Sunday, October 31, 2010

Branding Your Blog - Building a Positive Comment Culture

(PR and Your Blog is a series written by Seth Hawkins (Debra's husband). Seth is a PR professional turned school teacher, who is sharing his knowledge of PR)

You know you crave them. No, I'm not talking about those delectable Dove chocolates or the 40-percent-off coupons at Michaels. What you really crave is comments. Let's be honest, comments are a major part of why we blog. We put ourselves out on the line every time we write a post in the hopes someone out in cyberspace will relate to what we have to say and communicate with us.
Nothing is more aggravating than writing a post you really love and have nobody comment on it. At times like that you really start to question your abilities as a blogger and ask yourself what went wrong. There could be any number of reasons why people don't comment on a blog post and you can't control those factors, but there are some things you can do to build a positive comment culture.

Remember, when building a blogging brand, your goal is to be open and honest with your readers. They need to feel comfortable and know what to expect. The same needs to be true with your comments.

Take a moment and think about your comments. How many comments do you get on average? How many would you like to get? Now, ask yourself, "Why do I want so many comments?" This will tell you a lot about your approach to blogging. If it's all about the numbers, you are not building a positive comment culture. If you want a fluid dialog, then you are on the road to a positive comment culture.

Comments are a form of communication that are more personal than a tweet and not as formal as an e-mail (which is funny because e-mails are not formal at all). When you post something on your blog you are sharing with others, and comments allow them to share back. In reality, your posts and comments are a real conversation. Do you tell someone important information, let them respond and then never say anything back to them? Of course not, but it's easy to fall into that trap with a blog.

A positive comment culture can avoid that trap. A positive comment culture involves several elements.

Elements of a Positive Comment Culture
1. Encourage readers to post comments. This can be done by adding a line at the end of a post that asks readers what they think, or ask them to offer suggestions. This is an open invitation that is especially useful when trying to attract new or curious readers.

2. Be careful in your post to not sound like a know-it-all. We all remember that annoying kid in school who thought they knew everything. Don't be the online equivalent. Leave room for discussion.

3. When someone posts a comment, quickly respond to it. But, many ask what the best way is to do this. Should I e-mail them, post something on their blog or should I post a comment back on my own blog? There is no hard and fast rule, but it comes down to your brand. Are you personal? Do you want to build friendships with people? If so, a personal e-mail goes a long way. People value that personal communication.

4. However, if you want to have a conversation on your blog, commenting on your own posts is a great way to keep talking. While the original comment poster may never see your comment back to them, your continued interest in the post will encourage other readers to post comments. Technology and forum blogs have been successful at this method for years and frequently have long comment chains that are dotted with comments from the original poster. Not only is this fun for you, it's great for your brand. It shows you care about those who read your blog and that you want to interact. Through this process, you build a community, which is really what blogging and branding is all about.

5. Make sure to comment on others' blogs. We all have that friend who will never call you, but expects a call from you at least once a week. It's obnoxious in real life and no fun in blogging. The more active you become in posting sincere comments on others' blogs, the more exposure you give your own blog. Think about it, when you post comments on another blog, you have the opportunity to show your wit and fun side. When others see your comments, they may be intrigued and visit your blog, thereby increasing your readers and enhancing your brand.

On the other hand, if you post the traditional, "Cute blog, come visit me at (insert blog address here)," all the time, you are showing that all you really care about is your own blog and not others. You can accomplish the same end goal by posting a sincere comment and then refer that blogger to a specific, related post on your own blog. Chances are, that blogger will take the time to check out that post and potentially become a regular reader of your blog.

Building a positive comment culture is a time investment, as is everything worthwhile, but it's a rewarding investment that will provide worthwhile conversation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WotW: Dear Santa, My list is online for your convenience

Good day and happy Wednesday! Christmas is now under two months away... can you believe it? So today we're talking about a very important Christmas preparation: the wishlist!

