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21 Ways To Improve my Blog

April 29, 2015
I know that I'm preaching to the choir (err, fellow bloggers) when I say that blogging is time consuming.  There are so many more things I would like to do with my blog, but just find myself strapped for time.  These days I'm lucky to even be able to write a post a week.  While I was in between jobs last summer, I found that having the extra time to focus on blogging really made a difference.  I was able to buy my own domain name, re-brand my blog, switch to Disqus, be an active member of two blog groups, and co-host a journal swap.  

There's a lot that I could be doing for my blog that I just haven't done yet.  Have you heard of those Blogging Staycations?  Where you stay in for a few days and just get stuff in order for your blog? Yeah, about twenty different things are on my list!  If I had all the time in the world, I'm sure that I would try to check off each task, but for now I'm just content to list them out and keep them in mind for future reference.  I may never get to all of them, but here's to hoping! 

I should probably/would like to:

1) Post consistently and apply for BlogHer.  I was thinking of applying for BlogHer last summer, but then I got a teaching job, which was awesome but resulted in me not having a lot of time to work on my blog like I once did.  Yes, I would like to join BlogHer, but at this point I would just never apply because my posts are too sporadic.  Maybe when/if I'm ever able to post at least three times a week again for awhile, I will reconsider.

2) Figure out Google Analytics.  I don't really have much legitimate data about my stats since I just use what Blogger shows me.  If I used Google Analytics, I would be provided with much more detailed information about how people are getting referred to my blog.  In turn, it might affect when I decide to post or what forms of social media I use to promote a post.

3) Switch to Wordpress.  Last summer, I had a scare when my blog went down for an hour or two.  I have no idea what happened, but I chatted with other bloggers about it and they all blamed Blogger and said they never had issues like that using Wordpress.  I will say that I like that Blogger is user friendly, but on Wordpress you are able to own all the content you post which is another plus.

4) Improve the way I use social media for my blog.  I recently started following Adventurous Kate on Facebook and am impressed with the way she keeps me intrigued just though one form of social media!  She really engages her readers and doesn't only post link after link to her blog.  While I don't think my Facebook page could ever be quite as cool as Adventurous Kate's, I hope that someday it can be less lame!! My favorite form of social media is still Instagram, but it's a shame that I can't link the individual pictures to my blog post of the day.  As of now, Instagram is more of a personal account that only includes my blog url on my profile page.  I'd like to start mixing it up a bit more on Instagram and use it as a tool to promote my posts.

5) Go back through old posts and reevaluate.  Some of my first few posts on this blog were very lame.  Today I realized I still had a post up that only encouraged readers (I probably had about 2 readers back then) to use my Birchbox referral link if they chose to subscribe.  Like I said, lame!  I also need to go back someday and change all of my font sizes to large.  My earlier posts use a font size that is just slightly too small.

6) Create a watermark for my photos.  I wouldn't want someone to use my images and pretend that they are their own or to re-post my photos and do something shady to them like make a meme with my face.  That would be pretty terrible...Other than that, I don't care too much about my images getting used.  (Should I not admit that?) I would like to add a watermark to my photos to drive more traffic to my blog in case the links get broken on Pinterest, though.

7) Stop using my iPhone to take pictures and use my Panasonic Lumix instead.  I don't have an iPhone 6, and while my iPhone takes pretty decent pictures for a phone, the quality is just better when I use my camera.  Using my iPhone is just too convenient though!! I doubt I'll ever stop completely, but will try to use my Panasonic Lumix more often.

8) Make sure that all of my photos are the same size in a post.  I've been trying to do this lately, but have not always done this.  It just looks better when everything is uniform, at least I think so.

9) Use Buffer for Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.  I do not use Buffer at all right now, but it could potentially be such a useful tool when planning ahead!  Sometimes I join in on a thread in a blogging group and don't want tweet 10 things in a row but want to get the thread done.  Buffer would also be my answer to that problem.

