5 Tips for Starting a Newsletter

I launched my newsletter in mid-December, so when it comes to newsletters, I am by no means an expert! However, if you're looking for someone who is working through the process in real time, I'm the blogger for you. If you're wanting to launch your own newsletter, here are a few tips, from one newbie to another. 

1. Pick a platform you know. 

I was very lucky that I knew how to use an email platform previously. Mailchimp was what I had experience in and even though I know there are actually better platforms out there, I went with Mailchimp simply because I knew it was easy to use. If you don't have experience with email platforms, I highly recommend doing a little research beforehand, watching a few videos, and knowing what you're getting into! 

2. Stick with a schedule. 

Pick a schedule to start with--nothing too strict. Once a month, or every other week. Put those dates on your calendar and start a document with topics so you're never scrambling at the last minute. I've signed up for a few new newsletters and ended up getting inundated with emails in the first two weeks--bloggers get excited about their newsletter and end up sending out a ton of them early on. Not only is that really annoying for subscribers, but you'll end up getting exhausted at the amount of work you're putting in! 

3. Don't expect instant success. 

Here's the thing: it will take a while to get into a groove with writing newsletters. It's important to remember that it will not only take time to build your subscription list, but it will also take time to write newsletters that people really want to read. Focus on writing great content and figuring out what your readers want first--not necessarily on being instantly successful! 

4. Promote (of course). 

Funny thing, but you've got to promote your newsletter! I have sign ups on my blog, but I also tweet a link to sign up at least every few days. Encourage your friends to sign up and to share it on social media as well. Promotion is the only way you'll get anywhere, so don't just set it and forget it! 

5. Have fun

Listen, it's not the end of the world if you launch a newsletter and it ends up falling flat! Most importantly, just have fun. Send the newsletter that you would be excited to see in your inbox; write the things you want to see. When you are passionate and having fun, it will resonate with people! 

And of course, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter, sent out every other Wednesday, here!

5 Tips for Last Minute Holiday Parties

Danny and I don't throw a lot of parties. Living so far outside of a town, we don't have company over very often. When we do, it often feels very last minute: we'll get a text from a friend, or a cousin, or maybe even a brother, and then they'll be at our house. We always try to have something ready--bread in the freezer, something we can throw in the oven, or snacks we can put out. 

For the holidays, it's nice to throw the occasional holiday party. But if you're like me, you forget until the last minute--say, two or three days before and suddenly you remember you have a bunch of people coming over. And they expect food and maybe drinks. 

Here are a few ideas for making any last holiday parties a hit. 

1. Offer easy, do-it-yourself food and drinks. 

My favorites are mimosa bars (a variety of juices and champagne), bagel bars (a few varieties of bagel, two varieties of cream cheese, and some toppings), or baked potato bars (if you're looking for a heartier option). This way, you can just set everything up and that's it. Offer plates, napkins, and that's it. Less work for you and more fun for everyone else. 

2. Minimize clean up by buying what you can. 

Prime example: if you're having a bagel bar at a New Year's Day brunch, don't make your own flavored cream cheese. Bless, it'd be nice, but it's not worth it. Buy the little tubs of flavored cream cheese. Buy dessert items to stack on a tray if you're already making a dinner, or buy the appetizers. Pick the thing you want to make and then cut yourself some slack on the rest. 

3. Keep the decor simple. 

Here are a few ideas for simple decor ideas. My favorite is filling a glass vase with holiday ornaments. There are plenty of ways to make your space a little prettier for a holiday party fast: clean it up, get it organized, and then have one or two cute pieces. 

4. Light a candle.

Get the house smelling like Christmas. I'm talking a Kitchen Spice or Tis the Season scented candles from Bath & Body Works. Something that smells like you've been baking up a storm. It will make your house feel homey and inviting. Perfect for the holiday season. 

5. Relax.

You don't living in Martha Stewart's magazine. Really. You don't. It's ok if you didn't get the kitchen totally decluttered; it's ok if you didn't get a chance to make the entire party look Pinterest worthy. We don't live in magazine editorials. We live in the real world. And your friends and family will probably love you even if the cream cheese is still in the tub you bought it in or you didn't decant the orange juice into a fancy container. It's fine. Celebrate!  

The Worst Advice I've Ever Received

Last week, I wrote about the best advice I've ever received. I thought I'd also share the flip side: the worst advice I've ever received. 

We all receive different kinds of advice every day (or maybe it's just me and Forrest!) and some of it is just plain awful. For me, bad advice often falls into 3 separate types. Here they are: 

1. Telling me what to do and not following up with why

This happens a shocking amount with Forrest. Here's the thing: I'm a rule follower. Tell me a rule and explain why and I will follow that rule for the rest of my life. (A few examples: No soda before 11pm; no eating after 7pm; no swimming after eating; etc.) It may be wrong or it may be right, but I will follow it. But I also hate being told what to do with no explanation. So suggesting I take a specific action with my job or with Forrest and then not telling me why--or when I ask for an explanation, just being told, "just try it!"--is supremely annoying. It's also bad. 

