Building my Blog – August Ups & Downs

 

AugustBlog

So, last month, I decided to start keeping track of my process from novice, hobby blogger to full-time income blogger. It’s a way to keep myself accountable and hopefully inspire someone else to reach out for the type of life they want to live.

So, here’s my first completed month on this journey (at least in writing about it!)

August Goals:

Buy my domain & host  Yahoo! It’s been a long time coming, but I have now bought my domain (and dearzoeyblog.com as well!) I have been waiting to do this forever, so I have a huge sense of accomplishment. I’m also now hosted through Bluehost.

Figure out and setup Google Analytics. – DONE. Well, the set-up part, anyway. I’m still figuring out the terms and lingo, but this tutorial has helped GREATLY:

Find/create a custom theme. – This one is super overwhelming. I like to be a DIYer, especially with design. I’m just trying to determine if it’s worth my time. I think it will be once I have a totally custom design that really reflects me. I found these two great posts that will hopefully help a lot: Somewhat Simple & Creative Kristi.

Start planning out mine and Zoey’s big project. Funny story! Zo and I recorded a great intro and announcement for our upcoming YouTube channel. It’ll be a channel called Baking with Zo (and me). Well, we recorded this great video, then I plug my (new) phone into my laptop to edit the videos, and it asked me if I wanted to restore my phone to the last backup. Without looking at the date, I say, “Yes.” Well, the backup was from JULY 2ND! So, then I thought, “Oh, well it will surely be on iCloud.” Yep…not there..even though I say to automatically upload to iCloud, but still not there. Ugh. But anyway, we re-recorded the intro and even did our first baking video! I’m learning iMovie, but it’s pretty easy so far. I’m still editing the videos, but I think the more I do it, the better I’ll become (thanks, captain obvious). I’m a total novice at YouTube (Damn you, channel art and never coming out right!!) and baking, and I’m entering my busiest school year, so this should be interesting, but we’re both super excited about it!

Start tracking my hours (when blogging, researching, planning, etc)– To take any guesswork (otherwise known as math..) out of logging my hours, I went with this free time clock. I started logging my hours on Aug 17th and ended on August 31. Total Hours: 14.5 hrs.  Given that E school started for Z, E, and me, with E going leaving to go back to his school, I think that’s pretty impressive.

Work on connecting with other bloggers. – KINDA – This step is a big deal for me. I’m an introvert through and through. I don’t like the aspect of selling myself, and I’ve always thought that it’s a bit disingenuous to “connect with other bloggers.” Because I didn’t want to feel like I was reaching out to other bloggers purely to benefit myself. But I follow a lot of blogs (without actually “following”) and thoroughly enjoy the content, so I made a pact with myself that I would legitimately sign up for any newsletters, actually hit the follow button, and find these blogs on social media. I started commenting, but I would only comment if I felt really compelled to. I’ve started this process and have connected to a few Facebook groups of bloggers (two are in my city!)

Other stuff I did:
-Separated all of my personal social media from my blog social media. – Not sure how I feel about this one yet. I’m trying to find the best way to be able to post to my personal stuff as well as my professional stuff without constantly having to sign out and such. Pinterest and Instagram have me most frustrated at this point. I’m checking out Buffer and Hootsuite and I’ve also heard of TailWind for Pinterest. I’ll keep you updated on that one!

-Signed up for Adsense, Shareasale, Amazon Associates…doing more research and trying to figure out this whole affiliate thing. Another overwhelming aspect of trying to blog for a living. I JUST WANT TO WRITE DAMMIT!

-Started working on an editorial calendar.

Goals for September:

Really get the whole affiliate marketing thing up and running. Which will inevitably mean going back through old posts and adding affiliate links. Such is life.

-Update some graphics from older posts (particularly the ones that don’t have my new domain name on them).

-Get 50 new followers

-Really focus on my content. None of this will work if my content is shit.

-Have a new blog post up at least 3 times/week.

-Find at least 3-5 new blogs to follow and comment on their work.

-Get a custom theme up.

-Fit ads on my page so that they’re not intrusive or ugly.

