Just Heather

The 33rd item on my 40×40 list actually reads: Be a bridesmaid. And, I did, but it wasn’t what I thought. It still didn’t satisfy whatever caused me to write in on my list in the first place.

Actually, I’m not sure what possessed me to add that to my list since it wasn’t really anything I could work towards. But, in 2010, my sister invited me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I helped her choose dresses. I answered frantic phone calls. I decorated the church. And, I stood beside my little sister as she spoke her vows to my new brother.

The ceremony was lovely. The reception was super fun. It was all exactly as it should be. And, yet, I still never blogged about crossing that item off my list. Every time I sat down to type it out, nothing came. Until I realized it was never about being a bridesmaid.

It was about having a friend who cherished you enough to ask.

And, it turns out? I’m already there, but it wasn’t a wedding that made me see it. It was walking into a restaurant for a birthday dinner with the hubby and finding out that my Saturday evening was never what I thought it would be.


It was finding a table full of fabulous people who loved me enough to throw an awesome surprise party. It’s friends who get me. Friends who know 35 isn’t easy,with my 40×40 list so far behind the halfway point. Friends who are there for me for fun & laughter or drama & tears.

Friends. I finally have them. In spades.

I have a best friend who would literally do anything for me. I have awesome friends who totally understand me but run with my crazy even when they don’t. I have loving friends who will lend an ear, share a cocktail, and drive me home after one too many.

I have generous friends who will go out their way to be sure I always have what I need — and plenty of stuff I don’t. I have new friends who are already willing to lend a hand at the drop of a hat. I have encouraging friends who not only inspire me to be a better person but work to help me get there. I have fun friends who make me smile when I need it and lend a shoulder when I’d rather cry.

Turns out, having friends is kinda awesome. I am so very blessed to have such amazing people in my life.

2010-01-062Okay, so I guess that should say “our” wedding vows, but when I first put it on the list, we weren’t much of a “we” and still a long way from ready to recommit for life. It’s been a long, hard road but it’s finally paying off. Things are going well; we’re happier than we’ve been in…well, maybe ever.

With our trip to Vegas planned, we decided to combine my #35 with his #36. He wanted to get married by Elvis, and it sounded fun to me. The location and theme were kitschy, but the sentiment and vows were totally serious. I started to teared up during his, and the tears threatened all the way through my own.

Truly, the location and theme were completely made of awesome! We had an absolute blast with the whole thing. Elvis was a lot of fun, the green room featured a picture of Batman & Wonder Woman’s wedding and I got to wear a fancy dress with seriously kick ass shoes. We treated it like a real & actual wedding, which made for even more fun when the 2nd spouse jokes started.

The coolest part of the entire process? It was live broadcast for all the internets to see! For even more hilarity, our friend Brad recorded it and posted it to YouTube before we had even finished our dinner. The webcast was, expectantly, poor quality but the hubby has since uploaded our original copy:


He said:

At 5AM all those years ago, when I first asked you asked you to marry me, I couldn’t have imagined everything we’ve gone through. We’ve not always taken the easiest path and I often don’t know where we’re headed. But I know wherever we end up, I’ll be glad that I’m with you.

Thirteen years ago, I didn’t want to wait to spend the rest of my life with you. I’m proud of you, of us, and of everything we’ve done together.

I love you, and I still want to spend the rest of my life with you.

She said:

I love you—that much has never changed. As we planned this day, I thought it would be about starting over. We’ve struggled a lot over the years and I was sure a new beginning would help us reconnect. Now that we are reconnecting on our own, I don’t want a new beginning.

I want it all—the beginning, the middle and straight through forever. All of it is a part of who we are and the unit we’ve become. It isn’t the intertwined unit I always imagined but I like the path we’ve found a lot better. We walk side by side as two individuals, committed to actively loving the other.

Thank you for giving me the freedom to learn who I am and your unconditional love as you get to know me over and over again. Now, I recommit myself to knowing and loving you. In front of God, Elvis and the Internets, I promise to support your passions, encourage your dreams and walk beside you until the end of our days.