2. Negging on what I'm already doing

"Listen," you say, leaning forward, "I know you decided to do THIS, but I really think you should do THIS... I know it's been, like, 2 months, but I think it's better." 

Gee, thanks! Here's the thing: when I decided what I'm going to do, I want to see it to the end. I don't care if your uncle's brother's best friend's sister's dog did the same thing and ended up dead or something. I just want to try and forge my own path. I'm an adult. If it's not working, I think I can make that decision on my own.  

3. Giving me advice I did not ask for

Whenever someone on Facebook posts a photo of their, usually quite young, baby in a car seat, usually while their parents blearily wander through a store or wait at a doctor's office, I brace myself for what will inevitably come. Someone sees an innocent photo, cracks their knuckles, and begins to type. Listen, whether you think a baby's car seat straps are wrong or they shouldn't be wearing a hoodie or that they shouldn't be in a doctor's office, with germs everywhere, it's none of your business. So keep it to yourself. 

Bad advice has happened to the best of us. What's your least favorite type? 

The Best Advice I've Ever Received

Sometimes, people give me advice when I don't ask for it. We've all had that experience, right? I'm going about my business, I share something about my life, and bam! Advice! How I should be living my life or things I need to do to right what is clearly wrong with me. 

Sometimes, it's bad advice. Sometimes, it's really bad actually. An example: being told I just need to find little ways to cheer up when I have postpartum depression is very bad advice. 

However, sometimes people give really good advice. Like really good advice. I thought I'd gather up the best advice I've ever received and share it. 

1. "You make mistakes and you learn. Otherwise, how will you know what to do in the future?"

The only reason I know right from wrong, really, is because I've done wrong in the past and learned from it. When my mom was driving me to the hospital to be induced, she told me this: "you're going to make mistakes." It's really freeing to be told that and to go forward with it: to know that I was going to do things the wrong way for Forrest, but that ultimately, it will be okay. I can make mistakes, and then I can move forward with new information to do better next time. 

2. Use Psychology Today to find a therapist or counselor. 

This is a piece of advice I actually got from a true crime/murder podcast. Seriously, I'm not joking. One of the best things I've learned from my favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder, is PsychologyToday. It's an easy way to find therapists and counselors in your area. For me, the process of finding a new, or available, counselor is super overwhelming--but it's so easy to just search online. Best piece of advice I've ever gotten from Karen and Georgia--besides staying sexy and not getting murdered. 

3. You don't know what you don't know.

This is another piece of advice from a podcast. I started listening to Food Psych, a podcast about body positivity, body image, and eating disorders. "You don't know what you don't know" is a phrase that's often repeated. Sometimes, when people talk about their food issues, it goes back to childhood--I know it does for me too. This can have a number of problems including: 1) making your parents feel guilty for things they did (like not letting you eat sugar during the week), 2) making you become paranoid about the choices you make for your child, and 3) making you feel like it's your parents fault. Realistically, though, Christy, the woman behind Food Psych, always says, "You don't know what you don't know." Your parents did the best they could with the information they had, basically, and unless they were being purposefully abusive, which is rarely, it's not something that you can consider faulty. Eventually, you have to let go of being afraid or feeling blameful and accept that you don't know what you don't know--but once you do, you can do better. 

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

4 Pieces of Parenting Advice I Actually Don't Need (Thanks)

When you become a parent, suddenly, everyone wants to talk to you about what they did right--and exactly what you're doing wrong. It was probably one of the most annoying things about when Forrest was little. Sometimes, I asked for advice because I genuinely needed it ("What should I do if he won't stop screaming at me??" Answer: give gripe water, pray to whatever gods you believe in that it works) and sometimes, I just needed someone to say, "Been there, it sucks, I know." 

You know what no need parent needs? To be told what to do. To be told that they're doing wrong. 

So here it is, the 4 pieces of parenting advice you should leave on the cutting room floor. If you find yourself uttering any of these phrases, please take a good hard look in the mirror. 

1. "When I have kids..." 

I'm going to stop you right there. You don't have kids. Hold onto your pants, buckaroo, I've got some news: you will regret every word that comes after this phrase when you do actually have children. I said stuff like this myself and I was wrong. I was so wrong. So just don't say it because you don't know what you're talking about. Sorry (not really). 

2. "Have you tried [all organic/non-GMO formula]?" 

This phrase usually comes after you say something like, "my son's formula is making him spit up a bit." Immediately, my (very well-meaning friends) ask me if I've thought of buying super expensive European formulas (which you have to ship from France). Or if I've thought about switching to non-GMO, organic formula that also costs a buttload more than normal formula?  

