What I’m Loving This Summer

Despite being born and raised in New England, and spending my first 33 years residing in the northeast, I’m a warm-weather girl, through and through. As you can imagine, I’m not happy about the speed with which this summer has passed, or the fact that Labor Day is next weekend.

The silver lining is it stays warm late into the year here in Charlotte. Last year, we were lounging at the pool the first weekend of October, searching for local fall festivals. And these recent (awesome) discoveries will help ease the seasonal transition, too.

Ommwriter
OmmwriterI must thank blogger Jeff Goins for promoting this tool during his webinar earlier this week. This simple software makes writing more fun, offering music and various backgrounds to serve as your inspirational backdrop. My favorite part: the keyboard sound effect options. As I write, I hear the clickety-clack of a typewriter, and the nerd in me is over the moon. If you’re an easy distracted person, this may not be the software for you, but if you can enjoy, then move on from the bells and whistles, I highly recommend Ommwriter. The best part? You choose what you pay for it!

 

Photo: iTunes store

Photo: iTunes store

All the Social Ladies podcast
I recently stumbled upon this podcast, and it’s become my inspirational companion on walks and drives. In each show, host Carrie Kerpen, CEO of Likeable, interviews a woman who is kicking serious social media butt personally and/or professionally. She’s interviewed some major influencers, including Sarah Evans of Sevans Strategy and Nicole D’Alonzo of TASTEdaily. I love the conversational, ladies-over-coffee nature of the roughly 20-minute interviews, and the guests’ energy, positivity and courage inspire me to take risks and generally bring it every day at the office.

 

Photo: Essie.com

Photo: Essie.com

Essie Fall 2014 Collection
I love color on my nails, but working in a corporate environment, I’ve felt pretty limited with my options. With each trip to the nail salon, I gaze longingly at the bright colors, only to select the neutral pale pink… again. But at Ulta last week, I spotted Essie’s fall collection, and my hope returned. The collection consists of simple, yet striking, options like a deep red and inky cobalt blue along with a variety of muted neutrals blended with more daring hues – Take it Outside is a gorgeous taupe with pink undertones, and The Perfect Cover Up is a gray with hints of teal. I can’t wait to try them out and switch up my mani.

So what are you loving during these last days of summer? Share below or DM me @bakinginpumps. I’m always looking for new things to try, and if I love ‘em, too, I’ll share and happily promote your blog or website.

3 killer storytelling techniques from AMC’s “The Walking Dead”

the-walking-dead-onlineWith the season 5 premiere in just three months, I thought it’d be fun to share this article I wrote. While I discuss my career or work issues often on this blog, this is the first time I’m actually sharing some of it. It doesn’t fit with the topics I usually write about, but I know many of you have blogs of your own and am hoping you may find some inspiration. If not, hey, it’s about “The Walking Dead”. That’s fun enough, right? 

This post first appeared on Cursive Content’s blog last week. I used to work with the insanely talented ladies of Cursive Content, and it was wonderful to team up again. If you are a writer, blogger, marketer – or just interested in learning more about all of the above, check out their blog. But first, read this!

I have the entire “The Walking Dead: Season 4“ in my DVR queue, courtesy of the 4th of July weekend marathon on AMC, and it’s eating me alive (pun intended). My husband and I recently started watching on Netflix, and have had way too many binge-viewing sessions over the past few weeks than I care to admit.

As I gazed longingly at my queue this weekend, wishing I had a free hour to sneak in just one episode, it occurred to me that the reason I am obsessed with this show is its incredible storytelling.

The storyline elements that make the show so popular (it’s the #1 show on TV among 18- to 49-year-olds) are the same as those that draw people to your content and drive business. To get your audience to tune in regularly, makes sure your content accomplishes these three goals.

1. Create tension

Simply put, nail biters draw people in. If the characters on “The Walking Dead” think they’re safe, but the camera pans out to show hordes of “walkers” heading in their direction, my eyes will remain glued to the screen.

Create this tension and sense of urgency in your content to capture your audience’s attention, too. Focus on current and potential barriers to your audience’s success, using your customer and industry knowledge as well as your own perspective to set the scene. 

2. Introduce your cast of characters

A sheriff who’s a dead shot, a veterinarian with a wealth of first aid skills, a former pizza deliveryman who moves swiftly – these are just a few of the characters whose specific skill-sets have saved themselves and fellow survivors time and again.

Bring your story to life through the voices, perspectives and insights of your “characters” – those employees who have helped shape your business and, in turn, craft your story. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate the strengths of each employee, and how they uniquely position your company to “rescue” your audience.

3. Save the day

On “The Walking Dead,” Sheriff Rick’s group of survivors is tough – possibly the toughest group out there battling the dead– and others in need of protection have begged to join.

