The Final Count Down…

Completely home made pb&j 

It’s hard to believe that PBandJterm is already finished. It seems like only yesterday we were setting up blogs and sending out our first tweets. I guess time flies, right?

Week three was packed full of information and guest speakers. It was a time to test the waters of our own niches, and for the most part we found that the waters were fine.

{SEO}

First up was Derek Mabie, the president of Evolve. Through his experience heading a company specializing in SEO, Derek was able to offer valuable advice to the class. Use keyword trackers, and cater to your audience he suggested. It does you no good to have the most fantastic content on the planet if no one can find it.

 

By utilizing keyword searches, bloggers and content developers can include specific triggers in headings and titles which will make their information more accessible to Google and other search engines that index sites.

 

While I had heard of SEO before, I had never found it to be relevant to my personal brand. After all, I’m the only Kirstie Hamel in the world (or at least the only one on the internet) and it takes over FIVE PAGES of Google search to find something completely unrelated to me. However, I learned that my name is not my most marketable asset. I need to optimize my posts to ensure that my blog is found by users searching for the topics I cover.

 

{Brands You Should Know}

If you’re not already a fan of Maddie and Jess from  City In A Jar, what are you waiting for?! These ladies have mastered the arena of blogging for a niche market and have been nominated by the River Front Times for a blogging award less than a year after launching.

 

Their presentation was inspiring. They decided to start a blog, got motivated, and made it happen. Jess was a PBandJterm student last year, which reinforces the fact that the lessons learned really do have real world applications.

 

Hopefully, I’ll be able to follow their blog and connect more with them in the coming months. These ladies make a dynamic team.

 

{Niche Blogging}

 

For this week’s assignment, I worked on three posts related to my homemaking niche. The Joint Checking Dilemma, Butterbeer Magic, and Teaching and Old Dog New Tricks all incorporated aspects of my life in a relatable way.

 

While I loved working on these posts, I learned that my passion for writing falls more under story telling than how-to or analytical pieces. I may be more suited to a column style. While that seems a little disheartening, I was also reminded of my love for editing. While reading through my classmates’ blogs, I discovered that I was unconsciously cataloging the changes that I would have suggested to them.

 

Perhaps my role in the future will feature behind-the-scenes work with the occasional special guest appearance. Who really knows?

 

{The End Has Arrived}

 

I enjoyed this class perhaps more than any other at Lindenwood. The community developed between the students was incredible, and I have no doubt that we will continue to grow beyond the classroom. I’m thankful to have learned so many valuable lessons, and I look forward to showing off the results in the future.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

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As any dog owner knows, there are many benefits and joys to having a four-legged friend. They love unconditionally and are comforting companions.

Mud is a lab-mix rescue that NC adopted several years ago. He has become my best friend, and I’ve since taken on responsibility for his care. When NC is away at work, Mud never leaves my side. He hangs out in the kitchen while I’m cooking and sleeps in bed with me at night.

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A few weeks ago NC decided it was time (finally) to buy a new bed. We had been using a 20 year old full size mattress, and it was far beyond worn out. So, we journeyed out and bought a queen sized foam mattress and comforter set. I chose a silky comforter, and warned NC before we left the store that Mud would no longer be allowed on the bed.  

{The Process}

As soon as the bed was set up and the new comforter in place, I shooed Mud out of the room and closed the door. My theory was that if I eliminated his access, I could prevent the problem.

My mistake was in assuming that NC and I would remember to close the door every time we left the bedroom. Unfortunately, we’re both busy people and creatures of habit. When you live with doors open for years, it’s harder than you would think to start closing them.

For the first two weeks we mostly kept up with it. There were a few cases in which we forgot, but for the most part we kept Mud in whichever room we were in.

Gradually, I started leaving the door open more often. Whenever Mud left the room I checked on him. If I caught him on the bed I scolded him with a firm “No,” and sent him back out to the living room.

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NC gives Mud everything. They’ve been together for years, and he treats him more like a friend than a pet. Every time I kicked Mud out of the bedroom or tried to discipline him I was met with protest.

“He’s just a lonely dog. He misses his room.”

“Poor little guy, he’s so abused!”

I couldn’t imagine a dog with an easier life. He has his own room complete with his own bed for crying out loud! (It’s the guest room, but we never have sleepover guests.)

Should he decide not to sleep on the bed in his room, he has free reign over the couch and two doggie beds. Must be rough.

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Despite his protests, I kept up with my training and Mud no longer jumped on the bed. I could chalk that up as success. Old dogs can learn new rules after all.

