Easy Ways to Lose Weight

I know, I know, I don’t want to beat this chunky horse to death, but after yesterday’s post when I went on and on about how hard it is to lose weight and how it took me nearly two years, buckets of tears, and more than one program (Medifast is what I’m trying after also doing Weight Watchers, for the record, it works too), I don’t want you to get discouraged.

I challenge you to choose one of these tweaks to make every day this month and see if you don’t feel lighter, fitter, stronger, better!*

Easy Ways to Lose Weight: 10 Tips That Won’t Kill You but Will Make You Stronger

1.  Take the stairs.  All the way.  Half way.  Just down.  Whatever.
2.  Use a smaller plate.  Like the one you give your kids.
3.  Wait for seconds.  After you wolf down your first plate of food at the dinner table, you may be dying for more mashed potatoes.  But, take a beat.  Wait 15 minutes and see if you still feel hungry.  If you do, go for it.  But, chances are you will be over it once you give your belly time to realize it’s full.
4.  Slow your roll.  I know, all day you waited for this Philly cheesesteak sandwich and now it’s on your desk all hot and delicious and you really just want to smash your face into it.  Pump your breaks.  No, cut it in half.  Wrap that up and walk it back to the fridge.  Then sit down and SLOWLY savor the hot and delicious HALF of sandwich you have left.  If you really, really, really want to get up, walk all the way back to the fridge, warm up your other half, and eat it when you’re done, by all means, help yourself.  Just maybe high knees all the way to there and back as punishment (yes, even if you’re in your office, shoulda thought about that).
5.  Take exercise breaks.  At work? Close your door and spend your 15 minute break not stuffing chips in your gullet but doing a little lunging.  At home, grab the baby and hit the floor for some play time.  When The Dudes were little I’d lay on my back and lift them up above my head a dozen times, or put them on my legs and lift them.  They love it because they’re all, “Woohoo! I’m an airplane and mommy is talking to me and breathing hard in my face, she smells like lunch, yes!” and you get a work out.  No job and no baby?  Um, workout?
6.  Tell everyone about your weight loss and fitness goals.  Peer pressure and the desire to succeed while everyone is watching might prevent you from reaching for that first second donut at the staff meeting.  Support and accountability make everything easier.
7.  Stop eating kid snacks.  I used to blame The Dudes and their snacks for my inability to lose weight and eat healthy.  I told myself I had to have all of these snacks in my house for them and not eating them was just too hard.  Then I realized, uh, they don’t need crap snacks either.  Fruit and yogurt and veggies work for them too.  And, when they did desire a treat, I’d just make it something I don’t like.  Oatmeal raisin cookies for example.  Those.  I hate those.  But kids, love them.  They get a treat and I get to not be tempted by chocolate chip cookies.
8.  Write down what you eat.  It’s called food journaling and it’s designed to give you insights about your eating practices and keep you accountable.  And you can’t be a liar about it.  If you eat 16 of those oatmeal raisin cookies when you swore you wouldn’t, write it down.  Then, when you’re done in the bathroom, think about why you did that and how you can never do it again.
9.  Drink more.  Not wine.  Sorry.  Water.  Drink a full glass before every meal and when you start feeling like you need a snack.  You might just be thirsty.  And water also fills your belly.  Water not really your jam?  That’s cool, but pick a good alternative.  No sweet teas or grape sodas.
10.  Try meditating.  I didn’t get much about the topic out of my episode of Dr. Oz about meditating; it was 35 seconds.  But, what I did get was a spark of interest and Russell Simmons’ book, Success Through Stillness.  Chapter 9, “How Meditation Helps Your Body”, is all about how practicing meditation can reduce stress, alleviate medical conditions, and help you lose weight! He explains that meditating helps you become more mindful of the food you put in your body and more conscious of your choices, including those involving food.  Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmm

How to lose weight over night - I lose 100lbs

You know I am not obsessed with that number though. My motivation always was and always will be my health – but society is so obsessed with the number on the scale and people can’t see the changes to my health as much as they can see the changes of my appearance, so it is sometimes easy to talk about the number. People react well to a number.

