What I Do After I Write a Blog Post

I’ve previously talked about my blog writing process. After I write the post, I do a few other things before publishing it. These steps make the post into shareable content.

Find an image for the post

I got to Librestock to find an image that complements my content. For my posts on freelancing, I like to find images of offices, people working, and computers. I also like photos of nature scenes. Sometimes I include pictures of my family, but only in the parenting posts.

Create a Canva graphic

I edit the image in Canva to create a “Pinnable” image. I do this by taking a template that I made of the blog title and my website address. I change the image, add the new text and insert it into the end of the blog post.

Write social media posts

I post every new blog entry once on the Freelancing Mama Facebook page. Sometimes I share Freelancing Mama’s post on my personal Facebook page. I also tweet each post three times within the week that it was published.

Schedule the blog post

I schedule each blog post at least one day in advance, but sometimes posts are scheduled a few weeks in advance. One of my goals for 2017 is to have content scheduled at least one month in advance.

Post on Facebook group

Once the post goes live, I post my link in a variety of places. There are several freelancing and blogging groups that allow people to share their content once per week on a certain day. I take advantage of this and post my work in the threads. Usually, this results in 2-5 people sharing my content. You can find groups by searching Facebook for your topic of interest and choosing the Group tab to see what exists.

Pin my post

My next step is to pin my post. I do this by using the Pinterest Chrome add-on. I hover over the pinnable image that I include at the end of my posts and then add my blog. I have a Pinterest board for the Freelancing Mama’s posts. I typically add more to the description field before saving the pin.

Repost on Medium*

Medium is another blogging platform. My husband primarily uses it for his writing. I read Medium articles every day, but only post some of my work there. One reason for this is that I don’t want to negatively affect my website’s SEO rankings. Duplicate content can lower your ranking. The second reason is that I want to keep a consistent image on that site as a social media marketer / freelancer. On my own blog, I also write about parenting and being a stay-at-home mother.

I’m a relatively new blogger and don’t do this as a career so this is a basic list of resources. As I learn new things, I’ll continue to add to this procedure.

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How I Write a Blog Post

The hardest part of writing is often just getting started. One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is “BICHOK” – butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Often the magic happens when we show up.

My writing process rarely varies.

I always start with a blank Google Document.

I title the document and change the font to Headline 1 size. I may end up tweaking the title after I finish the post, but most of the time I know what I want to write about and my title explains it fairly well on the first try.

Next, I write a bullet point outline about what I’m going to discuss in the blog post.

  • First point
  • Second point
  • Third point
  • 1-2 sentence conclusion

As we all learned in school, essays should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Blog posts are similar, but they are open to your personal style choices. Some people’s posts are a stream of consciousness while others are more like newspaper articles. It’s up to you to choose your style of writing.

After I have the bullet point list, I may skip around in the document and write sections that are coming easily first.

I also like to include 1-2 links to other blog entries and websites. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s my rule of thumb. When I think of something that I want to cite I write (LINK) next to the text to remind myself to go through and find the links during the editing process.

I work on a blog post when during my 30 minutes of concentrated writing time each morning. If I don’t have anything to add in one post, I’ll move on to another. I have between 20-30 drafts going at all times so there’s always something to do.

I complete some posts in 10 minutes and others take hours. It depends on my familiarity with the topic and how easily writing is coming to me that day. Sometimes I’m pulling the words out of myself and other times they are flowing freely.

Concentration

I write with Brain.fm playing in the background. I truly believe that it helps focus my brain. I also use YouTube to find classical music. Here’s a nice 3 hour compilation of classical music.

Proofreading and editing

After the first draft is complete, I read through the post out loud to look for any errors or sentences that should be reworked. Often, reading out loud helps to find awkward phrasing or incorrect grammar. I run a free spelling and grammar checker called Grammarly on my posts to catch anything I’ve missed.

I typically spend another 20-30 minutes proofreading and editing the post to get to draft two. Once the second draft is complete, I leave the document alone for a few days.

Final read through

I do a final read through a few days after editing draft 2. After I read through, I go through my after blog writing process.

Celebration

After I finish a blog post and after all of my 30 minute writing sessions, I have a small celebration.

