30 December 2016

My Best Posts of 2016

Most of all, I’ve been able to connect with so many wonderful mothers through my writing. That has to be the best part of this whole blog gig, you know? There is truly no better feeling than receiving an email or comment on a post that touched someone or made them feel validated in their own feelings. I think many times, we sit alone as mothers and women in our own feelings thinking that we’re the only ones who feel a certain way. When we read other’s perspectives or feelings on parenting and motherhood that ring or touch our hearts, it makes us feel a little less alone and a little more united. Validated. I know I’ve felt this many times in reading other’s posts so it means so much that I’m able to do the same for someone else.     So, without further ado, here are my top five blog posts of 2016. Thank you again for your continued support of my wine-induced, sleep-deprived shenanigans. I look forward to sharing with you in 2017!



It’s hard to imagine that another year has come and gone but sure enough, here we are at the end of 2016. If I’m being honest, I won’t be sad to see 2016 in my rearview mirror. My year started off pretty crappy from the start in January and was honestly ho-hum for the remainder of the year. I’m ready for a fresh start and new beginnings. Having said this, I’m healthy, my child is healthy and our needs are met so really, what more could I ask for?


Though things may not have gone the way I wanted personally, I must say that my blog has done very well this year. My readership and numbers continue to grow so thank you for putting up with me. Seriously – this blog wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for you guys so THANK YOU! This year, I made debuts on Scary Mommy and Red Tricycle and continued my writing on The Huffington Post. I met so many new, amazing women through blogging that have inspired me both professionally and personally, and even had a pin go viral from my Pinterest page.


Most of all, I’ve been able to connect with so many wonderful mothers through my writing. That has to be the best part of this whole blog gig, you know? There is truly no better feeling than receiving an email or comment on a post that touched someone or made them feel validated in their own feelings. I think many times, we sit alone as mothers and women in our own feelings thinking that we’re the only ones who feel a certain way. When we read other’s perspectives or feelings on parenting and motherhood that ring or touch our hearts, it makes us feel a little less alone and a little more united. Validated. I know I’ve felt this many times in reading other’s posts so it means so much that I’m able to do the same for someone else.


So, without further ado, here are my top five blog posts of 2016. Thank you again for your continued support of my wine-induced, sleep-deprived shenanigans. I look forward to sharing with you in 2017!




As we were watching the movie, Maddy began to get restless. At first, she started to roll around. Then rolling around turned into a little light playing around then before I knew it, she started jumping and just like that, she fell off the bed. Our bed is a four-poster queen size bed that sits high off the ground. When I say my daughter fell off the bed, she literally took a dive and when she did, she landed on her wrist which broke. I was hysterical with fear coupled with an immense amount of heartbreak. How could this have happened and so quickly? I was right there. I was watching her. I had my full attention on my child yet, she still got injured.

I am Matt and Melissa Graves.”






“When did we decide that the only way our children can have a great life is if they are above average? Whatever happened to actually appreciating average? To respecting our children’s abilities and to help them flourish as much as possible within said abilities? Maybe my daughter will cure cancer. Maybe she will discover the next solar system. Maybe she’ll be the leader of a great nation, movement or discover the next life-changing invention, thought or idea. Maybe she’ll win a Noble Peace Prize or an Oscar. Maybe she’ll be a Governor, or a world-famous musician or a famous artist. Maybe she’ll be the next big clothing designer with all the celebrities clamoring for her pieces.

Or maybe she won’t.”









If you have children then you know how having kids changes life so I'm not going to waste time explaining how my Sunday ritual of resetting my life got put on the back burner. What I will take time to say is that since that happened, I've been able to tell a HUGE difference in the way my life operates without it and it's no bueno.  Lately, my soul has been craving order and organization so I decided to bring back the Sunday ritual of resetting my life to prepare for a smooth week ahead. I'm hoping this little change brings more balance and frees up more time in other areas for my life. 

So, without further ado, here are the top seven things I do on Sunday to prepare myself and my family for a fresh start with the upcoming week.










You could spend a fortune on your fall décor but why? There are so many simple, inexpensive and natural ways to bring the comfort and beauty of fall into your home. With the season fast approaching, I thought I’d take some time today to share some of the ways I’ve decorated for fall through the years. Spoiler alert: the dollar tree is your best friend!














“Maybe you’re someone who has this organization thing down to a science. Your pantry is all neat and organized with Ikea storage containers and you have pretty little Pinterest chalkboard labels for everything. Your clothes are neatly folded and arranged in your closet and everything is sorted and placed according to color and season. 

Great.

But what about your everyday organization? How do you go about your day with an organized schedule and to-do list? Here are my tips on helping to organize the everyday crazy as a working mom.”