Anyway, with this being a blog about my weight loss and health and everything I ate/eat to keep it that way, I have spoken in detail about how I lost the weight, but I thought it might be nice to condense it down into bullet points of what I did. Obviously there is much more too it than bullet points and this list is not intended to make it look easy (it definitely wasn’t), but it gives you an idea of all the changes that I made.
We all have to find what works for us, so just because all of these things worked for me doesn’t mean they will work for you. I tried a lot of things that worked for other people, but they didn’t work for me. It doesn’t make them all wrong. It comes down to trial and error.
Here goes……………
  • Set myself small goals
  • Made one change at a time
  • I didn’t focus on losing 100lbs – I focused on losing 5lbs at a time
  • I bought a Wii Fit so I could workout at home
  • I went swimming
  • Walked everywhere
  • Did workouts during the breaks whilst watching TV
  • I found workouts that I enjoyed
  • I became aware of portion sizes
  • Cooked healthier versions of the junk food that I loved
  • I counted calories
  • Found a balance with clean eating and still eating the things I liked
  • I educated myself and read everything I could have health and fitness
  • Signed up to weight loss forums/health and fitness Facebook pages and blogs
  • I cut out processed food
  • I started cooking everything myself
  • I didn’t beat myself up if I ate something I shouldn’t or skipped a workout
  • Fit my workouts in where I could – like doing squats whilst cooking
  • Stopped making excuses
  • Made sure I was sleeping enough
  • Stopped being scared of lifting weights (they won’t make you bulky)
  • Stopped dieting (it is a lifestyle, not a diet)
  • Quit the artificial sweeteners
  • Always had breakfast
  • Switched to wholegrains
  • Stopped saying “I can’t”
  • Cut out the negative people in my life
  • Ate more fruit and vegetables
  • Listened to my body and rested when I needed to and ate when I was truly hungry
  • Celebrated my success without food (a pair of shoes or a trip to the cinema)
  • Worked out 5 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour
  • Made sure I was drinking enough water (but not too much)
  • Gave up fizzy drinks and only drank water and green tea
  • Gave up alcohol for 3 months (it helped me cut out other bad habits too)
  • Dealt with my emotional eating
  • I made time for my workouts – I didn’t find time
  • Always reminded myself there is no such thing as perfect
  • Stopped comparing myself to other people
  • Bought myself nice workout clothes so I felt good during my workouts
  • Did some food prep for the week
  • Planned some of my meals for the week
  • Ate less calories than I was burning, but still made sure I was eating enough
  • Took my body measurements each week to track my progress (kept me motivated)
  • Snacked wisely
  • Reminded myself that there was no end date. I was getting fit for life
  • Started thinking more positively
  • Started each day as a new day and left yesterday in the past
  • Stopped seeing food as the enemy and stopped labelling it as good and bad
  • Always changed my routine to keep my body guessing
  • Made time to relax
  • Made appointments for my workouts just like I would a meeting
  • Put motivational quotes around my house
  • Put up photos that motivated me
  • Made sure there was plenty of fibre in my diet
  • Ate lots of healthy fats
  • Didn’t go back for a second portion of dinner
  • Ate slower
  • Did yoga – great for releasing stress and toning up
  • Identified my eating triggers
  • Bulked out pasta dishes with spinach
  • Ate berries with my breakfast
  • Got creative with salads
  •  Added herbs and spices to boring clean meals
  • Used my slow cooker a lot
  • Still allowed myself the foods I liked, but in moderation and not all the time
  • Tracked all my food (in the beginning)
  • Was honest with myself – lying about what I ate to my food diary didn’t get me anywhere
  • Limited animal fats
  • Included protein with every meal
  • Started reading the labels on everything I bought
  • Stopped ordering pizza and fries to be delivered
  • Never gave up (despite many falls and wanting to many times)

That list might seem like a lot, but like one of the first points says – make one change at a time. I didn’t do all of these things straight away and I learnt them along the way. Make changes that are going to make you feel healthy and stick with it. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for.