10) Be more active in blogging groups.  Almost every blogger in the group wants to connect with other bloggers--after all, isn't that the reason why most people join a blogging group in the first place?  I've discovered some great blogs through some of the groups I'm in and know that I might also gain some new blogging buddies if I just "spoke up" more in the threads.  

11) Start a newsletter.  Realistically, I don't see this ever happening because I'd rather just take the time I would have spent working on a newsletter and post here instead.  To those who do have a newsletter, good for you for having it all together! :)  

12) Make a Pinnable image for every/most posts.  Pinterest boards should be aesthetically pleasing, so without a pinnable picture available, less people will want to pin your post for later.  I'm no graphic designer, so I could really use some work in this area and currently only use PicMonkey and Canva.

13) Add share buttons to the bottom of each post.  Yes, I have the itty-bitty ones that come automatically with Blogger, but some custom ones would be great because they would be more visible.  When bloggers make their content easy to share, I know I always end up sharing more of it!

14) Sign up for StumbleUpon.  I've been hearing more and more about StumbleUpon and what a great tool it can be to help promote your blog.  I do tend to be a bit more hesitant when signing up for social media accounts, but this is something at least worth looking into.  

15) Put social media follow buttons on the bottom of each post. With my previous blog design, I used to have this.  I think having them there is just a good reminder, and again, it makes it easier for someone who is reading your blog to follow you...because scrolling up to the top of your blog to do it is way too hard. ;)  

16) Create "continue reading" links for each post.  This way I would be able to display more posts on my page without having all that blank white space on the side bar.  

17) Display "related posts" at the bottom of each current post.  If readers find my blog because they are interested in something I wrote about Savannah, then I want other posts about Savannah to be on right there to hopefully catch their interest.

18) Print out business cards for my blog.  I am not a huge self-promoter, but it would be nice to have a few of these cards for friends and for when I go to the BlogHer conference this summer with Rachael.  The gal who did my current design actually already made business cards for me.  I just have to print them and voila!

19) Take a blogging course and/or get a blog consultation.  I love learning more about what interests me and value others' feedback.  Also, it's not like I have any real life blogging friends that live close to me that I can just meet up with and chit chat about blogging when I feel like it.  I don't think there's anything wrong with paying a little extra if you're going to be given resources and advice!

20) Start tweeting "from the archives" posts on Twitter.  I mean, just because it's not a brand new post doesn't mean it should have to go to waste, right?  

21) Sponsor other blogs.  I have sponsored other blogs in the past, but haven't done this recently due to my sporadic posting.  If I ever get back into a blogging groove, I would love to sponsor some more blogs.  It's just fun and gets my blog more exposure.

What would you like to do for your blog?  Are any of these on your list?

Jekyll Island, Georgia

April 27, 2015
My friends and I all had a day off and were looking for a fun day trip from Savannah.  We decided to go to Jekyll Island and explore for a bit.  Jekyll Island is located about 1.5 hours from Savannah and is actually about half-way between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. Jekyll Island is one of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles.  It's just south of St. Simon's island, which seems to be more well-known. Just as a heads up, there is a $6.00 parking fee which must be paid before entering Jekyll island.

Jekyll Island is about 7 miles long and has plenty of marshes and beaches as well as palmettos and live oaks.  There are also several picnic areas and many bike trails on the island.  The island has a historic district that is worth seeing.  It consists of cottages that were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Most of the cottages were built by rich Northerners who used them as their winter homes. The most famous building in the historic district has got to be The Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Although it is currently a hotel, it used to be an exclusive club for the wealthy--in fact, J.P. Morgan was a member.  It appealed to the elite due to the fact that it was rather isolated and because of the proximity to the beach.  I'm sure the mild climate of the island also had something to do with its popularity. Other cottages include the Sans Souci, Crane Cottage, and Indian Mound.

