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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4 Major Takeaways from the 2016 Freelancing in America Survey

Upwork and Freelancers Union recently released the results of their 2016 Freelancing in America survey. This was the third year they’ve interviewed 6,000 workers about the state of freelancing.

Here are the four major takeaways from this year’s survey:

1) Freelancing is growing fast

This year, 55 million workers identified as freelancers. Freelancers make up 35% of the working population! The number of freelancers increased by 2 million in the last 2 years. At this rate, we can expect around 60 million freelancers by the end of the decade.

Where are they finding clients?

Half of the freelancers polled find jobs online with 50% finding clients within three days of searching. Two-thirds say that the portion of work they found online increased from last year. Most freelancers agreed that having a diverse portfolio of clients was better than having one large client.

2) Freelancers are making good money

This year freelancing contributed an estimated $1 trillion dollars to the economy!

This number was boosted by an uptick in client work. In fact, half of the freelancers polled saw increased demand for their services in the past year. These freelancers also expect their income to increase from 2015.

Incomes are increasing because freelancers are starting to charge what they’re worth. Nearly half of the freelancers raised their rates in the past year and more than half plan to raise them next year.

Are full-time workers doing better income-wise?

Not really. The majority of freelancers who left a full-time job reported they were making more than their previous salary within a year.

3) Freelancing is more attractive than a traditional job

This year, 63% of freelancers say they started by choice instead of necessity, up from 54% in 2014. Freelancing is moving away from being something that you do between jobs and becoming something that you choose as a career.

A majority of people, 79%, said that freelancing was more enjoyable than their previous jobs. The reasons cited were greater flexibility and freedom. Full-time freelancers report feeling engaged, respected, accomplished, empowered and free.

Freelancers didn’t have to put in as much time as full-time workers to feel those benefits; most freelancers only worked 36 hours per week and reported that they had enough client work.

Half of freelancers polled said there was no amount of money that would make them go back to a traditional job.

4) Freelancing is becoming more widely accepted

63% of respondents felt that the attitude around freelancing as a career was becoming more positive and 84% of freelancers think the best days are ahead.

What does all this mean for the future of freelancing?

A continued shift in the perception of freelancing is a great thing for freelancers! The more mainstream freelancing becomes the more companies and entrepreneurs will be willing to work with freelancers. In addition, the more rights freelancers can hope to be granted in future legislation.

Freelancing is experiencing a golden age. The conditions are perfect to succeed on your own terms as a freelancer.

If you’re interested in getting started, check out my post on what you need to know about making the leap into freelancing.

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

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

Jason Zook discusses how he got over his fear of writing. Some tips include getting vulnerable, making writing a daily practice, and always sharing something useful.

Brent Jones talks about how he pitched 88 clients in one day. This article motivated me to set a goal of pitching 2-3 new clients per week.

This article on taking the reins in your freelance business is great for those just getting started. Nellie Akalp lays out a plan for getting your business in order.

Marketing

Jon Westenberg offers some quick and dirty tips on increasing your website’s traffic. Of course,  learning SEO is one of the most important suggestions.

John Hall talks about the most important factor in PR and marketing and no surprise, it’s trust. I particularly liked the part about customers being extra sensitive to “me” focused marketing.

This short article talks about brands’ top marketing priorities over the past few years. SEO is ranked #1 and blog content is #2.

Parenting

How does parents’ smartphone usage affect their kids? Parents can feel pulled in all directions and kids can feel ignored. This article suggests setting limits on screen time.

Interesting article on how a child’s intelligence develops. I learned that some portion of intelligence is determined in utero by hormones in the mother!

Guest Posts

I’m proud to announce my first ever guest post on The Write Life. I talked about how I wrote for 30 minutes every day in September. I plan to write for 30 minutes every day until the end of the year then for all of 2017! My next update will be in another ~20 days when I complete a 60 day streak.

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My Favorite Blogging Resources

There are many tools that can take your blogging game to the next level. And the good news is, most of these tools are free and easy to use! During my time freelancing, I’ve found some great resources to support my writing process. Here are some of the apps and websites I use for blogging.