5 Last-Minute Interview Issues That'll Throw You Off—and How to Prepare for Them

Sometimes, no matter how much you’ve prepared and researched before your interview, something completely unexpected happens. And no one would blame you if it threw you off your game. After all, interviews are stressful enough even when everything goes pretty much how you imagined it would. The good news is: There are ways to prepare for the unexpected. You can still make the best possible impression—even when everything goes awry.
Here are five situations that come up more often than you think, and how you can be ready for them so you don’t get caught off guard.

1. The Replacement Interviewer

When you apply for a position, more often than not, you’re contacted directly by the team who’ll be hiring you. (Or, at the very least, you’ll see a schedule in advance with the names of the people you’ll be meeting with.) So, you spend days checking out your interviewer’s LinkedIn page and background. You’re well-versed on his position, and how it relates to the position you’re interviewing for.
Then, when the door opens, a completely different person walks in.
Your stomach may have dropped to your ankles, but don’t panic—or dwell on how you researched someone else. Instead, use the opportunity to get to know your interviewer and let her get to know you. Ask questions about her position, specifically how her job relates to the one you’re gunning for, and ask about her career background in case you have something in common.
Although it can be disquieting at first, after you get over the initial surprise of the switch, you’ll likely find that you can talk just as much to this person as to the one you planned on interviewing with originally. That displays your adaptability and willingness to take on an unexpected challenge. Remember: No reasonable company would expect you to be fully prepared for this switch—and it’s completely OK to ask those introductory questions.

2. The Time Mix-Up

There are plenty of great articles out there about what to do when you’re running late for your interview. But what about when you made a simple mistake of getting the time wrong?
One of the worst moments of my career came right before I interviewed for a position I was incredibly excited about at Clopay Door. I was 15 minutes early and took a seat in the waiting room to get ready when a woman my age walked in and sat down next to me. I noticed she was also dressed for an interview and had her resume out. A bit flustered at thinking I might be sharing this interview, I started looking through my notes and stopped in horror when I saw that although I had written 2 PM on my calendar, the notes from my initial call said 1 PM.
The key in this situation is to remain calm, apologize sincerely, and ask what works best for the interviewer. Make sure you’re not overdoing the apology, as this demonstrates a lack of confidence and can actually backfire.
In my situation, I was tempted to just walk out from sheer embarrassment, but the interviewer was very understanding and let me schedule for a later time. Remember: The hiring manager is human and makes mistakes, too. Even if you sense a little frustration initially, odds are high he or she will understand.
Want proof of that? I ended up getting the job!

3. The Bad Interviewer

As I just stated, the person sitting across from you, asking you all these questions, is human. Not everyone’s going to be good at interviewing candidates for a position. A few reasons you may encounter a bad apple could include inexperience, unpreparedness, distraction, or a negative outlook on the job or company.
So what can you do in the event you’re meeting with someone who doesn’t know how to interview you?
Make sure you have in mind the points you want to discuss about yourself and the questions you want to ask about the position. Then, take an active role in directing the conversation to keep the person on topic. For example, if there’s a lull, you could say, “Would you like to hear more about my experience working at my last company?” Or, “Did I answer your question, or would you like to hear another reason why I’m interested in the job?” Or, even if the interview’s not winding down, you could give it a kick in the pants by asking one of the questions you’ve prepared.
This strategy will help keep the interview going and ensures you’re coming across as the right candidate for the job.

