Posts by Cassie

Learning to Take Care of Myself

6

Posted on Sep 23, 2014 in Lifestyle

Before I had a baby, I promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those everything-is-about-my-kid parents. I wouldn’t revolve my whole life around my child. I would love her. I would be there for her. I would spend tons of quality time with her. But I would also make sure to take care of myself so I stayed healthy, happy, and, well, me. I believe that in order to teach healthy behaviors to my baby girl, I have to model them for her. And I think one of the healthiest behaviors (that I’ve yet to master personally) is taking care of yourself.

Of course, now that I’m a Mama, I realize that finding time to care for yourself is much easier said than done. It’s damn hard to figure out how to put yourself on your own priority list. When you have a free half hour and the laundry needs to be done, you have 10 emails to answer, and the kitchen floor needs swept, those items all feel so much more important than going to gym or relaxing in a bubble bath. But what I’m trying to teach myself (and eventually, pass on to my daughter) is that those items aren’t more important than self-care. If anything, they’re less important because if you don’t take care of yourself, eventually it catches up to you and everything else comes crashing down. It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself. And there are no medals for being a Mommy martyr (which, worth noting, I think this is a problem that extends way beyond motherhood—I think everyone, parent or not, struggles with this, I just don’t know of a better phrase to label it).

I’ve been working on giving myself higher priority in my life for years. In certain aspects, I’ve succeeded. But, for the most part, I still really struggle with showing myself compassion and appreciation. I consider myself a compassionate person who is deeply grateful to lead such a fortunate life, but I still struggle with seeing myself through the same positive lens that I view the rest of the world. I’m working on it. And now that I have a tiny human that I’m molding, I want to work even harder. For better or worse, I will be her main model for how she treats herself in the future—and I want her to be a compassionate person. I want her to have compassion for others and for herself. And I’m the person she’s going to learn it from. How’s that for motivation to get my act together? The irony of this is that having a child has become my main motivation to make my life about more than just having a child. Oh universe, you work in funny ways.

Lately, I’ve been working on this by taking baby steps (pun intended) daily. I’m not reformed enough to book a long weekend at a spa, but I am seeing my own value enough to slowly implement self-care into my everyday. I thought I might share some of the ways I’ve been taking care of myself lately. They aren’t major, but they are important.

Eating dinner with my family

dinner quiche salad

I’m a pretty skilled multitasker, which also means that I struggle when I am just doing one thing at a time. This really applies to mealtimes. I’ve always struggled with just eating. I always feel like I need to eat and answer emails. Or eat and watch TV. Or eat and read a book. But lately I’ve been trying to eat most meals—especially dinner—and just focus on eating and conversing with my family. Not only is it a nice, relaxing break in the day, but it is also a lot healthier from a nutrition stand-point—I can focus on being aware of my food and my hunger instead of mindlessly overeating.

Taking a walk everyday

me feet flip flops

I’m not quite to the point where I can devote the kind of time to doing a long gym session or going to a fitness class everyday, but I can take a walk. Somedays, I’m lucky if I can get 10 minutes in, but even just that few minutes outside makes me feel so refreshed. I leave my phone in the house, and I just walk around and take in this beautiful place I live.

Two days off a week

Me and JuneBug Walk

Taking full days off from work is one of the hardest things for me to do, but it’s also one of the most restorative. I’ve started taking Wednesdays and Saturdays and signing off of work all day. I don’t answer emails. I try not to check into social media. I definitely don’t do any design work or writing. I just spend those two days enjoying life! Wednesday is my day with the baby girl (while Craig does school work), and we’ve taken to spending that day going to park, hanging out at the library, and playing for hours and hours. It is such a fun way to spend the day! And on Saturdays, we have family day where we go on hikes, go visit fun local towns, and soak up our time together.

