2015 is Done.

I don’t do resolutions but I do like to look ahead and make some goals for myself. What can I accomplish next year? What did I do in the year that trails behind me? What are we here for? What are we doing? What have we done? Etc etc.

At the end of 2014 I made some goals.

I wanted to be more involved in charity work.

I wanted to make a dent and/or finish a book I had started.

And I wanted to have my baby.

The entire year I felt a nagging guilt over not being more involved in charity work. But I did do more/give more than I had in previous years. Time, tiny human responsibilities, and finances limited my ability. This is just something I really want to do and will always be a priority for my life. It’s just the unfortunate truth that sometimes other things come before my ability to give to others. Ugh, that just sounds so gross saying out loud.

I did for sure make a dent in a book I was writing. I did not finish it, though I had no excuse not to. I have, though, decided to reorganize it. (Did you hear that Margaret! Stop reading the draft you have! I have no goals for it!) I foresee this being an evolving process. One that doesn’t get much traction until after Fae turns 1. That’s just how having tiny humans works. The first year is a shit show, the rest of life struggles to keep up.

Oh, but I did have that baby. So, gold stars for me!

2016… it has a nice ring to it. When I think about the year in my mind I get little sparks of excitement. THE FUTURE IS HERE. What’s going to happen? What are we going to do? What surprises will pounce on us? Will they be good surprises? Or will they sit on our faces until we cry for mercy? Who knows! The future is a mystery…

What do I want to accomplish? What do you want to accomplish? What are you going to conquer in 2016? Hearing the aspirations of others is inspiring, so please do share in comments.

My three goals:

1.) Buy a freaking house.

2.) Create a successful (meaning good, by my standards) podcast.

3.) Be consistent with Weekend-ing again.

Other minor goals that I’ll say are “honorable mentions” are…

1.) Get into a career situation that is more permanent than where I’m at currently.

2.) Get our photo books printed!! For fucksake!

3.) Get back into shape.

I really feel like this year is the year of Taking Care of Business. It’s going to be one of those rip-roaring years where we all look back this time next year and think, “holy shit… all of that in just one year?” Yup. All of it in just one year. We got this. It’s going to be insane.

Lazy Town

I am being a super lazy blogger this week and I have many guilts about that. My brain is already on vacation – taking a blog vacation AND a real vacation starting next week.

I keep thinking every single day is Friday. Every. Single. Day. Especially today. And it is not. And that is so unfair. I wake up, think, “yay! FRIDAY!” and then it’s…. Tuesday? Wednesday? and now Thursday? OH THIS WEEK WILL NOT END.

There are so many posts that should be up and aren’t. More book reviews, I’m drowning in birchboxes, I have a gender post about raising a boy that needs to be written, and on and on and on. And instead I’m going to happy hours with my best friend, or watching too many episodes of The Mindy Project, or going to bed early.

I think my vacation is coming a week late, my brain is craving it now!

So starting next week there will be a new post every day about the sea! Stories about experiences around/inspired by/having to do with large bodies of water. Some of them having to do with grandmothers, some of them having to do with sex. So far all that I’ve seen have been beautiful!

And I’ll be checking in, commenting in comments, etc etc. You can always find me on instagram!

But in the mean time – how are your weeks going? What are your plans for the rest of the summer?

A Recap + News

Thank you so much for taking the time to fill out my little survey. It really helps me know where I stand with certain things and clarifies some thoughts on where I’m headed.

