Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Beginnings, New(-ish) Blog

I don't know if this is really a saying or not, but HAPPY LEAP DAY!! Originally, this was going to be a "Happy New Year" post, but I definitely missed the boat with that one.

There have been quite a few big events in my life since my last post, and while they have meant some exciting changes, they have unfortunately kept me away from the blog-o-sphere for quite some time. To make a long story short, after 7 months of intensive job searching I have now finally joined the world of the full-time employed. Yay! :] As a result, in the last couple months, my schedule has been pretty packed. Between apartment hunting, moving in, and adjusting to a new job, I guess I kinda sorta shirked my responsibility to my blog. Ooops... Now that I have a little more time though -- and a consistent internet connection (hooray!) I hope I won't be disappearing for so long again.

Although I have not been posting, this blog and the direction I would like to take with it has been something that I have done a lot of thinking about recently. When I started out last fall, I was hoping blogging would be another tool I could use to help me in my job search in addition to a place where I would write about topics I found interesting. As a result, I really struggled to develop a cohesive way to tie everything together. The intellectual side of me was telling me I should be talking about social media and interesting articles, while my creative side was wanting to complete DIY projects and share them. After a bit of soul searching, I think I will be heading back to my roots from here on out. What do I mean by that? Well back in the day when Xanga was cool, I didn't really worry about my intended purpose or who my audience was (aside from the fact that I wanted to impress my middle school friends). And although I did not consciously realize I was blogging at the time, essentially I was. But mostly, I was keeping an online journal and writing about whatever I wanted. Just being me. That is what I plan to do again.

So, who am I now? Well, now I am a young professional. I am out on my own for the first time, and I am learning the challenges that come with this new lifestyle. What I expect is that that means the content of this blog will shift. Not only will my future posts be more "journal-like" but they will also focus on topics such as apartment life and living on a budget.

I guess a good place to start would be to introduce you to my new place. At this point, it is far from perfect, but we're getting there. I still have boxes in the living room and in my bedroom, so to be honest, I am too embarrassed to post pictures of those spaces online. But we'll start with the kitchen. I have to admit that I do love my kitchen. I don't know many people my age who live in an apartment with granite counter-tops and literally brand new stainless steel appliances, but I do. I am a lucky girl. It was a pain that my first week here I had to wait for everything to be installed, but it was definitely worth the wait. The only thing I would change is the stove. If anyone ever tries to convince you to get one of those "easy to clean" stove tops that are basically a big plastic surface, don't listen. It is so much harder to control the temperature and I think it is actually harder to clean. Anytime any liquid spills, it instantly fuses to the top and leaves a permanent mark. Also, the black color shows every little bit of dust. I would much rather have a gas range. On a side note, if you noticed the glass jars on the counter-top, I picked those up from IKEA this past weekend and plan to turn those into one of my next projects, so keep an eye out for that blog post. But moving on...

We have the small dining area. I just bought the green place mats this past weekend, and I am even more happy with them than I thought I would be. They are pretty much perfect for this space because they really brighten up the room. Plus, you can't really tell from the picture, but they nicely tie in the bright green that is in both of the paintings I had already hung in the space.

Then last, but not least, we have the last room on our tour - the bathroom. There is really nothing too exciting about a bathroom. But, I do think I got extremely lucky when I found my bathmat. I knew I wanted to go with a white and light blue color scheme (I already had light blue towels and planned to get a white shower curtain) and then somehow I happened upon this rug that was not only the exact same hue of blue with white, but also tied in the tan tile on the floor and the counter top. That rug was meant for me. Which brings me to how I plan to wrap up this little (or I guess pretty long) entry.

I will be the first person to admit that since I got an account in the fall, I have been addicted to Pinterest. I love finding new projects, recipes, and inspiration for how I want to style my home (and I guess also parts of my life). But if there is anything I have learned in the past few weeks, it is that sometimes keeping it simple is best. I don't need every item in my apartment to become a DIY project. Although those doily light fixtures and wine racks turned towel holders are pretty awesome, taking on too many cutesy projects is enough to make you crazy (especially when the money it takes to purchase supplies often is much more expensive than you might initially think). That is not to say that I plan to cut out all of the DIY pins I have been planning to create, but I have a better sense of what is practical to accomplish over a period of time and on a budget.