As J-Term approached, I was confident that my training would stick, even though I would be away at school for four days of the week. I would miss Mud and NC, but I wasn’t worried.

{The Result}

The first Friday in January I sped home after class. When I walked through the door, neither NC nor Mud were there to greet me. Unusual. Even if NC is busy in the office, Mud always meets me at the door with tail wagging and love.

Confused, I went searching for them.

I found them in bed watching TV.

As soon as he saw me, NC looked at Mud. “Run! She’s gonna be angry!”

Mud scampered out of the room.

I left for 4 days and all of my training went straight down the drain. It turns out as soon as I left the house NC had allowed Mud back on the bed.

So much for preserving the quality of my new comforter.

I learned a valuable lesson here. If NC and I ever have kids, I’ll never be allowed to leave the house if I expect them to retain any sort of discipline, and I’ll never again choose to buy an expensive comforter.

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Butterbeer Magic

It’s time that I made a confession:

{I’m a Harry Potter fan}

I waited in line at midnight to buy the books and see the movies, and I cried like a little kid when the final movie was released last year. If I ever get time away from school and work, I would love to visit the them park at Universal Studios in Orlando. Unfortunately, I have prescious little free time, so for now I’ll have to make due with my own version of a HP classic: Butterbeer!

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This drink is warm, sweet, and deliscious. There are countless versions floating around on the internet, but I believe that only the simplest ingredients can make a treat to rival any of the difficult versions. My demonstrations are made on a stovetop, but the recipe can just as easily be produced in a single-serving, microwaveable format.

{Ingredients}

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Butterscotch topping
  • Cream soda

For this demo I used Smucker’s Ice Cream topping, but in previous trials I melted butterscotch chips and they worked just as well.

You also don’t need to use the expensive cream soda. Walmart and grocery stores often sell in-house brands which cost very little. I used IBC so that I could have the glass bottles for another upcoming project.

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{Melting Down}

To get started, place the butter in your pan and begin to melt on low.

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Next, add about half of the jar of butterscotch (3/4 C.) and increase to medium heat.

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Bring the combination to a boil for three minutes. Make sure to stir so the butterscotch does not stick to the sides.

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Next, remove the pan from the heat a evenly distribute the mix into two glasses.

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Before the butterscotch can cool, fill the remainder of each glass with cream soda.

Careful! The drink will fizz excessively, and you don’t want to make a sticky mess all over the counter.

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There you have it! Butterbeer that anyone can enjoy. If you’re not a complete HP nerd like I am, you can still enjoy the drink as a warm alternative to hot chocolate on cold winter nights. Personally, I like to enjoy a glass while sitting by the fire.

{Microwave Alternative}

Want an even easier recipe? Divide the butter and butterscotch into two glasses. Microwave each for 1 minute, 30 seconds (stirring every 30 seconds) or until bubbling. Remove from the microwave and pour in the soda. Voila, the fastest recipe you’ve ever made!

{Side Dish}

If Butterbeer wasn’t enough, this deliscious pumpkin dip is a perfect side snack. Three ingredients make a light, whipped dip that tastes wonderful with graham crackers.

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{Ingredients}

  • 1 can of pumpkin
  • 1 packet of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 8oz container of Cool Whip

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Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

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It’s almost too easy, but there you are. Refridgerate and serve with graham cracker sticks at your next gathering, or when you just have the munchies.

The Joint Checking Dilemma

Money

{Background}

There is a scene in my favorite movie, Sweet Home Alabama, where Jake (Josh Lucas) comes home to find that his recently returned wife, Melanie (Reese Witherspoon), has redecorated his house and replaced all of his furniture, food, and décor.

The scene includes a married couple, but it gives some idea of what happens when a relationship is failing and money is involved.

Jake: Whatever blows your dress up darlin’. You go right ahead and spend your money.

Melanie: Oh but darlin’, I thought you said we should think of it as our money? Just a guess, but I’m thinking the words “joint checking” are flashing into your head right now?

Situation and film exaggeration aside, whether or not to use a joint checking account is a decision faced by couples. It may seem like a good idea, but as Reese Witherspoon demonstrates, that’s not always the case.

{Cohabitation}

So, you’ve decided to live together. You’re splitting bills, sharing food, and investing in furniture. While it’s an exciting time in your relationship it is important to remember not to rush into any financial decisions.

You might be tempted to combine your money into a single account. After all, you’re splitting all of your bills equally, right? Wrong. Unmarried couples have a variety of expenses that do not affect their partners.