Here are some breakdowns for the curious:

  • Most people have been reading for close to 5 years. Woo hoo! Thank you for staying!
  • Although I do have a good chunk that have come along since I’ve had Gabe. Hello you lovely almost newbies!
  • The majority of people pop in several times a week, though 40% come every single day. Amazing.
  • Way way WAY more people enjoy product reviews/book reviews than I thought. My only barometer on that is number of comments, and those usually have low comments, which was concerning me. But! I totally understand that some posts are just for reading and others are for discussion.
  • When it comes to a Better In Real Life podcast it is kind of a mixed bag. Almost 40% of you all are just not into it at all, while the rest are kind of into it but seem skeptical. We can talk more about that later.
  • But! When it comes to a Better In Real Life advice column the response was overwhelmingly positive with almost 85% saying yes to that.
  • Although, whether or not you’d send in questions is still yet to be seen (42% were a maybe, depending on what advice I give, on submitting questions. But 30% said they would probably seek advice if needed.)
  • All of the written in responses were incredibly kind. That is always something I get nervous about when I do these – I want to know what’s up and I want your feedback but ahhhh it can leave me so naked!
  • A lot of those responses were asking for more personal posts, more thoughts on marriage and family and career juggling. Of course those are the hardest ones you guys!! But I hear you, and I’ll definitely have more to say on that.
  • And 99.9% of all responses about wanting less of anything was a big: NOPE. Nothing less? Ok then.

Now for some info on what I’m thinking. (I actually had a question about how the back end of this blog works, so I’ll try to answer that as well.)

First – once the Year O Birchbox is over there will be way less product talk, so if that is not your jam you’re in luck! If that IS your jam, I’ll continue on my own product journey and do any solicited/sponsored posts. But they will be more infrequent

Speaking of “sponsored posts” – a phrase most companies do not like me to use (Which is annoying because how do I convey to you that this is a post I’ve been asked to write?) – happen 2 ways:

The first way is by cold calling. Sometimes out of the blue a company will email me with an option to review something or promote something for them. I am never paid for these posts, the most I will receive is a sample or trial product. I say no to 75% of these inquiries because they don’t fit with what I do here or because they want me to promote something I’ve never tried and they don’t want to send me a sample, OR because they want to write something for me, which will never fly.

The second way is through a publicist company I work with. That’s how I got the Volt opportunity and the Amazon opportunity. But I am not paid for these either.

Now to fix the problem with not really being able to say “sponsored.” If I’m working with a company or if I get products for free I always mention it. I want to be as transparent as possible so you know where I am coming from. My opinion on products or experiences are always mine and if I think something is sub-par I’ll always tell you. Not every product is the best, most fabulous, but many have a specific need they fill and even if they are not for me, they are probably for someone.

Now then, I want to talk to you about facebook etc. Facebook changed the way they “share” things. Which is incredibly annoying. So, generally I only share BIRL stuff on BIRL’s page. Rarely do I share posts on my own page because I don’t want to spam people and if people want to receive updates on BIRL they have had many opportunities to “like” that page. If they haven’t “liked” it, I assume they don’t want my stuff choking up their feed. Fair enough right? You’d think that if you “like” BIRL, then you’re going to receive updates from me. Except that isn’t how it works anymore. When I post on facebook, sometimes only 50 out of almost 600 people will receive that update on their feed. The more people interact with that post (“like” it or comment or share) the more views it receives.

So, if you do like something I’ve written I would really, really appreciate it if you could share it or even just “like” the post on facebook, and retweet it (vs favorite-ing) on twitter. I really do want to continue to have new voices here, I want to continue to grow readership and interaction and I can only do that with your help. I can also do it by paying facebook. But something about that pisses me off, it’s playing right into their little evil hands! They have reduced how many people see a post from a page those people have  have signed up for (basically) in order to get those “businesses” (or blogs, like me) to give them money. It’s very frustrating. It’s one thing to take out a paid add, but why is posting online now something I have to pay for? Gah.

I would like to move forward with a BIRL advice column! Initially I think it will only run once a month so that I have time to give thoughful responses and I am not in a question drought. So, for those who answered the survey saying they’ve been needing advice and wanting to ask, please email me at betterinrealife at gmail. As per all advice columns, these will always be anonymous.

And if anyone has any further questions about anything regarding the blog, please ask in comments! And thank you for taking the time to respond to the survey and continuing reading here on the regular. This affords me an amazing out let that I hope also makes us all feel less crazy/alone/different and that also gives inspiration/entertainment and a place to have your own voice. Love!