Then

Then

Now

Now

In lieu of traditional New Year’s Resolutions, I am creating a list of Someday items to complete in 2010. I almost put “Get remarried” but since that is already planned (in Vegas with Elvis!) for January 16th, it felt a little like cheating. I am pulling a few leftovers from our Summer Fun list, declaring a timeline for a couple 40×40 items and throwing in a some fun things I’ve always wanted to do. In no particular order, 2010 will be the year to:

  1. Take a Florida vacation.
  2. Overhaul my wardrobe.
  3. Eat at a hole-in-the-wall diner.
  4. Watch a movie at a drive-in.
  5. Fly a kite with the girls.
  6. Make homemade ice cream.
  7. Get a tattoo.
  8. Play more games.
  9. Be the best bridesmaid EVER.
  10. Picnic at the ocean.

That looks like so much more fun than last week’s to-do list! Some of the items are already in the works (we just announced our fall Disney vacation to the girls!) and some will take a bit of planning, but it will all be fun along the way. If you have resolutions for the New Year, be sure to link them up in today’s Money Saving Monday at my second home, Inexpensively.

img_3610-largeWhen Lorelai first announced she wanted a Marshmallow Party, I blew it off as a toddler whim. However, the idea never went away and she started telling everyone she was “having a marshmallow birthday.” I realized I’d better get creative. Of course, the first thing I thought of was roasting marshmallows. The entire party surrounded the food, but I think I managed to pull everything together into one thematic event. Yes, that’s right, I hosted a Marshmallow Party. How many of you can say that?

The Food

We had rice crispy treats (my first gluten free attempt—yum!), marshmallow roasting and a chocolate fountain (for dipping the marshmallows, among other things). We also had bowls of pretty, fruit-flavored marshmallows. That becomes important later.
img_3613-large

The Cake

img_3608-largeI was clueless about how to do a cake, all the way up until last week. At first, I thought about just frosting a giant rice crispy treat. It certainly would have been cheaper than a gluten free cake, but I just couldn’t let go of the cake idea. I toyed with the idea of putting a roasting marshmallow on a sheet cake. I considered ways to make the cake look like a marshmallow—white frosting isn’t that hard! In the end, I went with an idea given to me by a pastry-chef friend. I frosted a 2-layer round and added marshmallows to look like a polka-dot cake. Well, I hope that’s what it looked like anyway. Polka dots or alien space ship? You decide!

The Gifts

img_3647-largeNow that we use the present poem, buying gifts for holiday and birthday is pretty easy. Fitting our “traditional” bike for a 4-year-old into something you need was a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit. She did open the helmet, though, and that’s a definite necessity! She opened most of her gifts on her actual birthday, but I purchased wrapping paper to match her theme anyway. I found pastel polka dot paper (say that 3 times fast!) in the baby shower section. The colors almost exactly matched the fruity marshmallows!

The Decorations

img_3619-large
How do you decorate with marshmallows? Again, I sprung off the idea of marshmallow polka dots. We picked paper goods and balloons in matching colors, but that was about it. If I’d had an unlimited budget, I could have covered much of the house with gossamer or fluffy cotton. I decided pink tablecloths were good enough. Besides, we had a chocolate fountain! What more did I really need?

 

The Marshmallow Princess

No birthday party is complete in our household without a costume. The tradition began in the age of princess parties—Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Jasmine have all celebrated their birthdays in our home. We have reused Halloween outfits, bridal gowns and recital costumes. This year was no exception. Lorelai’s Halloween butterfly costume became a Marshmallow Princess outfit by simply removing the wings and adding a crown—decked out with marshmallows, of course.
img_3625
The next morning, Lorelai told me “Lasterday was my best party ever!” The princess has spoken. Best. Party. Ever.

Congratulations to Craig, winner of last week’s U-Printing stickers! I don’t usually offer two giveaways within a week, but when U-Printing offered me a postcard giveaway, I just couldn’t pass it up. It was just too coincidental to have this opportunity during the same week that the Money Saving Monday topic on Inexpensively is party planning. We are in the throes of party planning around here—a Feel Your Boobies Cause Party, a Halloween party and Lorelai’s 4th birthday. I have an awful lot of invitations to send in the next few weeks!
gradannouncement
Postcards are my all-time favorite way to send invitations since they are inexpensive to make and to mail! I like to put together a 4×6 invitation, matching the theme of the party. They are just so colorful and fun to receive! The girls can add a personal note to the blank side, add a stamp and invitations are on their way. I’ll be using my award for hosting this giveaway to order the invitations for my college graduation.