  • Student Loans
  • Car Payment
  • Credit Card Debt
  • Insurance
  • Clothing
  • Recreation
  • And so much more…

Personally, I don’t know anyone who is willing to freely contribute to paying off a partner’s previously incurred debt.

Additionally, 40% of cohabitating couples break up within the first five years. When there’s no legally binding agreement to stay together, couples are far less likely to work out problems and stay together. It’s much easier to move out than to get a divorce. Separating finances in this event can get messy. Should you split everything evenly? Base it on the percentage contributed? My tip: skip the drama and keep your money separate.

While couples who live together are likely to have similar incomes, both partners will not be making equal contributions or have equal outside expenses. Save yourself the fight.

{Compromise}

Is it going to be difficult to use joint accounts while cohabitating? Yes. Can you make it work? Yes.

Create a “Bills Account”: This is an account specifically designated for paying bills including rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, neighborhood fees, etc. When the bills roll in each month, each partner deposits half (or whatever amount you agree on) into the account. This account is not used for other purposes, and it is up to each partner to budget and insure that they have enough to contribute each month.

Take it one step further: If you’re both responsible enough (and you should be if you’re living together) you can also use the joint account for specific joint purchases. This is food, household items, furniture, etc. Make sure that each person is contributing equally, and that your purchases from this account fall within the guidelines you create together.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you keep the majority of your finances separate. Build a savings account and keep a checking account for personal purchases and emergencies.

Personal Note: Having guidelines and saving recipts may seem like you’re expecting the relationship to fail. Understand that you’re really only protecting yourself if things happen to not work out. It’s a little like signing a prenuptial agreement.

NC and I have an agreement about our finances. We share a phone plan (which he pays for) and divide expenses for food, household items, and pet care. When a bigger item comes into play we save receipts. Our arrangement outlines who gets what should we break up. It also includes how our phone bill would be paid, etc.

I do not expect that we will break up, but we’re young and there are no guarantees. I’m happy to know that we’re each protected, just in case.

{My Advice}

Whether or not to use joint accounts is a decision not to be taken lightly. Talk to your partner and establish guidelines and expectations. Be open and honest. You don’t have to hand over your paycheck, but your significant other should have an idea of what you can expect to contribute. You can’t live a six figure life on a $12, 000 budget. If you’re not comfortable talking about money, you probably have no business living together in the first place.

In the end, no one can tell you what will work for your circumstances and relationship. Be realistic and understand that you should hope for the best but be prepared for the worst where money is concerned.

Two Down…

Two Down…

 

What’s that? Another week of J-Term is complete? It seems like the week flew by. Through more Twitter engagement, LinkedIn practice, and finding a niche, the PBandJterm class has continued to bond and build more effective personal brands.

 

LinkedIn is the social network for professionals. It acts as a connector between colleagues, peers, and friends.

 

Setting up an account requires slightly more detail than the usual social network . The goal, essentially, is to build an online resume which is connected to other professionals. That means that LinkedIn has space allotted for employment history, education, and web presence information.

 

Tips: Grow your network. Make connections with anyone you’ve worked or had relations with in the past. Every person you come in contact with is a potential open door to an infinite number of future connections.

 

Have a professional headshot. As presenter Nick Gilham pointed out, when looking at profile pages, eye tracking software demonstrates that the profile photo is a prominent focal point. Unlike Facebook, a LinkedIn photo should not include a bottle of booze or revealing clothing. Just use common sense when making the choice.

 

Include personal messages in requests. Always, always, always send a personal message along with a connection request. This gives the impression that you genuinely care about the person receiving the message, and you are more likely to make a good impression and build connections.

 

Finding a Niche:

 

Every brand needs a niche, or specific area of focus, on which to build a following. It’s not enough to be just a universal blogger. You can’t be good at anything if you focus too much on everything. Success will occur more for those who focus a lot of attention on a narrow field.

 

Thursday’s class consisted of niche proposals. Within the room the variety ranged from from crafts to relationships to fishing.

 

Each person became fully engaged with his or her topic. The blog posts coming in the next week are bound to be inspiring to read.

Homemaking 101

I just want to be a young Martha Stewart. Without the insider trading and prison time.  

 

Want to learn more? Today’s Prezi, Homemaking 101, is available for viewing.

Enjoy!

Spring Into The Next Semester

 J-Term is half way over, which means it’s time to start reorganizing for the spring semester. I find that nothing gives me new energy like a clean, organized room.

 

I only live at LU three days a week, so I don’t like to spend a lot of money to spruce up my space. Use what you have and buy only what you must.

