Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Oatmeal Cookie Granola

I've had oatmeal cookies on the brain lately (mostly due to my awesome Oats & Honey Scentsy bar) and I wanted to make some granola that has a similar taste. After a HORRIBLE experience with a recipe I found on Pinterest (soaking oats in buttermilk on the counter overnight is NOT a good idea, whatever people may tell you), I decided to modify another recipe and create my own version.

BIG WIN. This version of Oatmeal Cookie Granola is my personal best in granola making so far. I had to blog it so I could pin it for myself to make again! (and again...and again.)

Modified from Confessions of a Baking Queen http://confessionsofabakingqueen.com/homemade-maple-granola/

Oatmeal Cookie Granola
Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown rice crispies
  • 1/4 cup flax meal
  • 1/2 - 1 cup chopped pecans (toasted)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil melted
  • 1 egg white (for clumpy granola)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and spray a baking sheet with coconut oil (or line with a nonstick liner). In a large bowl mix together the rolled oats, rice crispies and pecans. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl mix together the maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, coconut oil and vanilla. Pour over oat mixture. Mix so everything is coated. Spread on to prepared sheet and bake for 10 minutes. After ten minutes take out of oven and mix everything around. Bake for another 15 minutes or until granola is evenly golden. 
  3. Let cool on tray and break into chunks.
  4. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long!).


--
Alanna N. Peters
c. 619.602.7467
artist.alanna@gmail.com
www.alannapeters.com


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tiny Prints - It's Christmas Card Season!

This year has been flying by! My lack of posts recently has been due to our crazy and hectic schedule. I have been applying for jobs right and left, and going on lots of interviews. Nothing has panned out yet but I have a good feeling that it will very soon! I've been so caught up in the craziness of life lately that I feel like I haven't gotten much of anything accomplished on my personal to-do list. Now that the weather has cooled off though, I'm really starting to feel the excitement of the holidays and I'm ready slow down a bit and work on some fun holiday projects.

One thing about the holidays that always seems to slip my mind until the last minute is Christmas cards. After all, I really don't even start to send them or receive them until mid-December. Now that I am a mom though, it's not as easy as just running to the store, grabbing a box of cards, and quickly popping them in the mail. No, now we have to think about what kind of photos we want to use, where we are going to take those photos, decide where we are going to order the cards from, getting them designed and ordered, and finally getting them signed once the card order comes in the mail. Whew! By the time you factor in all that time, you really need to start thinking about it months in advance!

This year I knew for sure that I wanted to do a professional family photo. We haven't had pro photos of the 3 of us since Sam was a tiny newborn, and I really wanted some photos for the family album and for Christmas cards. Thankfully my friend Tessa of Grin and Share It Photography is an amazing photographer, and she announced that she would be doing photo shoots this fall. I quickly snagged one of her sessions so that we would be sure to have some awesome photos this Christmas. I can't even begin to explain how goofy excited I was over this photo session. I put so much thought into trying to pick the perfect outfits for us all! In the end, it was really quite simple and I can't wait to see how all the photos came out.

On to the next step: where to get cards printed? Over the past several years I have noticed that a LOT of the cards and invitations I receive from friends are from a company called Tiny Prints. I never really had occasion to use them, but it was a name that stuck in my head. When I attended BlogHer a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a panel that included Jessica Rosenberg, who was the Social Media Marketing Associate at Tiny Prints, and I decided then and there that I had to give them a try. I have been looking at their site and I am blown away by the adorable Christmas card designs that they have! The site is so easy to navigate. There are filters on the left hand side of the page that make it easy to narrow down the selections. And boy oh boy are there some CUTE choices.

Now comes the design selection. It is so hard to narrow it down to just one! Since we haven't seen all of our photos yet I'm not quite sure which design will work best with our family photo. I have an idea of what they are going to look like though, so I found a few cards that I think are gorgeous. Take a look at these:





Cute, right?! I can't wait to see which photo we choose so I can see how it looks on these adorable cards.  Which Tiny Prints Christmas card would you choose? Tiny Prints also offers holiday address labels and holiday party invitations so you can easily coordinate all of your holiday mailings.

                                           **********************************

Once Christmas cards start coming in, the hard part begins. Where on earth am I going to display them all?! In the past we've always put them up on our mantle and then they end up overflowing onto the entertainment center nearby.

Well, now we don't have the entertainment center anymore and the mantle is already full of decorations. I am thinking about maybe displaying them somehow on this empty beam between our living and dining rooms. Any suggestions on how to hang them there so they look nice and uncluttered?

All this Christmas card talk has me excited for the holidays now. I can't wait to see all the cute cards my friends and family send out! How will you be preparing for Christmas?


This post was sponsored by Tiny Prints. I will be receiving complimentary Christmas cards in exchange for my post.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A one-stop shop for kids' Halloween costumes! Costume Discounters Review

When I was little, I never really got a chance to go trick-or-treating. However, we did often attend some fun Halloween events or Harvest Parties, and dressing up in costume was always very exciting for me. Most years we just threw together an outfit by picking and choosing things out of our family costume box. I remember dressing as a hobo one year, and another year I came up with something strange that my dad called "Admiral Bird." No matter what you dress up as, there's just something exciting about dressing up in a fun costume and seeing yourself through different eyes!


Halloween has always been a fun time for Mike and I. When we were first dating we hosted some of the greatest Halloween parties ever, and I always handmade our costumes. Over the years I've gotten busier and busier and less and less creative. Last year we didn't do too bad with our Popeye family costumes, but this year I have just had a creative block, and I was struggling with costume ideas. I needed a little inspiration! Not only do I have to come up with ideas for Mike and I, but now I need to come up with a super cute little girl costume. 


