After I had a year of letting go in 2019, I decided that 2020 was the year of putting myself out there.
I had written a children's book (more on that later) and was given some advise that I needed to join social media and be an active participant on it.
I had been dragging my feet with joining the photography platform. I don't have any photos to post. I'm not that interesting, I mused on more than one occasion.
But, I am so glad I succumbed to the peer pressure and joined the site. I have learned five major lessons in this year.
1. Failing Is Inevitable But Often Opens Doors To New Avenues
I set out on this journey to publish a children's book. I have not done that yet. Of the upward of 40 + publishers I have sent my edited and reedited and reedited one more time manuscript to, I have heard back from three and they were a no.
I have not given up, and it looks as I will have to go the self-publishing route, but I am thankful for this failure.
Failing with the children's book has led me to discover that I really like blogging. After posting blogs on my own website, I tested the waters with guest blogging.
Some big name sites like Scary Mommy, BluntMoms, The Mighty, Motherwell Magazine, and Her View From Home accepted my work. Soon some of my work was getting thousands of shares, and I even started getting paid on a regular basis for some of work.
But what you don't see for every success is about ten failures. Some of my published articles got rejected five, six, seven times before they made it onto a site. Some never do.
An article I wrote in the spring finally just got accepted to be published after I sent it to an 11th different publisher. Failure isn't fun, but it is inevitable and very valuable.
After every failure, I have learned lessons to help me improve. As Bobby Bones says, "Fail until you don't." And when you are doing something you love, it's very hard to fail.
2. I had no real idea how Instagram worked.
I am so glad I had no clue how Instagram worked or I would have never joined it. Here is what I was clueless about.
A. More Like Lauren Barrett Creeps
I need to come clean. I did, in fact, have Instagram before I had Instagram. After my husband, James, got tired of me borrowing his phone to stalk the members of the Bobby Bones Show, a radio/podcast show that I am obsessed with in a totally normal and healthy way, I made my own burner account if you will. I had no pictures, no information, and no posts. I only used it to creep on Bobby Bones, Radio Amy, Lunchbox, and Eddie.
But, then, people I knew kept popping up under the Suggested for You list, so I hypothetically started to click on them and potentially viewed their stories on perhaps more than one occasion. I had no idea that people can see who views their stories!
For the record, I don't look, but I was so embarrassed by my faceless lurking once I found out when I got Instagram.
B. No Links For You!
I also had no clue that you couldn't post links on Instagram. The date was October 24, and I finally decided it was time to make a post with a link to one of my blogs. The blog was about tips to de-stressing your life. I pressed post and waited.
My mom, a technology novice and social media newbie, texted me that she couldn't open my link to my blog post. Exasperated that once again my mom couldn't comprehend simple technology, I went to have a look for myself.
And much to my dismay, I couldn't click on the link nor could I copy and paste it. What!!
A quick Google search showed that you can't use links in an Instagram post. The phrase, "link in bio" suddenly made sense. What a fool I was! Such a posting plebeian.
I felt like that emoji with her palm in her face. I have learned from my amateur ways and now use the popular line to direct people to my blogs.
I have also learned that you can, though, post links in your Instagram Story if you have 10,000 followers. Only 9,500 to go!
C. Holy Filters!
I knew that Instagram was notorious for their filters and photo editing, but I was unprepared for the sheer amount of alteration you can do to one photo. Not only are there upwards of fifteen filters, all with their subtle differences, but there are ways in which you can change the saturation, tilt, contrast, brightness, structure, warmth, color, and fade, among other things that I have no clue what they are.
Literally, you can spend hours doctoring one photo to get it just right, and then when you go back to look at the original one it's like you have two entirely different pictures.
Talk about option overload and decision fatigue. If I do decide to go with a filter, I usually don't venture much farther past Juno before I throw in the towel and pick one.
Overall, I do like the editing abilities like adjusting the brightness because I am not really good at taking clear photos.
D. Damn Scams!
Lastly, I am a sucker for those FaceBook ads. They get me. That's how I discovered Lulus and Shein. I thought Instagram would be no different.