Treating myself to a fancy coffee

Dunkin Donuts Coffee

Since I had to give up dairy and soy because of nursing, I’ve found myself really missing the ritual of stopping off at a coffee shop and getting some sweet, dessert-y coffee drink. I didn’t do it very often, but it was a small way for me to take care of myself when I was out running errands. I don’t think I quite realized how important it was to me before I couldn’t do it anymore. There is something so soothing about getting a coffee and walking around Target, you know? That’s why I was so incredibly excited when my friends at Blue Diamond Almonds sent me an email last week telling me that Dunkin Donuts was starting to carry almondmilk in their stores for use in coffees and lattes. I am so happy that I can get back to my fancy coffee ritual (with decaf coffee and almondmilk).

Sticking to my hobbies

DIY Taggie Blanket

I don’t have the same kind of time to devote to my hobbies as I did before, but I still think it’s important for me to carve out a few hours per week to sew, craft, and garden. Doing these projects really helps refresh me and keep me sane! I used to be able to devote a few days to a project and really plow through from start-to-finish, but I’m realizing now that I have to work on projects in manageable chunks. I can no longer just go hide away in my sewing nook and work on something for eight straight hours. I have a few fun projects up my sleeve to show you guys over the next few months!

Showing appreciation for myself

kitchen

I believe that words are powerful, including the words we use to talk about ourselves. Admittedly, I’m not always kind to myself. When something goes wrong, I’m the first to assign blame to myself. I’m trying to head off those negative words, and instead give myself the benefit of the doubt. Mistakes happen. Life becomes tricky. I’m human. And it’s okay to be human. On the flip side of this, I’m also trying to show myself some appreciation when I do positive things. I’m allowing myself to feel proud. Even if it’s as small as making sure my kitchen is clean at the end of the day. It’s okay to feel proud of yourself!

What do you guys do to try and take care of yourself? How do you manage to carve out the time?

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

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Posted on Sep 22, 2014 in Food

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

My wedding day was really low-pressure. Part of it was because of the location—we held our wedding between two trees in my parents’ backyard (which is now my backyard). Part of it was because we only invited our closest friends and family—we had about 40 people there total. But probably the biggest reason why it was so stress-free was because we were already married when we stood up in front of our loved ones and said our vows. Because of a tight immigration deadline, six months before, on a super chilly St. Patrick’s Day, Craig and I went to City Hall and were married by the Assistant City Clerk (who was wearing jeans and an orange hoodie). It was intimate, sweet, and incredibly romantic if you can ignore the fact that we got hitched in a hallway outside of the parks and recreation department (how very Leslie Knope of me).

And even though March 17th is the day that we officially celebrate as our anniversary each year, we also look back fondly to September 22nd—the day of our second wedding. It was the day that all of our friends and family got together and drank good beer, ate good food, and danced until the wee hours of the morning. It was one heck of a party.

wedding

To this day, people still talk about the food we served at our wedding (well, that, and the fact that it was a 94° that day—the Canadians were melting). Since we were having a backyard wedding, we knew we wanted to keep the food casual and comfortable. We tossed around a lot of ideas, but eventually landed on serving barbecue for our guests.

It was a ton of fun visiting all the different barbecue joints in our area and figuring out who we wanted to cater our wedding. We went with on one local place because no only was their food delicious, but we also loved their presentation. They served their “platters” of barbecue on metal trash can lids right at the table—we thought it was just quirky and weird enough to be perfect for our wedding! Everyone got a huge kick when these giant trash can lids to came to each table and everyone was encouraged to dig into the heaping piles of pulled pork, brisket, barbecue ribs, roasted chicken, baked beans, and corn on the cob. Now, every time I have barbecue, I get all kinds of warm and fuzzies thinking about our wedding day.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

The slow cooker is absolutely made for doing barbecue. It’s the perfect way to get slow-cooked flavor without babysitting the meat. If you’ve never slow-cooked ribs, I highly recommend trying it. They’re fall-of-the-bone perfect (especially after a quick trip under the broiler to get the sauce all caramelized and delicious). I also use the slow cooker all the time to make pulled beef, chicken and pork barbecue. The slow cooking adds so much rich flavor. It does require a bit of pre-planning—the dry rub on the pork the night before is the key to a super delicious sandwich.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I served up these pulled pork sandwiches topped with Cuban Slaw. And I also serve it with extra barbecue sauce to make the sandwiches extra sloppy and delicious. Some folks prefer their pulled pork sandwiches more dry, so my recommendation is to put the barbecue sauce out and everyone can customize their own sandwich. I tend to make my own barbecue sauce, but whatever bottle is your favorite would work well, too.

Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Total Time: 16 hours

Yield: 10 servings

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

It's easy to get slow roasted flavor by using the slow cooker to make this pulled pork recipe. An overnight dry rub adds tons of flavor without a lot of work.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 2-3 pound pork shoulder roast, extra fat trimmed off
  • Potato buns, coleslaw and barbecue sauce for serving

Instructions

  1. Combine the brown sugar, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the mixture liberally over the pork shoulder. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  2. Cook pork shoulder in slow cooker on high for 4-6 hours or low for 6-8 hours. At the end of cooking time, take two forks and shred the pork. Serve on potato buns topped with barbecue sauce and coleslaw, if desired.
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Turkey Taco Chili

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Posted on Sep 19, 2014 in Food

Turkey Taco Chili

Turkey Taco Chili

I know that chili is a pretty personal dish. In some regions, it’s sacrilege to put beans in your chili. Other people like chili so hot it makes your eyes water. I personally love thick and hearty chili, but I know some folks like chili thinner like soup. It’s hard to land on a chili that everyone loves, but let me tell you, I’ve got one. Meet taco chili.

Turkey Taco Chili

I’ve never met someone who didn’t like this chili. It’s a recipe that’s been in my family for years, and has been served to hundreds of people and met with hundreds of rave reviews—including from the girls on my dorm floor during my Freshman year in college. Whenever I’d come back from a weekend visit home, Mama would send me with a big pot of taco chili, a bag of tortilla chips, and a tub of sour cream. We’d line up the chili, chips and cream on the floor of my dorm room and invite all of our floormates over to snack on homemade chili and gossip about the boys floor.

Turkey Taco Chili

My favorite part about this chili (other than the taste) is that it’s incredibly versatile. You can serve it as a dip for tortilla chips like we did in my dorm. You can serve it on top of macaroni and topped with cheese, diced onions and sour cream and make the tastiest chili mac you’ve ever had. You can serve it with cornbread for dipping. You can put it on top of hot dogs and make some seriously yummy coney dogs.

It’s also incredibly easy to make. The “taco” part of this chili comes from its super easy flavor ingredient—taco seasoning! Yup, instead of pulling out 300 different spices from your cubbard, the majority of the flavor of this dish comes from a packet of taco seasoning. Easy peasy! Of course, you can also make your own taco seasoning and get the same awesome flavor, plus have the ability to customize the flavor to your family’s liking.

Turkey Taco Chili

The original version of this recipe calls for two whole pounds of ground beef, and while it’s totally delicious when made that way, it’s also incredibly heavy and calorie-dense. I instead tend to switch out the ground beef for leaner turkey, you still get lots of awesome flavor in a much lighter dish. My recommendation is to go for a ground turkey with a little bit of fat. Skip the 99% fat-free stuff—it’s also 99% flavor free!

I’ve also made it with half turkey/half beef and half turkey/half spicy chorizo sausage. Both delicious!

Turkey Taco Chili

Worth noting, I’ve also made this chili in the slow cooker no less than a billion times, and it turns out just as well as it does on the stove top. I don’t brown or pre-cook anything. Just toss it all in and put in on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6—making sure you stir it a few times during cooking to break up the ground turkey.

It also freezes really well! Let it cool then freeze it flat in gallon freezer bags. When you’re ready to eat, either warm it up on the stove, or plop the chili popsicle in the slow cooker and let it warm up slowly while you do other things.