Enter Costume Discounters with their amazing selection of infant Halloween costumes. I was blown away by the cuteness! They have so many adorable infant and toddler costumes, and everything is very reasonably priced. I had such a hard time choosing a costume for Sam! Here are some of my favorites:


Flower Garden Gnome




Honey Bee




Dorothy




Now, I'm not going to tell you just yet which costume I chose for Sam, because if you know me, I like to maintain a little bit of mystery. Let me just tell you, she LOVES her new costume and she looks absolutely adorable in it! After seeing Sam in her cute new costume, Mike and I came up with some fun costume ideas of our own. We just needed that extra costume inspiration from Costume Discounters!


I received the costume just about a week after I placed the order, and it was in excellent condition. Halloween costumes never seem to be top quality unless they are 100% handmade, but this costume is in great shape and it definitely is the same quality of costume you find in the Halloween stores. And - bonus! - I didn't have to pick through everything on the shelves, hoping to find one in the right size. I was able to do it all from the comfort of my own home.


We are very excited about taking Sam out for her first trick-or-treating adventure. Her Pappy will be in town from Ohio, just to be able to taker her out trick-or-treating. I can't wait to see the cuteness! Since this is actually my first time trick-or-treating too, I can't help but be a little paranoid about safety. Trick-or-treating is meant to be fun, so I was happy to come across these Halloween safety tips to keep you and your little ones safe this coming Halloween. A few of the tips that stand out most to me are:


1) Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
2) Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.
3) Eat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook well.
4) Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you.


Above all, have FUN, and make some great memories this Halloween. And take some great photos!!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Growing Pains

You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. Life has really gotten in the way of blogging, and I suppose that's the way it should be, rather than vice versa. I am still working on making the changes necessary to start my new blog but it's not my top priority right now. I've realized that I need to focus on finding a job and spending time with my sweet Sam. Once the job is taken care of though, I'll get back on track with starting my new improved blog. (And I'm glad I've had a bit of time to think about it, because I've changed my plan a bit!) In the meantime, I've got a couple of fun reviews to do for you, and I definitely owe Sam a couple of birthday monthday letters. The rest of the giveaways and surprises up my sleeve will have to wait until my new blog gets started. Until then, enjoy these backdated posts I'm about to share with you...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seventeen Months

Dear Sammy,

You are now 17 months old - just one month away from a year and a half. How time flies! I used to feel like you were so much younger than all my friends' babies, and now I feel like you've caught up. You are learning so fast! You haven't really gotten any bigger, but you blow my mind with the amount of words you're learning. You talk so well now that we can carry on conversations with you. I feel like I know a secret language, being able to understand almost everything you say to me. I love knowing all the little things you do, like saying "h" instead of "s" for words that begin with an "s", and tacking the "s" onto the end instead.

You are becoming so coordinated now. You don't just walk, but you run. You love to go "fast", and you will say it over and over again as you run down the hall, or as we drive on the highway. You like to twirl when you dance, and I'm pretty sure you enjoy getting dizzy. You are SUCH a little monkey. You climb up on the small retaining wall in the back yard and use it as the balance beam. And now you climb up to the higher and higher levels. You almost give Mommy a heart attack when you climb up into the garden 5 feet off the ground! You are always climbing up into the planters and pulling on the plants, trying to help Mommy with her garden. The couch has become your jungle gym, and now you climb on the back of the couch and behind the back cushions. We just rearranged your bedroom, and we had to be very careful to arrange things so that you can't climb onto the top of your new bookshelf!

You have been spending a lot of time with your friends lately, and it's so cute to hear you say their names. You finally learned how to say your own name, and once you figured it out, you say it all the time. You were folding clothes with Mommy, and you picked up a pair of Daddy's jeans and you said "Daddy". Then you picked up a pair of your jeans and you said "Ham." Now you point to yourself or something that belongs to you quite often and say "Ham." It's so very adorable. :)

You are very interested in colors now. We go to the gym several times a week, and ever since the babysitter let you color a picture, that is all you want to do when you play at the Kids Club. As soon as we walk in, you say "Color", and you are completely happy as long as they give you paper and crayons. You are very good at your colors now. You almost always get it right, and you are especially good at yellow, purple, blue, and white.

You finally got your 7th tooth - it broke through on Daddy's birthday! You have really been struggling with sleeping at night so I think you probably have more working their way up, but for now you have 4 on top and 3 on the bottom. It's a very cute look for you.

You are very good with body parts now, too. You know eyes, nose, mouth, ears, face, head, shoulders, knees, feet, and toes (and Mom's boobs) and you like to point them out all the time. You are especially affectionate now and you give the sweetest hugs and kisses, especially before bed time. When you give hugs, you sigh and say "ahhhh". It makes Mommy so very happy. :)

One more month and you'll hit the next big milestone! Every day is a new adventure with you. I still love you more and more every day, and I can't wait to see what you do next. I love you more than anything!

Love,
Mommy

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our P&G box from BlogHer finally arrived!

We are all super excited to check out the goods!
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sixteen Months

Dear Samantha,

One hand in the snack bowl...always!


You turned 16 months while we were in Ohio visiting family. You had SUCH a wonderful time! Pappy started off the visit right by introducing you to a gigantic teddy bear named Timothy. You warmed right up to him and had a great time with Timothy and Pappy. We had one VERY hot day in Ohio, and you spent it in the baby pool, the sandbox, and the swing at Pappy's house. The rest of our visit was cool and rainy, but you didn't mind. Grammy bought you all kinds of fun toys, and you got to meet a bunch of your second cousins who were thrilled to play with you. Grammy really helped you to learn your colors, and you learned more and more words while were on vacation.

Earlier this month, your Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Silas, Uncle Kevin, and Aunt Joanna came to visit you. You and I went to surprise them by meeting them at Disneyland! You had SO much fun at Disneyland. You could have ridden the carousels all day long. You also really liked It's A Small World and Mickey's house in Toon Town. It was so much spending the day with you and watching you enjoy all the new experiences at Disney. You got to see your first parade, and you loved all the floats and characters with bright colors and wild dances. You were very excited to have Uncle Kevin come back and stay with us for the night! The next day you got to go to the beach with everyone, and your uncles buried you in the sand. You thought it was hilarious, and wanted to be buried again and again!