Your content should clearly communicate the approach and solutions you offer and why your business is the best – or perhaps the only one – to address those threats.

Consistently incorporate these three elements into your content, and you’ll establish your business as a go-to authority with a unique perspective and solutions. Like Sheriff Rick, you’ll be the one your audience turns to for consultation – or the next time they need to be rescued.

What I’m Loving This Month: May

May has been a busy month. I’ve been gearing up for three major launches at work, and B had a sinus surgery that knocked him out for a few days. The silver lining? We capped off the craziness with four relaxing days on the beach in Ocean Isle, N.C.

Having just returned yesterday, I’m relaxed and rejuvenated – and wanting to share some awesome discoveries I managed to make in between everything else going on.

Photo: Target.com

Photo: Target.com

$5 beach bag (seriously)
I got this adorable mesh tote at Target right before leaving for Ocean Isle. I went with no intention of buying a beach bag, but, as we all know, aimless browsing often leads to unplanned purchases at Target. (I imagine even the most disciplined of shoppers can’t resist the store’s range of amazing and inexpensive items.)

The bag is roomy, folds up easily for packing and has a handy front pocket for easy access to your phone, camera, etc. I got it on sale for $5, but the normal price, $9.99, is still a steal. If you’re not into polka dots, browse the website. The totes are available in a range of patterns and colors.

My Peggy Li bracelets

My Peggy Li bracelets

Peggy Li custom word bracelets
I love Peggy Li’s jewelry – all of it. And I’m not alone. If you watch Switched at Birth, American Idol, Vampire Diaries or Hart of Dixie, among others, you’ve seen her jewelry. It’s simple, chic and reasonably priced.

These custom word bracelets are among my favorite of her creations. I love the idea of wearing words that I can glance at throughout the day to center myself. Especially because I’ve been feeling off lately.

I can’t explain it other than that I just haven’t felt like myself. I’ve been anxious, moody, tired – just out of sorts. So I’ve been focusing on what keeps me balanced: exercise, eating right and, most importantly, being creative and simply giving myself time to breathe and be. Hence, my two new bracelets – one that says “breathe” and one that reminds me to make time for what I love, “create.”

Photo: GretchenRubin.com

Photo: GretchenRubin.com

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
I realize I’m a little late to the game, since this book by Gretchen Rubin was released in 2009, but I’m sharing in case any blog readers haven’t read it either.

Following an epiphany in which she realizes 1. she’s not focusing enough on what truly matters and 2. she could be happier, Rubin embarks on her Happiness Project. During this yearlong journey, she adds a few resolutions to her list each month to nurture her friendships, health, marriage, parenting, spirituality, work, etc. Each month, she tackles resolutions under a new theme.

For example, in January, her overarching resolution is to “boost energy.” To do that, she sets out to get organized, go to bed earlier, exercise “better” and “act more energetic.” She shares her experience working toward each of these resolutions with humor, personal insights and supporting research.

By the end of the year, she’s indeed happier, and has discovered Splendid Truths of Happiness – light bulb moments about happiness throughout her adventure that she carries with her. She summarized the truths in this great Huffington Post article a few years back (bonus: there’s a link to read sample chapters from the book at the end of the article).

I loved every second of this book. Rubin is a great storyteller, and as a perpetual list-maker and goal-setter, I was in heaven.

Lulu.com

Lulu.com

Lulu.com
In September of her Happiness Project year, Rubin sets out to pursue a passion: books. She soon discovers Lulu.com, a site where you can easily create and publish books. She creates books of her kids’ drawings, of blank books she filled in with her daughters, of her blog posts… the list goes on.

As someone who finds a level of happiness in bookstores and libraries that is second only to that found at home and at the beach, I was giddy as I read about her projects.

That night, I checked out Lulu.com, and it was everything Rubin said it was. I love that you can customize your book, from the size to the cover material to the page design, and print bulk quantities at a reduced price (if you’re self-publishing).

I’ve since begun my first, long-put-off project – getting all our wedding photos into a beautiful coffee table photo book. Sure, our wedding was two and a half years ago, but better late than never, right?

And I’m already thinking about what I’ll create after I finish this big project. A book of short stories? Blog posts? The book nerd in me is clearly over the moon.

What have you discovered this month that you’re loving? Share below!

Blasted birthday

The Toxic Cleansing NutriBlast - before

The Toxic Cleansing NutriBlast – before

Last week, I mourned celebrated my 34th birthday with friends and my husband, B, who completely spoiled me. Among my birthday bounty was a NutriBullet. B had noticed me dragging out the blender every morning to mix up my smoothies and thought this smaller blender would be easier to use and clean.