Turkey Taco Chili

If you really want to please a crowd, make up a batch of this stuff, and then set up a chili bar for everyone to customize their own bowl. I like to put out bowls of diced green onions, minced cilantro, chopped avocado, sour cream, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, elbow macaroni, sliced olives, and saltines—and let people go to town! It’s a great way to feed a crowd in the fall and winter, and it’s really easy on the host because you can make the chili and chop all the toppings ahead of time. Just bring it all out, set out some bowls and spoons and wait for the compliments to come in.

Enjoy!

Turkey Taco Chili

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 8 servings

Turkey Taco Chili

This thick and hearty chili is surprising light thanks to a base of lean ground turkey. It's a crowd-pleaser!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2-14 ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-16 ounce jar of salsa
  • 1-8 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add in the celery and onion, and cook until just tender and fragrant, about five minutes. Add in the garlic and ground turkey. Cook until turkey is browned, about five more minutes. Do not drain!
  2. Add in the kidney beans, crushed tomatoes, salsa, tomato paste, corn, taco seasoning, cumin and chili powder. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until thick and bubbly. Serve topped with favorite chili toppings.
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Lunches Lately

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Posted on Sep 17, 2014 in Food

Healthy and Easy Lunch Ideas

Lunch at Desk

When I was working on coming up with a (totally reasonable, not crazy) plan to get back in shape after pregnancy, one of the action items in my plan was to pack my lunch everyday. Now, that might sound a little strange considering I work from home (about 15 feet away from my kitchen), but I’ve realized over the past two years of working from home that I really need the structure that comes from packing my food everyday. If I don’t have a preplanned meal, one of two things happen: either I snack all day long or, what happens usually, I skip meals until 3pm comes and I get so ravenously hungry that I eat everything in the pantry. Neither option is super healthy. So to fight that off, I pack my lunch!

I’ve been sharing some of my lunches on my Instagram feed, and it’s been getting such a great response, I thought I might start sharing them regularly on here, too. I’ve always been a fan of packing bento-style lunches, because I absolutely love eating a wide variety of foods—so that’s what you’ll see the most of.

And before you ask: yes, these lunch containers are awesome! A while back, I bought a bunch of LunchBots containers for my lunch, and I’m in love. We stopped storing food in plastic a few years back, and these stainless containers are amazing. Obviously, you can’t microwave in them, and they aren’t water-tight, but they work for my purpose. The LunchBots Cinco is my absolute favorite—it’s large enough to a big hefty lunch, and I love having five compartments. I also have the smaller LunchBots which I usually use for snacks and breakfasts—Uno, Duo, and Trio, and I also have the LunchBots Dip Containers. I also use rectangular and square silicone baking cups as dividers.

Lunch Containers

My favorite part about using these containers regularly is that I’ve developed a pretty good eye for the volume and calorie count of each lunch. Of course, I could fill one up entirely with…say…mayo…and probably clock a really disgusting 5000 calorie lunch, but I have never topped 600 calories in the Cinco packing the normal, healthy foods I like—which is perfect for my breastfeeding-friendly calorie goals.

Here are a few of my lunches from the past few weeks. I apologize for the quality of photos—I’m usually snapping these late in the evening when daylight is quickly fading, and I’m ready for bed! I really need to get me a new iPhone so I can take better pictures on the go.

Lunch

Turkey and sprout sandwich on a whole wheat mini bagel, cucumber slices, salted edamame, pretzels and hummus, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, blueberries and strawberries, and a few chocolate-covered cherries for dessert.

Lunch

Chicken salad, steamed green beans, roasted potatoes, crackers, mini pear, strawberries, and chocolate-covered cherries.

Lunch

Chef salad (minus the cheese, plus sprouts), roasted potatoes, fruit salad, and trail mix.

Lunch

Egg salad, pickle, cucumber slices, crackers, steamed green beans, applesauce with cinnamon, grapes, pretzels, and chocolate covered cherries.

Lunch

Bean salad, blueberry coconut milk yogurt with blueberries and chia seeds, black olives, crackers, mini pear, black cherry tomatoes, and chocolate covered cherries.

Next time, I’ll try to (a) get better photos and (b) snap more pictures of my breakfast and snack bentos—they’re fun, too! I’d also love to hear your ideas for your favorite things to pack in your lunch.