This past month you have just been focusing on developing all of the skills you've already learned. You say new words every day, and you get better and better at walking, running, and climbing all the time. You are such a social little girl!

The football season started this month, and Mommy and Daddy are proud that you have already learned to say "football" and "touchdown" (along with the arm gesture!). You love to wear your Chargers jersey on football day!

It's hard to believe you are getting close to a year and a half already. You are such a fun little girl, and we love you VERY much!

Love,
Mommy

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

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My New Healthy Meal Plan: Dream Dinners

I love to cook. How about you? How many nights a week do you cook a real, home-cooked meal? Sadly, I don't get to cook as much as I used to, but I found something that really helps. And I love it so much that I feel compelled to tell you about it!

As some of you may remember, this used to be a cooking blog way back in the day when I first started blogging. I eventually got over the whole food blogging thing, but I didn't stop cooking. On the contrary - my cooking was so delicious that we didn't want to wait to have to take a photo before we ate the meal. And then afterward I was in such a delightful food coma that I didn't feel like writing about it.

But back to the subject. I really do love to cook. I always cooked dinner at home 5-7 nights a week every week all the way up until my water broke. (I even cooked dinner that night, but some of the meal got burnt on the stove since I waddled away so suddenly and left it to burn. Oops.) Now that I am a mom, I still love to cook but I find it quite difficult to find the time. When Sam was a newborn I hardly cooked at all. I occasionally reheated meals that I had prepared and frozen before her birth but most of the time Mike would grill or we'd get food from somewhere else. I just found it hard to put her down or to time her feedings so that I could cook AND eat. When I did cook, I always ended up having to nurse Sam as soon as my dinner was ready. Oh, the many nights I nursed and ate at the same time! (She ended up with food on her little head more than once, I have to admit...)

Now that Sam is a little older, dinner time has become the so-called "witching hour." Sam wants attention while I'm cooking and she gets underfoot and whines and cries the whole time. I started resorting to what I think of as "cheating" for meals. I bought frozen pizzas, frozen skillet meals, threw together grilled chicken and Rice a Roni, and other unhealthy short cuts. Mike and I are NOT accustomed to eating like this, and I want Sam to grow up eating fresh, healthy, clean meals. Something needed to change.






About two years ago I heard about a company called Dream Dinners. I knew it was a place where you could prepare multiple meals at once for future consumption, but I didn't really know anything else about the company. At the time I just wasn't at a place where I needed it - I cooked elaborate meals at home almost every night, and I was loving it! However, as I neared the end of my pregnancy, I started thinking about it again and realized that I would really like to have some meals prepared in advance to have for dinner once we had a newborn in the house. I briefly looked into Dream Dinners but I was a little overwhelmed by the minimum order. (You have to order 36 servings (12 meals) and I just wasn't quite that committed to it.) I ended up doing Once A Month Cooking and cooked for two days straight to prepare meals. (I blogged about it, if you'd like to see my notes.)

Since that time, I was still curious about Dream Dinners, but again, I was always deterred by the minimum order. When I saw them come up on a Buy With Me daily deal a couple of months ago I jumped on it! The deal was $25 for $50 worth of food, and there was no minimum. Coincidentally, right after I bought the deal my friend Meagan set a bunch of us girls up with a free cooking session at Dream Dinners. Lucky me - within a week I was able to attend TWO Dream Dinners cooking sessions, and I brought home 5 meals for my freezer. And I only spent $25! I knew that I was very interested in going back on a regular basis, but I wanted to taste the food first and see how it worked for my family.

We LOVED it. We all enjoyed all 5 of the meals, and I loved how easy it was to prepare them. I simply pull a meal out of the freezer the night before or the morning of, and I put it together at dinner time. I love that it's quick and easy because everything is already chopped and measured and combined into a couple simple steps. All I have to do is throw a couple of mixed ingredients together and bake or saute them. I also love that I still feel like I cooked dinner. Unlike a frozen prepared meal from the store, I actually put all the ingredients together at my cooking session so not only do I know exactly what is in my food, I also have control over how much seasoning, spice, etc. I put into it.  And I don't just dump a bag into a pan, I still get to mix a couple of things together so I feel like I am still an active participant in preparing my meal. I now have more time to hang out with Sammy, and we all get a delicious, healthy dinner.

I've been going to Dream Dinners for 2 months now, and we have yet to come across a meal that we don't like. Each month they have a new menu so I get to look it over and select the meals that sound like something my family would like. They also have the calorie information on the menu so I am able to choose healthy options for us. Their meals come in two options: either 3 servings or 6 servings. (I found this a little odd, but it actually works well - Sam eats as much of one serving as she wants, and then Mike and I end up with a little over 1 serving each. And if she doesn't eat much, we have an extra serving for lunch leftovers the next day.) I started out getting the minimum 12 meals (36 servings), but I think I'm going to increase it next time. We've been eating Dream Dinners about 4 nights a week now so I think I'm going to go for 16 meals this time.

Dream Dinners is really quite affordable, too. It ends up being about $4-$6 a meal. If you are used to eating on a cheap ramen budget then yes, it's a little pricey. But if you are accustomed to eating a fancy home-cooked meal every night anyway like Mike and I were, it ends up costing just about the same with a lot less preparation and effort. Now I go to Dream Dinners once a month for most of our main dishes (and a few sides) and I go to the grocery store just for produce, breakfast/lunch dishes, and non-food items. Unlike my marathon 2-day Once a Month Cooking experience, my Dream Dinners session lasts about 30-45 minutes, depending on what and how many dinners I've chosen. Everything is chopped, sliced, and laid out for me, so I just measure it and put it all together! They also have a sample prepared meal on hand for tasting so I never go hungry while putting together my dinners.