As an adult, even while working in an office, you don’t get praise very often. My husband is very supportive and always tells me he’s proud of me. When I’m alone in my kitchen and just finished some writing, it helps to get up and say “Go Erin!” or some other exclamation out loud. Having a toddler is a benefit because she’s always ready for an impromptu dance party. If I’ve had a particularly difficult writing session, I turn on one of my favorite songs and rock out for a few minutes.

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What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Motherhood

Being a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, but it can also be one of the most exhausting, overwhelming and tedious ones too. At one point or another, all mothers have felt like they weren’t able to keep up with the onslaught of housework, caregiving, and maintaining their sanity.

Here are some ways to cope when you feel overwhelmed by motherhood:

  • Find a support group

In-person would be best, but if all you can find or have time for is an online group, that can work too. Support groups consist of other mothers, some in the same position as you, others who are newer to the job, and some seasoned pros. They can offer support and help. A weekly or monthly meeting can be a great place to recharge, relax, laugh and commiserate. Check Meetup groups in your area or Momsclub.

  • Ask for help

If you have a relative or a friend that you can ask for help, reach out and do so. Sometimes we don’t reach out for help because we’re embarrassed and assume that everyone else has it together. Everyone could use some extra help every now and then. Ask if someone can watch your child for a while so you can run an errand solo. Ask if someone could entertain your child while you get some things done around the house. Ask if someone could help you clean while your child sleeps. Whatever you need help with, put aside your temporary embarrassment and ask for help.

  • Take a break

When your child is napping or otherwise safely contained somewhere, take a break. Take a few deep breaths, do some stretching, read a book for a few minutes, or just leave the room. Sometimes separating yourself from the situation for a bit can help especially during toddler tantrums or newborn crying jags. When you calm down, go back and comfort and redirect.

  • Hire someone

If you don’t have regular help, you may want to hire someone to give you some time out each day. Babysitters, nannies, or ‘mother’s helpers’ can be as reasonable as $7-15 per hour depending on where you live. If you are able to pay someone to come a few days a week, it may be best for your mental health. You can find local caregivers on Care.com.

  • Find daycare

If you don’t want a babysitter coming to your house or can’t find one, you could use a drop-in home daycare service. This would allow you to bring your child for around $25-45 per day. Most commercial daycares will not allow drop-ins, but do have part-time schedules that can be as flexible as two days per week or a few hours each day.

  • Go outside

If you’re stuck in the house all day, you’re bound to get aggravated. Both you and your child need a change of scenery. Go outside! Go to the playground, the library, or take a walk around the block. Even running a few errands can break up the monotony.

  • Find free activities in your town

In most cities, there’s something free happening almost every day. Most museums and zoos have donation days where you pay whatever you can. Look up activities in your city and get out of the house. It can seem overwhelming to leave the house at first, but once you get to your destination, you’ll be glad you did. Search “free activities [your city]” or “donation day [your city]” to find lists of resources.

  • Join a gym

There are many gyms with childcare included in the membership price. The YMCA is a great example. For around $40/person per month or $70/family per month you can go to the YMCA every day and use the childcare for two hours per day. This situation is a win-win. Not only will you get some exercise, but you will also get a much-needed break.

  • Get more sleep

When you’re sleep deprived, everything is harder. Try to get to bed earlier. If your child is still waking through the night, consider sleep training. I used the SleepEasy Method to sleep train my daughter. If your child naps during the day, try to take a 20-30 minute nap with them. It’s tempting to power through your day on caffeine and sugar (I know I have!), but try not to consume them after 2 pm so you can fall asleep faster.

  • Speak to a therapist

If you’re feeling overwhelmed frequently, you may want to speak with a therapist. You could be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety. Even if you’re not, the therapist will give you tools to help you cope with your day-to-day struggles. It’s often hard to find time to go to a therapist when you have children, but this is where babysitters, family, or friends can come in handy. You must prioritize your own health because no one else can do that for you.

Feeling overwhelmed is a normal occurrence in motherhood. Children can be demanding and exhausting and it’s stressful to have the responsibility of raising them on your shoulders. Make sure to take time for self-care. You are important.

If you feel hopeless or overwhelmed the majority of the time, please contact someone about postpartum depression/anxiety. It is very real and very serious.