July 2014 Income Report — $428.54

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Posted on Sep 16, 2014 in Career

July 2014 Income Report

It’s time again for my monthly income report! If you’re curious what this is all about, I started a back-end overhaul of the business aspect of my blog on August 1st, and I want to share my results with you monthly. Why share? Well, a few reasons:

  • Accountability: I want you all to hold me accountable. Keep me in check if I stray off the straight and narrow. Turning your blog into a money-making venture is often a delicate balance between authentic and smarmy, and I really want to err on the side of authentic—and I’m hoping you guys will help keep me there.
  • Transparency: I think it’s hard to be authentic when all things financial and traffic related are hidden under a cloak of mystery. I’m hoping by sharing my numbers and stats, we’ll all feel a little more comfortable with the business side of my blog.
  • Motivation: My goal is to make the work I put into this blog “worth” my time financially. The problem is, I love doing what I do here so much that I’d do it for free. That doesn’t really light a fire under me to work on the business side! By sharing my financials every month, I hope to motivate myself to keep on keepin’ on the road to figuring out how to make this blog financially efficient.
  • Inspiration: Maybe along the way, I can figure out a thing or two and help inspire some other bloggers out there to find out how they can make their own blog more successful and profitable. That’d be super cool.

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, a note: because of how some of my ad networks report, these income reports will run about 45 days behind—which is why you’re just now seeing the numbers for July. Keep in mind, I didn’t start this income project until the beginning of August, so the numbers in this report are from before I started working hard to boost my financials. Okay, onto the stats.

Disclaimer: Some of these links below are affiliate links—meaning I get a few pennies if you happen to purchase through my link. I use and recommend all of these products. Let me know if you have any questions.

Income

Total Income: $741.92

Thoughts on Income

Oh, July.

July is pretty commonly accepted as one of the absolute worst months for ad revenue in the year, and that’s definitely reflected in my ad revenue for this month. It’s probably no surprise that seeing the numbers come in for July was one of the motivating factors to get me to start this whole monetization overhaul—it became glaringly obvious that my blog wasn’t financially sustainable with its current model.

Diversity (again).

I spoke about diversity of income sources last month, but my need to diversify really hit me like a ton of bricks this month. Because there was an industry-wide lull in ad sales in July, and because almost all of my income sources are ad networks, I took a major hit this month. If I had a few other non-ad network sources of income, they could help me balance out any major dips in ad revenue that happen throughout the year.

Welcome, ZipList!

I started transitioning my recipes over to ZipList earlier this year, and it’s been an incredibly slow process (my newer recipes are in ZipList, but the vast majority of my recipes are still housed in my older recipe delivery system). As I get more and more recipes in my ZipList account, I’m noticing my revenue from them creeping up! That’s very exciting and pretty motivating to get off my bum and get my other 300+ recipes transferred over to ZipList.

Curious how revenue works on ZipList? Well, when you partner with ZipList they create a customized recipe box website for your website. So whenever someone interacts with the ZipList website, they are doing it through your customized portal that shows ads that are linked to your account.

For example, say someone wants to save my Vegan Coconut Milk Ice Cream recipe to their ZipList account. They click the “Save” button the recipe.

ZipList

And get a pop-up to save the recipe to their ZipList account. See that add there? That’s generating me revenue! Yay!

ZipList

I also get revenue from a leaderboard add that shows if you access your ZipList recipe box from the buttons at the top of my sidebar.

ZipList

I hope ZipList creeps higher and higher up on my revenue list as I get more and more recipes put in it.

Expenses

Total Expenses: $313.38

Note: I’ve decided to include food costs at a rate of 30% of our total grocery bill. I figure about 1/3 of everything I cook in a month ends up on the blog. And the vast majority of those dishes require speciality ingredients that would be more pricey than if I was doing “regular” grocery shopping.