I really feel like I've found a good thing. If you've ever considered Dream Dinners at all, I highly recommend checking them out! If you prefer the taste of a home-cooked meal but only have time for minimal effort and preparation time, then this is definitely for you. If you are interested and feel like sharing the love, let me know and I'll send you a referral email. If you sign up, then I'll get a $10 referral credit, which I would greatly appreciate. (And then you can sign up too and earn referral money of your own!) Also, if you're new, they are running a promotion where you get your first meal free! Otherwise, just visit www.dreamdinners.com, browse the current month's menu, then go to the calendar to select your session date. It's so easy and fun. I can hardly wait til my next session in a couple of weeks!


Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Dream Dinners in any way. The opinions in this post are entirely my own.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fun With the Water Table

Looks like we're going to need some dry shirts!
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

$10 for FIVE Coffee Drinks at Lush from Plum District today!

I've always been a fan of small businesses rather than large corporations, and when it comes to things like coffee and tea I feel no differently. Starbucks is great: it's convenient - it's everywhere - but you just can't beat a good local coffee shop.

When I first discovered Lush Coffee and Tea I was hooked immediately. I love their fun bright green color, their cute design, and their super friendly baristas. And when I tasted their delicious organic coffees? SOLD. Now I go to Lush every opportunity I get! My personal favorite is the Green Tea Lushie.

I am super excited to announce that Lush is running a deal with Plum District today!!! Please be sure to go buy your deal today - only $10 for a 5-drink punch card! That comes out to only $2 a drink. Such an awesome deal for a delicious Caramel Macchiato or Chai Latte! And when you stop by the Lush coffee cart, be sure to say hi to Sonya and tell her Alanna sent you.

Cheers!

Friday, August 19, 2011

McDonald's: I'm Not Lovin' It. Have the golden arches really changed?


I quit eating at McDonald's when I was 19. (I also refuse to shop at WalMart, but that's an entirely different post all together.) I didn't have much reason at the time other than the fact that I felt nauseous every time I ate there. When I was a teenager several of my friends worked there - I even worked there myself for a whole 2 weeks. I used to like going to McDonald's to visit my friends. At some point though, I realized the effects of eating Mickey D's food. On top of that, I was really concerned about watching my weight so I was trying to be careful not to eat too much bad food.

Even as a small child I was very particular about what was okay to eat at McDonald's and what wasn't. I once ate a chicken nugget and bit into a piece of gristle. I never again touched another McNugget. I got to the point where all I would eat is a plain hamburger. I always ordered it plain so I knew it was cooked fresh for me rather than sitting under a heat lamp for an hour.

Several years later, in 2004, the documentary Super Size Me came out, and all my complaints about McDonald's food were confirmed. Not only was I correct in believing that the food wasn't healthy and it was therefore making me feel ill, there was a lot more wrong with it: the massive size portions, the overall unhealthiness of the food, and the lack of alternative healthy options. Around this time I was attending San Diego State University. I took a writing class in which we had to watch Super Size Me and write a research paper on the topic. For this paper, I also read Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation and through all my research I became thoroughly disgusted with fast food in general. To this day I still cringe at the thought of eating at most fast food burger joints other than In-N-Out. On occasion I will still stop at a Carl's Jr or Jack in the Box if I'm on the road and need a meal, but McDonald's has always remained the one place that I absolutely refuse to stop at.

Which brings me to the new conundrum I am facing. Over the past couple of years I have become vaguely aware of McDonald's trying to change their image. I try to avoid all things Mickey D's so I haven't paid too much attention, but when I was at BlogHer a couple weeks ago McDonald's was a very present sponsor of the conference. Not only did they have a booth at the expo but they also were the big sponsor of Saturday nights' CheeseburgHer party. (Yes, I did partake in eating a McDonald's cheeseburger. And for the record, I was not impressed at all, although I did not feel sick afterward.)

I know that McDonald's has been pushing their coffee drinks in recent years but I don't really drink caffeine anymore, and when I do I'd rather go to Starbucks or my favorite local coffee shop (I love you, Lush!). At BlogHer, McDonald's reps were handing out samples of their new Pineapple Mango smoothies. Over the past few months I have become a huge smoothie fan but I kept shying away from the samples at BlogHer just because I knew they were from McDonald's. I finally decided to give in and give one a try though. The smoothie was good - it tasted like a smoothie should, and I hope that it was at least somewhat healthy. While I was at the booth I picked up a fruit and yogurt snack container and grabbed some literature.

It got me wondering. Has McDonald's REALLY changed? I see their new offerings such as smoothies and apple slices, and my first thought is "Whatever...they are still the same old company that disgusts me. This is too little, too late." But now I am starting to think "Maybe they really HAVE changed and I am just being closed-minded. Maybe I should give them another chance."

McDonald's really does seem to be changing their image. They are saying that they are "committed to supporting families and championing children's well-being". Their new Happy Meals will automatically come with apple slices and the new kids' fry containers are tiny. They are pushing their meals for 600 calories or less. They are now offering oatmeal for breakfast. They say their meals cover all the food groups.

But still I'm skeptical. My feelings on this are that yes, putting apples in the kids' meals is great. But what about the other food in the meal? Are the burgers any different and any healthier than they used to be? Or are they still greasy and processed? Meals that are under 600 calories are great (although I try to keep my meals closer to the 300-400 calorie range), but I wonder what kind of nutrition is actually in those 600 calories. Do they now have whole grain wheat buns? Because the one I ate at BlogHer was still a processed white bun.

I know for sure that I won't be taking Sam to McDonald's on a regular basis. My parents were careful to feed us healthy food while we were young, and now that I'm older I really appreciate that. So while I know I definitely won't be making fast food a common thing in our household, we do make the occasional infrequent drive-through visit. Now I'm wondering if my bias against McDonald's is unfounded. I'm really torn. Should I stick with my resolution to avoid McDonald's at all costs? Or do I open my mind and give them a chance?

What do you think? I would love to hear your input.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We all need a little change sometimes.

I've been feeling the need for change for quite some time now, but I didn't really know what or when or why. After attending BlogHer, I gained a lot of insight and inspiration for how to make changes to my blog. Some are just things I want to do, others are things that I need to do. I'm not quite sure where I'm going yet, or how I want to get there, but one big thing I learned from BlogHer was that if I don't have a goal, make one up. Work towards that goal, and then reevaluate in a few months. So here I am, inventing a goal and slowly taking steps towards it.