29 December 2016

Five Blog Trends That Need to Die in 2017

When you’re a blogger, everything you do, think or feel becomes consideration for a blog post. Make a great dinner? Blog about it. Do a coolcraft? Share it. Have an opinion on the latest hot topic? Write about it. When you’re a blogger, creativity is at an all-time high. You’re constantly thinking of ways to keep your readers engaged, entertained and wanting to come back for more.


As a blogger, I’m pretty much up for trying anything to keep my little space interesting if it fits my niche and style. Catch words to pay attention to here - almost anything. While I consider myself to be open-minded and willing to experiment with new ideas, I’ve come across a few blogging trends, five to be exact, that in my opinion, need to die. Like, yesterday.


As a blogger, I’m pretty much up for trying anything to keep my little space interesting if it fits my niche and style. Catch words to pay attention to here - almost anything. While I consider myself to be open-minded and willing to experiment with new ideas, I’ve come across a few blogging trends, five to be exact, that in my opinion, need to die. Like, yesterday.



Excessive sponsorship posts. I get it. Part of the reason you’re blogging is to make money and truly, I get it. I too blog to make money and get some great swag but when every post you publish is sponsored or pimping out a product, it gets old quick. It also calls into question what you really believe in and stand behind because if you’re promoting anything and everything, you really have no brand loyalty which goes against sponsorships all-together and in my opinion, significantly lowers your credibility. 


If you’re going to run sponsors on your blog, keep it real and be selective in who you choose to back and promote because I will tell you this: nothing will turn your readers, and other companies, off more than a blogger who is obviously out for nothing more than a dollar and a little attention.


Facebook follow for follow. I will admit that when I came onto the blogging scene, I joined these follow threads like no one’s business. At the time, I thought it was a no-brainer in growing my blog and my audience.


I couldn’t have been more wrong.


Yes, I got a bump in numbers and readers for a while but eventually, it all declined. It declined because the people I followed for a follow really weren’t my niche audience. They could have cared less about my parenting woes of the moment or my thoughts and opinions on vaccines so they peaced out. I can’t say that I blame them because I also had zero interest in reading about their latest fashion finds or how to wear this season’s belt and lipstick with the perfect outfit, so I dropped them as well.


I learned that for me to genuinely grow and maintain my audience, I must appeal to the right readers. I would rather my blog grow at a slow and steady organic rate resulting in long-term readers than to hype up and then fizzle out with less of an audience. I want the people reading Shiraz to be here because they want to be, not necessarily because they were forced to be. Slow and steady wins the race.


Coordinated Instagram follows, pods, and the like. If you’re a regular user of Instagram, you can expect to see it happen all the time – Friday follows, pods, robots and more. Before I get into this much more, let me admit that this trend may only turn me off. I’m fully able to admit that I may be the only one whose nose wrinkles up seeing these in my IG feed but I’m willing to bet I’m not.


The idea behind these tactics is to promote other IG accounts and to give the impression that, “Oh hey! I randomly picked four other bloggers to promote on my feed because I genuinely love the content they put out!” when in all actuality, it reads, “Oh hey! Someone posted in a Facebook blog group that I’m a member of that they would love to boost their IG numbers, so who is interested in doing x, y and z? Ten of us? Twenty of us? Let me know!”


Ugh.


Every time I see these posts in groups or on my IG feed, I scroll right on past as I’m rolling my eyes. Why? Because it’s anything BUT genuine and real for one of two reasons:


1.       It’s the same bloggers promoting the same people/friends every week and
2.       Most of the Friday follows I see come from people who gathered together in a Facebook follow for follow group and have zero clue who they are promoting. Some of these people have never even read a single world on the person’s blog they are promoting.


How ridiculous is that?


This all goes back to the premise behind the Facebook follow for follow threads. Yes, you may have a temporary increase in numbers but long-term, you will lose more than half of those who followed you because they truly aren’t in to what you’re selling.


Picture perfect Instagram feeds. While I can appreciate a pretty picture, I miss the days when Instagram was just that – Instant. You took a picture and boom! You posted it. There was none of this “Let me get out my light kit, editing software and backdrops” for one single picture nonsense and while yes, your choreographed pictures and snapshots look like perfection, they’re missing a very important element: the real factor.


When I’m scrolling through my IG feed, nine times out of ten I’m going to ‘like’ or comment on a picture that is real {in the moment, not choreographed} long before I notice or give attention to a picture that has clearly been edited, photo shopped and corrected every way from here to Sunday. Many people will argue this point by saying that a beautiful picture grabs the eye and attention first and foremost but I disagree. I will always like the real take on a person's life far faster than the choreographed version. People want to be able to relate to you. They want to know that you have flaws and imperfections and aren't afraid to be real with your readers and audience.