As I read up on this amazing contraption, I quickly realized it’s much more than a blender. This mighty little mixer breaks down nuts, fruits and veggies, extracting vital nutrients. The NutriBullet folks recommend replacing one meal with a NutriBlast (what NutriBullet calls its concoctions), then having another later in the day. That’s a lot of fruit and veggies, so I decided to start with one per day and go from there.

I took it for its first spin (pun intended) this weekend, starting with the Toxic Cleansing NutriBlast. I loaded the six servings of fruit and veggies – a mix of spinach, pear, apple, pineapple, banana and water – into the cup NutriBullet provides, attached the blade top, flipped it upside down set it into the power base, watching as it turned the fruit chunks and leaves into a thick, green frothy smoothie.

Doing its thing

Doing its thing

One it was done doing its magic, I took a closer look at bright green blend, which smelled faintly of spinach. Not exactly my usual delicious almond milk, coconut yogurt, banana smoothie. But I took a sip and tasted pears, apples and a bit of pineapple.

What I like
After finishing the two-cup mixture, I was surprisingly full. In fact, I had to take a break halfway through to let it settle in my stomach before continuing on.

Five hours and a 30-minute power walk later, I started feeling a little hungry. Not bad! My typical smoothies hold me over for three, four hours tops.

Today, I whipped up the Energy Elixir Smoothie, which consists of mixed greens, pear, red grapes, walnuts, apple and banana. While I didn’t experience a noticeable jolt, I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a Pure Barre workout, putting away laundry, dusting the blinds, crafting and blogging. So it seems it gave me steady, sustained pep.

The finished NutriBlast

The finished NutriBlast

What I don’t like
My only issue with the NutriBullet? All those organic fruits and veggies add up at the grocery store checkout. Buying enough for five to six NutriBlasts set me back about $70. Next week, I’m going to check out some local farm stands, where produce tends to be cheaper, to see what I can find.

In the meantime, if you’ve used the NutriBullet, let me know what you think. Which are your favorite recipes?

Easy (and healthy!) homemade dog treats

My dogs, losing their sh*t after I pulled out the peanut butter treats

My dogs, losing their minds after I pulled out the peanut butter treats

Let me preface this post by saying I’m not a crazy dog person. I don’t dress my dogs up daily (only on special occasions) or walk them around the neighborhood in baby strollers. I don’t take them everywhere with me or have hundreds of photos plastered around my desk (they live discretely on my phone).

So maybe I’m a little crazy about my dogs.

But that craziness is not what led to my latest baking endeavor: homemade dog treats. The real impetus was my love for baking and non-love for having delicious, tempting treats around the house that I will likely eat with abandon. So rather than risk increasing my waistline, I decided to bake for my two pups and, as a bonus, know that I was giving them healthy treats sans fillers and artificial ingredients.

Frozen Peanut Butter Yogurt Dog Treats

Frozen Peanut Butter Yogurt Dog Treats

I found two great recipes on CaesarsWay.com, renowned dog trainer Cesar Millan’s website. The first, Frozen Peanut Butter Yogurt Dog Treats, are apparently a dog’s dream – at least based on how my dogs reacted. After tasting their first one, they clawed at the freezer door, hoping it would open and dispense more frozen, creamy goodness.

The great thing about these treats is that they consist of two ingredients – peanut butter and vanilla yogurt – and take all of 15 minutes to make. Definitely worth trying, especially as the mercury starts to rise.

Basic Dog Biscuits

Basic Dog Biscuits

The second recipe, Basic Dog Biscuits, was a little more involved, but still simple. It requires rolling out dough and cutting them into shapes (if you’re so inclined, as I was) before baking. Making these requires a little more time and muscle power (my arms got a nice workout), but was worth it when I watched my dogs chomp away, licking every last crumb off the floor.

Rex, happily indulging in his homemade treat

Rex, happily indulging in his homemade treat

If you give these recipes a try, let me know what you – and your pup – think, or share your favorites below.

 

Related post: When Rex met Penelope

DIY-ing it

Our new (dream) home

Our new (dream) home

Hello all! A very belated happy New Year. I’ve had quite the kick-off to 2014, moving into a new home (our first non-condo!) and passing the Series 6 – a majorly tough FINRA exam covering pretty much every topic I deftly avoided in college. Passing was a prerequisite for keeping my new financial marketing gig, so, yeah, I’m relieved – both to no longer have to hit the books after working all day and to still be gainfully employed.

Now that that nightmare very important exam is over, I’ve been able to focus on unpacking and settling into our new home. And rediscovering my love for DIY. Disclaimer: I like the quick and easy projects; I sadly have no patience for long, involved ones, though admire the heck out of true, crafty DIYers.