You will be seeing some changes around here in the coming months. Changes that will probably happen very slowly, since I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to them right now, but I am determined to make something special out of this blog! Be on the lookout for a new name, a new look, and a new home. I hope you will stick with me through it all!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Already Feeling Like a BlogHer Pro: Day Two

It's funny how one day can make such a difference. Friday morning I was such a stress case, totally lost and confused and worried about every little detail. Saturday morning was so different. I woke up feeling more relaxed, and actually took the time to sit down with my morning coffee before getting myself dressed and ready to head to BlogHer Day 2. (Part of this was due to the fact that everything kicked off an hour later than Friday - thank you, BlogHer!!!) I was much less concerned with what I was wearing and just threw on a comfortable outfit. I leisurely headed down to the convention center and strolled into the breakfast hall. After quickly finishing my breakfast, I ran back down to the Expo to get more shopping networking done.

I was really hoping the sessions on Saturday would be better since I hadn't been too impressed with Friday's sessions. I was starting to worry that I'd get home and have to report to Mike that I didn't really learn anything from this $300 conference. I was thrilled to find that the morning got off to a great start. For one thing, I didn't have a flash mob on the brain, and even more importantly, the first session I attended was a good one. I went to "Your Blog Can Make You a Social Media Marketer". This one was really applicable to me since I've been working with Social Media Marketing recently and I'm in the process of building my SM skills so that I can get more clients as a Virtual Assistant. I did feel that some of the information was a bit remedial - not everyone in the room even knew what SEO was, or how to use Twitter, so I had to bear with it for a while, but I did get some good bits of knowledge from the session. Elisa Page is great - I always love to hear what she has to say!

Lunch was another quick affair and again I headed back to the Expo and sponsor lounges after eating. (Yes, I wanted all the swag I could get, but I also was very interested in making some great contacts for blog partnerships.) The next thing I knew, it was already time to head back to sessions! Next up on the agenda? "Putting the 'Professional' in Professional Blogging." This was BY FAR the best session of BlogHer 2011. Amy Lupold Bair was very funny and entertaining as moderator, and I loved hearing what the panel had to say. Within the first 15 minutes I felt like I had gotten my money's worth. (That's $300, folks! This was a GOOD session.) The room was packed, and I filled page after page of notes. I haven't felt so inspired to blog in years. I don't know quite where I'm going with my blog and career yet, but now I feel like I have a starting point. I can't wait to sit down and go through all my notes and put together a plan for myself. I now feel like I have enough knowledge to start making something of myself, and I can't wait!

My last session of the day was "How to Create a Kick-A$$ Proposal". I liked it - it was good - but it really only answered the bare minimum of the questions I had, and I felt like it wasn't really quite what I was expecting. I am completely new to proposal writing so I was hoping for a step-by-step breakdown of what a proposal looks like and how to put it together. Instead it was more of listening to an established ad agency talk about their great ideas and how they share them with companies. We got to see what a BAD proposal looks like, and then we got to see what a good one looks like. I did find this helpful, so even though I don't know how to actually come up with creative ideas for a proposal and how to put them together, at least I now know what one is supposed to look like.

Once out of the sessions, feeling totally fulfilled like I was on a high, I headed (yes, you guessed it...) back to the expo. Time to hit up all the final sponsors and try to grab some last minute goods before it all came to a close. I am still so floored by how generous all the BlogHer sponsors were. I came home with toys for Sam, food and medicine for all of us, coupons galore, and enough reusable bags that I should be shot if I ever use another plastic grocery bag. I found some awesome companies that I am looking forward to working with on my blog, companies that will be a great fit for Stuff Parents Need, and information about products that will be very useful to me and my family. I ended up with 6 bags full of goodies. I added up the value of everything, and it came in at well over the amount I spent on my BlogHer ticket. Absolutely amazing.

Last (but certainly not least!) on the BlogHer agenda was more partying. I was fortunate enough to meet with several of the local San Diego bloggers for dinner at the Melting Pot. It's so nice to be able to network with other local women who have so much in common with me. After dinner I was planning to head to the Plum District sponsored party, the Secret Style Suite, and my boss, Michelle, ended up meeting us at the Melting Pot and hooked several of my friends up with party passes. To make things even more amazing, she picked us all up in a limo and took us to the Hard Rock Hotel for the party. Way to go, Plum District!!! The party was hosted by Savvy Sassy Moms and Moms Fashion File. The hosts and all the sponsors for this party went ALL out. There was gelato and cocktails provided by Ciao Bella, a drawing for some beautiful baby gear from Stokke, hair feathering by Detour Salon, and more. It was so much fun to party in style and feel young and carefree again. After the party several of us just weren't ready to call it quits, so we headed back to the hotel for the last BlogHer sponsored party, CheeseburgHer. We made the mandatory paper bag hats, ate a cheeseburger, and snapped some photos. Now that was a party! It was SO much better than Sparklecorn the night before. The crowd was great, the atmosphere was awesome, and I am pretty sure everyone was having an amazing time. My only regret is that we didn't get a photo on the cheeseburger bed!




So, my recap of day two? Much better than day one, and worth the price tag of the conference:
Workshops: Excellent - especially the one on Professional Blogging!!!
Networking: still great - I met some really great people that I hope to maintain friendships with!
Expo: worth every $$$ I spent on BlogHer
Sponsored Parties: awesome all around - I ate free all weekend, drank free all weekend, made some great connections, and felt fabulous and special.
BlogHer Parties: CheeseburgHer is a must-attend - even if you don't like McDonalds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thoughts on My First BlogHer Experience: Day One


This past weekend was so amazing for me, I hardly know where to begin. For one thing, it was such a last minute decision for me to go that the few days leading up to BlogHer were a complete blur. I went from being totally relaxed about my week to suddenly rushing around like a madwoman trying to coordinate babysitters, get last-minute business cards printed (thanks, Laura at Vertical Printing & Graphics!) choose which workshops I wanted to attend, and oh yes, trying to get on the guest list for the must-attend parties. I had no idea what I was getting into, so thankfully I have good friends that were able to steer me in the right direction!