Thoughts on Expenses

Let’s Talk Hosting

I want to take a second to chat about hosting companies, because I love, love, love my host! I’m with AcceleratedWP, and I pay a little bit more than you can get with some of the big name hosts, but I get such better service that it’s totally worth the extra cash. I used to have a…uh…rocky experience when I was with one of the big name hosts. My site would go down all the time. They were always throttling my site so it loaded super slowly for a lot of people. And whenever I’d have a technical problem, they’d offer to help—but only if I paid them a hefty sum. About a year ago, I switched to AcceleratedWP, and it’s been like night and day for me.

My site hasn’t been down once. My load times became super fast. And my favorite part, they have given me the most reliable, helpful customer service I’ve ever had with a tech company. Because they charge a little bit more, they consider themselves a full-service WordPress host—which means they make sure everything stays running smooth for you. They keep your site secure. They make all your WordPress and plugin updates for you (and make sure nothing breaks). They do backups for you. They fix technical issues that might pop up (but rarely do, because they also monitor your site constantly to make sure it’s healthy).

awp

I became an AcceleratedWP Ambassador last month, but even if I wasn’t working with them, I’d still be singing their praises! I am so happy I decided to spend the money and go with a full-service host. I’m learning more and more than with blogging, just like most things in life, you get what you pay for. And my experience with the cheap hosting companies were exactly that—cheap. To me, the peace of mind of having the technical side of my blog taken care of is totally worth the extra cash.

Take Home Pay

Since this whole project is about making my work time more efficient, I thought it might be helpful to figure up a formula for calculating what I’m earning each month in regular-job terms. In the formula, I subtract my expenses from my income, to get a profit. And then I subtract 30% of that number to account for taxes. That number is my take home pay for the month. To figure the hourly wage, I estimate I work 100 hours per month on my blog, so I divide that take home pay by 100.

Take Home Pay = .70(Income – Expenses)
Hourly Wage = Take Home Pay/100

This month’s take home:

income-takehome

Oh man. It sounds so sad when you break it into an hourly rate! One of my biggest struggles with this monetization project is a block in my own mind—I have to get used to treating myself as a valued professional in this field. If I don’t see myself as valuable, then no one else will. And “selling” my work for three bucks an hour is not giving my work the kind of value it deserves.

RPM

Another way to put my monthly numbers into perspective is to figure up the RPM (revenue per mille). This is the amount of money that the blog makes per thousand impressions. It’s a good number to know, because it helps you understand how effective your income sources are, regardless of your traffic. A blog with only 100 visitors a week, but with a high RPM is actually a lot more financially efficient than a blog with a million visitors a week but a low RPM. It’s not all about traffic! My RPM for July was:

income-rpm

This is where is starts to become obvious that July was a much worse month off than June was. While the income numbers for the two months were only about $50 off, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In July, I had a 10% increase in pageviews over my June numbers—but I made less money, which is why my RPM dropped from the $2.52 of June.

As a frame of reference, decently-earning blogs have RPMs of at least $5. Excellent-earning blogs make $10+. And you’ll even see some rockstar blogs making $15-$20 RPM! I have a long way to go.

Traffic

Here are a few screenshots from Google Analytics from July.

Overview

Traffic Google Analytics

Top 10 Referring Sources

Referrals Google Analytics

10 Most Popular Pages

Referrals Google Anayltics

Thoughts on Traffic

  • I’m not sure how bloggers gained traffic before Pinterest existed, because man, I am sure glad it’s around now! Pinterest is consistently my top referrer (and by a lot). That’s why I’ve been really pumping a lot of time and energy into increasing my Pinterest strategy over the past few months. I haven’t seen a lot of gains (more on those in upcoming reports), but I think the work I’m doing is laying the groundwork for even more referrals from Pinterest.
  • Three of my top 10 most popular posts this month are “how-to” posts. I love developing recipes, but sometimes it’s really fun to break out of the box and write more how-to posts about things that are part of my day-to-day life (like prepping food or making popcorn). It’s good to know those posts perform well!

popcorn

Next Steps & Other Thoughts

Truncated RSS Feed

This change has been, without a doubt, the most controversial of any of the changes I’ve made ever on my blog. Last month, after agonizing over it for years, I decided to try out truncating my blog post in my RSS feeds. What’s that mean? Well, previously, I used to provide my entire blog entry in my RSS feed. So if you read my blog through Feedly or Bloglovin or any other RSS feed reader, you’d get the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle.

