Monthly Archives: October, 2011

DIY: refurbished jewelry box (take two)

October 18th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized 13 thoughts on “DIY: refurbished jewelry box (take two)”

Remember when I lamented my frustration with my re-purposed jewelry box? It turned out, wrapping it in fabric wasn’t the best idea.

So, I went in search of another box. And I found a replica.

This time, I decided rather than wrap it in fabric, I would spray paint it. I love spray paint. So easy, such a huge pay off. (I fell in love with spray paint here.)

I didn’t know if spray paint would work. But I figured I’d give it a whirl. Worst case scenario, I spent less than $10. So why not?

(I was able to pry those jewels off the top of the box easily. I admire the craftiness of whoever previously owned this box, but I swore off bedazzling, so those had to go.)

Well, spray paint for the win!

Since I’ve worked with spray paint before, I knew the Rustoleum Painter’s Choice provides awesome coverage (I chose the color dark grey in a satin finish). And it sure covered this box, no problem. Like frosting on a cake.

The trick with spray paint is to keep it moving. If you linger, you’ll get drip marks. So spray back and forth in wind shield wiper motions to get the most even coverage.

To cover the top of the box, I found some foam sheets with a sticky back at Michael’s for $0.99. I cut the sheet to fit the top of the box, wrapped my fabric around the foam, and slapped it on the top of the box. To cover the inside, I found this cool, textured felt, cut it to size, glued the back, and adhered it into place. Felt is cool for a couple reasons: it costs about $0.30 a piece, is forgiving, and provides great texture. Since the inside of the box was kind of rough where I pulled out the old fabric, it left uneven spots. If I used thin fabric, all those imperfections would be evident. But, felt, he really covers up.

I love this project. So simple, such great results. I love it so much, I might just have another project to show you featuring another can of spray paint…

(Oh! I almost forgot! PSA: don’t spray paint the grass! Some members of the house were not too appreciative of the spray painted grey grass.)

Take a leap: an interview with Alexis Grant

October 17th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized, Wellness 8 thoughts on “Take a leap: an interview with Alexis Grant”

Alexis Grant is my kind of girl. She’s ambitious, smart, and doesn’t back down from a challenge. Since she is launching her new e-guide today, I asked her to join me on my blog for some Q & A on e-guides, taking leaps, and making dreams a reality.

How did you come up with the idea for this e-guide?

I had the idea while I was writing my travel memoir, which tells the story of how I backpacked solo through Africa in 2008. Friends were always saying, “I wish I could do that,” or “How’d you manage to take six months off work to travel?” — and I knew that if I could do it, they could, too! So I started putting together a practical guide, one with both logistical tips and motivational hints, that would help wannabe travelers get out there into the world. At first I planned to approach traditional publishers with the project like I’m doing for my travel memoir, but with my literary agent’s help, I realized going the digital route was a better choice for me. I loved the process of writing and now promoting it!

I’m so not a traveler. It would take a lot to convince me to go anywhere. What is one of the biggest benefits of taking time to travel?

It’s fascinating to learn how people live in other parts of the world — what they value, what they eat, how they structure their lives. Part of the reason it’s so interesting to learn about other cultures is because it helps you see your own in a different light. When I come home after traveling, I notice inefficiencies in my own life and, even better, appreciate what I have far more than before I left. Traveling makes me feel alive when I’m actually doing it, and then that feeling carries over to my time at home, too.

This guide is more than about travel. It’s also about taking leaps. But leaps are scary. What’s one thing you would say to someone afraid to take a leap?

Yes! Totally! I’d say: What are you waiting for? Risks can be scary, but the potential for what you could gain from going for your big goal is often big enough to warrant taking that risk. Plus, you’ll never get any closer to where you want to be without taking risks. Five years from now, would you rather know you played it safe and are sorta happy, or would you want to know that you gave your big goal — the one that has all that potential — a shot? To me, following through on Leaps is the difference between just breathing and really living. Also, surrounding yourself with go-getters who support your dream — rather than enforcing the status quo — is always a step in the right direction. You might also consider signing up for my newsletter, which is all about this very subject. :-)

Traveling is clearly a passion of yours. What advice would you give to people trying to find their passion?