Friday morning was completely overwhelming for me. I got downtown and right off the bat I couldn't figure out where I was supposed to park. I kept seeing women in skirts everywhere and was suddenly afraid I was under-dressed. I was totally stressed out that I was going to be in line for hours trying to register, and I would miss breakfast. It turns out my fears were totally unfounded. I parked under the convention center just fine, and while I was frantically on the phone with my friend Dani trying to figure out which door I was supposed to go in, I saw the registration counter right in front of my face. I was registered in all of 5 minutes with my hands already full with my first swag bag. On my way in, I ran into some fellow San Diego bloggers (where I snapped a couple photos for the #SDBlogHunt - more on that later!) and was happy to find that San Diego girls like to dress casual. I was right at home in my jeans and tank top! I headed up the escalator to breakfast, where yet again I was overwhelmed. There were women EVERYWHERE. I had a 2-second panic attack when I couldn't reach my friends by phone, but I quickly found them, got myself a plate of free food, and got comfortable. Within a few moments I had been introduced to several local women, and things were going okay.

As soon as I finished eating, I followed the crowd into the morning keynote session. We heard about how influential woman bloggers are now, and that the majority of people take their advice from us. The keynote was followed by speed dating, which I found extremely awkward. We formed into several circles and briefly met the blogger in front of us, exchanged business cards, and moved on. It was interesting, but I really didn't feel like I connected with anyone. It was such a broad audience that no one in my circle happened to have much in common with me. It was an interesting experience, but I cut out early. I think I'll skip speed dating next year. I'd rather make my connections in smaller circles in the sessions I attend with like-minded bloggers.

The first session I attended was one I had really been looking forward to, but unfortunately I was disappointed. The workshop was called "Leveraging Your Blog to Build E-Products For Sale." Mike and I have been talking about opening a web store for months now, so I was really excited to learn more about getting that going, and to find out what kind of products my readers would be interested in. I quickly found that this workshop was all about how to create and sell an e-book online. Not what I was looking for at all. So, I headed out and gave the "Bad Blogger Pitches" workshop a try. It was okay, but I think that since I came in late, I was a little lost and therefore not fully understanding the discussion. There may have also been something else on my mind....(#mobher #operationglory) So, I decided to check out the expo for a while. HOLY MOLY. More on the expo later.

After the expo, once my arms and shoulders were aching from the weight of all my swag, I headed to lunch. I walked into the lunch room, and by this point, my entire body was shaky, my stomach was swirling, and I was nervous as all hell. Why? I was about to participate in my very first FLASH MOB. About 100 or so of us were about to get crazy on the lunchroom floor and break out into dance to Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory." I had been practicing for several days, but honestly I do NOT do well with choreography. I was sooo nervous. Halfway through my meal the music started, and the girls began to dance. By the time it was my turn to join in I was ready, but I was surprised to find that I was still shaking for a good 30 minutes afterwards! But it was so worth it - the girls of #operationglory ROCKED it. Everyone did awesome, and we had a huge audience and everyone loved it. I am so honored to have been a part of it! I can't wait until Sam is old enough to understand that her mom participated in a Flash Mob.



After lunch I felt like I had my head on straight again - no more flash mob taking over my thoughts. I headed into the "Connecting With Brands From the Inside Out" session. It was okay, but again I just didn't really feel like it was really what I was looking for. For my last session of the day I attended "Peer Networking." It was good, but a bit remedial. I was hoping for something a bit more advanced, as most of the Twitter, Facebook, and SEO info was stuff that I have already researched on my own.

I think the highlight of my day so far was the Expo. I cannot believe how much stuff was in there! Thank goodness I had a friend to walk around with for my first trip or I would have been totally lost. Every type of business you can imagine, from PepsiCo to Lowes, to Skinny Cow to Chuck E Cheese, to Hillshire Farms to Snapfish was there. And every single one of them was giving out free swag. I entered to win giveaways, gave vendors my contact info, and filled my bags with goodies. I barely scratched the surface on day one and already my bags were full. I got fake eyelashes installed at the Skinny Cow booth, snagged some cash at the RetailMeNot money grab, and posed with the Charmin bear in front of a gigantic toilet. I also filmed a Febreze commercial and discovered that I would NOT make a good spokesperson for them. Obviously my super-powered sniffing abilities have lingered after my pregnancy.


video

During the afternoon I was able to meet one of my online friends, fellow blogger Emily from Baby Dickey. It was so nice to actually put a face to a name! She is just as sweet in person as I imagined she would be. I scored some great swag from her and the girls and also ended up winning a drawing for some Vedette Shapewear!

After the last session of the day, I headed over to the Cheap Sally party at Stingaree - one of the awesome parties I was fortunate enough to get on the list for! The crew at Cheap Sally really went all out for us - we had free drinks, free food (and it was delicious! tacos, pasta, BBQ, mmm...), music, and more swag. I also made some really great connections with sponsors at the party, some of which I can't wait to get in touch with!

After Cheap Sally I headed back to check out the #SparkleCorn party. It was, let's just say, weird. I totally felt like I was at some awkward wedding reception in a hotel ballroom. With glowing necklaces everywhere. Maybe I was just there too early, but it was just not comfortable. They were only serving pretzels and hot dogs, and plus, it was only 8:45 and I was so tired I felt like it was already midnight. (That right there may be the bulk of the problem!) I left before I had a chance to participate in the #operationglory encore, but I heard that it was really the only interesting part of the party anyway. So, I don't feel too bad.