Semi-Annual Reader Survey

Hi Everyone! It has been well over a year since my last reader survey. I am trying hard to continue challenging myself, grow readership, try new things, improve on the classic, etc etc etc. It would be very helpful if you could fill out this 8 question survey sometime today or this weekend.

Happy Friday!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Owning It

Most of the time I am good about my writing schedule. I get the posts out about products, I get the book reviews post out (Though I’m totally behind schedule on that and was supposed to have one up today), I get myself to knock out weekending posts on sunday night, etc. I do it because if I let myself off the hook then nothing would ever get done. It’s the same with working out, it’s the same with cooking at home and making my lunch for work instead of buying it. Do it, do it, it’s important. Push through and just do it. *Nike Swoosh Inserted Here*

But then sometimes, every once in a while, I remember that this is my blog! My space goddamnit! And I don’t have to do the post I wrote down in my blog-writing-schedule if I don’t want to! I can skip a day! I can go to bed early and spend an extra hour playing with my kid and it’s ok.

This on the heels of that big post on choices and trying to fit it all in and be a writer and a worker and have family responsibilities, huh?

Oh well. There are things we can control and things we can’t. Sometimes we just have to own the ones we can and run with it.

What are you owning this Friday? What are you running with?

How To: Create Your Own Instagram Display

After many, many, many people asked for an insta-wall tutorial, I finally got my act together … and had Kamel write something up. Ahh teamwork! You’ll want to bookmark this page for future framing projects! And thank you Kamel for writing up this awesome tutorial. <3

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Before starting out, I would highly recommend picking out frames, or your preferred display method. This will save you lots of angst later on. So head on over to your favorite frame shop (we like Aaron Brothers, especially during their legendary penny sales) and buy up as many frames as you would like for your display. Selecting the frames or how to show your prints is pretty much up to you, but for the purposes of this tutorial let’s go with a square shape, mat-less easy frame. When I say easy, I mean the kind that doesn’t have those nasty fingernail killing metal tabs that are my absolute worst nightmare. Once you find your frames, decide on how many prints you’ll want to put up, and buy them all. Trust me, it gets harder to come back later only to find your frame is sold out, discontinued, or worse slightly changed so it no longer fits in with the rest.

Okay on to the printing!

1. Instagram can save relatively high res images, enough to print rather large. However, on their website, you’re only shown a “web friendly” size. So when you pick your favorite shots, you’ll need to locate the locally saved versions from your mobile device. (Note: In order for instagram to save local, high res images, you need to enable this in the app’s settings > Save Original Photos.)

2. If you hadn’t selected that, no worries, you can still get semi-decent sizes from gramfeed.com. Just log in, find the photo you want, click on it and pick download. Or if you rather do this in bulk, go to instaport.me. Photos downloaded like this should print okay up to 8×8 with some visible pixelation. But then again, these are low-fi’ed instagrams for crying out loud, so don’t stress over sharpness too much. =)

3. Now that you have all your images on your computer, head on over to your favorite print shop to get prints made. We like using Costco due to their amazing low prices on high quality prints. Plus you can set up your order online, and pick it up at the store about an hour or so later. Easy Peasy. During times when we don’t want to go to costco, we go with mpix.com, which also has pretty great prices and super high quality. ProTip: hit up retailmenot.com first to see if there are any coupons for mpix.com, they usually have some posted.)

4. During online printing, make sure to select the size that will fit in your frames, or with your previously chosen display method. We like going with 8×8, but you can do any other size. Costco offers 8×8 or 12×12, though from experience, we’ve found it really hard finding square frames larger than 8×8. Mpix.com is a little crazier since you can do 4×4, 5×5, 8×8, 10×10, 12×12 or if you’re feeling NUTS 20×20! But again, frames maybe hard to come by.

