you feel like it's a good time.  But don't drop the cash until you're sure it's a serious endeavor.

Well, you know.  Unless you have a ton of cash to spare?

{One note - throughout the initial phases of blogging - it is extremely helpful to find a friend or mentor who can help you through.  As someone who had never even heard of HTML prior to starting this blog, I had a few - and still have a few - lovely friends who held my hand throughout the way.  If you can find a friend or mentor for your blog, I highly recommend it!!!}

Now that you have your URL, site name, and layout set up - your next task is to decide your content.  I began the blog with organization in mind, but it has blossomed to so many things in addition to that.  A good tip is to let yourself just write for a little while.  Once you've had a few months of posts under your belt, that may be a good time to decide further what your theme is.

But, let's talk about theme a little bit further.

Here's where you have to sit down and think about the intentions of your blog as well.  Many people begin blogging just to tell a story - their story.  Then, after writing for a little while, watching their stats, and realizing that no one is reading it, they become frustrated and stop.  When you're starting your own blog, you have to take a few things into consideration.  The first is - you have to love writing and expressing yourself creatively through this space.  If not, you will stop sooner rather than later.  The second though, is to consider your intended audience.

Do you want more than just your family and friends to read your blog?

If not, then keep on with your bad self.  Write because it makes you happy, no matter who is or isn't reading your content.  If so, then you have to have something to offer outside of just your story.  {Because, I mean, your mom loves to come read about your kids and your dog and the dentist appointment you had last week... but if you want anyone else to care about those things - you have to give them other reasons to come back as well.}  Whether that information be informational content {of any nature, really}, advice, data, recipes, reviews, giveaways - whatever.  There has to be something of redeeming value outside of your and/or your family's lives to amass new readers to the blog.

While talking with a friend of mine a few months ago, she expressed interest in growing her blog.  At that time, she was posting quite a few recipes in addition to her personal life story at the time.  Since my friend was undergoing a drastic weight loss, I suggested to her that she refocus her blog just a tad to intertwine those concepts - to make the blog a resource for not only her story and her cooking, but for healthy cooking that enabled her to lose the weight.

It seems simple, right?

In reality though, it takes a little bit of time to discover who you are as a blogger and where you feel your story and content fits - even if that's into the space uniquely you that only you create.

The last big question about starting up a blog I hear is always the same:

How do you make money on your blog?

I know every blogging tutorial begins with this, but it's true so I will say it again - if you're in it for the money, you should get out now.  The amount of work you'll put into a blog to get it to the point where you can even make money at all is so not worth it if money is your only goal.  Going back up to my statement above - you really have to love writing and creating and expressing yourself through this media.

However, once you do have an established blog with some readers and frequent content {and by frequent I mean at least 2 posts per week, as some bloggers will post up to 6-7 times or more per week!}, then you can return to the question of that pretty penny.  I've heard many bloggers say how they began to monetize their blogs, but for me - it was simply reaching out.  My first foray into this area was receiving a review item and hosting a giveaway for a company I had contacted and requested information from about various products.

{Take away tip: companies initially aren't going to just find you.  If you're interested in collaborating with a company, respectfully help them to discover you and your blog!}

While a good portion of my blog sponsorship at this time comes from companies finding me, because of the nature of TNO blog, I still do seek out quite a few sponsors/reviews/giveaways for you lovely readers.  If I see an item I think you all would go gaga over, you better believe I'm sending my statistics to the company to request an item that I may review to share with you all.  Many possible partners will ask you for your statistics, and initially - you will be turned away.  That's okay.  If you work at it long enough, your little engine that could blog will get up there to the point that your stats are amazing and companies are seeking you out for collaborations and partnerships.

{On this topic though, you want to make sure that any item you're receiving or any product you're promoting fits the content of your blog.  If you blog about your pet, a collaboration with a ironing board company doesn't make sense for you - for example.  Your readers - who are likely mainly pet owners - will not be interested in this content nor will they be engaged by it.  Be wise about choosing your sponsors/partners and be sure that it flows with the theme of your blog.}

At the end of the day though, whether you're a brand new start-up blog with 10 followers or become a massive business with 100,000 followers - the beginnings are typically all similar.  Everyone starts somewhere - and for almost all the great blogs I follow - it comes from that inner desire to write and create.  If you keep that in mind, your blog will be successful no matter the size, shape, or make-up - because it fulfills a part of you.

Anyone out there thinking of starting their own blog?  What are your concerns?

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

TNO's Tips & Tricks 27 - A BlogHer Pre-Conference Guide

Since this is my first year attending BlogHer, I've definitely gone through the newbie confusion.  BlogHer is a huge conference, and there are a lot of in's and out's to learn as a first-timer.  While I'm headed into Chicago for the conference, I thought I'd leave you with a few pre-written words of advice that helped ease my way into BlogHer just in case you decide to join the fun next year!