As I tackle this challenge of doing it on my own, one step at a time, my goal is that in the upcoming months, I will be able to show off a living room and a bedroom that I can be proud of. Then at that point, I will finally be able to have friends over and entertain. Yay! According to Cosmo, working towards a goal is often more fulfilling than achieving the goal itself... Well hopefully that is the case, because goodness knows, I have a lot of goals to accomplish to get this place in order!

I hope you'll check back later for more updates on my little journey of independence. Thanks for reading :]


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pretty Papered Boxes

Yesterday marked my 23rd birthday, and the start of my journey to becoming an old lady. At the same time, opening presents got me thinking about one of my favorite things to make with wrapping paper. This is the perfect project for this time of year for a few reasons. These make great gift boxes that you can reuse year after year (just use festive paper, add a bow and a tag :), they help get rid of wrapping paper you haven't used in a while to make room for the rolls you plan to use for the holidays, and they are an easy project for an overcast day. Besides, who says you need to wait for Spring to get a jump start on a little reorganizing? 

To make these covered boxes, all you need are a few things:
  1. An old shoe box
  2. Wrapping paper
  3. Scissors
  4. Clear packing tape
  5. Glue stick
Once you have your shoe box, start by cutting a  large rectangle around it. Measure the amount of paper you need similarly to how you would if you were wrapping a present. You will need enough to cover the bottom and sides with a little extra to hang over the edges. 

Next, fold up the paper to make creases around the perimeter of the bottom of the box. You should have four lines that create an outline of your shoe box in the middle and extend to the edges of your paper.

Now you need to begin trimming the paper. Cut down the folded lines to remove the rectangles created by your folds in the four corners of the paper.  However, on two sides, leave extra flaps on the edges in a trapezoid shape to be folded over the edge of the box. For a visual, see the picture above. To make sure my flaps were in the correct place, I folded the paper over the edge of the box and made another crease. I then cut down the edge to trim the extra from the top. 

Once you have your paper cut to the correct shape, you can start securing it to the box. Fold the edges of one of your sides of paper with the flaps up and over the top of the box. Glue the flaps to the side of the box first, then tape down the edge on the inside of the box. Do the same on the opposite side. Fold up the remaining two sides and again,  tape down the edges of the paper to the inside of the shoe box. I also put packing tape on the four edges where the paper flaps meet for a little extra reinforcement to protect against tears. Follow the same process for the lid of the box and you're done! 

These can be used to wrap presents or to store just about anything. I use mine to organize a number of different items such as jewelry, nail polish, important papers, pictures... 

I think these are a really cute way to organize a room. Just about everyone has little knick-knacks that can make a space look cluttered. This is an aesthetically pleasing way to keep them around without all the mess. They also make it easy to move your stuff. As a recent college graduate, I have moved to a new place almost twice every year for the past four years. Packing everything up can be a huge pain, but these fit easily into bigger boxes and make the process a little less stressful. Plus, they are a helpful way to recycle old shoe boxes. If you want to get a little more creative, you can make some slight alterations. It was more work, but in one case, I used wrapping paper on the inside of the shoe box and then made a collage around the outside (that box can be seen above in the middle). I covered the whole box with packing tape to make it more sturdy which was perfect to hold my nail polish collection.

Shoe boxes aren't the only recyclables that can be dressed up with wrapping paper though. Save an old soup can to make a cup for your pens or loose change. If I had the time and supplies, I would put kidney beans in the bottom with pens wrapped with florist tape to secure fabric flowers at the top to make a nice bouquet. Or if you plan ahead, you could turn these into lanterns or votive holders. Hammer a nail through the can before covering it (maybe in the shape of a heart?) and then after wrapping the can, poke the paper through the same holes (just be careful not to rip the paper). I think those could be cute hung with a little twine, but I don't really have the space to display a project like that.