Try lots of experiences! You never know when you might find a new hobby. For example, I would never have pictured myself enjoying creating and selling digital guides — and yet here I am now launching my second one, happier than ever in my career! I gave it a try, and it turned out better than I could’ve imagined. One other trick is to make a bucket list. If you could do anything — barring the risks and obstacles and BUTs — what would you do? Answer honestly; don’t get held down by what’s realistic. Because often, if you create that list with no limits, then look at it in a different light, you’ll discover that some of those big dreams actually are possible to attain. If you make that dream your priority, you can make almost anything happen.

What advice would you give to people wanting to write their own guides?

Go for it! This is such an up-and-coming way to share information, and the audience of people who want to buy and read eguides will only grow from here. Here’s one great way to come up with a topic: Think about what questions people (readers of your blog, if you have one) always ask you. For example, my first guide, How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business, came about because readers often asked me how I managed to launch a business on the side of my day job, and how I landed social media clients. They have a problem, and you can offer the solution.

Thank you, Alexis for sharing your insights. Taking leaps can be scary – but also rewarding. Any leapers out there? It’s time to go for it!

Teetotaling

October 14th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized 10 thoughts on “Teetotaling”

When I’m not drinking coffee, I’m drinking tea. Even in the summer months, I’ll drink hot tea. I guess it’s a comfort thing. There is something about a warm beverage in a giant cup that makes me feel warm and gooey and calm as I pry crayons out of Kate’s mouth. It’s the little things.

What’s that you say? You don’t like tea? Think again! So now that we’re heading into fall, try some of my favorites:

1. Twinings Ultra Spice Chai. Whoa! Spicy. And so so good. Definitely one of my favorite spicy chais.

2. Bigelow Earl Grey. I went through a huge Earl Grey phase right after Kate was born. Earl Grey is an acquired taste, I suppose. It’s a little different. But I find it refreshing.

3. Bigelow Constant Comment. I really wonder about the name of this tea. Why “Constant Comment?” I’m not sure. But if you like orange, you will like this tea. Smokey and citrusy.

4. Good Earth Vanilla Chai. If I was in an Earl Grey phase before, I am full into the chai phase now. In terms of flavored chai, this is my favorite. The vanilla is perfect – not too strong, not too mild.

5. Celestial Seasonings Cinnamon Apple Spice. Whenever anyone tells me they don’t like tea, I offer up this tea. Usually I can get a few converts. Sometimes teas taste like…leaves. But this tea definitely tastes exactly like cinnamon apple. If you are afraid of tea, try this one.

6. Yogi throat comfort. I am not really into holistic medicine or stuff like that. I just don’t know anything about it. This tea is as close as I get. And I swear, this stuff, mixed with some honey, calmed every sore throat I’ve ever had. So stock up because winter’s coming (extra credit to all you Game of Thrones fans).

7. Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime. I love decompressing with some sleepytime tea. Does it help me get to sleep? Maybe. Or the fact that I chase a toddler for 12 hours a day and get up every morning at 5:30 a.m. But the tea helps.

Are you a tea drinker? What are your favorites?

Web design for non-web designers

October 13th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized 6 thoughts on “Web design for non-web designers”

When I started blogging, I knew nothing about HTML or web design. So I decided to teach myself.

It took me about six months to redesign my website. During that time, I taught myself HTML basics, researched design, and learned how to make a cohesive look. (Note: you can probably teach yourself faster if you don’t have a child under the age of 1 sitting on your lap.)

I am not a web designer nor an HTML expert. But, with some patience and time, anyone can learn some basics. Here are a couple things I learned.

1. Go for a white background. Now, this is not a set-in-stone rule, but if you are like me and don’t have much experience in web design, I find that a white background is easiest to work with. Plus, I am a huge fan of white space. Looks clean to me. So no matter if you’re selecting a template or designing you site from scratch, you can’t go wrong with a white background.

2. Select a couple main colors. You will need a handful of colors (probably three) to use as your text color, blog post title color, link color, header color, etc… Choosing colors that look well together on the web is no easy task. At first, I thought, really, how hard can this be? I get dressed everyday, I match, how much more difficult could it be to select colors that coordinate? Well, it turns out, really hard. So, let the Internet help you. There are a variety of color pickers out there. Google something like “color combinations for web.” I used this tool here. These tools are incredibly helpful because they generate a pallet of colors that work together, providing you with some options.