 

Overall, this has been a really rewarding month. While I’m nowhere near close to being able to support myself and family with blogging, I see it in my future, and I’m excited for the opportunities that can come from working for myself.

Just keep on keepin’ on.

#17

Dear Zoey,

Yesterday was a rough day. A rougher day than what I’ve had with you in a long time. I’ll remind you of the story. You started gymnastics almost a year ago. You’ve loved it, but this session, you’ve switched to a small class with a coach that really challenges you. And man, you work hard. You listen, you fight to learn stuff, you are an active participant. It’s fantastic to watch, seriously. But last week, you hurt your foot. And by hurt, I mean you bent it back a bit, so it was a bit sore, but nothing to worry about. And suddenly, you want to quit. You say it’s too hard. You say you can’t do it. You say you don’t want to “get hurt again.” I’ve always made it very clear that if you start something, you finish it. And after it’s done, if you don’t want to do it again, you don’t have to.

You continued to whine about it (and lawd knows how much I hate whining). So, I gave you an option…you either go to gymnastics (last night) or you go to bed for the night (at 6:30pm). You chose to go to bed…and you cried and screamed and cried and cried some more. And I stuck to my guns. You went to bed.

Here’s the thing, it broke my heart. I hate hearing you cry. I hate making you sad or angry. I love our relationship and that majority of the time, I get to be the cool mommy because you behave in a way that makes it possible. However, I refuse to succumb to your every whim. My entire job as a parent is to make sure you are safe and that you grow up to be a conscientious human being. Anything else is icing on the cake. And I am a firm believer that when parents continually succumb to their kids, those kids end up being privileged assholes. Let me tell you, you may grow up to be a lot of things. But privileged will not be one of them.

You will know what hard work is. That life rarely hands you anything for free, and usually, what’s free is rarely worth it. You will know that the more you fight for something, the better you will eventually become. You will know the importance of graciousness. You will know what resilience is. I’m a fighter, and I raise fighters.

And this isn’t to say that I don’t succumb to you. I do. Every parent does. But the important thing is to pick and choose your battles. Life is all about balance, and last night, I had to choose the life lesson over being the “fun” mom. And funny enough, you woke up this morning in a great mood, gave me a million hugs and kisses, and talked my ear off like you normally do on our morning walks to school.

Keep being a little fighter. It’s worth it.

Love you,
Mama

3.5 Ways to Plan a Disney World Vacation

I have total Disney fever. Ever since we went on Z’s first trip to Disney World for her birthday, I have been planning to go back. I have gained a ton of knowledge about different ins and outs of planning a DW vacation, and figured it was time to share it! Planning a DW vacation can be extremely overwhelming, but it is not impossible. Here’s a few ways you can plan:

3.5 Ways to Plan a Disney World Vacation

  • Plan the conventional way. You can go through a a Disney travel planner (Small World Vacations is fantastic! We had Beth as our planner) or through Disney World’s website. This way you will stay on Disney property, be able to choose to have a dining plan (or not), and have access to things like Extra Magic Hours, Advance Dining Reservations (you can make them 6 months in advance), and Disney transportation. I really like going this route because I love for my vacations to feel all-inclusive. However, if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to build up a savings for it (which is what I had to do), this won’t be the most cost-effective way to do it. However, you can put a $200 deposit down on it (the minimum required) and then just pay throughout the year up to 45 days before your vacation, which is when it must be paid in full.
  • Rent through a DVC rental site. This is a great way to get villas and high-priced rooms on Disney property at nearly half the price (sometimes even more). DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club. It’s basically a time-share type opportunity for members who can afford that sort of thing. DVC members will then rent their rooms out during the year at various rates (depending on season). They use a point system, and the DVC Rental Store offers a great point calculator which helps see how much it will cost for the time you’re wanting to visit. Another awesome part is you can still get all the benefits of staying on Disney property: Extra Magic Hours, ADRs, Dining Plan, and Disney transportation. If you decide to go this route, I suggest you go through the aforementioned DVC Rental Store. They are the only site I’ve found that doesn’t charge you for checking availability. Every other site I’ve seen charges up to $98 just to check availability (Crazy, I know…) Once they check availability, they have a representative contact you with cost, deposit requirements, and availability. The deposit is higher for these rentals (usually 50% of the total cost of the room), but again, you can usually get into great hotels like the Contemporary, Polynesian, Animal Kingdom Villas, and The Grand Floridian for HALF the price you would pay if booking the “conventional” way.
  • Rent a hotel/vacation rental off property. So, I’ve gotten to Disney World 3 times in my life. Twice I stayed on property, and once I stayed off in a rented condo. And it was great. The perks of staying off property are price (of course), you usually get a full kitchen so you can prepare your own food, and they are more spacious. You can also find Disney/Universal themed vacation rentals, which is the best of both worlds! Not having to pay the Disney price tag, but still getting some of the magic. This also gives you the opportunity to split costs with vacation buddies or another family, making it even cheaper. And while you don’t have access to the perks of staying on property, the amount of money you can save could be well worth it. Here’s a few links to get you started: Story Time Orlando RentalAll Star Vacation HomesVRBOMagical MemoriesLuxury Disney Vacation Homes.
  • And here’s .5, Shades of GreenThe reason I consider this a “.5” is because Shades of Green is only available to Active Duty Military, Military Retirees, and some DoD employees. They offer standard rooms and suites at very reasonable rates, and even can get you discounted theme park tickets. I’m still unsure if you can get the dining plan when staying here, Anyone know the answer to that? I’ll update when I confirm. Also, here’s the eligibility requirements. You will have to provide proof of your (or your spouses/relatives) service.

There are a TON of resources out there to help you plan your vacation. Even if you save change for 6 years before you go, it’s something that, for my family at least, was so worth it. Anyone have any other ways to planning a great Disney vacation?

#16

Dear Zoey,

Today is your first day of 1st grade. And I know it’s cliche to say, but I really have no idea where the time went. These years are flying past me, and I feel like I’m constantly grasping at moments and locking them away, so I don’t forget anything. Today, I don’t have any advice, at least none that I haven’t already written about. Today is more about you, and what I see in you.

You are so bright. And I don’t just mean in the traditional way, I mean it in every way. You radiate. You have such a deep enthusiasm for people and life and knowledge. You also have an incredibly soft and kind heart. It’s one of my favorite things about you, but also one of those things that scares me. I know what it’s like to grow up with that same heart. The one that bleeds for people that hurt or struggle. The heart that wants to fix and help. The heart that wants to open wide for anyone and everyone. These are good things, but they are also things that require boundaries.

I’ve struggled with my boundaries my entire life. Always searching for a balance between give and take. And it’s tough. So, I have one big hope for you this year. I hope you learn how to speak for yourself. I hope you learn that you can (and should) be kind to everyone, but that kindness is not weakness.

You are kind and brave and strong. I am so proud of you and all that you are!

Love you,
Mama

How to Finish a Degree as a Parent – Part 1

How to Finish a Degree as a Parent 1

As the school year is looming in my not-so-distant future, I’m overwhelmed, nervous, nauseas, and so f’ing excited. That’s right friends, this girl is finally in her last year of undergrad. My journey to this point has been all over the place. I graduated high school 12 -gulp- years ago. And I am just now getting finishing my undergraduate degree. I had 6 years before Z was born to finish that degree, and I made a lot of missteps, mistakes, and all out bad choices in those years. I’ll save the specifics of that for another post, but for this one, I’m going to hone in on finishing a degree as a parent. Being a student is difficult at any degree, but parenting through it all definitely adds different pressures. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the ins and outs of finishing a degree as a parent. Part 1 is all about what you SHOULD do.