After 14 years, I am ready to celebrate crossing #7 off 40×40“>my list. If you have something to celebrate or need invitations, thank you cards or postcards of your own, you can save 10% on your U-Printing purchase now or, even better, win 100 custom postcards here—simply leave a comment, telling us what you’ll do with your prize. You can earn additional entries by:

  • Following U-Printing and me on Twitter
  • Blogging about this giveaway
  • Tweeting about this giveaway: Win 100 free custom postcards from @Uprinting and @JustHeather!

For your extra entries to be counted, be sure to leave an additional comment directing me to your entry. Only one additional entry per method (i.e. While multiple tweets are appreciated it, only one will count as a drawing entry.) The contest runs until October 26th at 11:59pm edt. One winner will be notified by email on October 27th (as selected by Random.org) and must submit their mailing information within 48 hours or a new winner will be chosen. Open only to residents of the U.S. & Canada and cannot be shipped to PO boxes.

postcard_upYour prize (full color 2-sided printing on 14lb matte paper sized 4×6″ with 4 Business Day printing) will be awarded in the form of a custom coupon code, redeemable at U-Printing.com. Prize includes free UPS shipping in the U.S. (Canadian winners will be responsible for any shipping costs incurred.)


I was offered this giveaway as part of the U-Printing Blog Sponsorship program. I am receiving 100 free postcards in addition to the free product for my readers for hosting this giveaways, but the opinion is 100% real and honest.

2007-10-167Growing up, we went Trick or Treating year after year, but never to strangers or neighbors. My parents shuttled us around town to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends. Halloween was not just for candy. We had the chance to visit too! Of course, it had to be a scheduled affair to be sure the family we wanted to visit wasn’t trying to visit us at the same time—but I didn’t realize that as a child. The process is a lot more difficult now that I am a mother since we don’t live in the same town as our families. Yet, we continued the tradition.

We drove all over one night to visit the hubby’s family. Then, traveled to my parents to Trick or Treat in my hometown. As the years went on, and we added children to our collection, I became more and more disenchanted with the process. It was no longer a fun night of visiting family. It was a stressful weekend of coordinating schedules and trying to squeeze in time with people we don’t get to see often. Not to mention multiple food allergies eliminating most of the candy options anyway.

halloween-invite
Then, the party planner in me stumbled on a new idea. Why don’t we get them to come to us?! Two years ago, with an out of town wedding over the weekend preventing Trick or Treating, we hosted our first Halloween Open House. We invited friends & family to visit our girls in costume instead. It allowed us to spend more time with the family who attends, instead of mere minutes as we blow out the door for our next stop.

2007-10-066
And, naturally, the girls don’t miss out on the treats—I’ll take any excuse to make fun, party food! With Halloween on a Saturday this year, I’m looking forward to more of an actual party. We’ll let the girls invite their friends as well as our families for an afternoon event, leaving plenty of time for those who prefer the traditional version of Trick or Treating. I’ll get another chance to make Frankenstein pudding cups, spider cracker sandwiches and strawberry ghosts.

Can a bag full of candy they probably can’t eat even compare to a graveyard cake?


showtell2
This post is part of Show and Tell Tuesday at Mom’s Marbles. Join us every Tuesday for a new topic and link up with smart moms sharing even more great ideas! (Also, don’t forget to stop by on Monday when I contribute Money Saving Mondays—ideas for living your life Inexpensively.)

When Sarah first announced that this week’s Show & Tell theme was Things That Go, my thoughts went immediately to my youngest daughter. Lorelai is a big fan of all things that go—trucks and trains, especially. She even chose a train theme for her bedroom—no frilly butterflies or fairies for my little girl!
2008-11-007
Last year’s birthday was a construction truck theme. This year, she has her sights set on a marshmallow party. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I do know there will be s’mores. Inspiration for the cake and decorations still eludes me. Her 3rd birthday was much easier to plan. Yellow and black balloons tied to orange cones from the soccer equipment along with trucks we already had (The cupcakes were housed in the back of a Tonka dump truck.) spruced up the place.
truck-cake
For her cake, I went super simple. Wilton was not at all involved! Dirt mounds should be messy so I didn’t even have to try that hard to smooth the chocolate frosting. Just add toy trucks and our construction scene was complete. I bought the construction hats at a party store, added a truck sticker and wrote each child’s name on it. Kids love dressing up so it’s always fun to find a way to work that into a birthday party.
truck-games
The kids played some digging games to unearth a truck in a tub of birdseed. They raced their trucks in the next game, then got to take them home in lieu of goody bags. The trucks from the cake, and the leftovers from the digging game, were Lorelai’s to keep. She still plays with them to this day. The set I bought had even come with a toolbox carrying case for storage. (At the party, we used it to hold the napkins and silverware!) It was one of the easiest and least expensive parties we’ve had in a long time. I should have anticipated this kind of payback. A marshmallow party! Seriously?