Sometimes Santa's elves (who look a lot like grandparents sometimes) need some direction to know what to bring your little ones (or even you) for Christmas. Or sometimes Santa himself (who looks a lot like you and me...) needs a reminder of what little Jimmy has been wanting that you may or may not have promised if he'd be reeeeally good that one time at the mall... or what Santa promised herself for putting up with Jimmy at the mall that one time...

Online wishlists are a convenient place to keep one comprehensive list of everything on your family's wishlist, for any time of the year. I use my online wishlist to keep track of what few things I can get my husband to admit that maybe he'd like to have, if they weren't too expensive. (So far that list has ONE item on it this year. Santa's going to have to do some investigative work...)

I also like using my wishlist when I shop around online: do I like this shirt better than that one? or that one or THAT one? My wishlist allows me to see the items I'm comparing on a single page, and I can save them for later... for when I decide that maybe I should just buy them all....

There are loads of different online services to help you build your wishlist, but today I'll just introduce you to two: Google's Shopping List (of course!) and

Google Shopping List (part of the Google product search engine) has a built-in shared wishlist feature. You can access your list directly (once you've logged in to your Google account) at or start searching for products by clicking on Shopping at the top left of the Google homepage or your personal iGoogle page.

From there, you can search for products, compare prices, and read product reviews. When you decide what product you want, click Add to Shopping List. From your shopping list, you can choose to add that item to your Shared Wishlist, which is public and searchable. (Friends can find your Shared Wishlist by entering your email address in the "Find a friend's shopping list" field.) You can also add notes to your wishlist items, such as "in blue" or "possibly less expensive in-store" or whatever else you'd like to note.

Google Shopping List is a simple and easy way to create (and optionally share) a single shopping and wish list. It's made even easier by the fact that you don't have to create a new account and password to remember, since it's integrated with your Google account already. However, if you are a list-maker (like me) who wants more than one list or lists for certain occasions, may be more to your liking.

Once you've created your new (and free, as always) account, you can create as many separate wishlists as you want/need: one for you, one for The Mr, one for the kid(s), one for crazy things you'll buy when you win the lottery. With each list, you can choose to make the list public, shared only with your Wishlist friends, or private, and you can also make each list password protected.

You can shop and buy right within Wishlist, but if you shop elsewhere, you can still add those items to your list using the bookmarklet. Add this little button to your bookmark toolbar and you can add any item from anywhere online to your wishlist just by clicking the button. Once you've verified information that Wishlist automatically detects, such as product name, price, and image, you'll be directed to to choose a list and add any additional information about the product. Simple as that.

Happy wishlisting!

PS -- If you maybe have a new pair of earrings on your wishlist, I'm giving a pair of my favorite away! Come on over to just Lu and enter the giveaway.

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple Homemade Sushi

We made this at mother's group about six months ago. It is easy and delicious!

Sheet of sushi seaweed (Nori)
2 c. rice (I use Nishiki rice, but any kind of short grain rice would work. This is important, if you use long grain rice it won't hold together.)
3 c. water
1/2 c rice vinegar
1/3 c. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
imitation crab ( Or the real thing if you aren't poor like me.)
cream cheese
 fillings, such as avocado, carrots, cucumbers

Sauce- Combine the sugar, vinegar and salt over medium heat. Stirring often. When the salt and sugar are dissolved in the vinegar. Allow to cool.

Rice- Wash the rice until the water runs clear. I usually wash the rice about five times in a strainer with small holes. Put the rice on the stove with three cups of water and wait until it boils. When it boils cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes and then pull from the stove. Keep the lid on the rice for 10 more minutes to allow to continue to steam.

Combine the sauce and the rice on a cookie sheet. Stir them until thoroughly mixed.