Here are a few I plan to try soon:

Photo: Tatertots and Jello

White and Gold Herringbone Pots
Krista from The Happy Housie introduced these pretty little pots on Tatertots and Jello last week. I love the color, herringbone pattern and, above all, the idea of being able to display spring blooms after a loooong, cold winter.

I’m going to create pots of all different sizes and scatter them throughout our screened-in room, yard and house.

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Photo: Refinery 29

Polka Dot Jewelry Dish
I’m a big fan of pretty little boxes, trays, dishes, bowls… you name it. So when I saw the photo to the right, combined with the headline, “DIY Illiterate? This One’s For You,” I knew I’d love this project. Jeanne Chan, curator of ShopSweetThings, created these eye-catching jewelry dishes/trays in minutes, using just a ruler and stickers.

I’m going to make a nightstand catch-all tray with gold polka dots for my bedroom and a larger one with gray polka dots for toothpaste, soap, etc. in our main guest bathroom.

Image

Photo: DIY on the Cheap

Dresser Refinish
The previous owners of our home left a beautiful antique desk for us. But the wood is worn and light, which doesn’t fit with our décor. So I’m going to put on a brave face and attempt to sand, paint and seal until it’s a bright, modern white.

I typically wouldn’t entertain doing this, except I found this great step-by-step tutorial on DIY on the Cheap that made me think, “I can TOTALLY do this.” As soon as it warms up a bit more and the weather steadies (i.e. doesn’t rain every other day), I’ll be giving this a try in my backyard (to avoid home damage from inevitable paint mishaps). Stay tuned for before and after photos.

In the meantime, share your favorite DIY projects. I’m always looking for inspiration!

My holiday sanity toolbox

toolboxHappy holiday season, all! What a few weeks it’s been. I’m in the midst of transitioning from my current job to a new one, studying for a big financial licensing test that I must pass in order to keep said new job and taking a writing class while blogging, working out, holiday shopping and trying to get in quality time with my husband and dogs. Add in recovering from an emergency gallbladder surgery.

I’m exhausted just writing it all.

Thankfully, I have compiled what I call a sanity toolbox, items that help me stay on track mentally, physically and spiritually. Take a look – I hope you’ll discover something new that helps you navigate this wonderful, but crazy, season.

Weekly planner printable
While I depend on my iPad and iPhone for daily scheduling, I love using this free printable (thanks, Defrump Me for sharing it) on Sundays to visually lay out my week. There are spots for calendar items, your weekly goals, notes, even meal planning. I pin it on my fridge Sunday night and am ready to go.

Weekly Planner

Pure Barre
This low-impact workout is huge right now – for good reason. In just 55 minutes, you get a full-body toning workout (the Jello-y limbs and major muscle aches after your first few workouts are proof) that puts your arms, legs, butt and entire core to the test. I’m a new devotee. It’s fun, challenging and yields major results with a minor time investment.

Mini notebooks
I have a slight (okay, huge) obsession with pretty notebooks, and when I saw these at Target, I snatched them right up. They’re super cute, with great quotes and some sparkle, and their small size makes them perfect for tossing into my purse, nightstand, glove box… everywhere. And you can’t beat the $3.99 price tag for three. I jot notes in them, ideas for blog posts or stories, my food logs and basically anything else that’s floating around in my head. Then I can go back to them later, when I have time, and quickly find information.

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Fitbit
There are a lot of wearable technology options out there that track health data, but the Fitbit Flex is just right for me. I wear the waterproof armband around the clock, tracking my steps, activity levels and even sleep patterns. On the online dashboard, I can add notes and track my weight and calorie intake. At the end of each week, Fitbit emails me a progress report summarizing my data. Having this information at my fingertips encourages me to take more steps throughout the day and allows me to keep an eye on my overall health so that I can nip those out-of-whack habits – known to rear their ugly heads when I’m stressed – in the bud.

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Q&A A Day Five Year Journal
I love to journal, but don’t have the time to devote to it most days. I don’t have this journal yet, but am hoping, ahem, Santa sees this and slips it under the tree. It seems like a fantastic alternative, posing one fun question each day that you can answer in just a couple sentences. It’s a great way to record your thoughts, opinions and priorities without taking the time to write long journal entries.

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Evernote
I’m a huge lists person, which makes Evernote invaluable. It allows me to create, access, edit and/or share to-do lists, lists of books I want to read or songs I want to download, notes to myself, recipes, training plans and interesting articles I’ve found, as well as record voice reminders – and it can all be tagged and searched so I can find it quickly when I’m on the go.

What are your go-to tools? Share below!

(Image via)