Planning birthday parties is kind of my thing. I’ll just have to get a bit more creative this time around.


showtell2
This post is part of Show and Tell Tuesday at Mom’s Marbles. Join us every Tuesday for a new topic and link up with smart moms sharing even more great ideas! (Also, don’t forget to stop by on Monday when I contribute Money Saving Mondays—ideas for living your life Inexpensively.)

Live Blogging Session #4

Shawn Smith, Netstuffers & IndyMojo

Making Money Formula
Blog + Engaged Users = Money

Growth of Media: Advertising is contracting, but it is still in power
Internet advertising is out there and you can be a part of it!

How Online Advertising Works

Types of Advertising
Most Common: Banner ads

  • Mostly unobtrusive—no worse or better than ads in newspapers
  • Easy to install or maintain
  • Easy to track—you know exactly how many times someone has clicked on an ad
  • Can be built into the layout of your site so it isn’t bothering people
  • Dynamic or Static
  • Widely available
  • Regulated a bit by IAB
  • Con—can be turned off by a user’s browser

Other kinds of online ads:

  • Text links
  • Sponsored Sections
  • Interstitials—breaks into the page a user is heading towards and presents a full page ad
  • Peel Aways
  • Backgrounds—MySpace takeovers are a good example
  • Sponsored Articles—product reviews, etc. (Transparency is key; people should know it is paid content.)
  • Vertical Markets—allowing a company to sponsor a particular section of your website; created pages on your site that are run by a company as opposed to actual website content
  • Pop-Ups—everyone now knows pop-ups are evil

Ad Networks
Gorilla Nation, Quigo, AdBrite, Yahoo, Vibrant, Google, Value Click
You serve their ads—ad networks are middle men:
+Easy to Setup
+Automatic (Kinda)—when you setup a position on your website and they serve the ads to you.
+Lots of Choices
+Great Start

-If users don’t interact, you don’t earn
-take a lot of effort
-low value

As Terminology/Models
CPC – cost per click:
+Based on click through average, so sites with little traffic can still earn
+Most networks still use CPC model
-Earnings are spotty and depend heavily on placement and content
-Awful for discussion forums or comment boards
-Advertisers love them—feel like their getting something out of it
-Needs effort to earn a lot of money

CPM – cost per thousand impressions
+Good for sites with lots of traffic
+Low risk, little effort
+Good for brand awareness
-Little guarantee of success for advertisers (works best for companies that are interested in branding)
-hard to find networks that use it

CPA – cost per action
+very high payout for little response
+advertisers see the ROI for this as very high and are often open to negotiations
-viewed as annoying by some users
-lose banner space in the hopes that someone follows through

eCPM – average

How to Make Money
Do it yourself—you can do much better than ad networks (use them to fill space when you haven’t sold advertising)
To Attract National, you’ll need many uniques
To attract local, you have to have a local niche
To attract both, know your audience.

Key Selling Stats and Terms
Location of your viewers
Visits
Unique visitors
Pageviews
Pageviews per user (how many pages are your visitors seeing when they come?)
Time on Site
ROI—can you guarantee a good return on investment because your users are engaged?

Track your users for yourself
Ask information via optional profile questions when people register
Items of interest: age, job status, relationship status, education level, race, favorite brands, sex
Gives you marketability with potential advertisers
Opens the door to targeted ads

Additional Selling Points
User Loyalty
User level of engagement
Consistent Exposure
Tracking clicks and hits

If something isn’t performing well, be honest with your advertisers. Come up with ideas that may help.

Know Your Potential Client
National vs. Local—start with local ads until your traffic is high enough to dive into the national realm
Relevancy to your content
Timely or brand building—is it an event promotion or just brand awareness?
Big pockets or little pockets? Be aware of the budget for the clients you approach

Be prepared to hear “Prove It”—share stats, provide Google Analytic screen shots, offer a free trial

Due Diligence
You’ll have to put in the time and effort, but you’ll see a return.