Instagram is meant to be just that – a picture in an instant. In as much as we love to see your perfectly polished snapshots, we want to see the real you. How about showing us sometime?


You’re always promoting the same people and blogs. One word: YAWN. I know in the blogging world, we tend to gravitate towards those we feel the most connected to or to those with whom we’ve built friendships but really – boring! Show us someone new. Share a post or a blogger that is new to you that you enjoy reading. Go outside of your cliché for a hot second and expand your horizons. Part of the reason to blog is to make connections and meet other bloggers from all walks of life. Really, it’s okay. Go beyond yourself and your core group of friends and look at all the beauty before you. You just might find someone new that you enjoy reading. I know I have.

What trends do you see in the blogging world that you wish would just die in the New Year? 

27 December 2016

12 Ways to Improve Your Blog in 2017

Blogging is an ever-changing, ever-evolving business. It seems like the rules, standards and guidelines are constantly changing. Just when you think you’ve mastered the latest skill or trend, boom. It changes once again.


With all these changes and growth happening, it’s more important than ever to keep your blog game strong. This means keeping your little space on the Web up to date and with the times, and what better time to give your blog a once over than now before the New Year? While not all blog trends are going to fit with your style and brand, there are a few basic standards that have stood the test of time. In working with other bloggers and brands this year through my marketing business, I’ve identified 12 simple ways you can improve your blog in 2017 that can dramatically improve its performance, presence and future.


While not all blog trends are going to fit with your style and brand, there are a few basic standards that have stood the test of time. In working with other bloggers and brands this year through my marketing business, I’ve identified 12 simple ways you can improve your blog in 2017 that can dramatically improve its performance, presence and future.



Remove obnoxious pop-up ads and information capture boxes. This may be more of a personal preference, but if I’m visiting your blog, especially for the first time, and I’m trying to read one of your posts but there are a million boxes popping up in my face the moment I land on your page, then I’m out. I read blogs for my own enjoyment and to hear what you have to say, not to be inundated with ads, sales tactics and more. Give me a hot second to decide if I like what you have to say before you’re in my face asking me to join your email list. Bottom line, please stop coming across as desperate.


Stop using centered text for the body of your posts. Unless you’re quoting someone or really need the information to stand out, stop writing your posts in centered text. It’s a dated and antiquated way of blogging. Either justify or align your copy to the left.


Create and use Pinterest-Worthy graphics. Every post you create should have a Pinterest graphic, no ifs, ands or buts. I use, and highly recommend, Canva for all your graphic design needs. They take all the guess work out of graphic design but more importantly, they have pre-made templates for each social media platform that are the exact dimensions for what you should be using for your pin or post to be optimized. There’s no excuse to not have this element in each of your blog posts. This is a guaranteed way (not to mention FREE MARKETING) to drive people to your blog. Make sure your Pinterest graphics are top notch otherwise, you run the risk of this happening.


Remove Google Friend Connect and follower counts from your sidebar. These are dated features that clutter your sidebar plus, brands aren’t even going to consider those sources when they check out your blog to consider you for partnerships. Instead, they will ask for your Google Analytics or other certified sources.


Speaking of sidebars, clean yours up as much as possible. Every time I consider adding an element to my page, I ask myself, “What purpose will this really serve? Will this feature truly help my blog and the reader?” If you can’t answer your own question simply, don’t add the feature. Here’s a good rule of thumb to stick by: less is more. A cluttered sidebar is distracting to the reader plus, it takes your site longer to load which will affect your SEO and Google ranking.


Link back to old posts as much as possible in each new post. This keeps an engaged reader on your site longer which boosts your analytics and helps with SEO.


Keep your drop down menus short, simple and clean. A reader or brand rep should be able to find what they’re looking for in three clicks max. If I’m having to click a million times all over your site to find what I want, your blog design is poor, cluttered, overwhelming, and I’m out.


Use alt tags on your images. This is especially important when using Pinterest but it also helps with your SEO, too.


If you use WordPress, make sure your plugins are updated. You should always make sure your plugins are updated and delete the ones you don’t use or ones that are outdated as it slows down your site!


Make sure you have a search bar. This goes back to keeping information and posts on your blog easy to find.


Join a blogging community. I use and highly recommend Blog Passion Project on Facebook. I’ve seen my numbers and readers climb steadily since joining this group a few months ago. Interact and get to know other bloggers – they will help you grow your blog!