What Your Eye Color Tells About You

They tell us not to judge a book by its cover, and yet we do. At the same time we actively promote the idea that our facial and body features can directly betray elements of our personality and character. One example of this is that our eyes can tell us something about our personality, both their colour and their appearance – they are after all the 'window to the soul'.
But could such a concept genuinely have any scientific credence? Well interestingly there is some evidence to suggest that it could and correlations have been found between various aspects of our features and our personality (though the correlations are minor and far from conclusive). Of course with such findings many explanations have been developed as to why this might be. Of course it could be a result of genetics, that somehow there is a link between our eye colour and another element of our genetic makeup that affects personality. There are many seemingly random connections in our body, so if our arm span can accurately predict our height, maybe our eye colour can predict our behaviour?
A more likely explanation is that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is to say that our appearance creates certain expectations regarding our behaviour and that affects how other people act towards us, and how we see ourselves as a result. In this sense then it could be that our eye colour comes first and then dictates our behaviour to a degree. Alternatively it could even be that our eye colour affects or is correlated with the way we see and that this somehow affects behaviour, though this seems to be perhaps the less likely explanation.
Regardless of the reason however, we all hold stereotypes about eye colours and there are certain studies to suggest these and other things may be true. Here we'll look at what your eye colour might mean about you and where this belief comes from.
Blue: Blue eyes are highly common despite being a recessive gene. At the same time they vary greatly from a 'piercing' blue, to a softer more gentle blue. This eye colour is thought to be very desirable and alluring and is also associated with youthfulness (possibly due to the term 'baby blue') and with this comes playfulness and innocence. Piercing blue eyes are thought to be very sexy and striking (think Superman), while the lighter colours are thought to be more mesmerising and calm. Interestingly though, studies have correlated blue eyes (along with blonde hair) with a slightly lower confidence and self esteem and lower levels of aggression. Intriguingly recent research also suggests that all blue eyed people have a single common ancestor from 16,000 years ago when the very first mutation took place. Before this, we were all thought to have had brown eyes. The same is likely then to be true of green and hazel eyed people.
Brown: Brown eyes are considered soft, gentle and trustworthy. While many people find the colour 'plain' and less desirable than something less common, they inspire faith and a sense of loyalty – possibly associated with the big brown eyes of dogs. As such they are often thought of as 'puppy dog' eyes and the darker they are the better. Interestingly, while blue eyes were shown to be the least confident, brown eyes were more associated with self confidence, drive and determination.
Green: Green eyes are far less common than blue or brown and perhaps for this reason they are considered to be more 'mysterious'. Many magical characters in comics and films are portrayed as having green eyes and this is also perhaps due to their piercing and stand-out nature. They are also very feline and show up well in the dark which adds to this sense of the 'magical'. They are also associated with the fiery red-head as the two often go together and so are thought of as having a high energy level and a high sex drive. In one study of the eye colours of fish, those with green eyes were found to attack those with eyes of the other colours.
Hazel: Hazel eyes are another slightly rare eye colour which changes between green and brown depending on the light and some say on your mood. In some lights they can even look slightly 'golden' as the green and brown create an almost yellow. This changeability is often associated with fun and spontaneity and the element of green is thought to show a mischievous side. Due to the light shade of brown it is also considered a very approachable colour.
Grey: Grey eyes are really a very soft form of blue and so many of the same rules apply. Here though the eyes will be associated with age (grey being a colour that is often associated with age due to the way our hair greys as we get older) and a gentleness. You will thus be portrayed as wise and gentle individual, which may ring partly true with this being the lightest colour and so statistically the least aggressive.

Healthy' Not 'Health Freak': How to Be Healthy Without Becoming Unpopular

Have you ever noticed how it's not particularly popular to be healthy? How people tend to celebrate the lazy, the greedy and the overweight? Homer Simpson is practically a hero thanks to his love of beer and donuts and about the least popular thing you can say on a night out is that you aren't going to be drinking…
The same goes for saying you don't want desert, or even letting on that you regularly attend the gym. The minute you let on that you're willing to forego immediate gratification in order to protect your health and wellbeing, you tend to become less popular.
It's even worse if you're already in good shape. Tell your friends at work you 'need to go to the gym tonight' and often they'll respond in exasperation: 'you don't need to lose any weight!'. What they fail to recognise is that it took going to the gym in order to get into that shape and that if you stopped, then you'd lose your current physique. That, and you probably quite enjoy pushing yourself in the gym too.
Still, the assumption is that you must either be mad to keep going to the gym, or just no fun… Nice.
Why Being Healthy Is so Unpopular
The first question we need to ask is why being healthy is so unpopular in the first place.
This comes down to a number of factors but one of the biggest is that training to become healthier or dieting for the same ends, will tend to make others feel guilty. They know that they shouldn't be following dinner up with that huge piece of cheesecake if they want to lose weight, but they have decided to go ahead with it nevertheless. If you now show enough strength of character to turn down desert, you'll then only be drawing more attention to their perceived failure and this will make them feel worse as a result. Had you joined them in their cheesecake however, they could have made the excuse for themselves that 'everyone does it'. And whether or not you actually are, they will probably feel as though you're judging them for their decision. 