The beginning of fall was right when I joined Instagram, and you know what that means. Sweater Weather! As I was absentmindedly scrolling through my feed, the most adorable sweaters popped up. "Ohemgee," I shrieked, "I've literally got to have them." None of that was said, but for the effect of the story pretend that I did.
After discovering the super cute sweaters, I hemmed and hawed for a bit, even going as far as to ask the girls on the Cross Country team what they thought.
"Soo cute," they squealed (They didn't but you get the idea). My decision was made. I bought them. I anticipated their arrival. So many basic places I could wear them. To the pumpkin patch. To our Fall Mountain Getaway. A football tailgate. Frolicking in the leaves.
But after a month they still hadn't arrived, and every time I tried to track the package I was directed to a Chinese site. I had been scammed!
Eventually, they did arrive, but they looked nothing like the advertisement and the material was so shoddy that they didn't even bother to affix a tag to the inside. So I had been scammed and a lesson learned. Don't trust everything on Instagram.
P.S. The website is Flookmiki for any of you who might be duped like me.
3. Social media and blogging can be tiring
As much as I love blogging and social media, it can be very tiring and mentally draining. I've learned that I have to take breaks.
There is so much more to blogging that's behind the scenes. I've had to learn about SEOs, keywords, tags, affiliate links, analytics, subscriber links, opt-ins, call-to-actions, guest posts, and other very boring but important words to making a blog and website grow.
I have had to set myself up with my guidelines and rules. I only get on social media three times a week.
I abstain from it all other days. I shut off my laptop and phone an hour before bed, and I don't get on my phone at dinner.
These breaks are a necessary time to regroup and clear my mind from all the noise on social media that can sometimes be overwhelming.
4. I had to stop caring what people think
When you decide to put yourself out there as is the case with blogging, you have to stop caring what people think about every little thing. I've had to stop caring about all the unwritten rules of Instagram like how often you should post, what kind of filters to use, how many hashtags to throw out there, how many followers and likes one should have, and if my son or I are wearing the same outfit twice.
If I started to care about all those trivial details, I would start to get into my head and second guess what I write and post.
Sure, doubt creeps into my mind every now and then right before I hit the post button.
Sometimes, I almost convince myself to play it safe and be comfortable and just skip a week.
But, I set a goal to post every week, and I was going to honor that goal. I couldn't let hypotheticals of what people might think stand in my way of what I love.
5. Women are very talented
If Instagram has taught me anything, it's that I am amazed at the talented, positive women (and men) out there.
It's full of women showcasing their talents. I see women starting business. I see women writing and blogging and sewing and designing and traveling. I witness women being great moms and wives and friends and daughters and aunts. I've looked at posts in admiration of women taking beautiful photos of their children and planning cute, carefully crafted themed birthday parties for their children.
I've viewed stories of women decorating and making over their homes. I've liked posts of women selling products, modeling clothes, demonstrating a workout routine, and making food.
I've been in awe at the women standing up for what they believe in and pouring their heart and soul into their causes. Instagram is so uplifting!
Sure, social media is often a "best of" or highlight reel and if you dive deep enough, you probably will find a dark abyss of a lot of negativity and fakeness.
But the Bible says, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Women shouldn't let anyone stop them from sharing their talents with the world.
I'll never be the type of mom who can take those cute photos of their child with all the props and signs nor will I ever throw a Pinterest party.
I'll never have the skills to design a room or refurbish a piece of furniture nor will I ever make a gourmet style meal, but I can appreciate those women who can.
When you stop comparing yourself to everyone and instead root for all those women out there, Instagram is a inspiring, beautiful place full of people just doing what they love. Isn't that what we all want?
Thanks for following me on my year-long journey of posting a blog a week.
I will still continue to do so for the time-being, but in the year to come I would like to expand a bit by posting more videos and building an email list for a monthly newsletter and then just maybe I will take a break.
A Regular's Guide to New York City
My dad was born and raised in New Jersey. I was born there too, but I left when I was 4 because we moved to my mom's hometown in West Virginia.
However, I still have family in New Jersey, so we through the years we made frequent trips there. My family lives 30 miles from NYC, so we have been to the city quite a bit.