Make your external links open in a new window. This seems like a no-brainer in creating your blog posts but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think about this tiny detail. It can mean so much! If a reader clicks on a link that takes them to another site from your page, the reality is that they probably will not go back to yours. Always have your links open in new windows to keep readers on your page!



What tips do you have to help others improve their blogs for the New Year? 

26 December 2016

Snapshots of Our Christmas

Christmas in and of itself has always been my favorite time of year but celebrating Christmas with kids? You can’t beat it. Really. It’s so much fun to experience the holidays through a child’s eyes. Everything is magical. Everything is bright. Everything is joyful, fun and new. Aside from the usual things kids get excited about during Christmas, they bring much-needed hope and a renewed sense of humanity to the world. Maddy’s excitement for Christmas has grown every year with her and it’s simply lovely.


Very simply, our Christmas was pretty spectacular. As I sit here writing this, I’m left with all kinds of emotions looking back on our holiday season; joy, gratitude, exhaustion, happiness, a full heart and so much more.


Christmas in and of itself has always been my favorite time of year but celebrating Christmas with kids? You can’t beat it. Really. It’s so much fun to experience the holidays through a child’s eyes. Everything is magical. Everything is bright. Everything is joyful, fun and new. Aside from the usual things kids get excited about during Christmas, they bring much-needed hope and a renewed sense of humanity to the world. Maddy’s excitement for Christmas has grown every year with her and it’s simply lovely.


Christmas morning found us in a tornado of wrapping paper, tissue paper, boxes and bows. Maddy’s eyes twinkled with excitement as she ran into the living room to see all the gifts that Santa brought her. She wanted to play with all her toys at once, the dog was just as excited as Maddy, and all mom and dad wanted was about another hour of sleep and a lot of hot coffee. It was a great Christmas morning and I can’t believe another holiday season has come and gone. Here are some snapshots of our holiday season.











{Reindeer Food AKA Oatmeal and Glitter}






Merry Christmas to you and your family!

20 December 2016

3 Unique Ways to Keep the Spirit of Christmas All Year

Every year when the Christmas holiday comes to an end, I always get a little sad and borderline depressed taking down my decorations and packing away the spirit of the season. There is something about the nostalgia and ambiance of Christmas that makes me extremely happy. I really hate to see it go. 


A couple of Christmases ago while I was starting to take decorations down around our home, I was telling this to Michael over dinner and he very simply looked at me and said, “Then don’t take it down. Why would you want to take away your happiness?”


Valid question and point.


I had never thought about it this way before. I’ve always taken our tree and decorations down at the end of the holiday season because “That’s what you’re supposed to do,” like we are programmed robots or small children still following the rules of life set by mom and dad.



If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I really, really hate following silly rules and guidelines set by society. I mean, really. Who makes up these ridiculous “rules” anyway? Things like, “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” and that kind of nonsense. Whatever happened to live and let live?


So, friends, that’s what we’ve been doing. For the last year, we’ve been celebrating the Christmas spirit throughout the year. The tree stayed up (it’s fake) and we’re going to enjoy all the happy feelings all year long. I’m also going to use this as an opportunity to grow on some other goals, like philanthropy and community service, that I had set for myself and Maddy this year. These three tips on how to keep the spirit of Christmas all year are things you can easily incorporate into your everyday life to bring out all the happy.


These three tips on how to keep the spirit of Christmas all year are things you can easily incorporate into your everyday life to bring out all the happy.



ONE. Take More Time for Coffee Breaks. During Christmas, everyone loves to share their IG pictures of themselves sitting by the tree on a cozy evening while enjoying the glow of lights and the peaceful ambiance it gives. Why not do that more often during the year? I’m all for bringing in as much peace and love as possible to our home and can’t think of a better way to do it than by taking time to sit and just “be.”


TWO. Hanging on to Wonder. This also includes implementing and preserving creativity, optimism, hope and charity long after Santa, the gifts and the decorations departs. To quote Mr. Cringle from Miracle on 34th Street:

“Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it.” 


THREE. Being a Little More Generous and Giving. By nature, I’m a thrifty cheap person. I shop at the Dollar Store as much as possible, coupon clip and pinch every penny where I can. Having said this, when the holidays come around, I’m the first one to act like Daddy Warbucks by giving my extra change to the Salvation Army ringers, Angle trees, food drives and more. For some reason during the holiday season, I believe I have more money than I do any other time of the year and I’m less afraid to hand it over so why the hesitancy the remaining time of the year? While I’m not going to bust the bank, or put my family in financial jeopardy, I am going to make a more conscience effort to focus in on charities and organizations I believe in and do what I can to help support those in need. 


So, as I sit here and listen to my holiday music station on Pandora, I can’t help but to think that the Vince Guraldi Trio had it right along…



“Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.”