DO

  •  Take your time! One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (a few times) on the road to a degree is changing degree programs, schools, and formats too many times. I’d reach a point where I wanted to finish my degree in a more condensed time-frame, so I’d settle for something I wasn’t nearly as interested in, or in a way that didn’t inspire me. As a parent, you can feel the pressure of hurrying through a program for financial reasons or wanting to hurry into the workforce with your new degree. And those are legitimate, however, going to school is an investment. Invest in a degree that means something to you and for you. Don’t just settle for the fastest way to get through it.
  • Stay organized! Google calendar has saved my life more than once. I would have never been able to stay on top of Z’s events, practices, my schoolwork, appointments, etc, if I didn’t stay on top of my calendar. Google calendar works for me, but you might have a different method. Whatever your organizational method is…stay on top of it. Your life will already be stressful enough balancing parenthood and work and school…the last thing you need is another battle to fight.
  • Keep yourself inspired. There will be numerous times that you will think, “What the hell am I thinking?” Self-doubt will creep in all the time. Find things that will inspire you to keep going. I’m a words person, so I have quotes posted all over. Write down your goals at the beginning of each semester, and the reasons (and people) you’re doing this for…keep it somewhere visible to remind you why this matters, when you need it most.
  • Find financial flexibility where you can. Depending on your degree program, format of schooling, work schedules, school/daycare/preschool schedules, it can feel impossible to finish something as expensive as an education. If you need to tap into your savings (Hahahahaha, who has a savings?!), take out student loans, reach out to your job about education assistance…etc. I took out the max amount I could for student loans. I know, a lot of financial planners would flip after hearing that, but I am attending a brick and mortar school, during the day while my daughter is in school, and am mostly single parenting. That meant I needed something that could fill in the gaps from missing a regular 9-5 job through the week. I also have my military education benefits which provides a monthly housing allowance. So, with my weekend part-time job, financial aid, and my housing allowance, I make it by and have the flexibility in my schedule to invest in school and my daughter.
  • Know and be kind to yourself. I’ve learned that I do not operate well in late afternoon/evening classes. I hit a mental block and lack focus. I’ve learned that I study best in the early-to-mid morning, and that late night cram sessions are not beneficial for me. I’ve learned that I need to start writing essays early, and write a little bit each day instead of procrastinating to the last minute. I need calm music when I study, and I retain more when I sit at my desk than on my bed. This is probably my best piece of advice: Be aware of yourself. That sounds a bit hokey, but seriously, the more aware you are of what does and doesn’t work for you, the more successful you will be. Every school and professor will try to give you study/academic tips, and they can be helpful, but knowing yourself and how you function at your best, is the easiest way to set yourself up for success.

It is not impossible to finish your degree as a parent. It takes some creativity, but it is 100% possible.

When You’re a Mom That Doesn’t Fit…

I wear Batman t-shirts.

I curse (sometimes too much).

I’m a weird mixture of both type-B and type-A personalities.

I’m a veteran.

I’m a student.

I’m a girlfriend.

And I’ve been a mom for 6 incredible, eventful, agonizing years. The ways parenting has changed my life can’t possibly be cut down to one blog post, but there’s been a recurring theme in my life of parenthood.

Never quite fitting.

MomFit

This used to weigh heavily on me. I felt like I needed to rush my life. Hurry up and get married, buy a house, get a career because every other parent around me seemed to have it so much more together than me. I was a single mom, living with my parents, and struggling to figure out how to finish my degree (and what to finish it in) while trying to support a growing girl. Then, I met E, and I had one more piece of the puzzle, but again…I wanted to hurry up and be a “normal” family. It put a lot of pressure on me, and a lot of pressure on him.

When Z started attending preschool, it was a whole new world for me too. Figuring out how to fit in with mom’s that were mostly older than me, with a history I didn’t know how to explain or what I should (or shouldn’t) explain, and the constant struggle of never feeling like I could afford everything I wanted for Z. I saw mom’s planning play dates, driving minivans (not jealous of the minivans, let’s make that clear), taking their kiddos to dance and gymnastics and swimming and this and that. All while I’m driving an on-it’s-last-leg ’03 Ford Taurus, with no house, no ring, no money, no degree.

Plus, as a side note, my degree (that I’m still working toward–only 2 more semesters!) is in Creative Writing with a minor in Theatre. Not exactly a money making machine of a degree, let’s be honest.

But I survived. I survived those pre-school years, but didn’t gain any more confidence from before.

Then, it was time for kindergarten. The summer leading up to it, I struggled with these same demons in the back of my head, but I tried a different technique. I’d compare myself to other moms but would say to myself, “They have no edge.” or “Those mom’s are so typical.” Or the best one, “I’ll be the cool mom.” But all of those supposed reasons of why I was a better mom got me nowhere either. Comparison, whether inflating or deflating yourself, is truly the thief of joy.