But last month, I made the switch to where the post cuts off after the first photo and a paragraph or two, and then prompts the reader to click onto my blog for the full content of the post.

RSS Feed

Why do this? Well, it’s simple really, and 100% financially driven—views in a RSS feed reader generate absolutely no income for me. If you read my blog in Feedly or Bloglovin, you don’t see any ads. I don’t get any revenue from those impressions. When I was treating my blog as just a hobby, that was fine! My main goal was to just have fun and be creative, and getting my work out to the most eyeballs as possible was part of that. But now that it’s important for me to make my blog financially sustainable, that model just wasn’t good business sense anymore. I was giving my work away for free. And that’s pretty much the worst business decision an entrepreneur can make.

I got some negative feedback about the change—I totally get it is a bit more cumbersome to read my blog now—but after explaining that small changes like these need to happen or BTHR might have to go dark, most understood. I also got a ton of positive feedback, too! A few people said that while they were frustrated at first, they actually now really enjoy reading my blog in its native form on my site! And so many people told me that they didn’t mind the extra click if it helped me out. One friend of mine even likened it to trying to shop local. A lot of us will go out of our way to try to support local businesses in our community, and while I’m probably not a local for you, I consider you guys part of my community. And I’m asking you to go a little (teeny, tiny) bit out of your way to help support me. You can literally help save my business with that one single click.

I also understand that changes like this are calculated risks. I’m going to lose some readers over it. And that’s a bummer, but I have to assume that those readers I lost weren’t really all that interested in my content to begin with. I believe that if someone is truly engaged with my content, a simple click won’t be enough to deter them (at least, I hope that’s the case). I’ll report back more in the next few income reports with the numbers, but I can tell you already, that I’ve seen a dramatic increase in my clicks from the common feed readers—people are clicking! Thank you!

Advertising Waterfalls & Overhauls

Last month, I talked about implementing advertising waterfalls. I’ll be sharing a lot more data on this in August’s income report, but I wanted to just drop a quick note to tell you that, holy cow, I was losing so much cash by not having waterfalls set up! I’ve seen an incredible increase in my ad revenue over the past six weeks. I absolutely cannot recommend this eBook by Kiersten Farse enough. I am so grateful to this book for teaching me all about waterfalls. I just had no idea how much money I was leaving on the table!

How to Monetize Your Food Blog

I’m actually still working on tweaking my waterfalls (and I’m even testing with a company who monitors your waterfalls for you—I’ve given them complete control over almost all the ad spots on my blog), but I’m so happy with the results! Like I said, I’ll be talking a lot more about this in upcoming months when I have the exact numbers, but I think you’ll be surprised by how much money I was losing by just running one ad network.

Affiliate Marketing

I’m slowly diving into the world of affiliate marketing. What is affiliate marketing? Well, say a blogger recommends a product to you. When you click the link to the product, it has a special affiliate code in the URL that tracks your click. When you then buy that product, the blogger gets a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. It can be a really efficient way for bloggers to earn money, but it can also feel really smarmy if it’s done wrong. I think it’s vital to disclose when affiliate links are being used (see the disclosure at the top of this post), and only really promote products that you truly believe it. My philosophy is that I only post affiliate links for products that I would want you to buy even if I wasn’t making a commission. Like that link up there to that eBook. I do get a commission off any sales from that link, but even if you don’t want to buy through my affiliate link, that’s cool, because I really want you to read that book!

Affiliate marketing is a huge, giant, massive aspect of the online world, and honestly, it’s a little overwhelming to get the hang of. There are affiliate programs for pretty much everything you could think of. To make sure I can wrap my brain around it, I’m currently just trying to use affiliate programs for sites/services that I use the most—and then I’l add on more as I can figure out how to fit them in. Right now, I’m focusing on affiliate programs through Amazon, Zulily, StudioPress, AcceleratedWP, and Oh My Veggies.