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Creating a Productive Morning Routine

A productive morning routine can be the difference between a great day or a terrible one. The elements of a productive morning routine differ for each person, but there’s some overlap for everyone. Here are some simple activities you can consider adding to your morning routine:

1) Stretching

Stretching has many benefits for our bodies. It helps blood flow and keeps us limber. After sleeping for 7-9 hours (the importance of enough sleep cannot be overstated), our bodies are stiff and need to ease into the day. Start off with a simple 2-3 minute stretching routine as soon as you get out of bed. Here’s a good tutorial for morning stretches.

2) Drink a large glass of water

Not only is your body stiff after sleep, but it’s also parched. Although it’s tempting to do so, don’t immediately grab coffee when you wake up. Pour a 8-10 oz. glass of water and drink it first. If you don’t like drinking plain water, add lemon or cucumber slices. I have a bottle of lemon juice to add when I don’t have fresh lemons (which is often).

3) Do something meaningful to you

Before you get caught up in the rush of the day, try to do something meaningful to you. This could be reading, writing, working on a craft or project, cleaning something, or whatever makes you happy. I spend 30 minutes each morning writing. It doesn’t really matter what writing I choose to work on, it’s the routine of doing 30 minutes of writing before starting my client work. If you can take 30 minutes for yourself at the beginning of the day, your activity is much more likely to happen. If you wait until later in the day, you probably won’t end up having time.

4) Meditate

Meditation is simple, but it is not easy. You can do it without any props. You simply sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. When thoughts enter your mind, you acknowledge them and let them go. You can picture your thoughts as clouds in the sky, blowing by.

If you want a little more out of your meditation, you can download one of the many meditation apps or programs and do guided meditation. This is where someone walks you through the meditation. I love the Stop, Breathe and Think app. Headspace is also good.

5) Pray

If you pray, morning is a great time to get your prayers in. Say a quick prayer of thanks, ask for what you need for the day, or send some prayers to someone in need.

6) Journal

Write down your thoughts for a few minutes each morning. I write down the events that happened the day before. It helps me remember what I did and focuses my attention on the day at hand.

7) Gratitude list

Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for each morning. Expressing gratitude has huge benefits for your mental health. Every day my list has the same things in the #1 and #2 spots – my husband and my daughter. After that, I try to think of specific things I’m grateful for. Sometimes they are things like the ability to see and other times they are things like flavored coffee. The items don’t have to be meaningful or deep, they just need to be something you feel truly grateful for. Reflect on each item for a moment and you’ll have a better outlook on your day.

8) Write a to-do list

Think about what you want to accomplish today. These items could be a mix of personal and business. No matter who you are, you have a list of things you’d like to get done each day. Keep your list in a place where it’s accessible all day. Make a point to check in with your list around 12 pm and 5 pm to see what you’ve accomplished and what you have left to do.

9) Exercise

Some people like to exercise in the morning while others do not. It’s important for freelancers to get some sort of exercise since the job can be very sedentary. If nothing else, try to do the 7-minute workout each day.

A productive morning routine can give your day structure which is important for remote workers, freelancers, stay at home moms, and anyone else who is home the majority of the day. You’ll end up feeling less stressed and frazzled when you’re following a simple routine each morning.

Special note for mamas: You may not think you have time to create a morning routine. In order to do so, you’ll have to find ways to work it into your schedule. Perhaps you can wake up 30 minutes earlier than your children. If that won’t work because you’re getting your children ready and off to school, then as soon as you come home you could take 30 minutes for a mid-morning or early afternoon routine. The benefits will be the same and it’s important to take time for you each day.

 

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Cold Emailing in 5 Easy Steps

Customer acquisition is a huge part of the sales process. You have to pitch to get new clients and you need new clients for your freelancing business to grow and succeed.

Although you may receive referrals through people you already know or groups you interact with, at some point you will need to find new clients. You want to reach people that would otherwise not hear about you. One way to do this is cold emailing.

Cold calling or cold emailing is a technique where you reach out to a person or business without an introduction or previous meeting.

Here are the five steps for cold emailing:

1) Get a contact list

Buy, find, or create a list of contacts that would be interested in your services. This list may be people in your niche, local businesses, or agencies. It may even be competitors! People doing the same thing as you may have overflow clients that they can pass along if you develop a relationship with them.