The other issue in this particular scenario, is that by saying no, you've now put them in a situation where they're going to be eating cake on their own while you watch. This is neither very sociable, nor very fun for them. The same goes for going out drinking: it's a lot less fun when you do it on your own. As such, if you have made the decision to go t-total, and people want to have a 'wild night out', you're not going to be the first person they call. In fact they might avoid calling you – as you'll serve as a constant reminder that they're being unhealthy and you'll make them look all the more drunk. 

Another issue is that being incredibly strict with your health isn't terribly relatable. If you have never been overweight, then someone who is overweight will feel like they can't really talk to you about the plights that come with that – you wouldn't understand. Likewise, if you have rarely been drunk, then people won't feel they can share their drunken stories with you. 'To err is human', and if you never err, then people might start to feel as though they can't relate to you and that you can't understand them… almost as though you were a different species. This is why Superman comics often struggle to make Superman relatable – he's in perfect shape, he never drinks and he never binge-eats.
These things don't just apply to being healthy either: they apply to making the right moral decisions, to being conscientious and to being disciplined in every area of your life. 

What to Do About It
This may seem rather unfair at first: you've gone to all this trouble to try and do the right thing by your body and to maintain your health, but instead of being happy for you, it seems that people don't want to spend any time with you – and even seem to hope that you'll fail. 

So you're left with two options: remain unpopular, or relent and start being unhealthy just to please others. The latter may seem like the more tempting option, but really you shouldn't have to compromise your own health just in order to fit in with your friends and acquaintances.
Instead then, the better option is to look for a way to stick to your goals and beliefs, while not making others feel bad about it or coming across as inhuman. 

Here are a few strategies you can use to that end:

Explain Your Reasoning: Sometimes, one of the easiest ways to get people to understand your position is just to explain it to them. In many cases you will have reasons for wanting to remain healthy that don't apply to other people and that 'let's them off the hook'. This can also help to make you appear a little less 'perfect'.
For instance, in my case the main reason I'm currently on a diet is to reveal my abs more. The reason I want to do this is that I'm running a YouTube channel and I need to demonstrate to viewers that my techniques work. So when someone asks me why I'm not eating desert, I explain that it's for my YouTube channel. This doesn't apply to them, so they can eat guilt-free, and it shows that I'm human – ultimately I'm motivated by money and fame after all! If your reasoning for not drinking is that you can't handle your drink, then say that. Now instead of being highly disciplined, you'll just sound like a lightweight. People can laugh about that and continue to enjoy their own beverages. 'I don't like the taste' is also fine.
Find Allies: With the best will in the world, differences in lifestyle do lead to differences in behaviour and that means that you're not always going to 'fit in' if you're completely different from your other friends. Don't let that offend you – just view it as a fact of life. 

What is a good idea though is to have multiple groups of friends, and to make sure that you have at least some people to chat to who share your views. These are the people you can go out and enjoy a chicken salad with, or who you can exchange gym notes with. They will give you an outlet, and that way you won't feel so put out when there are things you feel left out from while socialising with other groups. 

Find Ways to 'Join In': When I don't have desert and my friends want to, I will often join in nevertheless be sociable. Usually this means having a coffee which is a social drink that I can enjoy while they eat pudding. Joining in with alcohol is harder, but my t-total friend does it by drinking other drinks when playing drinking games, and by getting his own amusement from the antics of everyone else. 

Likewise, don't turn down a night out because you need to exercise or you're essentially telling your friends that you value that one workout more than time with them. Just find another night to exercise, or do a quick one at home before you set off. Usually you can do both! 

Be Genuinely Non-Judgemental: Perhaps what's most important, is not to judge others for their choices. This means genuinely not being judgemental, because even if you don't say anything judgemental that doesn't mean that people aren't going to be able to pick up on the general vibe that you're judging them.
While you should be applauded for putting your health first, recognise that this is not the right approach for everyone. You can make a very solid argument for prioritising health over everything else and ensuring that you're going to be healthy and happy into your old age. At the same time though, some people just want to have fun and would rather indulge themselves now – even if that means taking some risks.