The island is also known for its Driftwood Beach.  This is a great place to take some photographs of the many gnarled fallen branches, but bring some bug spray!!

Georgia's Sea Turtle Center is located on the island, too.  This is a hospital for injured sea turtles that is open to the general public.  There is an admission fee, but the money goes back to the center to maintain the facility.

Another historic site on the island is the Horton House, which was the former residence of Major William Horton.  James Oglethorpe, who established the colony of Georgia, sent Horton to Jekyll Island in order to protect it from the Spanish in Florida.  The house is made out of tabby, which consists of oyster shells, sand, and water.  This can be visibly seen on the inside portion of the house. Across the street from the Horton House is the DuBignon Cemetery.  The DuBignon's owned the island from 1800 and kept it for almost 90 years.

Although the island can definitely be toured in a day, I would like to go back for longer.  It would certainly make a nice getaway in the summer.

Have you been to any of Georgia's Golden Isles? 

Birthday Recap @ Boone Hall Plantation

April 20, 2015
Last Friday was my birthday, and I was pretty stoked because I got the day off since my school is still on spring break.  Better yet, it also landed on a payday!! I knew that I wanted to go on a fun, little day trip so I thought about heading back to Charleston. Two people had recently recommended Boone Hall Plantation to me, so I decided that's where I'd like to visit.  Of course I spent the day with my bestie, Everett.  Ev invited his aunt to come with us, and the three of us had an awesome in and around Charleston.

Our first stop was for an early lunch at Stono Market and Tomato Shed Cafe.  Ev's aunt suggested the place because she discovered it on one of her past trips to the area.  When Ev and I don't know where to eat, I always tell him to ask his aunt because every place she talks about is usually to-die-for good!  I mean, she hit the nail on the head when she suggested The 5 Spot, Green Truck Pub, and Lulu's Chocolate Bar.  Sure enough, the Tomato Shed Cafe had delicious food, not to mention affordable prices.  It's a casual place where you get your own silverware and drinks, although someone still comes to take your order and bring it to you.  A lot of the ingredients used to make the food are locally grown and organic.  What caught my eye right away was the long list of side items that were available to order.  There were about thirty different options, and almost every one was made with fresh veggies or fruit.  I decided to just go ahead get their Veggie Plate, which is four side items for $9.95.  I went with the eggplant bake, Waldorf apple salad, sweet potato casserole topped with apples, raisins, and pecans, and sauteed zucchini, squash, and onions.

 After our lunch, Ev's aunt suggested that we stop and look at the Angel Oak Tree since it was so close to where we were.  The tree is located on Johns Island, and it's not something that I would make a special trip out to see, but it is worth seeing if you're already staying somewhere near Charleston.  What's impressive about the tree is that it is around 400-500 years old.  One of the signs posted at the location stated that it is the oldest tree east of the Mississippi.  It is pretty incredible to see how long some of the branches have become!

Our next stop was Boone Hall Plantation, which was the "main event" of the day.  Boone Hall is one of America's oldest working plantations.  It is famous for its Avenue of Oaks that leads up to the plantation.  Basically, there is a road lined with live oaks on each side.  On the tour we were told that the son of Major John Boone planted these in 1743, but apparently some claim that they were in fact planted the Horlbecks about a century later when they owned the plantation.

After paying the $20.00 entrance fee, visitors can walk around to the different parts of the plantation and also opt to take some guided tours which are included.  While we were waiting to tour the house, we meandered along some paths in the garden and admired some of the antique roses. Next, we walked along the slave quarters.  There are eight original brick slave cabins that were pretty close to the house.  To have slave houses made out of brick is pretty rare, so many presume that the owner was trying to show off his wealth.  Speaking of bricks, later there was a brickyard on Boone Hall plantation and there are homes in Charleston today that are made of the bricks produced at Boone Hall.