I created a cold email campaign for my newsletter writing service. I made a spreadsheet of all of the local Rockford, IL nonprofits and charities by googling “charitable organizations”, “not for profits” and “nonprofits”. I made a list of the contact person in each organization if their information was available on the website. If there was no contact person listed, I used the generic “info@organiation” email address.

2) Write your email template

You’ll want to change the template for each client, but some parts will remain the same. The introduction should not change much from potential client to client.

Your email template should include the following:

  • A short introduction about who you are (2-3 sentences maximum)
  • Why you’re emailing
  • A proposal for how you can help them
  • Why they need the help (using statistics)
  • A call to action **Call to action is a marketing term that describes wording that motivates the person to respond.

You’ll want to be very specific with how you can help them. If you’re a designer, talk about what exactly you’d do. If you’re a copywriter, tell them which sections of their website you would rework or that you noticed the key players in the organization don’t have biographies. You’ll want to customize your email to what they need. A general email offering a range of services will be too overwhelming and salesy for most people. People are busy and they want you to get to the point as quickly as possible.

3) Send to your contact list

Send to each person on your contact list. Be sure to use the person’s first name if possible. Otherwise, start the email with Hello or Hi.

4) Keep track of responses

I kept track of responses in a spreadsheet. Some organizations said no outright while others asked for a follow-up with my service fees.

Keeping a spreading of the status of your campaign will keep your organized so you know which organizations you already reached out to and when to send a follow-up.

5) Send a follow-up two weeks later

Two weeks after you initially email, send a follow-up restating your request and asking if the person had a chance to look over your email.

You’ll want this email to be very short. An example is below:

Subject line: [Service name, e.g. Copywriting] proposal

Hi Person,

I emailed you a few weeks ago about helping out with copywriting for your website. Did you get a chance to look over my proposal? Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to set up a call.

Best,
Name

Consider visiting in-person. Although this is somewhat out of my comfort zone, I know it can be helpful to go into a small business and meet the owner and explain your services. For this step, you will want to have professional business cards on-hand.

Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t hear back from many of the people you’ve cold emailed. Cold emailing has a success rate of ~20%. However, it is one of the least stressful and time-consuming client acquisition strategies. Once you’ve invested the initial time it takes to gather email addresses, and write the basic template, tweaking it and sending the emails is a quick process.

Bonus – Cold Email Template

Here’s an example of a cold email that I’ve sent out to local organizations that are not currently publishing a newsletter. Thus far I’ve had a 25% success rate in getting new customers (I must note, my sample size is very small).

Subject line: Email newsletter for Org Name

Hi

Nice to meet you! I’m a local marketing specialist who wanted to reach out and offer my services to your organization. As I browsed your website, I noticed that [Organization name] is not currently sending out an email newsletter.

I think you would see some real benefits from a focused communications strategy. I have worked in social media marketing, strategy, and content creation for several years and started my own business in 2015. I’ve designed and written email newsletters for several clients. You can see some of my work on [client’s] newsletter (link) and on [other client’s] newsletter (link). I’m a lifelong resident of the community and I have a special interest in charity and social work. You can find out more about me on my website (link).

Email newsletters are so important for keeping the lines of communication open with your supporters and volunteers. In a recent Nielsen Norman survey when asked to opt-in to receive updates from a company only 10% elected to do so through Facebook and 90% chose email newsletters. Newsletters can be weekly or monthly depending on your goals.

If you’re interested in hearing more, I’d love to chat with you.

Thank you for your time,

Name
Phone number
Email address
Website

cold-emailing

 

I’ve Written for 30 Minutes a Day for 60 Days

After I completed 30 days of writing every day for 30 minutes, I wrote about my experience at The Write Life. I made a promise to myself to write every day until the end of the year. Then I plan to write every day of 2017.

I just completed my 60th day of writing for 30 minutes every day!

As I’ve mentioned before, the mood to write rarely strikes me. When I think about my perfect writing conditions, I picture myself alone in my basement office at about 8 pm. I have a few candles lit and I’m wrapped in a soft blanket. I have a hot cup of tea next to me and perhaps a few cookies or crackers to nibble on. I’m contemplating each word to make sure that I’m creating a masterpiece. I ponder what I will write next. I spend a lot of time re-reading what I’ve written.