They are not wrong, and neither are you. Everyone has to get through life in their own way. Unless they ask for your help, or they are putting themselves at serious risk, they don't need your advice or opinion.

10 Simple Ways to Keep a Happy, Healthy Mind

  1. Eat Healthily – We all know that what we eat has a big impact on our physical wellbeing, but it also affects your mental happiness. As the old saying goes; a healthy body makes a healthy mind, so think about your diet and what foods you maybe eat too much of. While it’s easy to forgo healthy foods for those that are convenient there are lots of quick and easy meals that are much better for you. Eating three meals a day will keep your energy levels up and keep you feeling good all day long. As well as eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water will keep you hydrated and boost your metabolism; making you feel and look better.
  2. Watch what you Drink – While a lot of people drink alcohol and caffeine to change their mood, their effect is only temporary. When the feelings of energy or excitement fade you will often feel a lot worse than before you drank, which has a big effect on your mental wellbeing. Most people only drink alcohol or caffeine in moderation which can often be good for you. However, some people carry on drinking to delay the onset of these negative feelings, or to escape underlying feelings of nervousness or depression. This is very dangerous and can cause long-term health problems or cover up existing conditions. Try to drink no more than four units of alcohol a day if you are male and three if you are female, and try not to drink caffeinated after seven o’clock at night.
  3. Take some Exercise – Doing a little exercise every day has many different benefits; both mental and physical. When you exercise your body releases endorphins which can greatly improve your mood. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and join a gym to get some exercise; walking or cycling to your destination instead of driving, cleaning the house while listening to music and gardening are all easy ways to get the blood pumping. After a while you’ll start to find doing tasks easier as well looking better, which in turn will also make you feel better about yourself.
  4. Talking to Others – In today’s world it has never been easier to keep in touch with friends and family. Feeling connected with other people is an important part of what makes us human and neglecting this part of life can have detrimental effects on your mental health. Many mental health problems have their roots in trouble with communication and can be helped or even prevented by keeping in touch with others and maintaining strong relationships. If you are having difficulties then some of the best help can be given by friends or family, so talk to them about how you feel as well as listening to their thoughts and emotions.
  5. Getting a Change of Scenery – Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, it happens to all of us! Taking a holiday is a great way to relax, improve your mood and see more of the world. However, not all of us are lucky enough to jet off into the sun whenever we feel like it. But there are much simpler (and less expensive) ways of taking a break from our day-to-day routine which can do just as much to improve your mental health. Taking a different route to work or just moving the furniture around will help your mind in being able to experience new things and cope with different situations.
  6. Get a Hobby – So much of our lives are taken up by the pressures of work these days that we can sometimes forget about what we enjoy. Maybe you love to paint, play a musical instrument or have always wanted to build the best railway set in the country. Taking some time out to dedicate just to yourself will help you cope with stress, focus your mind and allow you to express yourself. If you are feeling blue, conveying your thoughts in a painting, a song or in a poem will help you understand how you feel and make you feel much better.
  7. Accepting that You are Unique – Many people are unhappy or self-conscious about their appearance, the way they speak or their background; comparing themselves unfairly to others they see in magazines or on television. These kinds of feeling can lead to an entrenched sense of worthlessness or even bring about conditions such as depression or an eating disorder. By talking to others and expressing your feelings you will be able to get a better understanding of both your weaknesses and strengths. If you find it helps, take five minutes every day to list the qualities that make you unique, thinking of one positive and then one negative, and try to accept that you are you; which is the best person you can be.
  8. Care for Others – It’s only natural to be concerned for other’s welfare, whoever they are. Part of maintaining healthy relationships is returning concern for those who care for you. This could be as simple as signing a ‘get well’ card at work or calling an elderly relative to ask how they are. Getting a pet makes you exercise these emotions constantly as you are the person they rely on for food, shelter and love. Really caring for others can help greatly improve your mental health and allow you to explore feelings you may have grown out of touch with. You may even find you enjoy it so much that you want to volunteer to help others in the community who are less fortunate than yourself, but this is only an extreme example of caring. Allowing yourself to have feelings for others helps you understand why other people care for you and why you should care for yourself.
  9. Exercise your mind – Just like the rest of your body your brain needs exercise too in order to stay healthy. There are lots of different ways you can do this; from computer games to doing the cross word. Instead of working out your bills on a calculator straight away, try calculating the sums in your head first before checking if you were correct mechanically. Learning a new word every day is also a good way of making sure your memory stays in full working order, which will help as you get older as well as in day-to-day life. Your mind is your most valuable tool so keeping it fully functioning is very important to staying happy and living an active life.
  10. Remember that Help is at Hand – By following these simple steps you should feel better in and about yourself. However, if you are feeling anxious, depressed or think you may be suffering from a mental illness it is important to remember that there are lots of places you can go to where you will be offered plenty of support. As well as your G.P. there are many different services based locally around the country such as charities and support groups. The most important thing is to let someone know how you are feeling, be it a friend or family member, a confidential service like the Samaritans or professional services offered by your local health trust.