The current house on the plantation is not the original home and was constructed in the 1930's.  On the tour of the house we were taken to three rooms and learned a bit about the history of the plantation and about the various owners.  Next, we went on a coach tour of the whole plantation.  For me, this was the highlight!  Our guide told us that Hollywood loves Boone Hall plantation and it is a popular venue for weddings.  In fact, this is where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds recently tied the knot.  In case you are wondering why the house looks familiar, it was the summer home of Allie's family in the movie The Notebook.  Queen, a mini-series, starring Halle Berry was also shot here.

On the tour we also got to see some of the entrenchments dug by Confederate soldiers.  The entrenchments were ordered by Robert E. Lee in order to slow down Union troops and make it easier to attack them as they were advancing.  Our guide told us that Lee earned the nickname "The King of Spades" because of this.

We were told that Boone Hall plantation used to produce cotton and pecans. There is still a small area where cotton is grown, but our guide told us that is just for show.  There are some remaining pecan trees, but Boone Hall plantation is currently known for its strawberries, and there is a U-pick area.  A local tradition is for parents and grandparents to take kids strawberry picking.  Of course, we stopped to pick some, too!  We left with a bunch of huge, juicy, not to mention tasty strawberries that are far better than the ones for sale in the supermarkets near me.

Afterwards, we went to Kaminsky's Baking Co. located in downtown Charleston since I wanted a piece of cake for my birthday.  It reminded Ev, his aunt, and I of Lulu's Chocolate Bar in Savannah, which is not a bad thing!  Kaminsky's is a dessert cafe, but they also had martinis.  Since it ended up being happy hour, I went with a Curious George martini.  The description of it on the menu is as follows: "Godiva white chocolate, Irish creme liquer, banana syrup, chocolate graham cracker rim."  Delicious!! I also got a slice of Snickerdoodle cake which they brought out with a candle in it, and told me that it was free of charge because it was my birthday.  

The last place we stopped was at a restaurant called Sesame, which specializes in gourmet burgers. We couldn't help but compare it to Green Truck Pub in Savannah.  Charleston and Savannah have had a rivalry for centuries, so I guess it's only natural that we're constantly comparing the two cities.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better birthday.  I had a wonderful day trip doing one of the things I love most (exploring) in the company of two great people!

How did you spend your last birthday? 

6 Places to Visit in Charleston, South Carolina

April 8, 2015
Charleston, South Carolina is a historic city that will likely win you over in just one visit!  It is truly a city that is full of Southern charm and was even voted America's friendliest city by Conde Nast Traveler. Go for the weather, architecture, food, and hospitality and you'll see firsthand why so many people rave about Charleston.

1) Waterfront Park- This is such a delightful place to visit in Charleston.  As the name suggests, it is right along the water so there are some nice views to be had. When you gaze out to the water, you can see Ft. Sumter, boats, and possibly even some dolphins.  There are plenty of benches and shaded areas as well as swings. The park is well-maintained and extremely clean. Within the park, there are two fountains--one that kids seem to enjoy running through and the Pineapple Fountain.

2) King Street- This is known as "the shopping street" in Charleston.  There are all kinds of big chain stores like Victoria's Secret, H&M, Francesca's Collections, Forever 21, and Banana Republic, but there are also plenty of locally owned shops.  If you're interested in buying local, check out this great guide from Charleston City Paper. 

3) Restaurants serving Southern cuisine- The last time I went to Charleston, I went with my Chinese co-teacher who heard about Hyman's Seafood from other teachers that work at our school. We went for the lunch and all three of us got the $19.95 combo deal which includes three items of your choice, plus a side dish.  I chose the fried oysters, fried shrimp, and Carolina style shrimp and grits with a side of sweet potato mash. Our waiter was really friendly and also brought out coleslaw, boiled peanuts, and some hush puppies while we were waiting for our meal.  Personally, I liked the shrimp and grits the most, but everything else was also great. There are little plaques on each table of which famous people ate there. Our table had some big names like Sarah Jessica Parker, James Brown, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Sandra Bullock.