Even though this sounds romantic and wonderful, I’ve done it many times and it’s not that great. I get almost nothing accomplished. I sit for an hour or two and have less than 500 words to show for it.

Compare that to how I’ve actually been writing for the last 60 days:

Most of the time, I’m located in my kitchen at the breakfast bar. I write while sitting on a somewhat uncomfortable wooden stool. I write while I sip lukewarm coffee, not wanting to get up and microwave it for the third time that morning. The light is bright and glaring because my writing happens between 7 – 9 am. My daughter is prominently involved, asking for snacks, milk, toys, and to watch Frozen for the 100th time. My Google document is filled with squiggly red lines because I don’t bother correcting grammar or spelling until I finish writing the first draft. I barely think about what I’m writing, I just let myself write.

After 60 days, I’m still feeling the benefits of this daily practice. My productivity has continued to increase and so has my confidence level.

My stats after 30 days:

  • Published nine new posts on my blog and drafted another 21 posts.
  • Planned out my content until March 2017.
  • Completed 30+ pages of an ebook on becoming a virtual assistant.

My stats after 60 days:

  • Published nine new posts on my blog and drafted another 14 posts.
  • Planned out my content until June 2017.
  • Completed another 14 pages of an ebook on becoming a virtual assistant. The ebook is now in the editing and publishing stages.

Total so far:

  • Published 18 new posts; drafted another 35
  • Planned content to June 2017
  • Completed 44 pages of an ebook

In addition to my first ever guest post being published on The Write Life, I’ve also sent out an additional three guest post submissions. One is scheduled to go live in November.

It could be a coincidence that I’ve gotten more client requests and referrals than usual in these last 60 day, but I don’t think so. Sticking to one goal and completing it each day has supercharged my productivity in all areas. I’m much more interested in growing my business and working with new people. I’m motivated to tackle projects that have nothing to do with writing, like using the electric hedge trimmer to spruce up the bushes in front of my house.

Feeling like I’m accomplishing something each day keeps me in a positive space. I’m finally embracing the “done is better than perfect” model. Because the thing is, even when I agonized over my work, it still wasn’t perfect. It’s much better to feel like something is done and hit publish than to keep it in drafts purgatory for the next year.

In addition, I’ve had at least 15 people tell me that I inspired them to start writing every day. A kind commenter took some of my words, printed them out, and put them on his refrigerator to motivate him to write. That means so much to me!

I plan on continuing my writing streak for the rest of the year, checking in every 30 days. When the new year starts, it’s my goal to write every day of 2017.

Care to join me?

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Celebrating Halloween with a Toddler

Halloween can be an incredibly fun time with a toddler. They are picture-perfect in their costumes, they can say “trick or treat” and are beginning to get into the excitement of the holidays. Halloween marks the start of the holiday season.

Here are some ways you can have a great Halloween celebration with your toddler.

  • Let them pick out their own costume

This year my daughter offered up the following options for costumes – Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, Mickey Mouse, or Minnie Mouse. I try not to push my agenda, but I knew that Sheldon was not going to be a recognizable costume since he wears superhero t-shirts and khaki pants which is not too different from some of the outfits she already has.

Once we looked online for costumes, she firmly declared she would be Abby Cadabby. Last year she was Elmo and Sesame Street is still popular in our house.

We also went to Target and picked out a fluffy kangaroo costume that would be more weather appropriate for night-time trick or treating.

  • Take them Trick or Treating

One of the great things about my husband’s employer is that they are a family business. They throw several events each year where employees are encouraged to bring their families. One of those activities is trick or treating around the office. There are about 50 people that participate and hand out candy to the kids trick or treating. Norah absolutely loves going to her daddy’s work and walking around the office with him.

We also do the traditional evening trick or treating in our neighborhood. Last year, Norah went to three houses, but was too scared to do any more. We came back home and she passed out candy to the trick or treaters. She really enjoyed seeing all of the kids in their costumes. Since she’s a little older this year, I think she’ll be more willing to go to the door and say trick or treat. She’s had a taste of candy and that’s a powerful motivator.