3. Go for a two column layout. At first, I was all about the three column. Oh, I needed those three columns. Because…well…I didn’t know. I saw other bloggers with three columns, so I thought I should also create a three-column layout. Laying out three columns is hard. It can look messy faster than Kate can unroll a roll of toilet paper. And she is speedy. Go for the two-column layout instead. It automatically looks clean. Plus, your blog takes up one column, so there’s only one remaining column you need to worry about, rather than two.

4. Find a good template. If you are interested in building your own blog rather than using a template from Blogger or WordPress, find a template you like from Open Source Web Design. Now, just find a site with the layout you want – don’t worry about the colors, fonts, etc…you can change all that. I found my current design on OSWD, and I altered it from there. Since I am new to HTML, it helped me to have something to work off of instead of starting from nothing. Once I found the template I liked, I downloaded it and started messing around with the HTML. (For Windows users, you can use Notepad++ and for Mac users, you can use Komodo Edit to mess with the HTML code.)

5. Find a book book and a website. I started teaching myself HTML much the same way I teach myself most things. Through a book. I checked this book out of the library, and it provided me with a great foundation. Once I knew HTML terms and the basics, I knew what to Google to find more answers. That landed me on this site, which is great for refreshers. HTML is easy to learn, so flip through some manuals and Google some YouTube videos. Trust me, you can do it.

6. Don’t over design. Less is more, really. Especially for newbie web designers. You can always go back and add stuff in. Think about how someone brand new to your page might react. If a new, potential reader stumbled across your blog, would he or she be overwhelmed or intrigued? Along those same lines, no crazy fonts. Ugh, nothing is more frustrating than small or otherwise unreadable fonts, especially for the posts. Sure, use a fun (but still readable) font for your header. But keep your post text to something like Arial, Times New Roman, Currier, Calibri, or something along those lines.

7. Use web developer tools. There are no secrets on the Internet. Are you wondering what code I used to make portions of this site? Or the colors? Or the font? You can find out! And not just on my site – on any site! In Firefox, click “Tools,” “Web Developer,” and then “Firebug.” From there, you can open the Firebug in a new window, open the site you like in another window, and use the Firebug tool to call up the code for any website. In Internet Explorer, hit F12 to bring up the Developer Tools. No, I am not saying you should steal anything. Stealing is bad. But using the web developer tool is not stealing. These tools will help you learn more about how code works. Most of the time, you will be sad because what you once thought was a mystical Internet trick is nothing more than an image with a link inside it. Secrets of the Internet, demystified!

8. Think logically. When you think about what should go where on your page, think about what you want readers to see first. Prominently display your “about me” and “contact me,” as those are mostly likely the first things readers will be interested in reading. Then group other pages depending on content, like your “readers favorite posts,” “archives,” etc… Think about how you click through blogs and what you read first, second, third so you layout your blog accordingly (keep in mind, we read from left to right). Make sure no to burry something you really want people to read or else they’ll never find it.

So don’t despair, non-designers. You, too, can teach yourself and design your own site. Any other questions? Anyone else out there teach themselves HTML and design? What advice do you have?

So I want to write a book

October 12th, 2011 Posted by Connection, Uncategorized 16 thoughts on “So I want to write a book”

For as long as I remember, I’ve written stories.

But for a long time, I’ve hidden my true, double secret, dream of mine. I want to write a book.

Before my family had a computer, I used to write my stories in spiral notebooks. Not “dear diary” stuff, actual vignettes. Whatever interesting (or at least interesting to me) thing that happened in my life, I wrote a story about it.

I fancied myself a secret author. I never showed anyone. And I never spoke about my passion for story writing out loud. It was something I just did for me.

In school when the teacher assigned writing time, I would boo and hiss along with my school mates, pretending I, too, loathed writing about my family’s summer vacation or a poignant moment in my life, when, in reality, I loved nothing more than expressing my thoughts and sharing them with my classmates.

So I kept up my closet-love for writing, even into high school and college when I fell hard for Joan Didion and Annie Dillard. It was that point where I toyed with the idea of writing my own book of essays. The stories that made up my life. But I didn’t dare say anything about it.