So, here's my breakdown of Day 1:
Keynote: so-so
Speed Dating: not worth my time
Flash Mob: AWESOME
Workshops: not quite what I was expecting
Networking: great - I met some really great people along the way
Expo: so much fun - there is really something for everyone, and the sponsors are SO generous!
Sponsored Parties: a fun and relaxing way to end a long day, while still doing some great networking
BlogHer Parties: only worth going to if you're not super exhausted

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm back from BlogHer 2011! #blogher11

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to attend BlogHer 2011. I learned so much, met so many great people, and had so many fun experiences that I'm going to have to write a detailed post (or two or three!) about it. But for now, I'll give you a couple quick highlights:

1) I participated in my very first Flash Mob. Yes, really!!! Go #operationglory!
2) I learned that I would NOT be a very good spokesperson for Febreze.
3) I got to put faces to names and see some pretty famous bloggers.
4) I got to ride to the Plum District-sponsored party in a limo. (Where I unknowingly got to grab my friend's butt. Oops!)
5) I ate a cheeseburger at midnight while wearing a fast food bag on my head.
6) I was able to network and build friendships with some awesome local (and not so local) bloggers!

As soon as I get myself a bit more organized (you would be horrified at the stack of papers, flyers, business cards, photos, etc on my desk and piles and piles of swag on my floor!) I will be back with a couple of posts for you detailing my BlogHer experience.

I'm already excited for next year!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fifteen Months

Dear Samantha,

You are now 15 months old. Time is really flying! This past month you have been learning so much. It seems like every day you surprise us with a new word! We attended a 1st birthday for one of your friends, and when it came time to cut the cake, you got very excited and said "take!" I had no idea you even knew the word, so it was pretty cool to see that not only did you know the word, but you knew that cake always comes after singing "Happy Birthday".

You are getting to be quite the little monkey these days, too. You started out by just climbing onto the fireplace, but now you climb on chairs (and you fell once, too - that was scary!), and you climb from the end table onto the back of the couch. The other day you were outside with Daddy while he was working, and he was shocked to find that you had climbed all the way to the top of the rock wall on the hill in the backyard! You have figured out how to move things around to make steps for yourself. You like to take Mommy's trash can, lay it on its side, and put it in front of the bookshelf so you can use it as a step to get to the higher shelves. What will you think of next?!

You have been doing much better about sleeping through the night again. For almost month you were dealing with some teething pain, and you were waking up several times a night, which has been rough on Mommy and Daddy. Thankfully the past week or so you've only been waking up once, or sometimes not at all. Those canine teeth still haven't pushed their way through yet, but we can see that they are very close now.

You have also started saying "no" now. It's pretty cute for now, though I'm sure it will start trying our patience soon enough! You say it more like "nah" as in "Can I give you a kiss, Sammy?" "Nah, nah, nah." We have started giving you time outs now when you get into the cat food. Hopefully it will help you understand what no really means!

You are truly adorable, and I love you with all my heart. You are the sweetest little girl I have ever known, and you make my world go 'round. I love watching you grow!

Love,
Mommy

Stats:
Height - 30" (36%)
Weight - 21 1/2 lbs (29%)
Head Circumference - 45 1/2" (48%)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It honestly can't get any cuter than this.

How to Discipline a Toddler: What is age appropriate?

We are now getting to the phase with Sam where she is acting like a toddler. A terrible-twos-type-toddler. I know she understands the meaning of "no",yet there are many times when I will tell her to stop doing something and she will just stare at me and continue to do it, blatantly defying me. And other times, I have to take something away from her, and she will throw a full-on tantrum. It usually doesn't last long, and she'll finish with a smile and sweetly say "hi" (which is just adorable!), but still. These tantrums are getting more and more frequent. What is appropriate to do for a toddler at this age? Should I put her in her room? Should I give her a time-out? Should I just wait it out?

It's so amazing to see how human nature just kicks in at such a young age. Today I could hear her pushing buttons on the printer. When I walked in the room she quickly stepped away, put her hands up by her shoulders and said (as best as she can) "I didn't do it!" I didn't teach her that one, I swear!

Sometimes it's hard to be consistent with rules because she can just be so cute and charming, but I also don't want her to grow up to be a bad kid. How do you handle situations like these? How do you enforce the rules with a 15-month old? I don't know how much she understands, and what will really make her understand that Mommy and Daddy are in charge and no means no.

What are your discipline tips for toddlers?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Help a Newbie Prepare for BlogHer '11! #blogher11

I first heard about BlogHer two years ago, when I was blogging and tweeting under a secret alias. (Still secret, just in case I ever decide to go back to it. ;)) I got all caught up in the BlogHer frenzy, and couldn't wait for the next one so I could join in the fun of Sparklecorn and Cheeseburgher while hanging out with all my blogger BFFs. Well, when BlogHer '10 rolled around, I was so busy with my newborn daughter that the whole thing slipped by under my radar, pretty much completely unnoticed.

Fast forward to BlogHer '11. It's pretty much in my backyard, folks. BlogHer '11 is in here in beautiful San Diego. I knew it was going to be here months ago, but I really just pushed it to the backburner, assuming I wouldn't be able to afford it. Then, just the other day, I talked to Mike about it and he said YES! this is definitely something I should attend. Not only will it be extremely helpful to me in my job as a Virtual Media Assistant, it will be great for personal networking for my job with Plum District. Not to mention help for my own personal blog, the great Vanilla Bean!

I'm sure that some of you are thinking "What? BlogHer? What are you talking about?" I thought the same thing 2 years ago. Let me clue you in to the awesomeness. First of all, BlogHer is a network for bloggers - specifically women bloggers. It's full of wonderful resources for bloggers. The BlogHer conference is 3 days of workshops, networking and having fun with other bloggers. I can hardly wait to discover what else it is all about!

I've already put together my list of sessions that I'd like to attend and I've confirmed my spot on the guest list for a few parties. Beyond that, I'm kind of at a loss for what to plan on! Since I'm such a latecomer to this game, I feel like I'm a little too late to get in on anything special. So I'd like to ask BlogHer veterans what I should expect! Do I need to book my schedule with back-to-back special events, like some other girls are doing? Or should I just stick with my 3 sessions a day and few events at night and just go with the flow the rest of the time? What goes on on Thursday? Will I miss out if I don't show up till Friday? I hear there is an Expo. What exactly is it? When should I go? Is sooner better than later? And will I be so busy that I won't have a chance to leave the Convention Center?