Over the years, I have done almost every touristy thing in NYC. Awed at Times Square, walked around Rockefeller Center, visited 30 Rock, strolled through Central Park, attended Broadway Plays, gone up The Empire State Building, shopped FAO Schwarz, gone to Mets and Yankees games, rode the ferris wheel in the Toys R US, browsed Saks Fifth Avenue, explored Madame Tussauds, people watched in Washington Square Park, ridden the subway, taken the train in, eaten street meat and pizza, and toured The Statue of Liberty.
I love the City So Nice, They Named it Twice so much. I never would want to live there, but I love the people. I love their tough, resilient attitude. It's a great city full of all kinds of people. I highly suggest going there. Here are my five favorite things I have done in the city.
5. Capture the Flag
Some friends and I drove into NYC and took a ferry to Governor's Island to play Capture the Flag with hundreds of people. We dressed up in camo and paint. Only in New York City.
4. Fountain Search
This is very similar to my #1, but my cousins, brother, and I walked around the city to find famous fountains. It is always fun to leisurely walk around the City.
3. Broadway Plays
I saw Hairspray and The Drowsy Chaperone. Both were fantastic. See a play on Broadway.
2. Mets Game
I'm a big baseball fan and love the Mets. Traveling to Flushing, Queens to catch a game is the best. I love to be among the diehard fans.
1. Christmas Tree Search
I love The Amazing Race, so when my dad and uncle dropped my cousins and me off in the middle of Times Square and told us to run around the city in a certain amount of time and get pictures in front of ten famous Christmas trees, I was in my glory. NYC had just received a ton of snow, so it was wet, snowy, and cold. We had a blast running around the city like wild women. We did it in the nick of time. We even had to sprint to catch the train back home. What a rush, and I honestly felt like I was on the show.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
A month ago, dinners were full of fits, frustration, and forcing food down our toddler’s mouth. Mealtimes turned into meltdowns and tabletime turned into tears.
Toddler eating wasn’t going well for us. So like anything that doesn’t go well in my life, I turned to the experts and read books and scoured Instagrams. If this is you, and you want a change, keep reading. If you rather laugh at the craziness that is toddlertum, read how we used to get a toddler to eat instead.
In my search for some answers, I found one book and one Instagram page that I really liked, "What to Feed Your Baby” and Kids Eat In Color. I put some of their methods to the test, and here are six strategies that worked for us.
1. Establish roles for the parents and children.
Our baby used to everything. He ate veggies, fruit, yogurt, meat, and grains.
Then, one day he did not eat all that. It was frustrating as a parent. We made up games and tricks to shovel bite after bite into his unassuming mouth.
He soon grew accustomed to our ploys and would whip his head to the side at the last moment leaving food to fly everywhere. Meals ended in one big mess and little food actually having been eaten.
As a mother, I always assumed that it was my duty to make sure my child ate a well-balanced meal no matter the cost. I assumed wrong.
In her book, author and pediatrician, Tanya Altmann, outlines the roles for the parents and children when it comes to eating. The parents’ role is to provide their child with a well-balanced meal. The child’s role is to eat. That’s it. The child doesn’t control what is for dinner. The parent doesn’t control how much and what the child eats. The food is simply served to the child, and the parents has to let go.
After reading this, our stress levels dipped and mealtime became more relaxed. We offered a variety of food at dinner, usually what we were eating, and sat back.
We didn’t stare wide-eyed at our son willing him to eat. We didn’t force feed spoonfuls into his mouth. We didn’t play tricks and do a song and a dance to get him to take one measly bite.
No, instead we gave him his plate and let him do his job once our job was finished. If he ate two bites, ok. If he ate ten bites, good. If he finished the whole plate, great. When he announced he was done, he was done.
Meals are much more enjoyable now that we have established roles. When we stay in our lane and do our job, we usually have a happier, well-fed baby than when we tried to do his job. Set up roles, rules, and boundaries, and you’ll get your serene suppers back in no time.
2. Serve a variety of foods.
This strategy has helped a lot. We used to serve our son exactly what we were having. We still do, but now that he is developing a dislike for some textures and mixtures (Why is this dish all mixed together, Mommy?!), we have been making sure he has veggies, meat, and a starch at dinner with fruit and cheese as an option if he is showing a disdain for the main meal.