Cut all of your fillings in long spears. Lay out your sushi rolling mat horizontally, I cover mine using Glad Press and Seal and it works so well. Not messy clean up! I also didn't buy a mat specifically for sushi, I bought a place mat that looks like a sushi mat and it works great. Spread rice onto the Nori leaving an edge uncovered to use a seal. Arrange the fillings horizontally across the rice. Wet the edge that you left uncovered, use the rolling mat roll into a tight roll and then use the wet edge to seal the roll. Cut the sushi into circular slices.

handmade projects

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cute Halloween Magnets- Free Pattern

I love Halloween. I love the candy, the costumes and most of all, the cute decorations. These cute magnets are easy to make with kids to adorn your door, your fridge or any place else that needs a little more Halloween added to it. They are made out of craft foam, buttons (in the case of the ghost), glue and a permanent marker. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Pumpkin: You will need one pumpkin outline in orange, one stem in brown, one pumpkin leaf in green, two pumpkin eyes in yellow, two pumpkin cheeks in yellow and one pumpkin nose in yellow. Spider is optional.

Ghost: You will need one ghost outline in white and two white buttons.

Frankenstein: You will need one Frankenstein face in green, one hair piece in purple, two Frankenstein cheeks in orange, one nose in purple,one Frankenstein outer eye in white and one inner eye in black.

Bat: You will need one bat outline in black and two inner bat wings in white. 1 set of googly eyes. Optional orange cheeks, cut apart the Frankenstein inner eyes to use here.

Download the PDF below to get the free pattern to create your magnets. Happy Halloween Crafting.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday To Lu!

I can't help but point out that today is Lu's birthday! Lorene is the author of the Wednesdays on the Web segment here at Housewife Eclectic each week and she writes her  blog at I am Just Lu.

 Lorene and I were roommates in college, next door neighbors as newlyweds and now even though we now live thousands of miles apart she is still my best friend. I could not ask for a better friend, she is always there when I need validation for my mess of projects. She is incredibly creative and crafty. She can make something out of nothing and create beautiful projects out of items others overlook.

She is a marvelous cook. Check out her three way cheesecake, trust me, you will be glad you did. Anytime Lu was making cheesecake, I somehow invited myself over. :)

I am grateful everyday for such a wonderful friend. Happy Birthday Lorene! Head over to I am Just Lu, to check out everything her blog has to offer and to wish her a happy birthday!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tutorial: Frankenstein Halloween Party Favor

Need a craft for a child's classroom or a party favor? This little Frankenstein is your guy. He is super simple to make and fairly cheap. Fill him with candy and he will be the hit of the party.

You will need:
a toilet paper roll
purple, black, white and green construction paper
green pony beads
black yarn
permanent marker

Cut a piece of black construction paper that fits around the whole tube and covers about half the length. Glue into place. Cut a heart shape and then cut the point off and glue onto the bottom as the feet. Cover the rest of the roll with 1/2 white and 1/2 green paper.

Fold little arms, to resemble a gum wrapper, where you met the edges in the back. Glue the arms with the seams towards the roll onto each side of Frankenstein. Rip or use crafting scissors to get the hair look out of a purple piece of paper and glue it on as his hair. Glue the yarn on and have the ends meet in front, so they will fray and look more like a bow tie. Cut a tiny circle and glue over the ends. Draw your face on. Stuff with candy to complete your favor.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tips for Photographing Children

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I spend a good portion of my time photographing children. It is actually one of my favorite things about being a photographer. I love working with children. They have so much personality and they bring life to photographs. I think sometimes children get the reputation of being the most difficult to photograph (totally not true, have you ever tried to photograph a teenage boy who really doesn't want his picture taken?). This can be true so here are so ideas to get the most out of your next session with a child.

  • A couple of people at a photo shoot is plenty. The more people you get that are telling a child what to do, the more confused they get. Keep it simple. One or two people to help with smiles is usually plenty.
  • Be patient. You need to work on the child's schedule, not yours. A lot of kids take some time to warm up to a new person. Don't be afraid to play for a little while to get the child into a happy mood.
  • Work on the child' schedule! If they take naps at noon, don't try to photograph at noon. Photograph when they are the happiest. 
  • Try to capture who they are. Sometimes a pictures of a child, sitting and smiling for the camera work. Most of the time,they don't. Let the child be themselves. Let them wander and explore. Who knows you might find your best shots just by following them around.
  • Set up your shot. Using sentences likes "Give your brother a kiss." "Can you give the baby a hug?" "Let's jump as high as we can." will help set up moments that are perfect to capture with your camera.