I would love to hear your BlogHer experiences and read any advice that you might have for a newbie!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hullabaloo Arts Festival Ticket GIVEAWAY!!!

Since music has always been very important to both Mike and I, we really wanted Samantha to have a strong foundation in music. I took her to her first music class when she was just 4 months old, and we constantly have music playing in the house. I try to expose her to as many different types of music as possible, and we love to dance around the house. The girl's got rhythm! She loves to dance anytime she hears something with a fast beat to it. She's also got some skills when it comes to playing the guitar. I think she just might have a career in music someday!

One thing I really like to do with her is to take her to see live music. Anytime I hear that there is a kids' band playing, I do my best to get her there. When she was just small she enjoyed listening and watching other kids dance. Now that she is (very) mobile, she loves to dance and jump and bounce to the music. One of our favorite local kids' bands is Hullabaloo. Steve and Brendan have written some great songs that are very catchy and fun to sing along with. We have one of his CDs and can't wait to get more! I find myself singing these songs around the house, and Sam always starts dancing when I play the CD for her.

Coming up on September 18th, Hullabaloo is putting together the Hullabaloo Family Arts Festival at the Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo, CA. First of all, I LOVE the Bernardo Winery - some of you may recall that Mike and I got married there! It's not only a great place for wine tasting, but it's also a great outdoor venue for festivals like this. There will be live music, art, dance, and storytelling, and local businesses will be there with some great goodies.

Tickets to this event are $5 each, but right now Plum District has a great deal for a Family 4-Pack of tickets for only $10 - that's 50% off! You should definitely take advantage of this opportunity to get your tickets. It's going to be a great family fun event!
http://www.plumdistrict.com/moms/discount/san-diego-east-south/tickets-and-events-deals/hullabaloo-family-arts-festival-10-for-family-four-pack-to-the-hullabaloo-family--FuVdiX

But it gets even better: One lucky reader will win a 4-Pack of tickets for FREE!!! All you have to do to win is visit the Hullabaloo Art Fest website and come back and leave me a comment, telling me which part of the festival you are most excited about.
1) For one bonus entry, Tweet about this giveaway and come back and leave me another comment.
2) For a second bonus entry, "Like" The Vanilla Bean on Facebook, then come back and leave me a comment.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 13th.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Plum District. They are giving me a 4-pack of tickets for sharing this deal with my readers!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Go visit my guest post today!

I wrote a guest post today for the SDMOMfia. Go check it out, and leave some comment love. And while you're there, browse a while and read some of the other great articles and info they have! Love these ladies.  <3

http://sdmomfia.com/2011/07/a-day-at-the-races-with-the-kids/

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sammy loves her yogurt!

She's been at this cup for at least 15-20 minutes, trying to get every last drop. It was all I could do to get her to pause and "cheese" for me!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.4

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Family Fun Day at the Del Mar Races! #dmtc #bgsd

Today we spent a great day of fun in the sun at the Del Mar Races. Heading to the track has been a tradition of ours for many years now, and it's been especially in the past few years since we lived in Del Mar for a while and learned all the local secrets. ;) Now that we have Sam, we want to continue our fun experiences at the races!

Family Fun Day was the perfect day to go and let Sam have some fun with the ponies. Thanks to Katie at Bailey Gardiner, we scored a pair of free passes and special seating in the Infield Pavilion, special for mom bloggers. It was perfect! We were able to sit in the shade while watching the races on the screens and we had our own betting section that wasn't busy at all. We had so much space and were able to relax while Sam ran around and had fun.

We started the day by taking a look at the horses in the paddock. It was Sam's first time seeing a real horse, so she was very excited. One of them even snorted as it walked past her, and she found that to be very amusing. After watching one race, we headed over to the Pavilion and got settled. It was great to be around so many other family bloggers with young kids! Mike and I got to chat with some cool parents and Sam made friends with a couple of adorable little twins - the wonderful family behind The Twin Set. Between races, we got to chat with new friends, play with Sam, and even pose for a photo op with Pony Boy.





After we played a few races, we headed infield for some good old family fun. Sam went on her first pony ride, and enjoyed it so much that she went back for a second turn! She was very serious about it, and had a lot to say as we walked around the ring. We did get a few big smiles out of her though! She also spent lots of time in the bounce house and at the park with Daddy while Mommy waited in the pony line. We all came home a little pink from the sun (well, Sam just got tanner), exhausted, and very happy.

I can hardly wait for next time! Thanks again to Bailey Gardiner and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for another wonderful day at the track.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Secret Shopping - A great way to earn some extra cash!

As most of my readers probably know, I'm always looking for a way to earn extra cash while still being able to stay home with Samantha. I've found one great way to earn a little is to be a secret shopper. I don't earn a whole lot, but I do get free meals and some spare pocket change - enough for lunches with the girls or a new pair of shoes every now and then. And, the more you shop, the more you earn!

Right now, one of the companies I shop for, Market Force, is looking for new secret shoppers. If you sign up as a shopper and complete a shop by August 15th, I earn some extra cash too. It's a win-win for both of us! It really doesn't take much time - just enough to go out to lunch and evaluate the restaurant incognito (20-30 minutes), and then another 20-30 minutes to fill in your report. I highly recommend signing up and giving it a try. You'll get reimbursed for your meal and then get another $5-$10 on top of that. It's like getting paid to eat a free meal! It's totally legit - I've been shopping for them since Sam was a newborn, and I always get paid right on time.

Here's my referral link: https://www.applymarketforce.com/index.aspx?source=16&referralID=894315 (You must use this link for us to get the credit for the referral.) I'd be thrilled if you could join me as an Undercover Secret Shopper Agent!