I have no desire for my blog to become a dumping ground for affiliate links, but I also have no problem getting a little bit of a kick-back if I’m the one that referred a new customer to a company. I do know that some folks get skeeved out by affiliate links, and if that’s you, I recommend looking for a browser plugin that’ll strip out affiliate referral codes (they have those for most of the modern browsers).

Social Marketing

I’m still keeping up with my increased presence on social media. I have signed up (and pay for—more on that in next month’s report) two services that help me streamline my social media marketing—CoSchedule and ViralTag. CoSchedule is what I use as my editorial calendar, and I also use it to schedule Facebook and Twitter updates. I use ViralTag to schedule my pins. I’m really loving ViralTag! I can schedule my own pins, as well as other people’s. I really like being able to schedule pins during prime Pinterest usage time.

ViralTag

I do most of my “for fun” pinning in the wee hours of the morning while I’m nursing—not the prime time to get to people. With ViralTag, I can schedule my pins to go up during high-traffic times on Pinterest—say during Monday Night Football. I see such an increase in repins, likes and pageviews when I pay careful attention to the times I post to Pinterest, and ViralTag is helping me with that. I like that I still get to use Pinterest for fun, but I also can leverage it as a social marketing platform for my brand.

A Lesson in Sponsored Content & Going with My Gut

I’m sure you’ve noticed the uptick in sponsored content lately, and I hope you’re enjoying it. Like I said last month, my goal is to make those sponsored posts fit seamlessly into the overall content strategy of my blog (like this recipe for Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips I did for Blue Diamond this past month).

Honey Chipotle Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips

Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious when a sponsored content opportunity either fits or doesn’t. But there are a few that fall somewhere in between that I often struggle with deciding to either pass up or accept.

This past month, I ended up accepting an offer, and I had a good idea of how to incorporate it into my blog and still offer readers a benefit, but something about it still felt off (even though it was with a well-respected company that I’m happy to promote). It didn’t feel quite right. But I proceeded because I thought maybe I was just being oversensitive. Then, the day before the post was to go up, the project ended up falling through, and instead of feeling bummed about the lost revenue, I found myself totally relieved! And that right there was a sign to me that I should have never signed the contract in the first place.

Even though it probably wouldn’t have been a problem for anyone (it’s not like I was shilling cigarettes), it didn’t feel right to me, and I should have accepted that feeling as legitimate from the get-go. I love my blog, and I love that I can make a nice living from it without me feeling “yucky” about it—and I intend to keep it that way!

Feeling Overwhelmed with Possibility

I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately with the sheer volume of things I want to do to for my blog. I know I just need to approach it the same way you’d eat an elephant—one bite at a time! I’ve been doing a little bit of work on a bunch of different things (a redesign, eCookbooks, reworking my ad strategy, social marketing, partnering with brands, etc.), and I think I need to devote myself to one project at a time instead of jumping around. This month, my goal is to take my list of improvement ideas and prioritize them. And then, once I’ve figured out what comes first—work on that and only that until it is finished.

I think the site redesign might be #1 on the docket, because I hate how my site is displaying right now! This design was just never made to work with this many ads, and it’s making it a really cumbersome user experience. The design I’m working on displays the same number of ads, but it in a much more elegant and unobtrusive way. Right now, the way my site is serving ads is just a band-aid until I can get my new, clean, fresh design up and running—thank you for being so patient with me.

All done!

So that was the last report on pre-project income—next month, I’ll be showing you the first month’s numbers, and I think you’ll be really surprised by how big of a change one month’s worth of work made! I’m really happy with the difference. I’ll also go into a bit more detail about the big changes I made to see the uptick in income.

Thanks for reading! And please, feel free to chime in and offer suggestions and ideas. I’d love for this to be an open conversation about blog monetization. As always, thank you so much for your support. It really does mean the world to me!