 

Organizing:

 

The problem with dorm life is that it limits the ammount of space you have and the furniture on which you can put things. The trick here is to use every bit of space you’re given. Have your bed raised to its maximum height and use the space below for storage. No shelf should go unused in a dorm.

 

Make sure your organization designates a specific space for sleep and study. In LUL classes it’s taught that studing and sleeping in the same spot causes insomnia and restless sleep. It sounds like a bunch of bull, but once I tried sitting at a desk to do homework, I discovered for myself that it’s true.

 

My desk holds all of my craft supplies as well as my “Inspiration Book”. The supplies that don’t fit are contained in a storage box off to the side.

 

Like every other surface, the storage bin has decorative elements.

 

On top I placed a few books and a momento box. While this is nothing special, it improves the view and didn’t cost anything to add.

 

Organised as always, the insides of the drawers are separated by the types of projects the contents are used for. The top is artistic, the middle is crafts, and the bottom is fabric.

  

 

 

Decoration:

For the walls, I mixed personal art, purchased pieces, and photographs.

 

Wall art is tricky. There is an infinate number of ways in which to structure the layout. Personally, I like a mixture of plain wall and images. It makes the color stand out and keeps the room from becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eyes.

 

Also worth noting is the spacing of the art. Make sure that if you sit up in bed you won’t be leaning on a painting or knocking down photos. I sit againts the headboard, so I left the plaque on that wall higher than the others. I also left room for myself to roll against the long wall while sleeping.

 

Closet:

Finally, the most difficult organizational challenge of all!

There is a fairly universally accepted rule that we wear about 20% of the clothing we own 80% of the time. That means the the majority of the stuff hanging there is just taking up space. Lucky for you, there are ways to remedy the situation. Make sure all of your hangers are facing the same direction. Then, every time you wear an item turn the hanger around so the hook is facing the opposite way. Keep this up for at least three weeks, and you’ll be amazed at how many times you default to the same outfits.

 

Once you’ve determined what you actuall wear, get rid of everything else. Donate it if you can, and toss out those items that are just beyond use. The same rule applies for shoes. If you’re not wearing them, they have no business in your tiny dorm room closet.

 

You can then order your newly minimized wardrobe in the order that works best for you. Some people choose by color or season. My closet is organized by type of item. The dresses are together, dress shirts, sweatshirts, etc. all have groups.

Make use of the top shelf if you have one. Mine holds my suitcase and purses.

 

Check it out, you now have a fresh start for spring! Hopefully these tips are helpful. I’d love to hear what steps you are taking to reorganize your own lives, so write in and let me know of any tips or suggestions I should be including.

Keep Calm and Carry On

This week’s project was an exercise in the importance of always having a backup plan.

 

When I started planning this post, I wanted to focus on organizational tips for college students on a budget. Unfortunately, my single room is currently playing host to several extra pieces of furniture so I was unable to make it work.

 

My plan B, also a space-saving craft, met failure at every turn. Not to be discouraged, I’m in the process of salvaging it and you can look forward to a post by the end of the week.

 

Thus, we arrive at plan C- decorative accents. As most who know me can testify, I am a big believer that it is the little things that make you stand out. The same idea applies to decorating. It’s important to add whimsical, personal aspects to your room.

 

Take this desk for example. Nothing special about it. Every resident student at LU has the same one. What they dont have, is your personality.

 

The first step is to evaluate your space. How much physical room do you have? Are there specific items that you must leave space for? In my case, the dresser also serves as my nightstand, so I have to designate space for a lamp and my phone. Easy? For sure.

 

Next consider your color scheme or theme of your room. This is another topic I strongly believe is important for standing out in college. If you have a roommate you may want to coordinate colors to create a sense of harmony. If you’re like me, you can just choose whatever you want. My colors are teal, dark blue, and lime green, so I try to keep that in mind as much as possible.

 

Then evaluate when you will be using or looking at the space. Is it something you will only pay attention to in the mornings? Will you see it anytime you walk in the room? My dresser is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning. Therefore I wanted to choose items that are both fun and valuable to me.

 

There are five important items to include: 

 

1. The Necessary. This is your alarm clock, cell phone charger, or a lamp. Keep it simple and use only what you must.

 

2. The Personal. This is something close to your heart. I chose a picture of myself with NC, but this could just as easily be a photo of my family or a momento of some kind.

 

 

3. The Motivational. This can be an inspirational quote, song lyrics, or anything else that gives you the energy to get moving. I use my “Keep Calm and Carry On” board to remind myself to stay focused on the positives in my life.