Here's the thing: I know what all those words mean. If super expensive, fancy, weird measurement European formula is your bag, it's your bag. Whatever. I'm not gonna do it because none of those things have anything to do with actual, real life, child feeding issues. I'm also not going to buy non-GMO formula that is $10 more expensive than the other formula and doesn't come in refill packs. It's the exact same formula as the other box. 

Because none of those things are ever related to a kids issues. I promise. 

3. "Oh but did you try..." 

When I finally gave up the breastfeeding ghost, again, very well-meaning friends asked me things like, "Oh but did you try visiting a lactation consultant?" and "Oh, but did you Google other holds to try?" 

If you ever find yourself uttering this phrase to someone, please consider how it sounds. I had made my decision. I knew what was best for me. I didn't need one more reminder that people thought I was giving up easy, that I was just whiny and thought it was "too hard." Don't say this to new moms. Don't say this kinda stuff to me. Stop. 

4. "You'll miss them when they're this small!"

Here's the thing about newborns: they kinda suck. I miss Forrest being teeny tiny, but I'm also so glad he's not teeny tiny. He was so much fun post-3 months. He gets incrementally more fun with each passing week. The newborn days were fun because he didn't move and was very snuggly, but a lot of other stuff was going on that made them pretty unpleasant. Stop saying this. It's bad. 

A Letter to My Past Self

Hey past Michelle. In your world, it's maybe 2012, 2013. You're not doing so hot right now, but that's ok. I don't want to make you panic or anything, but you're about to embark on a 18-month journey that is, shockingly, worse than the last 18 months. I know, I know, you probably don't believe that, but it's true. 

Here's the light at the end of the rainbow though: things will get better. Like, way better. Like, really good. You get married (which is great) really soon, but it takes a while for things to be... ok. Then you get a new job, then another new job, then another new job. Then you have a baby! It's all pretty great. The baby is pretty great. 

I just want to tell you a few things I've learned. What's the point of writing a letter to my past self if I can't share what I've learned? I wish I could have told myself these things then, but I couldn't. 

Stand up for yourself. 

Stop being a doormat! It's in your nature (and my nature, really) to just let people steamroll over what you think, because it's easier. The path of least resistance has been your M.O. for a long time. Stop it. Just stop. Stand up for yourself. Stop crying every day before (and after) work; stop getting anxious every time you see an authority figure. 

Keep writing. 

You're going to stop writing. I can't pin a date on it exactly, but at some point, you'll look up and realize, oh crap, I haven't written in forever. No blogging, no emails, no poems, nothing. Your journals will be dusty. We aren't going to ever let that happen again. Writing matters. Writing keeps you (and me) happy. 

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. 

There will be mornings you wake up at 5am and mope around the house and lie on the couch. You stop cleaning; you stop writing; you stop getting dressed. At a certain point, it's just a performance art. Stop it, past Michelle. No one is amused, including me. I'm not amused. Put on your big girl pants and move on. (You'll get there eventually.) 

the 5 Best Free Stock Photo Websites

Good stock photos are hard to find. A recent Clients from Hell post reminded me, suddenly, of how many times I've struggled to find stock photos that fit the bill and didn't veer too far into cheesiness. Sometimes it seems like clients expect a magical website with every photo ever taken, for free, that includes every element they need. Strangely, that's not how the real world works. 

I'm a big fan of using "pretty, emotion-inducing" photos for posts. I'm not big on a lot of text or of super obvious pictures that I haven't taken myself. I've really gotten into finding the best stock photos recently and I thought I'd share some of my favorite sites. 

1. Creative Market

Creative Market is a great place to find good stock photos, as well as other creative materials (including fonts and vector images), for sale. They offer weekly free deals, which usually include a stock photography package. The photo above is from the currently available Hipsta package. 

2. Death to Stock Photo

Death to Stock Photo is an incredibly popular site that offers free, monthly stock photo packages. You can also sign up for pro, which offers you even more photos and benefits. They have sent me easily some of my favorite stock photos; they are all beautiful, well-lit, and evocative. 

3. Life of Pix

Need nature photography? Life of Pix is one of the best sites for great nature and landscape photography, if you're looking for something basic and simple. Their website is simple and beautiful. 

4. Picjumbo

My favorite thing about Picjumbo is that many of their photos include people and technology -- two elements that I often look for in stock photogs. They have a variety of photographers as well, which means they offer a variety of styles and feels. Their site is easily divided into categories -- technology, people, bokeh (if you're looking for something abstract and colorful). As a warning, their website has a lot of ads, but don't let that stop you from appreciating the photography. 

5. Magdeleine

Magdeleine has some absolutely stunning still life and abstract photos, as well as a vast collection of nature and landscape photography. Their photos are definitely more atmospheric and moody, perfect for a deep or reflective post. I love their still life photos for DIY posts or newsletters.