Focus

To help me concentrate while I write blogs, I use Brain.fm. The app plays ambient music that’s formulated to help you focus. They also have music to help you relax and sleep. I’ve found a huge increase in productivity while using the app.

I use Self Control for Mac to block distracting websites for blocks of time while I work. This usually includes Facebook and Reddit. I block them for portions of the day so I don’t end up checking them repeatedly while I work.

Writing

There are many places where you can write your blog entries. You can write directly in a blogging platform like WordPress or Medium. Doing this gives you the convenience of having your blog posts all in one place, but adds the distraction of being online and able to click around your site.

Another option is writing in Word or Pages and disconnecting your internet access while doing so. It’s rumored that novelist Johnathan Franzen writes all of his books on a computer with no internet access to avoid the possibility of distraction.

I write all of my blogs in Google Docs. I prefer this platform because the layout is plain and doesn’t distract me. It updates every few seconds so I never have to worry about whether my work will be lost. In addition, should I want someone to read over one of my posts before publishing, I can easily share the Google Doc.

I also use the free tool Grammarly for Chrome. This is similar to spell check where it underlines words that are spelled wrong or grammatically incorrect. Although I have a degree in English, I don’t always remember every single grammar rule – there are a lot! I had to complete an entire course on grammar to receive my degree and it was one of the hardest classes I took.

Images

There are many free stock images sites out there. My favorite is Librestock which searches 47 free stock image websites. This is where I find all of the images that I use on my blog.

When I need to create an image or add some text to an existing image, I use Canva. I’ve been using Canva for 2+ years and I love it. Eventually, I’d like to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, but until then Canva does a great job for my current needs. Both of these resources offer basic functionality with a free account.

Once I post a blog, I use other tools to promote it which I’ll discuss in a future post.

The most important thing about writing a post is actually sitting down and doing it. Remember, BICHOK is the key to writing – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. If you spend enough time writing eventually you’ll produce something useful, entertaining, or interesting.

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Mama’s Favorites: This Week’s Best Content (Week of 10/3/16)

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

Caroline Beaton discusses her journey from full-time employee to full-time freelancer. She made a series of smart, strategic moves to ensure that she could always support herself.

Ryan Robinson shares his tips on how to write an effective pitch for a freelancing client. These suggestions secured him a $500 per post gig!

Julio Vincent Gambuto wants you to be a freelancer who actually makes money. He has some fantastic ideas for how to stay lucrative.

Marketing

Your customer has 30 different needs, does your product or service meet them? Larry Kim talks about the attributes driving customer purchases. Which ones can you tap into?

Email marketing has many benefits including boosting your website’s SEO. Jayson DeMers explains how regular email communication can improve your rankings.

Kevan Lee walks through the process of getting verified on Twitter. A verified account can boost the perception of your online presence, but you need to be a somewhat public figure to be approved.

Parenting

A round-up of 45 hilarious “parenting tips” ‘from Twitter. “Never take a toddler’s word for it” was one of my favorites.

How do Jewish mothers approach parenthood? The Chicago Tribune has four suggestions and I love the one about encouraging geekiness.

Hobbies

Cat Noone talks about how she got started hand-lettering. This is a skill I plan on learning.

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What I’ve Learned from Two Years of Working at Home

This August was my second anniversary of working from home. I left my job as an Information Specialist in a biotechnology company’s corporate library in 2014 after the birth of my daughter and began working at Zirtual as a virtual assistant. After six months there, I left to start my own marketing company. Now I mostly work as a marketing specialist, but I also do some virtual assistant work and contract work with my former biotechnology employer.

I’ve learned a lot while working from home. Some days are great and others are not, but I could say the same thing about a traditional job. Here are the most important things I’ve learned from working from home for the past two years.

  • Organization is king

In my previous job, I was used to having systems in place. We had a metric board where we kept track of weekly projects and a daily stand-up meeting to discuss outstanding work. I took those skills to my own business and set up schedules and an organization system.

I track all of my projects in Wunderlist and Asana. Most of my clients are in Wunderlist. When someone assigns me a task, I add it to their list with the agreed upon deadline. Personal work, like this blog and The Sturm Agency website, is in Asana. I like both platforms for different reasons. Wunderlist is perfect for client’s work because it’s simple and easy to use. However, I also love Asana’s interface and prefer to keep my personal work organized there.