Why not? I’m not sure. I suppose I felt like I couldn’t be a writer because, well, those people are talented. They probably were English majors, not Government/Political Science majors. Those people are Writers. I’m a writer.

But then I thought, why not me? Why not? What does it matter what I studied in school? Why do I assume I don’t have what it takes? What happened to saying yes to myself?

So I decided, it’s time I gave it a shot. It’s time I started writing down my stories in a serious way, put them together into the book of essays I’ve had brewing in my head for years. And that’s just what I’m going to do.

It’s a huge goal – to write a book. When I have a huge goal, I like to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. So, for now, my mini goal is to write about write about 500 words a day and see how my stories take shape. After that, we’ll see.

Do you have a big secret – or not so secret – goal? How do you manage big goals?

Black bean soup for the win

October 11th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized 7 thoughts on “Black bean soup for the win”

As soon as fall hits, I can’t wait to fire up the crock pot.

There’s something about a delicious meal simmering away all day, filling the house with a rich aroma that makes me super excited. Mostly because that means dinner’s done and there’s no pots or pans or things for me to chop. But it also means I’ve got something filling and hearty to warm me up on a cool day.

Black bean soup is my favorite crock pot soup. It’s a little spicy, a little smoky and a lot flavorful.

Here’s how we make our black bean soup at Casa Bagley:

-5 cans of black beans, rinses and drained

-1 medium onion, finely chopped

-2 carrots, sliced

-1 red bell pepper, chopped

-1 can chopped tomatoes with mild chilis (or fireroasted)

-3.5 cups chicken broth

-1 teaspoon chili powder

-1 teaspoon ground cumin

-1 teaspoon chipotle

-salt

-ground pepper

-two ham steaks, cut into cubes (or leave these out if you are vegetarian)

Cook all ingredients in a slow cooker on low for four hours (except the ham). After three hours, immersion blend until the smoothness you desire. Add cubed ham and cook on low for another three hours. Serve with shredded cheese. (I like to top my bean soup with tortilla chips or Fritos.)

I absolutely love this soup. And it makes great leftovers. I actually think it tastes better the next couple days.

Okay, you tell me, what are you favorite crock pot soups? What do you make as soon as the weather turns chilly?

Re-purposed 1960s jewelry box (subtitle: if at first you don’t succeed, get a staple gun)

October 10th, 2011 Posted by Uncategorized 14 thoughts on “Re-purposed 1960s jewelry box (subtitle: if at first you don’t succeed, get a staple gun)”

Remember how I said I was going to enjoy the fun of failure?

This is one of those times.

Although I did not really take joy in my failure as I was…umm…failing.

A couple months ago, Jane and I took a field trip to our local thrift store – this wild place called Unique. It is super crazy town in there. I’d never been, although I drive past it every day since it happens to be in the same shopping center as my gym. But, truth be told, I was kind of afraid to go.

However, I was willing to go with Jane, so off we went. Jane found some fabric and cool books. And I found this old, musty smelling jewelry box. (Apparently, the company that made this jewelry box is still in business. And! Dan and I were watching NBC’s Playboy Club, and one of the characters was shown with this exact box!) I thought it would be fun to re-cover it in fabric and use it to store office supplies, like pens and such.

Keep in mind, I’ve never recovered anything before. So I had no idea what I was doing. Absolutely no idea.

Initially, I planned to take the entire box apart, wrap it like a present and then put it back together. But, that idea fell apart when this 1960s hardware had seen better days. I knew if I dismantled it, it would be dismantled for good.

So, I realized I needed to go around it. I did my best, measuring, wrapping, and trying to coax this fabric around the box. I tried taking pictures of each of my steps, but, I un-did certain things, re-did others, and completely abandoned other steps.

About half way through I was ready to call it quits.

I don’t like “failing” at things. And I realize failing to cover a 1960s jewelry box I paid $3.00 for is hardly Earth shattering. That is true. But I still felt frustrated.

Crafting is something I enjoy. But it is not something that comes easy for me. And when something doesn’t come easy, I tend to want to give up.

Words are much easier for me. Crafting sentences and explaining with words comes much more naturally. Making things with my hands is a struggle. I can write out steps much more clearly than I can actually perform the steps.