Of course, there plenty of other restaurants to try in Charleston if this one doesn't appeal to you. Here is a Top 10 list from USA Today.

4) Rainbow Row- Located from 83 to 107 East Bay Street, these colorful, pastel row houses are fun to admire and photograph. This is an iconic spot in Charleston and not to be missed on a walking tour. Many of the homes were built in the 1770's.

5) The Battery and White Point Garden- When I visited Charleston, I parked along the Battery (it's free and there were tons of spaces!!) and made my way into the city by walking towards White Point Garden.  The Battery is full of beautiful antebellum mansions, and the streets are lined with palmettos. White Point Garden has cannons from both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, a gazebo, and several historic monuments.

6) Charleston City Market- This is the place to go if you're looking for a souvenir to take home.  The most famous souvenirs are the Gullah sweet grass baskets and roses made out of palmetto leaves.   The City Market is four blocks long and has 300 plus vendors.

Other suggestions if you have more time are:  Folly Beach, Ft. Sumter, and South Carolina Aquarium.

Does Charleston interest you?  If you've gone before, what are your recommendations?

Revisiting Last Year's Goals

April 7, 2015
Last year I made some goals for myself, and since I didn't revisit them in January, I figured that now is as good a time as any.

Goal 1: Find a full time teaching position.  It was a struggle and I had to move states to do it, but I am currently employed as a full-time teacher in South Carolina. A lot of the people that went through my program with are still working as intervention specialists or long-term subs, and I feel like I would be doing the same thing if I hadn't moved (or gotten really lucky.) 

Goal 2: Start a new savings account.  I did start a savings account, and I'm sure glad that I did because I ended up using up a lot of the money for my move!  I ended up having to switch banks because there are no Key Banks by me here, and I made sure to open up another savings account. It is pretty pitiful right now because the cost of living is quite high where I live compared to what it was in Ohio, but I try.

Goal 3: Visit my sister in North Carolina.  Last year I was able to make this happen during my sis's spring break! I also stayed with her for a few days while I was moving from Ohio to Georgia.  Now that I'm much closer to her, a trip to NC is feasible on a long weekend.  I got to go to her baby shower and visited her in January and got to meet my new niece!

Goal 4: Learn how to cook five new meals well.  Hmmm...I guess I should have been more clear when I said "learn how to cook."  If you consider following a recipe and trying out a new crock pot meal as learning how to cook a new meal well, then I guess I accomplished this goal (barely.)  It's not like I memorized how to cook anything that involves more than 4 ingredients.  

Goal 5: Read ten new books.  I definitely did this, thanks to the free time I had last summer.  I read all three of Gillian Flynn's books, Game of Thrones, The Fault in Our Stars, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Book Thief, to name a few.  I even wrote my first book review on my blog for Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine.  Jerramy Fine even found my review and tweeted at me, which I thought was the coolest thing ever.  Last week I finished The Girl on the Train, and I just started Eleanor and Park yesterday.  I feel like I can never keep up with what I would like to read, which I guess is a good thing because there are just so many interesting reads out there!

Goal 6: Go on a road trip. Nothing major in this category, but over Christmas break my friends and I went to Jekyll Island in Georgia.  We also stopped at Tallulah Falls one day on our trip back from Ohio.  I hope to be able to go to a few more places over the summer when I have some time off! Also, when I moved, I decided to go and visit my grandparents in Pennsylvania on my way down to Georgia.  I figured that if I was moving to the South that I should try to see them one last time before I moved even farther away.

Goal 7: Become more active.  I was doing a great job with this until I got my full-time teaching job and then surviving my week at work became my top priority.  Finally the craziness has died down a little, but about three weeks ago I got bronchitis and I'm still fighting it off.  I think I'll be able to find more time to exercise since I am getting faster at writing lesson plans and know more about the expectations for my job.