I timeblock my Google calendar. My calendar is blocked off during my working hours (6-9 am, 12-2 pm, 7-9 pm, and some time on the weekends). Each day I check my client’s requests and work on them for roughly one hour per day except for a client who has a time-based agreement with me. Timeblocking allows me to check in with each client Monday through Friday. Having things set up this way ensures that I never neglect a client for a few days and come back to missed projects or admin tasks. Sometimes the client won’t have anything for me to to do so I’ll move on to the next person. I started this system when I was working full time at Zirtual and managing 8-10 clients. I don’t have that many clients anymore, but the system still works.

I write a daily to-do list in my notebook each day. Every morning I go into Wunderlist and Asana, check which tasks I need to get done that day, and write a to-do list in a paper notebook. I like doing this because crossing things off a list gives me a sense of satisfaction that clicking a button doesn’t. I only write down the five or six most important tasks for the day. I can’t get more than that done on a given day and seeing a 20+ item list stresses me out.

I check what I accomplished and what’s outstanding each evening. Before I go to bed, I check what needs to be done the next day and review the list of things I accomplished that day. Before doing this, I was having a hard time falling asleep because I was running through my to-do list over and over in my mind. Reading a list of my daily achievements makes me feel like I accomplished something even on my worst days. This five-minute routine has helped me fall asleep more quickly.

I track all of my time in 17hats and Toggl. For clients that I invoice, I use 17hats. For everyone else, I track in Toggl. I even track the time I spend writing this blog. It helps because I have a visual guide that I can review at the end of the week.

  • Take a day off

During my first year freelancing, I worked seven days a week. I still have not taken a proper vacation where I stop client work for a week.

That said, I need to have one day off per week that does not involve doing work for anyone else. That doesn’t mean I don’t work on my personal projects, set up my social media feeds or write blogs, it just means that I don’t work on anyone else’s stuff. Every night, it’s my goal to stop computer work an hour before I go to bed so I can read books and relax.

Typically, I don’t work on Saturdays at all. We spend time together as a family during the day. In the evening, my husband and I rent a movie or watch one of our shows.

  • Your word is gold

Some people have a negative perception of freelancers or those who work from home. They think that remote workers are spending their days watching TV and napping. There’s even a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercial which mentions “working from home fakers.” Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are some freelancers who are flaky and unreachable. I’ve had to work with some web designers who took 3-4 emails about the same topic before they’d respond. I recently had another marketing specialist completely blow me off after hiring me to do some work.

I do what I say I’m going to do. I work hard to make sure that I meet all deadlines and deliver what I’ve promised. One of the biggest keys to doing that is setting realistic deadlines. I try not to let other people set deadlines for me.

I’m completely open about working at home with my daughter, but I want clients to forget that I’m also taking care of a child. I strive to be so responsive and consistent that it seems like freelancing is the only thing I’m doing.

  • Choose the right clients

One of the best things about being a freelancer is that I can choose my own clients. I try to find people that I believe I can help. I find people whose business sounds interesting to me or whose mission and vision I agree with. I like to work in areas where I already have some knowledge.

I like working with other small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.

That’s also why working with nonprofits is so important to me. I want to spread their message and make sure the community is aware of the good things they are doing. We need more positivity in our lives especially where I live in Rockford, Illinois which was ranked the 3rd most miserable place to live in the United States.

My ideal client is someone who is organized and realistic. I need someone who has a clear vision for what they want me to do. I also appreciate people who are quick to say thank you and slow to criticize.

  • Stay grateful

I have blessings on blessings; there is no hint of sarcasm when I say that. I think some of my success has to do with the fact that I am so grateful to be able to do this. I don’t personally know anyone else doing something like this. I know a few people with their own businesses, but they are brick and mortar operations or businesses selling actual goods (photos, invites, etc.) I live in a small town and the idea of “working on the internet” is not commonplace.

Many days I’m amazed that I’ve come this far and am so appreciative of my clients. I have the attitude of I get to do this instead of I have to do this.

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