As I tussled with the fabric, swearing a blue streak and thinking about tossing the darn thing off the deck and never looking at another craft project again, I realized that I did not become good with words by just wanting to become good with words. I practiced. And wrote and wrote and wrote. And wrote some more. Wrote through the writer’s block and wrote on a deadline and wrote in desperation. I practiced forming words in my head and transforming those thoughts into ideas I could communicate.

It took time – and patience – to learn to write. So how could I expect to learn how to cover a box in fabric on one afternoon?

So, this project did not go as planned. But I learned a couple things. One: I love the staple gun. That thing is awesome. I cannot wait to find something else to staple to something. Two: spray adhesive is equally fun. Three: perhaps the most important lesson learned – making things with my hands is good for me because it challenges a completely different part of my brain. I am used to the part of my brain that forms thoughts and words and stories. I’ve got that muscle constantly churning. But there is another muscle that comes into play with making something with my hands. And that muscle could use some work.

The other lesson is: it’s okay to admit defeat and start over. So you know what I did? I found some more boxes at crazy Unique. And I have a new plan. I’m not sure if this plan will turn out, but I am thinking it’s worth the effort.

October Happiness Project

October 7th, 2011 Posted by Connection, Uncategorized 6 thoughts on “October Happiness Project”

What is this Happiness Project? You can read about it here.

The couple months I spent redesigning and retooling my blog proved to be the most inspiring months I’ve experienced in a good long time. My brain fired on all cylinders (at least mostly), and I felt an abundance of creative ideas and thoughts.

Which was awesome because we all know about Creativity. He comes in like a hurricane, flooding you with this idea and that idea. Then leaves you like the heartbreaker he is with a complete mental drought.

So whenever Creativity visits me, I try to squeeze out ever last drop and keep the fire burning to last me through the dry spells.

This month my Happiness Project focuses on inspiration – and inspiring myself. I want to capitalize and harness on the creative juices flowing from my blog redesign to do some more “crafting,” both digitally and non-digitally.

Fingers crossed Creativity doesn’t skip town!

What are you focusing on in October?

(Pst…speaking of inspiration, Rachel inspires me with her awesome Etsy shop. Check her out – and if you are in the D.C. area, you can meet her in person October 8 at the Ballston Arts and Crafts Festival.)

Advice to new bloggers

October 6th, 2011 Posted by Connection, Uncategorized 11 thoughts on “Advice to new bloggers”

I always think I wish I could go back in time and do things differently. But then I realize that all the “mistakes” were just learning experiences. And I am wiser for sometimes taking the hard way around.

The same applies to blogging. As a new blogger, it’s easy to get frustrated. You’re not sure exactly where you’re going, you compare yourself to others, you kind of flop around trying to find where you fit.

It’s kind of uncomfortable.

But in a way it’s necessary, so you can learn what works and what doesn’t – for you – not for anyone else.

So, behold, a couple things I’ve learned about blogging:

1. Make your blog readable. As in clearly designed. Even if you don’t know HTML and are working off a template, make it as easy on the eyes as possible. I know, it’s tempting to add widgets galore and crazy colors. But when I see too much going on, I click off. And that site could be chalk full of awesome content. But if the design overwhelms me, I’m gone. (I have a post planned on design tips, so stay tuned for that.)

2. For goodness sake, have an “about me” section. Nothing drives me more crazy that no “about me” section. I looooooove the about me section. It is the first page I look for when clicking on a new site. I personally love two “about mes,” a short “about me” on the main page and a longer “about me” as a separate page. But just one will do. I know they are hard to write. I went round and round on mine until landing on something I thought captured me. Definitely take the time to write something to let your readers know who you are.

3. Make your contact information easily accessible. Just like the “about me,” when I find a blogger I love, I want to follow them on Twitter, like their Facebook page, etc… I get frustrated when I have to hunt down a Twitter handle or email address. As a busy lady, I only have a few minutes to stalk you, so make it easy!