 

4. The Decorative. This is something without a purpose other than appearance. I used these nifty sequins balls I made. It doesn’t have to be big or impressive. I personally like to use handmade items for this element.

 

 

5. The Original. This is something that reflects your personality and passions. It could be a football, painting, or anything else that you have laying around in your room. These glitter pumps are occasionally used, but most often sit atop my dresser as a girly touch.

 

 

If you take away anything from this post, I hope it is the importance of understanding that Plan A may not always work. In crafts, as in life, flexibility is crucial.

One Down…

After a successful first week of Creating and Managing Your Online Personal Brand I am now more prepared to enter the world of Web 2.0 with confidence and begin building a successful personal brand.

 

All of the topics and activities combined personal experience with the knowledge of the social media savvy to develop open communication and interactive lessons.

 

Personally, I’m not usually a great participator in class discussions. I prefer to listen and learn rather than add my opinion unless it’s relevant. This week I got involved through Twitter and class, and I must say I learned a lot.

 

You Should Know…

Twitter– Communication in 140 characters or less. Twitter is the hot social medium in 2012. It’s strengths are its useability, connectivity, and lack of privacy controversies.

 

Twitter uses a basic layout which allows even those who are not necessarily tech savvy to use it. Profiles are limited to a short description, and there are no photo albums to manage.

 

The networking possibilities of Twitter are nearly endless. You can follow people you know personally, celebrities, or authorities on any topic. Hashtags (#) allow users to join global conversations and develop credibility among the community.

 

Finally, Twitter, unlike other SM outlets (sorry, Facebook), is primarily free from privacy scandals. The goal of Twitter is to share with others and build connections, so privacy is not necessarily a desired option. However, Twitter does allow users to restrict their tweets to followers if they choose.

 

Synopsis and Objective- Another goal of the week was the development of a synopsis and objective, both of which are valuable tools in brand promotion.

 

The synopsis is a short statement which is intended to capture the essence of the subject and promote interest among readers. The trick when writing a synopsis it to utilize valuable keywords without sounding too much like a vocabulary lesson.

 

Personally I’m not an advocate of the objective statement. The objective typically declares the type of work the subject would like to do and why. In the same form as the synopsis, it is meant to be short and to the point. The issue I find is that this is often limiting and may cause employers to overlook potential hires as a result.

 

The synopsis and objective are useful when creating a resume or profile. You can check out mine here.

 

Brand Personality– The perception others have of your brand is its personality. This perception is the result of a multitude of aspects. Physical appearance, manner of speech or writing, vocabulary, and online presence are all factors.

 

Something to consider is that every time you interact with the public in any capacity you are making a brand statement. I believe this gets lost in the social media world. No matter how strict your privacy setting may be, every comment you make or photo you post is available to the world.

 

It is crucial to evaluate the potential consequences of everything you say or do.

 

A quick way to evaluate brand personality is to gather comments from readers or peers. You can also review your own postings to evaluate yourself.

 

SEO– Search Engine Optimization is crucial. If you’re not using it, start now. I’m fortunate enough to be the only person in the world with my first and last name combination. That means when I Google my name, everything on the first page leads directly back to my blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LindenLink articles.

 

Unfortunately, most people will find that others share their name who may appear first. This can be combatted through tagging, categorizing, and actively promoting your brand.

 

Want mire information about maximizing your SEO? Check out this article from Search Engine Watch.

 

Networking– Once you’ve gotten a start on Twitter and blogging, you can start networking. Follow as many people as you can, read blogs, and above all start conversations! You never know when a Twitter acquaintance may be the one to set you up with a future job.

 

Let’s Talk Passion…

Unlike those who have always known where they wanted to go in life, I have only very recently found something that I am truly passionate about.

 

I have talents and interests, but overall none of them were cause for great inspiration. I once wanted to be a teacher, but found the classroom structure and new requirements limiting. I considered writing, but my strengths are of the academic variety, and unfortunately there is little left to write about history that has not already been written. So, where does that leave me?

 

I mentioned in my last post that I moved to a new house last summer. I spent two months doing nothing but decorating, organizing, and cooking.

 

That’s when it hit me. I was taking something I loved and putting it to practical use. While I will likely spend a long time laying the groundwork, I eventually hope to lead a homemaking empire to rival that of Martha Stewart.

 

If you’re going to dream, dream big.

 

Ideally, I will be able to use the valuable lessons of PBandJterm to maximize my brand awareness and emerge as a professional in an industry filled with hopefuls.

 

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