Having options does not mean that you, the parent, should make a whole other meal if the first one goes untouched.
Nope, your job is to serve one meal with variety, and if your child doesn’t eat during the designated meal time (more on that later), he doesn’t eat until the next meal time.
That doesn’t mean you should starve your child. It just means use your best judgment and don’t feel like you have to overturn your cabinets and raid your refrigerator to concoct a meal your child will eat.
This simple strategy has saved our sanity when it comes to cooking and meal planning.
3. Set up toddler time zones.
Dr. Altmann uses the term “toddler time zones” in her book, and I think it is genius. The idea is to have a time zone for each meal and snack instead of one long trail of nibbling and grazing on food.
Before, it seemed as if our child was mostly snacking instead of eating his meals. Now, our child has a balance of both.
A time zone is a stretch of time in which the meal or snack is offered.
For example, if our child wakes up at 7:00 AM, breakfast is served anywhere from 7:30 AM - 8:30 AM. Snack would be offered anywhere from 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM. Lunch 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM. Snack 1:30 PM-2:30 PM or later depending on the nap schedule. Then, dinner 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM followed by a before bedtime snack if applicable.
You can adjust the times to best fit to your lifestyle. Just remember to allow a break between time zones.
And like anything with toddlers, remember flexibility, not rigidness, is your friend. If your child doesn’t eat right away at 7:30 AM, try again at a later time in the time zone.
Also, if your child is begging and pleading for food outside the range of the timezone, it doesn’t mean you have to deny and starve him.
The time zones are put in place to prevent all day snacking and full stomachs at mealtimes. At each meal, our child is more likely to be ready to eat, and so far, we have seen success.
4. Make mealtimes at the table.
We really strive to do both mealtimes and snack times at the table while we are eating too. Experts agree that sitting down together as a family encourages toddlers to eat.
Of course things come up, and sometimes snacks have to be on the go. That’s okay!
However, aim to have those larger meals sitting down at the table. Snacks aren’t always the same thing I eat, but breakfasts, lunch, and dinner are roughly the same; otherwise, our son grasps at what we are eating the whole time, and we end up just feeding that to him anyway.
This is really a simple step that has changed the way our toddler eats.
5. Keep it short.
KISS. Keep it short, stupid. That’s for sure. Meals, especially dinners, seemed to drag on forever as we kept persuading and begging our toddler to eat more even after he was long finished and had enough.
Now, after 10 minutes or so, and he’s announced he’s done, we let him get down while Mommy and Daddy finish eating. Anything under 10, and we do our best to encourage him to continue eating or at least sit and join us for a meal.
Toddlers are active creatures. 10 minutes is an ample amount of time to eat at the table. You can buy fun timers from Amazon to let your child know how long he has to remain at the table.
Nevertheless, if our son does decide to get down from the table, it doesn’t mean he has free reign to disrupt Mommy and Daddy’s dinnertime.
You should set rules and boundaries surrounding mealtimes. Once we did, we all enjoyed a nice, peaceful dinner.
6. Buy fun utensils.
Jennifer Anderson, founder of Kids Eat in Color, advertises fun utensils and plates on her Instagram page. She advises that buying fun and creative silverware will make mealtime more enjoyable and playful for toddlers.
We searched Amazon and found a construction set that our son absolutely loves These utensils make good toddler gift ideas that aren't another plastic toy.
Instead of simply eating his meal, he is now shoveling, dumping, and pushing food around and into his mouth on his construction plate with his dump truck and bulldozer fork and spoon.
Mealtime is now a blast, and we have a blast watching him.
SHOP some of my favorites from Amazon now.
I really hope these strategies help you and your family make mealtime more mundane and less memorable for its mess and mayhem. These are 6 simple steps that you can start changing today. Bon appétit!
I also go into depth what to do when your child won't eat in my parenting guide Now What? Mindful Checklists for Life's Hard Parenting Moments. You can try for free below.
A Woman's Guide to Charleston
This southern city on the coast of South Carolina is full of charm and history. It boasts of food, sun, churches, homes, and activities.