The first tip is to plan in advance.  If you decide to go to the conference early, you can score an early bird rate {typically in the months of September or November, I believe} that costs less than half of the full conference ticket fee.  I believe the early bird tickets this year cost somewhere around $200, while the full conference tickets were around $400 just before the conference {if subsidized by corporate sponsors only - if a blogger has a preference for ethical reasons not to be subsidized by corporate sponsors they may choose a pass just over $600}.  So, the early bird does really get the worm here.

If you're unable to plan in advance, but still want to take advantage of the low rate - try to score a used ticket last minute.  There are many bloggers on the BlogHer site trying to sell a ticket they may no longer use, and if you're observant - you may be able to snatch one up that was purchased at the early bird rate.  {Just an FYI though, I believe tickets can be transferred to another person up to a month before the conference with no fee incurred - but if it's the month of the conference you'll have to pay a ticket transfer fee around $25.}

The next tip is to bunk up.  Not only will rooming with a few other bloggers save you a ton of cash, but it will also build your relationships with your cohort of bloggers.  As I've mentioned before, this year I'll be rooming with a few of my friends - Nicole, Kate, & MJ.  I'm so amazingly excited to be able to hang out with a few of my very close friends at the same time as being able to participate in this experience.  And - as I mentioned - it is literally saving me hundreds of dollars by doing so.

Another tip is to connect.  One really helpful trick I found prior to attending the conference was to find Facebook groups of other people going to BlogHer as well.  In these groups, I was able to ask questions about the conference, logistics, parties, etc.  It was also really nice to hear other people's questions.  There were questions posted about parking, hotel accommodations, dress code, meals, and pretty much any other possible topic you can think of related to BlogHer.  Having a large group of people who had been to the conference before was extremely helpful to me.

In order to keep informed - make sure that you're following the BlogHer official conference updates, either through email or on the BlogHer site.  As the conference nears closer, they'll post updates as to any changes to the conference {like how this year some of the session were initially intended to be located at the Sheraton, but were then moved to McCormick Place in order to eliminate the need to take a shuttle back and forth between sessions}.  There are often really important updates that you'll miss if you're not actually following the BlogHer posts!

The BlogHer 13 app

And last but not least, one of the best ways I've found to keep organized this year before the conference was to download the BlogHer13 app for my smart phone.  The app has a ton of great functions, including being able to plan your own schedule in their calendar - which includes the ability to link up with friends and view their sessions side by side to yours.  It also includes definitions of all the sessions, a photo gallery, maps, and a twitter feed of the #BlogHer hashtag, just to name a few!  This app is definitely a necessary part of the conference-going experience for me.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm having some last minute anxiety - am I really going away for almost a week???

So it's almost here.

Tomorrow, I'll leave my babies for the first time ever overnight for BlogHer.  But it isn't just overnight - it's four overnights.  And five days.

Oh goodness.

I've never been away from either child for longer than a work shift.  There have only been one or two days ever in Little Man's life that he hasn't seen me at all during a day {if I leave for work before he wakes and come home late after he's asleep} and Little Lady has never gone for 24 hours without seeing me as she's up in the night still.

I know they'll be in very capable hands, as DH is taking off of work to do daddy duty while I'm gone, but that doesn't make me worry any less about if they'll miss me or how horribly I'll miss them.  {And seriously friends, cross your fingers for DH.  He's never done night wakings, and he's about to get a dose of four nights in a row!}  Even before I leave, I'm wondering if Little Man will wake and ask for me, or if Little Lady will fuss at night when I'm not the one to soothe her back to sleep.

These faces.  Seriously - I just cannot love these kids enough.


I can't say that this doesn't come with a little bit of excitement though.  Because I've never been away from my kids, I haven't had a night of sleep in the past two and a half years that either hasn't been interrupted or hasn't been tethered by carrying around a monitor or constantly knowing that someone could wake any second.  Or being woken each morning at a time earlier than I'd normally wake.  The mere fact that I can choose to sleep all night if I want to and wake exactly when I want to in the morning is almost lulling me into a dreamy sleep already.  Ahem... I mean - you know - not to mention all the amazing things going on at the conference for which I'm excited!

But it definitely will be very different than the non-stop, constant, amazing, but life-changing tough parent life I've been living for the past few years.

What I'm hoping?

DH and the kids will have an easy time of it, and I'll be so busy at the conference that I don't have time to think about the little feet pattering around the kitchen floor or the little babbles and coos coming from my teeny babe habitually worn on my back.

Maybe we should cross some fingers for me, too.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Mrs. Patel's Giveaway Winner!

Hey friends hey!  Just sittin' here, sipping on my Chai milk water tea, writing up the winner post :)

{You guys seriously have to try this tea, though.  It's amazing!}

Ahem, anyway!  So let's get to our winner:

Amanda C.!

Congratulations, you've won!  You have 48 hours to respond to my message to confirm winning your prize of the Combination package!  And thank you everyone else for entering and checking out my review post of Mrs. Patel's milk making teas and treats!!!

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