  • Don't be above bribery. This little boy is actually looking for the skittles in between the pages of the book we wanted him to look at. Bringing a small package of non-messy candy like smarties can go a long way.
  • Positive reinforcement works, negative does not. If you want your kid to smile, it is better to offer them ice cream if they will smile, rather than telling them you are going to take away a certain toy unless they smile. The child is so worried about being grounded or losing their toy that they can't give those really happy smiles you want. Trust me on this one. When I worked at a portrait studio, this was the number one reason that sessions ended with tears.
  • Don't get angry with your kids! When mom gets mad, the kids feel it and often times the session is over after that. Even if we can calm them down after this they usually have red eyes from crying. This one seems like a no brainer but it happened at the portrait studio a lot. I don't see it very much now, but keep it in mind if you are taking your kids to a portrait studio. They are stressful places, don't let it get to you. 

  • If possible, always, always use the eyes as your focal point.
  • Let the child bring their own toys. My props are cute, but they don't mean anything to that particular child. Any picture is more special with her favorite doll in it.
  • Play with your subject. I don't think I can even count how many games of Peek-A-Boo I have played while photographing. Games work because they are fun and they naturally make the kids want to smile.
  • Kids have a short attention span. Really short. Be prepared with props, outfits and whatever else you want to do. Don't be unrealistic. I did 10 or so outfits for my little girl's 18-month pictures but I had to shoot over 5 days because she only had the attention span for about 2 a day.
  • Go to their level. I spend most of the time I shooting a small child either squatting or on my knees. Being at their height allows you to interact with them better and it lets you see the world the way they do.

  • The best photo from a shoot isn't always one where they are looking at the camera. Capture all sorts of images. The ones you end up liking might surprise you.

Some good poses for children:

  •  laying them on their stomachs with their feet in the air
  •  sitting with their arms wrapped around their knees 
  • leaning against a wall or tree
  • hugging a tree or light post
  • laying on their back with their hands behind their head
  • Following them around and letting them be themselves!
If you have any questions or suggestions of topics to cover please leave a comment, or e-mail me at housewifeeclectic at 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WotW: Some snail-mail help

 Remember to sign up for your chance to win a Sonic Scrubber household or toilet cleaning tool here.

Happy Wednesday! I am Lu, here again to torment inform you about all things web. (Questions and suggestions welcome!)

Yesterday, I went to the post office. (Big news, eh?) The post office is about the least web-related place I know of, so why in the world am I talking about the post office today?

I love getting mail, but thank to email, my mailbox is very sad. Or would be, if it weren't for free samples. :)

Because you can't send cookies virtually. At least not the kind of cookies that I like.

As much as I love free, quick and nigh-instant communication like email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and all that -- you can't tweet cookies. Or anything else material. Some times you just have to send a package. Or a nice greeting card. Something with a personal touch. Especially with the holidays coming up, a personal touch is extra nice and appreciated.

Even when you're sending something via low-tech snail mail, the interwebs can help. They're amazing like that. You can...

Calculate postage
Using the handy postage calculators, you can see how much it'll cost and how quickly your package (or letter) will ship: the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS, and Fedex all offer this wonderful service online so you can avoid postal service sticker shock.

All you'll need is the destination, package dimensions, and an approximate weight. If you're like me and you're terrible at the weight game, you can buy a postal grade scale (or, if you're really like me... borrow your mother's postal grade scale). Average price on Amazon is around $25, but you can find them for $15 or less if you're willing to look around a bit.

Armed with a scale-correct weight, you can even print your own mailing labels and skip the post office or store altogether by scheduling a package pickup. (You will have to create a user account, but those are always free.) This is especially crucial in those days leading up to Christmas when everyone and their dog is at the post office, and some are even trying to mail their dogs.