I was fortunate that in my pre-kid days that my friend, Michelle, lived in Charleston while I was living in Raleigh.
was able to visit her on quite a few occasions. We also had my friend Kara's bachelorette party there. It is on my bucket list to the do the Bridge Run.
She put together a list of some of her favorite things, and I added in mine as well.
Durham, North Carolina is right in my backyard, and makes up one of the cities in the Triangle - Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
I like to hate and say Raleigh is better, but that is highly debatable in the last few years as the Bull City is expanding, developing, and evolving into a hip, vibrant city for the whole family. We always enjoy going to the American Tobacco Campus to dine and catch a Durham Bulls game.
I don't get to this city as often as I like, so I asked three resident experts to help me out. My friends, Stephanie and Kent, live in the city and have first-hand experience of traversing across the town.
My other friend, Mindy, lives in Cary, but she's always in the know of what restaurants, breweries, and bars are good. Read on for their top recommendations.
Breweries and Bars
I have been a teacher for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for 9 years now. A common question I got was if I would teach my child sign language. I always replied with a hearty, “Of course.” I wanted to pass my love for the visual language down to my offspring.
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to just teach my kids sign language because I happened to make a career out of it. There are many benefits to teaching children to sign from a young age. Hopefully, after reading these reasons, you’ll want to reap the same rewards from American Sign Language (ASL) as well.
1. Sign language is another way to make connections
Babies and toddlers are growing up in a very stimulating world. They have a lot coming at them every day. Bright lights. Loud sounds. Fast-paced action. Sign language is another way for them to make connections to language.
When my son and I read a book, I point to a picture, say the word, and sign it.
When I talk, I sign key words (MORE, PLEASE, MILK, WATER, etc).
When we spell out words with his little magnet letters, I say and sign the word as well.
When we are out and about and see everyday things, I point, say, and sign what it is.
In all, he’s getting the spoken, written, picture or real-life representation, and ASL version of a word. Sometimes all at once.
Sometimes not, but either way it’s one more way for a young child to begin forming word recognition and connections. Low-hanging fruit.
2. Sign language helps with communication
Research has shown that too much screen time can cause speech delays in children, but sometimes screen time can be unavoidable in a technology driven world.
Sign Language can help. Studies have found that sign language taught at an early age can help progress speech development faster. In addition, sign language aids in easing frustrations.
Oftentimes, toddlers don’t have the words to produce what they want, but they are able to sign what they want.
Does it eliminate all whining and tantrums? No, but sign language prevents unnecessary prolonged crying.
For example, instead of whining and leaving my guessing what he wants, my son can sign when he wants to drink milk, eat food, go to sleep, get more to eat, and be all done eating. He brings me a toy he wants opened or turned on by signing please.
On the other hand, we can sign when something is “hot, no touch,” and he can repeat back by saying, “hot” and backing away.
He also can find his toy animals when we sign what they are. We can see that he is reasoning in his mind that he understands what we just signed, and he is trying to put the pieces again. Then, the lightbulb goes off, and he finds the object.
Overall, ASL combined with speech touches upon visual, auditory, and kinesthetic processing and helps store more pathways in the brain; therefore, memory becomes stronger. Again, another easy way to help in your children’s development.
3. Sign language can be discreet.
All parents have had those moments where we are out in public and our child is causing a disturbance. We hiss under our breaths, “Stop it,” but our child can’t hear us. We want more than anything for the earth to swallow us whole.
However, with sign language, I can sign STOP, NO, WAIT, HOLD without raising my voice and attracting all kinds of unwanted attention. It doesn’t work every time, but it is setting my son up for success in that I am teaching my son another way to control his behavior.
On other occasions, I can sign something to my son without causing a break in the conversation. At dinner, and I notice my son needs to take a drink? I sign WATER. My son wants me to do something? I can casually rub my upper chest for PLEASE to let him know that he needs to say that first.
Hopefully, in the future he can let me know when he has to go to the bathroom without shouting, “Poo poo or pee pee,” in a setting like church (although that would be funny). However, sign language lets you have those conversations you don’t want the world knowing.
4. Sign language is fun.
Lastly, sign language is just fun. Little kids love hand movements and gestures, and sign language is exactly that.