  • Talk up the holiday

We’ve been talking about Halloween since the summer. We keep reminding her of the order of the holidays and telling how fun Halloween is going to be. We do things related to the holiday for 2-3 weekends before the event.

  • Get holiday books from the library

When any major event is coming up I go to the library and get books about it. I always talk up new things so that Norah is excited and prepared, but I find that books are easier for her to understand than me rambling about something.

We’ve also watched several movies about Halloween including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Trick or Treat Mickey Mouse.

  • Carve or paint pumpkins together

Last year we didn’t get around to doing this so we made sure it was a priority this year. We bought a kit with paint and sequins so Norah can go wild on her own pumpkin while Mike and I carved pumpkins. I made a cat pumpkin for Norah, Mike carved a ghost, and I craved an emoji.

  • Decorate for the event

My toddler loves decorating. She often takes stickers and places them all over the house and says “I’m decorating.”

When we see decorations in the grocery store, we go look at them and let her pick something for the house. She’s excited about the LED light pumpkins and spooky ghosts in the front yard. We also have a scarecrow in the front yard and a few things around the house. One of Norah’s favorite decorations are the sticky window clings so we made sure to get some pumpkins for the front window.

  • Disconnect and enjoy yourself

Nowadays it can be hard to be in the moment and enjoy yourself with so many digital distractions. By all means, take a few pictures of your child in their costume, but then put away your phone and wait until you get home to post them on Facebook. I see too many people interacting with their phones instead of their children and it makes me sad.

If Halloween isn’t your thing, most of these suggestions can be switched out for other holiday events. I’ve found that having a child makes the holidays magical again. I didn’t do much celebrating prior to my daughter being born, but I want to make sure she has special memories of the holidays. She makes everything fun!

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Mama’s Favorites: This Week’s Best Content (Week of 10/24/16)

This is a weekly collection of content that I found valuable, interesting, entertaining – or all three! Topics mostly center on freelancing, marketing, and parenting with occasional wild cards thrown in. If you like what I’m sharing, follow me on Twitter for more content suggestions.

Freelancing

If you like hearing other freelancer’s stories, check out Jess Creative’s Journeys in Business video series. The first episode is with wedding planner, Ashley Stork.

CloudPeeps has the top 10 trends of freelancing in 2017. Highlights include the digital toolbox continuing to expand and freelancers getting more representation.

Bianca Bass shares 15 money lessons everyone needs to know. This advice is particularly useful for freelancers. I agree 100% with her stance on never working for free.

Marketing

David Kadavy shares what you need to know before starting a course. A lot of his suggestions are about the things that you don’t need before you launch.

Mallie Rydzik shares a cute post on the scariest thing about being a working creative. Most creatives fear losing clients and money.

Being authentic is a current trend in marketing. Camilla Peffer discusses when too much information can be bad for your brand.

Parenting

Interesting musing on how a woman had no sympathy for mothers at her workplace until she became one. Once you become a mother you see that no mother has it easy, whether she stays home, works at home or works outside the home.

Megan Nash’s story about her special needs son being turned down by a modeling agency is making headlines. She’s hoping to get Asher into a national campaign to promote acceptance and inclusion.

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5 Easy Ways to Entertain Your Toddler at Home

I’m not only a freelancer; I’m also a stay at home mom to a two-year-old girl. I spend most of the day working, running errands and doing housework, but I also spend a few hours each day focused solely on her.

At this age, she can only concentrate on one thing for about 20 minutes so I’ve put together a bag of tricks to keep her entertained.

Here are some easy (and cheap!) ways that I entertain my toddler:

1) Creating artwork

Art projects are one of my favorite things to do with Norah. We color with crayons, markers, or colored pencils, paint with watercolors or fingerpaint, string macaroni, and glue things to paper. Pinterest is a great resource for cute art projects for toddlers. I’ve put together some of my favorites projects here.

2) Playing outside

Unless it’s the dead of winter, Norah and I go outside every day for at least 30 minutes. We walk around the yard looking for sticks and leaves. We take short walks around the neighborhood. We play with her outdoor toys (water table, sandbox, jungle gym). We are lucky to have a large yard, but even in our previous home we spent time on the stoop getting some fresh air and watching the cars go by.