Regardless of what you choose to make, I hope you have fun turning pretty wrapping paper into decorative items that can be used year-round. If you know of other similar projects, let me know! :]

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday's Fancies

I love social media. As an aspiring digital marketer, I think it is especially cool because the internet offers so many opportunities for brands to experiment with new strategies and tactics. Which is why I am always interested when I find a brand that tries something fun and innovative using online platforms. In this case, the company that I am excited about is Lilly Pulitzer. If you don't know already, I love Lilly prints. In a perfect world where the clothes weren't quite as pricey and/or I had a full-time job already, there would be many more Lilly pieces in my closet. I am lucky that there are other ways I have been able to incorporate the brand into my life though. The company's blog offers a free print gallery, and that is where I got the cherry begonia imagery I used to design my own weblog. So thank you Lilly Pulitzer for helping me make my blog cute!

...but back to what the brand is doing right now that I think is really awesome. Teaming up with {AV} and her blog Long Distance Loving, Lilly has created an online campaign/contest of sorts that has not only increased online engagement, but that will reach audiences the brand might not have ever had access to before -- all with very little cost to the company. Essentially, people like me (bloggers) are doing all the work for them. Genius. 

This is how it works. Participants go to {AV}'s blog post to learn more about the "Jungle Glam Giveaway" as well as how to enter. The next step is to follow a series of actions that further connect users to the brand (i.e. follow Lilly and Long Distance Loving on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, etc.). One of the last steps is to create a "Friday's Fancies" blog post featuring (at least two) pieces from Lilly Pulitzer's new Jungle Glam Resort collection. As a social media geek and a blogging Lilly fan, I was excited to not only talk about the campaign but also to participate. Below you will find what my selections would be from the Resort collection :]

I live in the greater Chicago area, so yesterday was a very sad day for me because we got our first snow flurries :( I am definitely not ready for it to be winter! While the Jungle Glam Resort collection has me dreaming of warmer weather, the reality of the situation is that flowy fabrics  are not always the best choice on a cold, overcast day. Which is why when I was making my selections from the collection, I thought of what might add a little sunshine to my life without causing me to freeze to death. These are my choices.

  1. The coral colored Vicki Dress. I love the sweet heart top and how the lace gives the dress subtle texture. 
  2. Paired with a Paley Cardigan in "True Navy Reef Me Up." As I mentioned before, it's cold outside! I love how this cardigan is a way to add a Lilly Pulitzer print (and warmth!) to the outfit that brings out the coral color in the dress :]
  3. Cute accessories to tie together the dress and sweater. I picked the "Pink Tomato Sea Coral" Critter Earrings with a couple Upscale Bangles.
  4. A shimmery Glam it up Clutch.
  5. And last, but certainly not least, some neutral peep-toe pumps! I think a nude shoe is really pretty but love how these have a tiny bit of gold on them also. Even though I already have shoes that are similar, I would still appreciate a pair of Resort Chic Wedge Button heels in "Sand."
There were so many pretty options that I had a really hard time picking mine. I could probably make two or three more combinations that I would be happy to wear out in the city. Even now I'm second guessing my choices (why didn't I add a thin, gold Coil Belt?). Regardless, I think this is a super cute outfit that I wish I had to wear out this weekend. We're celebrating my birthday and this would be the perfect ensemble to wear on my birthday dinner/date night.

So cross your fingers for me that my submission is worthy of $750 in Lilly merchandise (I am currently a poor post-grad and could really use the wardrobe update), or even just the dress and shoes! If you are also a Lilly Pulitzer fan like me, have fun browsing the new collection and maybe put your own outfits together :]

What do you think of Lilly Pulitzer's campaign? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Are All Opinions Created Equal?