5. Once you’ve selected your size, and prior to finalizing your order, make sure to locate and untick the “apply auto corrections” that usually gets added by default. This option is cool if you’re printing images straight out of the camera with no editing whatsoever, but with instagram photos, you’ve already treated the images, so applying auto correct, might make the printing machine freak out and try it’s hardest to “fix” the filter that was applied. This results in images that don’t look the way they did on your mobile device.

6. Pay the man, and wait patiently for the prints to be done.

7. Pick up your prints, or receive them from the mail courier and have a look.

8. Don’t be shocked if they look darker in real life. This is normal. Remember, when you look at photos on your device, you’re pretty much staring at a box of bright light. For prints, you’re looking at light reflecting off the paper, so the image will vary slightly depending on the quality and temperature of the light sources around you. But, you’ll get used to it after a few glances. (Note: if the photo really is too dark, don’t be afraid to brighten it up a tad using your favorite image editor, export/save it at it’s highest setting to avoid compression degradation, and print again. It is worth the extra money for something being displayed on your wall.)

9. This is an optional step. Place the prints on the ground and arrange them in a way you think works best. This is usually how Lauren curates our wall art every time we move. This last time she switched out the instagrams while still on the wall, but the idea is the same. This is a personal choice, so I won’t give any “tips” – just do what looks good to you and screw the haters.

10. Put those suckers in their frames, or whatever display method you chose (thumbtacks, foam board, clips, magnets, etc…) and set up your work of art. Stand back, and TADA! Enjoy your insta-wall. =)

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Let me know if you have any questions about creating the grid system on your wall, or anything else in the comments, and I’ll try my best to help you out.

Housekeeping

Yesterday I drew the name for the winner of the 3rd Better In Real Life Book List via Random.org. And Maris is the winner! Hooray! It also just so happens to be her birthday this month, so that is incredibly timely. Hint: There may be some future book-related give away so stay tuned and pay close attention to the book reviews. You never know when a giveaway could pop up. They are wily!

Some other housekeeping items: I had a lot of questions about the Vegas.com post I ran last week or the week before. No, it was not sponsored in the sense that I was paid to write it, yes I was asked to promote a side project they had running for the month of April so I thought, why not? At this time I am not running ads or paid content, but when I do run a sponsored post for a business (meaning I get a product for free) I make it super clear.  And I am always very honest and up front that if I don’t like a product I’m going to tell that story – just because I’m offered a product to review does not mean I’m going to fluff it up all over town.

And finally! I forgot about a little feature that will be running every week with the Weekending posts – a little “Elsewhere” action. I remembered yesterday morning while I was sitting at my desk at work trying to stay away, but by that time it was too late. So to keep you entertained during the slow parts of your day, here is what I’ve been reading online lately.

Thank You

The notes and comments I received yesterday and today have been so incredibly supportive, I want to thank everyone – those who comment regularly, those who email me, and those who just lurk. I really appreciate the willingness to participate even on the basest of levels.

Writing is a lonely thing. Not always, sometimes it is amazing and euphoric, but a lot of the time it is me, at my computer, (unfortunately) beating myself up over a sentence or wracking my brain to figure out exactly how to say something. It may seem like I write a blog, I get constant feedback, and wow Lauren how many more accolades do you really need?! But it doesn’t feel like that from where I am sitting. It feels like just another way we are all trying to relate to one another. And sometimes it feels like I’m taking a big risk.

Did you know that I still think about 1 post that I wish I hadn’t written? Or that I wish I had written differently? I re work that post in my head all of the time.

I think overall the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff and I guess that’s kind of like life. Sometimes things suck and are hard and frustrating for whatever reason, but the rest of the time things are pretty good (hopefully) and sometimes even they are marvelous.

I’m not sure how this space will evolve over time. There are definitely parts of my comfort level that are changing, but I think the main principles of what I want to accomplish here are staying the same. Maybe those changes are actually things going on inside me, maybe nobody will even notice from the outside.