With it, parents and children can sign songs, nursery rhymes, and books. ASL is another fun element added on top of learning experiences. YouTube has tons of videos parents can search and what better way to spend some time with the kids.
Sign language is another resource to have in a parent’s toolkit. I can see the light in my son’s eyes when he makes a connection. I can see his frustrations melt away when I quickly recognize what he is trying to communicate. I can see my shoulders visibly relax when I avoid a public meltdown with just one sign. I see the joy he gets when I make silly faces and songs. I can see him learning and growing. And that’s why I am teaching him sign language.
Resources for Parents
Elise Tate, Mommy Influencer, creator of SignMeUp, and wife of NFL player Golden Tate, has a great starter sign resource for all parents, teachers, and caregivers wishing to teach their children or students sign language.
Her love of sign language started out as a necessity and soon turned into a passion project. After hearing the statistics that 90% of deaf children are born to parents who can hear, but up to 88% of those parents will never learn how to sign, Elise knew that she had to get her book and resources into homes and classrooms.
SignMeUp is a book/resources designed for parents to teach their children sign language. She has plans to publish a whole series of sign language books and posters as well. Her dream is to expand the books to be in all schools, doctor offices, and hospitals.
So why SignMeUp?
1. SignMeUp is easy to use.
2. SignMeUp is great for non-signers.
3. SignMeUp is a great resource.
4. SignMeUp is aesthetically pleasing and durable.
5. SignMeUp is diverse.
I grew up in Wheeling, WV, an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, so we would make frequent trips to this city. While I am an avid hater of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins (Pirates are all right), I do love the city itself. Having been to the city so much, I am simply going to list my Top 5 favorite things to do in the Steel City.
I haven't been to Sandcastle in years, so maybe it has lost its charm, but growing up, well into high school even, I absolutely loved going to this water park nestled on The Waterfront. We would spend hours riding the slides, floating in the lazy river, and nearly drowning in the wave pool. The day would always be capped off with Dippin' Dots and concession stand food. The ride home we would flow asleep while still feeling the motion of the waves. Those were the days.
4. Mom and Daughter Trips
Another fond memory growing up was when my mom and her friends would take their daughters and me on day or overnight trips to Pittsburgh. The malls near Wheeling are dismal to say the least, so we had to travel to Pittsburgh to do some real shopping. While I am not a big lover of shopping, I did enjoy those trips with the girls. We would hit up Ross Park Mall, South Hills Village Mall, or Robinson Town Centre Mall, or sometimes all three in one day. Hours were spent in Limited Too, American Eagle, Hollister, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Then, we would enjoy dinner or a show at the Benedum Center
3. Station Square
Station Square is a strip along the river where you can dine, drink, and have fun. From here, you can take a ride on the famous Inclines or Gateway Clipper. The Duquesne or Monongahela Incline take you up to Mt. Washington, which has some killer views of the city. The Gateway Clipper can take you into the city, and you can walk around The Pointe, the area where all three rivers meet.
2. The South Side
The South Side is a hip area of Pittsburgh not far from Station Square. The area had restaurants, bars, and shops, including The Cheesecake Factory and Urban Outfitters, which, growing up in WV, were novelty for my friends and me. In high school and college, we would make special trips here and would use it as an excuse to get dressed up. Going through old photo albums, I found many photo shoots from the South Side.
1. PNC Park
My absolute favorite thing to do in Pittsburgh is to see a Pittsburgh Pirates game. You don't have to be a lover of baseball to enjoy this stadium. Walking over the Roberto Clemente Walking Bridge with everyone will give you all the feels and tailgating in the parking lot will get you hyped for the game. PNC Park does it right. It has excellent views, excellent in-game entertainment (Pierogies racing after game concerts) and, excellent food (Primanti Brothers!), and excellent surrounding features (bars, restaurants, and entertainment). My family or friends would make sure we would catch at least one game every Sunday. I definitely miss being so close to such an awesome baseball stadium.
Definitely spend time enjoying this city if you ever get a chance. And even though I hate, Pittsburgh fans are diehard, so catching a Pirates, Steelers, or Penguins game is sure to be enjoyable.
Photo used under Creative Commons from does_not_travel_often