Sorry to be MIA for a bit, but the past week has been much busier than I anticipated. I currently have content in the pipeline now, so hopefully I won't have to disappear again for a while :]

The story I want to write about today may be dated, but this is something I have wanted to address for some time now. In one of my early entries, I touched on how crucial it is to know one's audience; then in my post The Importance of Being Transparent I spoke to how those participating in social media should be honest and upfront in their interactions. In this entry, I plan to marry the two aforementioned topics. 

It all started with a simple ad campaign. A couple weeks ago, ChapStick got itself into quite the pickle with the accompanying advertisement featuring a woman searching behind the couch for a lost ChapStick. A blogger wrote about how she deemed the picture offensive and degrading to women, which then triggered a social media disaster. When the same blogger left comments on ChapStick's Facebook fan page, the brand began deleting comments. Users continued to post, demanding to know why their comments had been deleted, and the interactions started to spiral out of control. The article I read about the issue suggested that ChapStick should simply issue an apology, remove the image, and move on. In accordance with my policy on transparency, I agree that ChapStick was wrong to delete user comments; however I disagree that the brand needed to cower, tail between its legs and apologize. Personally, when I first read the headline and then saw the picture, I was confused. I was thinking THAT'S the image that is so offensive? Really? Compared to many of the advertisements selling sex today, this picture seemed pretty tame to me. Additionally, it is an advertisement I can relate to. I absolutely LOVE strawberry ChapStick. I buy a three pack every time I go to Wal-Mart because I can't find that flavor anywhere else. I have one in my purse, on my desk, in various jacket pockets, you name it. Part of the reason why I have so many is because they are easy to lose! So for me, I look at this picture and think, Yep. I have definitely been that girl before. And apparently, based on some of the user comments to the blog post that started it all, I am not alone. 

Which makes me wonder, Are all opinions created equal? 

The originating blog post was from a feminist source which regularly speaks to women and sexuality in advertising. My guess is that this was one more way to keep fresh content on the site. Also, as I mentioned in my post Hooray for Cross-Promotion, posting links to other platforms such as Facebook is an important practice for bloggers, as it helps to drive traffic. The author was certainly smart to use ChapStick's Facebook fan page to draw a wider audience to her own blog. But did ChapStick respond appropriately? I think not.

I have not done the market research on who ChapStick's consumers are, but my guess is that there is a small intersection between those who buy the product and those who would be seriously offended by the advertisement. Social media is wonderful because it gives everyone a voice and can make anyone an expert. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and has the opportunity to be heard. However, I do not think that means everyone deserves to be listened to. There is no way that a brand can please every individual with an advertisement, and there will always be someone who wants to complain. I think that in this instance, ChapStick should have let the issue go. Leave the disgruntled user comments and recognize that they are probably in the minority. The brand could have perhaps joined the conversation by apologizing to the blogger for offending her lady like sensibilities and then letting her know that the advertisement was not meant to sell sex. I think removing the advertisement is a bit far though. I recognize that in some situations, a brand needs to backtrack when they have created an advertisement that offends a large group of people, but I do not think this was one of those situations. 

Which brings me to the biggest lessons that I think can be learned from ChapStick.
  1. BE TRANSPARENT! I don't think I can say it enough. Be who you are and let your audience be who they will be. Don't delete comments. Instead, use them to build brand equity. Even complaints are an opportunity for interaction. 
  2. Really work on identifying your audience. If you are speaking to a group of feminists, maybe an image of a woman with her butt in the air is not the best choice. But if those same feminists are only a handful of people who object to an advertisement that resonates with a majority of your consumers, then maybe there are other avenues you should explore rather than pulling the advertisement. Perhaps not all opinions are created equal...
What do you think about this issue? Was the advertisement so extreme that ChapStick needed to remove it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Peanut Butter Button Cookies

These cookies are super, SUPER easy to make and very cute to boot! I'm afraid this entry will be mostly pictures because there aren't many instructions for me to include. You can use a homemade cookie recipe, or just one from a cookie mix like we did last night. You will also need a cap from a water bottle or 2 liter pop bottle and a small straw. A coffee stirrer will work, but we didn't have one around and needed to improvise. Luckily we had Caprisons, so Abbie drank some juice while I started making the cookie dough. Don't worry, I was careful to clean the straw out with soap and water before using it with the cookies.