Request *free* boxes
I love the USPS new priority mail flat rate boxes because if it fits, it ships. (See, they've even got a great tagline.) They won't work for odd-sized parcels, but as long as you're sending standard-sized stuff (say that 10 times fast), you can pack those boxes with as much as you want and pay the same flat rate. I have visions of sending Debra bricks, just because I can send a package that heavy for the same price as I can send a package containing, say, fabric. I'm pretty sure she'd prefer the fabric, but the bricks are more fun for me. :)

And, add to the love because you can have the boxes (both flat rate and other) shipped to you for FREE. That's right, free boxes. See on this page, how every item you can add to you cart says No Charge? Yup, free. Pack everything at home. Print your mailing label and save a bit by buying online instead of at the post office. Schedule a pickup. Done.

And just to save you some virtual footwork, here are the dimensions and costs, as listed on, of sending the different sized flat rate packages shown here domestically (from US to US).
  • Flat rate envelope (12.5" x 9.5") -- $4.90
  • Small flat rate box (5-3/8” x 8-5/8” x 1-5/8”) -- $4.95
  • Medium flat rate box (11" X 8.5" X 5.5" or 11-7/8" x 3-3/8" x 13-5/8") -- $10.70
  • Large flat rate box (12” x 12” x 5 1/2”) -- $14.50
Some sizes will ship cheaper to APO/FPO addresses, and you'll also save 5% by purchasing and printing your shipping label online. If you're not mailing domestic or APO/FPO. you can also use the flat-rate packages to ship internationally, for a different flat rate and with different weight requirements. Just click on the size of box that you want to send and all of the information is included there.

Happy shipping! And, no, I'm not a USPS spokesperson, just a fan of their flat rate boxes. :)

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays- Lemon Bars

This is my MILs recipe for lemon bars. They are simple and delicious.

Crust: 1 cup butter (soft)
1/2 C. powdered sugar
2 cups flour
Cut the flour and powdered sugar into the butter and press into a 9x13 cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Filling: 4 eggs
1 and 3/4 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 C. flour
1/3 C. lemon juice (I have always wanted to substitute lime juice)

Pour the filling over the baked crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the lemon bars. Yummers. Do you have a good recipe for lemon bars?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to make a cute pumpkin pin

My mom used to make these all the time. When I was helping her pull out all of her Halloween things, we found him in the mix. These little pins are easy and fun for kids that are just a little bit older.

You will need:
12 small safety pins
green seed beads
white seed beads
orange seed beads
black seed beads

  1. Open your first safety pin and thread 10 white seed beads onto it.
  2. Thread three white, four orange then two white onto safety pin number 2.
  3. Thread two white, six orange and one white onto safety pin number 3.
  4. Thread one white, two orange, one black, two orange, one black and two orange onto number 4.
  5. Thread one white, six orange, one black, one orange onto number 5.
  6. Thread two green, two orange, one black, one orange, one black, two orange onto number 6.
  7. Thread one green, six orange, one black and one orange onto number 7.
  8. Thread one white, two orange, one black , two orange, one black, two orange onto number 8.
  9. Thread two white, six orange, one white onto number 9.
  10. Thread two white, five orange, two white onto number 10
  11. Thread 10 white onto number 11.
  12. Slide all your pins, number one first onto pin number twelve through the circle at the top of the pin.

I love this pin but I also love it without the Jack-O-Lantern face. To make just a plain pumpkin substitute all the black beads for more orange ones. Happy Jewelry making!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Branding and Blogging - Building the Perfect Blog

(PR and Your Blog is a series written by Seth Hawkins (Debra's husband). Seth is a PR professional turned school teacher, who is sharing his knowledge of PR)
Stop. Do I have your attention? Good. Now take a moment and think about your blog. Yes, I know it's weird to be thinking about your blog while you're on someone else's, but give it a try. Think about what your blog looks like. Do you have that image in your mind? Great, we're ready to talk about your blog.