But a couple of months into kindergarten, and suddenly tides started changing for me. I watched how Z interacted with the adults and other kids at her school, I watched how enthusiastic she was, I watched how strong and brave she was. I saw myself step up and defend her when she had an issue with another kid in her class, after exhausting her other options. I saw myself succeeding in school (for myself), finding more financial independence, and enjoying other moms instead of competing with them. And I suddenly found my worth. I was no better or worse than these other moms. We were just different. They lived a life that was the best for them and their families, and I lived one that was best for me and mine.

And that seems simple, but these were issues I agonized over for years.

It can be easy to define ourselves by those around us. It can be easy to offer ourselves harsh judgment (and even easier to offer others that sort of judgment), but it leads nowhere. And I’m realizing more and more that no one fits. We’re all just out there, trying to figure it out along the way.

So, for all you moms who feel like you don’t fit, you do. You fit in this wonderful spectrum of love and growing up and the unknown. You fit perfectly for that kid (or those kiddos) that look to you for comfort and guidance and fun. You fit in this crazy life because it’s yours and you define it.

Building a Blog from the Bottom Up!

If you all haven’t noticed, I’m really focused on building my blog. I have gained so much knowledge from blogs that share their income reports every month such as: Retired By 40!Pinch of YumYour Modern Family, and byRegina. And while all of these blog numbers seem so far away from me, I am determined to build this blog over this next year (well, and after that…of course). I wanted to start sharing my journey and goals for a few different reasons.

BuildingBlog

First off, I think it’s incredibly important to be able to reflect on your goals and which ones you’ve reached, what you’ve struggled with..etc. I’m an INFJ, so self-reflection is a big deal for me. I also think tracking progress from day one allows you to be proud of the baby steps you take. I’m an extremely ambitious dreamer of a person. I also struggle with anxiety. So the meeting of the two worlds can lead to a big, overwhelming mess in which I’m crying and screaming to myself, “What the hell are you thinking?! This will never work out for you.” Because of this, I’ve learned over the last couple of years how to itemize my goals. About two years ago, I became really sick of standing in my own way. I talked myself out of dozens of opportunities or chances that could’ve led to something great. So, after working with a therapist for a few months, I started to really work on making tiny goals that could build up to my bigger goals. And suddenly my tiny goals weren’t so overwhelming and huge.

Another reason I want to share this on the blog is for accountability. Making my goals public, regardless of how many (or few..) people see it, there’s certain pressure I put on myself to uphold what I write about. Follow through has become a big deal to me because talk doesn’t mean anything, if actions aren’t backing it up.

And lastly, I hope that my blog can eventually help someone else who wants to build a blog without any idea of where to start. I like the idea of someone reading this and saying, “She had no clue what she was doing, but she made something out of her goals.” And if I fail miserably, I hope I can at least give a few laughs or a few pieces of inspiration.

So, I am truly starting at ground zero. I have had 627 views TOTAL. That means, not 627 views in the month of August, but 627 views for the life of my blog. So, when I say I’m starting at the bottom, I mean it. All that being said, here are my goals for August:

– Buy my domain & host (I still haven’t figured out if I need to buy my domain thru wordpress and then be hosted by BlueHost — which is praised by every single blogger when they first start out or if I can do all of it through BlueHost…advice anyone?)

– Figure out and setup Google Analytics.

– Find/create a custom theme.

– Start planning out mine and Zoey’s big project (coming in September…could very well have something to do with YouTube…yeah, Zo is chomping at the bit to get started)

– Start tracking my hours (when blogging, researching, planning, etc).

– Work on connecting with other bloggers.

Each month, I’ll cross off the goals I’ve met (or exceeded). I’ll also mention anything else I add to the list, and dish on the good, bad, and ugly. Since I only have about 3 weeks left in the month (yeesh!) and school will be starting for both Z and me, these few goals are going to be a feat in and of itself, so I’m excited to tackle them and share the ups and downs with you all.