After you have made the batter, roll the dough into about 1" balls. They should fit easily inside the water bottle cap. 

Bake the cookies according to the recipe directions. Ours took about 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Just after removing the cookies from the oven, We took the bottle caps and pressed down the center of the cookies.

Next, we took the small Caprison straw to poke out four holes from the center of each cookie to make them look like buttons.

See, super easy! They only took a few minutes to make and about as much time to disappear. I think these could be cute cupcake decorations or maybe strung up as a garland of sorts. Just eating them also works. If you have any other cute and easy cookie recipes, let me know because I would love to make them and add them to the blog! :]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hooray for Cross-Promotion!

My last couple entries represented a fairly big step for me in the world of blogging - I made my first attempts at cross-promotion, and the results were much better than I expected. By posting two links on my own Facebook wall, I'm still only taking baby steps at this point, but that is an improvement, right? One thing I'm learning through this experience is why brands are often so hesitant to try something new. It is much easier to recommend to a team that they change their brand or execute a strategic modification than it is to do the same for your own. As this blog represents my personal brand, I was a bit afraid of what promoting it might do. The internet makes actions seem ultra permanent, because once you put something out there, you can never really take it back. What if no one liked my blog? That is why up until this point, I was happy writing in my blog even though virtually no one was reading it. However, through the experience I had the last few days, I can understand why cross-promoting is an essential on-line practice for brands.

Before I posted my first link to an entry on Facebook, this blog had achieved a total of maybe 20 views with no real signs of improvement. I had been sure to include keyword tags with each entry so that people searching those topics might find me, but my guess is that Google put me at the bottom of a LOOONG list of search results, so those alone were not driving traffic to the site. After I wrote about my experience making blue velvet cupcakes though, I was feeling brave enough to share the post with my social network of 900+ people. The change I saw was almost instant. I received 58 page views in just a few hours and I gained one follower who also texted me about how she planned to make an infinity scarf of her own (shout out to Helaina! :).

After seeing those results, I was feeling more comfortable sharing my posts, so I did the same thing with the Pumpkins and Power Tools post only with a small twist. I have to admit I did not do this consciously (I was just excited to share the cool pumpkin carving with my friends), but before I wrote and subsequently posted a Facebook link with the entry, I shared a picture of the Blackhawks pumpkin we had carved. Acting as a sort of teaser, I think that made more people interested in reading about how we had made the pumpkin. I was already getting more site views the second time around when something amazing happen - I got my first brand advocate! Yay!

With zero prompting from yours truly, my sister posted a link to my first entry on her own Facebook. Suddenly my audience had expanded from 900+ to include an additional 400+ (we have 80 friends in common) and I received my first comment and hit 154 page views in less than 24 hours! I think that is pretty good considering that came from two little links.

If I could generate that traffic with my own social network, I can only imagine the potential cross-promotion has for brands. Even though I had already learned as much through my undergraduate studies, this gave me some first hand experience with the power of strategically using social media.

My challenge for the next time is to do better than 154 views, and there are a few steps I plan to take in the future to accomplish that:

  1. Include other sites - at this point, I posted the link on Facebook alone. Hopefully by including Twitter, I could reach another audience.
  2. Encourage my brand advocates to post for me as well... If you liked this post, please share it with your friends! :)
  3. Work on joining on-line communities - there are sites like where users share projects like the ones I have blogged about. If I can participate in the right conversations, there is no limit to the audience I might reach. 
Now that I have overcome my reticence to cross-promote, perhaps it is time for me to think about monetizing the site...

I know that the possibilities of cross-promotion are endless and that I surely have not thought of them all... What other tactics do you think I could use to drive traffic?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkins and Power Tools

I apologize for putting this up just as Halloween is ending, but I have been much busier than I anticipated. So maybe keep this in mind for next year...

Our day of pumpkin carving began like this:
Brad - "Do you think we can do it?" (for like the millionth time)
Rachael - "Yes, I think we can do it, or I wouldn't have suggested it!"