So thank you! It was a lovely reality check and lots of food for thought.

Where To Go From Here

I have been keeping a blog for 10 years. Some of it does not exist anymore, but some of it still does – which YIKES. In those 10 years I have always greatly loved this format. It has been a huge resource for me and a huge outlet and excellent writing practice.

This is the first time that I am finding myself questioning if I want to continue this space and that is scary.

If I am being super honest I have felt my confidence greatly shaken in the last few months as far as my ability to write interesting, engaging articles. I have major concerns that my posts are dull and lifeless, repetitive, vapid. I rarely feel they are initially, but then after they go live they do not feel as rich as I want them to be. I feel kind of like I’m failing.

And then there is this other thing. There are topics I really would love to write about. Sometimes they are all I can think about, but I cannot write about them because it would be inappropriate. Not sexually inappropriate, but from a person to person level, a privacy level, it would almost seem mean spirited. That’s been a real struggle for me. That has been a real struggle for me – the things I really need to work out for myself, the things I would love feedback on happen to be things I can’t write about.

I spend a lot of mental energy trying not to fill every post with stuff about Gabe. Sometimes I want to tell you about how he has been a fucking mess lately. Or how he violently prefers Kamel right now and how that made me cry last night because … I fucking made you inside my body and we had this connection that I totally semi-made up in my mind for almost a year and you are technically still a baby and goddamn it love me!! But I don’t want this to be the house of Gabe. This is the house of Lauren. Acknowledging all of my bits and being mindful about them is hard right now. I feel like large parts of me don’t exist at the moment. They are invisible and I have to be patient until they come back.

I worry that if I am not consistent with writing here that I will lose readers and as cliche as that sounds it weighs on me. It shouldn’t matter, everyone says it shouldn’t matter, but if I’m being 100% honest it does matter to me.

So there it is, I’m feeling lost. I’m not sure what I’m doing anymore. Kamel tells me that it is a phase and it will pass, and that could be very true. So I’ll still be here, chugging along, until I figure it out.

Question Master: Reader Appreciation 2

A year ago (I can’t believe it was a YEAR) I had my first giant questionnaire – all about you! You all read about my (sometimes boring, let’s be honest) life on the daily (well at least 3 times a week… oops) and for your support I am incredibly grateful. The first reason I write a blog is because writing is how I make sense of things. The second is for the discussion in the comments. When I need inspiration I come to you, when I have a question about how to move forward with a conflict in our marriage, how to add more veggies in my life, even how to move forward in this blog land as my life and family and priorities continue to shift and grow.

Anyways! To my point! Today and tomorrow are all about YOU! Please take the time (if you would like) to answer these questions in comments. I promise to respond to each one of you. Thank you for coming back here again and again, and thank you for participating, sharing, liking, what have you. It only works to make this space and my little world better and better. So here we go!!

  1. What are you reading right now? If you aren’t reading a) you should be! and b) what is on your to-read pile?
  2. What is your favorite thing about your life/world/etc? Your FAVORITEST!
  3. What’s the most recent challenge you’ve over come? Giant or teensy – either way.
  4. What is the most common color in your closet right now? (right now, mine is grey) What do you wish it was?
  5. Do you have a pet? What is your pet’s (s) name? If you don’t, what kind of animal do you wish you could hang out with? What would you name it?
  6. Do you have a favorite indie business? Link me and tell me why! Maybe we can get more fun stuff like we did with Lydali.
  7. What is your favorite dinner to eat and/or make right now?
  8. What is pissing you off the most this week? Let it out, let it allllll out.
  9. Tell me about your best friend. You don’t have to name them, maybe they don’t even know they are your best friend, but who are they? What makes them the best?
  10. You have to pick one: Flowers, that often attract bees and other flying creatures, for ears OR shoulder and arm and hand fish scales that are beautiful, but are fishy smelly in in warm weather or over heated rooms.

I am dying to read the responses. <3 Lauren