One of the most important parts of blogging and branding is to create a blog that is easy to navigate, read and feel at home with. In some ways, a blog is like a house. You've probably been to houses where it was such a cluttered mess you felt like you were walking through some complicated maze just to get from the front door to the living room - and the living room was only 5 feet from the door. Hopefully I didn't offend anybody.
Then you've been to other homes where everything was neat and in its proper place. Of the two, you are much more comfortable as a guest in the clean and organized home. I grew up in a home such as this. My mother was a very neat person and her love of clean rubbed off on me. My father is a graphic designer and much of that rubbed off on me. Combined, I am a design freak with a love of clean, uncluttered designs. This was true when I was a newspaper editor and I believe it's true of blogs as well.

A large part of branding is creating a culture where your visitors feel comfortable and have a desire to return. If your blog is the digital version of a messy house, your readers' anxiety level will rise - even if they don't realize it - and they will be less likely to return in the future. On the other hand, if your blog is neat and everything has a proper place, your readers will feel comfortable spending time on your blog and will continue to return again and again.

So, what makes a blog cluttered? For starters, layout plays a big role in a blog. Your layout describes the way your blog looks. Blogs, like most websites, are modular in nature. This means everything is divided into rectangular areas. Most blogs have a header at the top, which identifies the blog. From there, blogs can differ, but most tend to have a main content area and one or two sidebars. This is probably no surprise, but putting it together in a neat, organized way can be difficult.

Let's start with the header. Your blog header is the first thing that attracts the eye when you land on a blog. It has to instantly be inviting and tell the viewer exactly what blog they are on. Good headers should not take up more than 1/3 of the screen. I've been to some blogs where the header takes up nearly all the vertical space of my screen. Screen sizes may vary, but its best to plan on a blog header that's no more than 320 pixels high.

Main Content
Moving on to the main content area. The main content area of a blog is where the posts are found. Your blog service largely takes care of maintaining this area, but there are a couple things that can improve this area. First, try to avoid super long blog post titles. Blog titles that are longer than two lines are distracting and difficult to read. They also send a subconscious message to the brain that the article is too long and complicated to bother reading. Also, make sure the font you choose for your body text is readable. If it's smaller than 10pt, it's probably too difficult to read.
These are the most difficult part of keeping a blog uncluttered. Sidebars are meant to store extra information or gadgets. With thousands of gadgets out there and more being created daily, there will always be a temptation to put the latest and greatest gadget on your sidebar. Before you know it, your sidebars can be so long and convoluted that a reader can scroll for 30 seconds and still be seeing new things on a sidebar. This is a bad thing. Sidebars should be used to display important information, not everything under the sun. If you're using Blogger, you have access to pages, where you can store many of the things you like to put on your sidebars: blog rolls, gadgets, buttons and photo galleries. The best way to maintain clean sidebars is to place your most important gadgets at the top and limit yourself to five gadgets on each sidebar. If you have two sidebars, make the right sidebar the longer sidebar. Readers often expect the left sidebar to be some sort of navigation and when it becomes cluttered with many gadgets, the reader can become lost.

Taking the time to clean up the blog can be a pain, not unlike spring cleaning, but it's a necessary step that will help you create and/or maintain your blog brand.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Candy Corn and Bat Halloween Ornaments

image source
I have been seeing these Halloween trees every where recently. Black and scraggly trees, that people are decorating with cute Halloween ornaments. My mom has a little Halloween tree and I can't get over how cute it is. I decided to make her some ornaments to fill it out a little.
You will need for the bat:
The smallest pot you can find
Black and white paint
Black foam
Googly eyes
Black ribbon

You will need for the candy corn:
The smallest pot you can find
Orange, white, black and yellow paint
googly eyes
The black paint covered the little pot very well. It needed about two coats of black paint before I added the white face. I did paint the inside of this pot to keep the black through the entire project. I folded a small sheet of foam in half and free hand cut the wings. I then hot glued them to the bat. Loop both ends of a ribbon into the top whole of your ornament, tie them in a big not on the other side. If you tie your knot big enough on the other side, it won't slip out through the hole in the pot.
I painted my candy corn pots with a couple of layers of white paint before I added the other colors. I then painted them to match candy corn pattern before I added the eyes and ribbon.