Maybe I have an inflated perception of what I think I can accomplish, but when it comes to DIY projects, I generally believe that I can find a way to make almost whatever I want. So, when I saw a picture of a Blackhawks pumpkin on Facebook and showed it to Brad, I knew that it was going to be a project we needed to take on (despite his initial doubts).

I have carved pumpkins in the past, but my experience before this weekend was limited to using a kit and pre-made stencils. Which meant that before we could get started, I needed to do a little research. I had never carved a pumpkin where I didn't cut all the way through to the middle so I googled "how to shave a pumpkin" and found this very helpful link. Also while we were researching, we found a video that mentioned using drill bits to carve out big circles from a pumpkin. Well as soon as Brad saw that idea (there is just something about power tools that guys can't resist I guess), he was sold and suddenly we were going to be carving... or I guess drilling two pumpkins.

A trip to Hobby Lobby later, and we were ready to get started. While I was working on the Blackhawks design, Brad drilled holes into his "disco pumpkin." I had never thought to use power tools on a pumpkin before but it actually made the carving process much faster and easier. For the disco pumpkin, Brad picked the size bit for the holes he wanted and went to town drilling into it. It maybe took him 15 minutes tops... but back to my pumpkin.

I did not have a stencil for the Blackhawks logo, so we printed a picture of the logo which I used as a template. I had to cut and fold the picture some to get it to fit around the curve of the pumpkin just right and then I taped down the design. After I had the picture secured, I used a metal poker that was included as part of the clay carving kit we bought to poke holes along the main lines in the design. Next, I outlined the area I planned to shave out with a pen to distinguish it from the lines I planned to cut all the way through. And then came the hard part.

Because we printed off the logo, the size of our design was limited to the size of the paper. If it had been an option, I would have definitely picked an expanded version on a larger pumpkin because suddenly I had a lot of tiny lines I needed to remove from a small space. At this point I was worried about the integrity of the pumpkin and if I could accomplish this design without destroying it. After trying to carve out the first few lines with my serrated exacto knife blade (you can use an exacto knife with a saw blade, or just stick to the serrated knife included with most pumpkin carving kits), I began wondering if I had bit off more than I could chew. This pumpkin was not only making me feel like I was developing carpal tunnel, but it was taking FOREVER! Just as I was starting to get really frustrated, in came the boy with his power tools to save the day.

Instead of using a typical pumpkin carving process of sawing out the sections we wanted to remove, we adopted a modified version involving a cordless drill. First, I cut through all of the lines in the design, and then Brad went through with a small drill bit to expand them. Although I offered to use the drill, I think he was having too much fun, so I helped by holding the pumpkin and cleaning out our cuts with a toothpick.

After we had drilled through all of the fine lines, I began working on the face of the design. First, I took a Speedball Linoleum Cutter and cut around the edges of the area. Next, I shaved out the rest of the face (this took quite a while). I continued shaving the same area, layers at a time until I had removed a section about half as deep as the depth of the pumpkin. Next I took a Clay Ribbon Tool from the before mentioned clay kit to smooth the ridges that had appeared from shaving the design. To outline the overall design, I shaved out a much shallower border. Sorry I don't have pictures to demonstrate this technique, but I was busy working, and Brad wasn't around to take pictures. To get a visual, see the link posted above.

The final steps were to drill a hole in the top for ventilation (because we cut our pumpkins from the bottom) and put a candle inside. We used a small votive for my Blackhawks pumpkin and a colored light for the disco pumpkin.

Below are pictures of our finished products. I wish I could have captured the magic of the disco pumpkin, but a camera can't do it justice. We had a colored light inside that would strobe to the beat of whatever music was playing. It was especially cool because all the colors reflected from the ceiling like a disco ball. As I mentioned in my last post, we had a birthday party to go to this weekend, and the disco pumpkin was a big hit. I'm happy to report that the blue velvet cupcakes were as well :] Happy Halloween!!