3) Flashcards and letters

We spend 20-30 minutes per day doing flashcards and letter games. During the back-to-school season, I found a bunch of $1 flashcard sets at Target. I bought Cat in the Hat cards for shapes and colors and a deck of animal cards. We also have a few letter puzzles that spell out small words like cat, moon, and hat. We love this Melissa and Doug See and Spell puzzle set.

4) Reading

Since Norah was about three months old, I’ve taken her to the library every week and read to her for at least 20 minutes per day. Thanks to this, she absolutely loves books and will now spend 20-30 minutes sitting in her rocking chair “reading” her books to herself. Her most often requested items are a book and one of her stuffies to read it to. Our local library has a goal of reading 1000 books to your child before they enter kindergarten. If you read just one per night, you’ll read 365 in one year, 730 in two years and 1,095 in three years. You can find out more about this program here.

5) Games with household items

I set up inexpensive or free games for Norah to play in the house. Some examples of these include:

  • Homemade obstacle course

One of the easiest and cheapest things to do is set up an obstacle course in your home. I use couch cushions, pillows, moving boxes, and a hula hoop for obstacles and washi tape or painter’s tape to create lines and zig zags on the carpet for Norah to follow. This has been especially helpful in improving her motor skills.

  • Hide and seek

We play hide and seek by me hiding and her finding me (contained to one level of the house) or hiding her stuffed animals and telling her to find them. The stuffed animal hide and seek usually holds her attention longer because they are harder to find.

  • Scavenger hunt

This is the same concept as hide and seek, but we look for specific things. I’ll hide seashells, an apple, a few leafs, and some toys around the house and then give her a list of what she’s looking for. She can’t read yet, but she likes to cross things off the list with a crayon when she finds them.

  • Money sort

I have a giant jar of coins that she likes to transfer from one container to another. This activity requires supervision because coins are choking hazards. Norah almost never puts non-food items in her mouth, but I still watch her when she plays this game. This is a good activity for her to do in the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner. I’ve also done this with uncooked macaroni noodles.

  • Cup stack

I have 50+ plastic Solo cups in different colors from her previous birthday and holiday parties that she likes to stack. She’ll spend 20-30 minutes stacking them and knocking them over in the kitchen. She also likes doing this with plastic plates.

  • Tupperware drums

Playing drums on pots and pans is way too loud, but Tupperware drums are a great alternative. The noise isn’t deafening so your kid gets the satisfaction of hitting a spoon onto something and making noise without giving you a headache.

A game that I’m not including on the list, but Norah always wants to play is called “blankiehead.” She puts her blanket over her face and runs at full speed around the house. I do not recommend this game!

Entertaining a toddler does not have to expensive or exhausting. The most important part is being present with your child and actively engaging in whatever activity you choose to do together.

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Mama’s Favorites: This Week’s Best Content (Week of 10/17/16)

This is a weekly collection of content that I found valuable, interesting, entertaining – or all three! Topics mostly center on freelancing, marketing, and parenting with occasional wild cards thrown in. If you like what I’m sharing, follow me on Twitter for more content suggestions.

Freelancing

These illustrations of people who want you to work for free are hilarious. The quotes were taken from real people seeking free work from artists.

Alex Honeysett has some great advice on how to pitch a guest post. Researching the place you’re pitching and catering your proposal to their specifications are two of the suggestions that I fully support.

Stephane Kasriel takes the information from the recent Freelancing in America survey and proposes the three things that freelancers need from the next administration. He suggests that the government study freelancers before proposing any new legislation that affects them.

Marketing

Brittany Berger put together an awesome comprehensive guide to time management systems. If you need to get organized, check out this post!

Alex Mathers discusses how creatives are using social media to gain clients. I’ve found that Facebook groups are a great place to get leads.

Daniel Newman forecasts marketing trends for 2017. Trends include more and better quality video and personalized everything.

Parenting

If you’re looking for a gift for the one-year old in your life, check out this list. Norah got the Beatbo robot for Christmas last year and she’s still obsessed with it.

This article talks about which children are most affected by parenting style. According to Drake Baer, children who have “negative emotionality — the precursor to neuroticism” are the most susceptible to being really hurt by angry and neglectful parenting.

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