4. Reach out! If you build it…no one will come. Because we don’t know you’re there! Mention me on Twitter. That will definitely get my attention. Comment on my blog post. I love that! Email me to say you also love blue tick coonhounds and drug store beauty products. Now you are my friend for life! Don’t be shy. I know it’s easy to just post, leave random comments here and there, and pray someone will notice you. I know because that was me. But then I started emailing bloggers to let them know a particular post really resonated with me. I tweet up a storm and mention the bloggers with awesome posts. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid. We’re all just people.

5. Which leads me to…don’t get frustrated. You might try really hard to reach out to a certain blogger. Maybe you email her, re-tweet her like it’s your job (in a good way, not a weird way), and comment on her posts. And…nothing. Oh well, she’s just not that into you. Onward! Her loss. You’re awesome. Work on cultivating friendships with bloggers who do support you.

6. Be you. I know, how original. Everyone says that. But that doesn’t make it untrue.

What tips would you give to new bloggers? Come on, don’t be shy 🙂

What’s in a name: how to come up with a blog title

October 5th, 2011 Posted by Connection, Uncategorized 10 thoughts on “What’s in a name: how to come up with a blog title”

Blog titles. Oh my goodness. Blog titles.

I wanted to start a blog long before I actually started a blog. Why the delay? I could not think of a title.

Sunny side up is actually my third title. Yes! Third title!

Third time’s a charm, right?

Anyway, so, if I can change my blog title three times and not combust, you can change yours, too.

Okay, how do you go about changing your title? Here are some tips:

1. Brainstorm like you’ve never brainstormed before. Start a file and write down every keyword and phrase that you like. Seriously, anything. You should have seen the file I made to come up with sunny side up. I kept a giant running list of every word and phrase that interested me. Don’t you dare censor yourself. Write down anything that comes into your head. You’ll pare it down later.

2. Ask for input. Like I suggested in yesterday’s post on revamping a blog, ask close friends to take a look at what you’ve come up with and ask for their take. I quickly realized that some of my ideas had connotation I did not realize and invoked different feelings and emotions than I thought. So don’t be shy, ask for help because your friends and family will help you make sure your title sounds like you.

3. Use a thesaurus. I am all about the thesaurus. So when Alexis suggested I use the thesaurus to see what other words were like the words I already came up with, it led me down all sorts of word channels. I spent a lot of time on this site entering in different words and seeing what I could come up with to add to my list.

4. Make index cards. After a couple weeks of hardcore brainstorming, I made index cards with some of my favorite phrases. Then I sat on the floor and starting arranging and rearranging them in different combinations. This exercise really got me fired up and inspired by all the possible combinations.

5. Look through blog directories. Blogs are a huge source of inspiration for me, so every now and then I’d surf through blog directories and read through blog titles. I used this mainly as a way to think about the tone I wanted for the title. I realized there were straight forward titles, sarcastic titles, funny titles, etc… And I also realized I could not pull off a sarcastic title because, well, I’m not a sarcastic person. So read through some titles and think about the emotion you want readers to feel when they read your blog title.

5. Think really hard. And then let it go. True story: I spent three weeks coming up with this title. Three weeks of making word lists, brainstorming solo, brainstorming with family and friends, making index cards, and reading through blog directories. I thought so hard I thought I broke the creative portion of my brain.

Then one, rainy, dull day I needed to go to the grocery. So I loaded up my 15 pound diaper bag, 25 pound child, and fought the traffic between my house and Safeway. On that trip I thought about all the things stressing me out. And I felt kind of down. But then I decided to…look on the bright side. Or perhaps…the sunny side. DING DING DING! SUNNY SIDE UP! Really, that’s how I thought of it. Then I texted “sunny side up” to my friend, Marie, and she thought I was inviting her to brunch.

Even though I came up with this title en route to the grocery rather than while staring at my list of keywords, I doubt I would have had that epiphany had I not gone through all those other steps. Those exercises helped me work through the tone and feel of the title, even if not the words themselves.

Tell me, how did you come up with your blog title? Was it the easiest thing you’ve ever done, or did you rack your brain for weeks?

Hi! I’m Sarah, I am passionate about creating community, building deep connections, and the power of creativity. I live in Northern Virginia with my husband, our three kids, and our golden-lab mix.

I believe in leggings as pants, and I drink my coffee black. I love shopping at Costco, teaching group exercise classes, and, athleisure.

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sarah@bagley.org