Goal 8: Make five DIY things from Pinterest. Um...this did not happen.  I did one, simple craft which was to make magnets out of coins from other countries.  This goal just was not one of my top priorities.

Goal 9: Plan and go on a trip to Costa Rica.  Since I wasn't working at all for over 3 months, I wasn't able to justify going on this trip due to my depleted savings account.  I'm not too sad since Rachael and I will be going to Iceland in July.  I'll try to get to Costa Rica one day when the timing feels right. As much as I love traveling, I don't think any trip is worth it if it's going to break the bank. 

Goal 10: Attend a local event.  In Savannah, I checked out Bacon Fest.  I also went to a local shrimp festival.  However, the best event I attended was to go to the St. Patrick's Day celebration in Savannah! I went there on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day with Everett, Jared, and with two of their friends who were visiting from Atlanta.  As to be expected, people were engaging in all sorts of debauchery.  Savannah was packed because St. Patrick's Day is a big deal there.  It's the second largest St. Paddy's Day celebration in the States after NYC.  I was lucky enough to go back to Savannah on the actual day of St. Patrick's Day and see the parade.  

Goal 11: Try a new kind of ethnic food.  In my 2014 goals post, I said I wanted to try food from South America.  I didn't do that, but I have been indulging in all sorts of Southern foods!  I went to an oyster roast, got to try Low Country boil, had shrimp and grits, hush puppies, ate at Mrs. Wilkes, and had all kinds of traditional Southern food for Thanksgiving and Christmas since Ev's family was nice enough to invite me to their celebrations. Oh, and my Chinese co-teacher prepared some dumplings and nian-gao (a dessert made with red bean paste) for our class for our Chinese New Year celebration.  Of course she let me try some, too.  :)

Goal 12: Visit two states I've never been to.  I have not visited two new states, but have done a lot of exploring locally.  I will be going to Massachusetts this summer for a few days with Rachael. Technically I have been there before since I was there several times as a small child in order to visit my great-grandmother.  I don't count it since I can't really remember anything about those trips besides that my great-grandmother was really sweet and tried to give me all of her coins.  

Goal 13: Keep a gratitude journal.  I have a notebook that I've been jotting a few things down in, although I've been slacking lately.  So...I sort of accomplished this goal?

Goal 14: Start a new holiday tradition.  This year my friends and I went to The Westin in downtown Savannah to look at the decorations and gingerbread houses.  I'd like for this tradition to continue, but I'm not sure I'll be around here next year.  As long as I make an effort to do something "Christmassy" with my friends or family, I'll be good. :)

Goal 15: Do something adventurous that I've never done before. Well, I moved across the country all alone and got my first full-time teaching job in America, so that has to count for something!

Goal 16: Invest in a designer purse.  I bought my second Kate Spade purse last year and still love it!

Goal 17: Host a party.  Nope--I never did this.  I don't even know enough people down here to host a party, so this won't work.  

Goal 18: Go on another blogger meet up.  I really, really wanted to go to the Columbus meet up organized by Shane, but the date of the meet up was the weekend I was moving.  I haven't heard of any meet ups in the Low Country, but I would be open to going!  

Goal 19: Surprise a friend or family member.  I surprised my sis by getting her the swing she wanted for my baby niece, but nothing major in this category.

Goal 20: Get my tattoo redesigned. Yes!! I took the plunge and went for it, and I'm so glad that I did...I'm proud of my new tattoo rather than ashamed as I once was.

Although I didn't accomplish everything, I'm okay with that.  At least I am not subbing anymore...The finding a full-time teaching position was my #1 goal for obvious reasons.  I haven't made a list like this for this year.  I'm going to keep it simple and straight forward and just say that I want to travel more and to save more money.  Don't you love how my two goals kind of contradict each other?  Hahaha...here's to hoping!

What are your current goals? If you made a New Year's resolution, how are you doing with it?