Healthy Habits: 15 Strategies to Keep Them

1. Ask Yourself “Why?”  – Perhaps the most important step in breaking bad habits is to make sure you’ve chosen ones that you, personally, want to change.  This ensures that you’re doing it for the right reasons.  Is this bad habit something you want to change, or something that someone else wants you to change?  If you determine that it’s really for someone else, reconsider.  Although research does support that people can still benefit when forced to change–for instance, when court-ordered to AA meetings or treatment for a DUI, or when directed by their doctor to change a health habit to prevent surgery or disease–we get much further when we buy into the change ourselves. This doesn’t mean that you cannot work on something that someone else wants for you. In this case, think about which of your values underlies the requested change.  For instance, if your doctor recommended that you lose weight but you’re happy with how you look, can you identify a personal reason to do it?  Maybe “family” tops your values list.  Will losing weight allow you to enjoy more activities with them, or extend your time here on earth with them?  Different reasoning can underlie growing healthy habits.  Align yours with your values in order to grow your motivation for change.
2. Create a Vision – Once you’ve identified the habits you’re willing to work on, visualize how succeeding in changing them will modify your life for the better. Pull out all of the stops, here, and forego reason.  Really dream about what can come of your life when you experience success.  Now, see yourself “as if” you are already there.  Note the feeling state.  Chances are good that it’s something positive:  peace, love, joy. The problem is, that most of us live from the “Have-Do-Be” sequencing principle:  “When I ‘have’ _______, I’ll ‘do’ _________ and I’ll ‘be’ __________.”  For instance:
  • “When I have the right job, I’ll earn and save more money, and I’ll be successful”, or;
  • “When I have the perfect body, I’ll find a great spouse, and I’ll be happy.”
This is a set-up, and it’ll make you miserable. Instead, take a “Be-Do-Have” approach.  Let yourself be happy, then go about the work toward achieving a specific goal.  Chances are good that with this mind set, you’ll attract what you desire.
3. Assess Your Readiness for Change – Sometimes we’re just not there yet.  We want to be there.  We definitely want the end result– healthy habits –but we aren’t ready to pound the pavement to make it happen.  Setting a goal or strategy that sounds good, but one to which you’re unwilling to commit, sabotages your success before you even start.  According to Dr. James Prochaska, there are five stages of readiness for change:
  1. Pre-comtemplation (Denial – “No need for change!”)
  2. Contemplation (Thinking about changing, no action yet)
  3. Preparation (Making small changes towards a big change in the next six months)
  4. Action (Making the big change!)
  5. Maintenance (Sustaining the change)
Develop a good understanding of the different stages, and then determine where you are. The goal is to help nudge yourself along the continuum, not drag yourself.  You want to develop goals and strategies that are somewhat challenging, but not too overwhelming.  If you’re not quite ready to do something yet, ask yourself what you are willing to do.  For instance, if you’re not yet willing to exercise every day for 30 minutes, ask yourself:
  • “Am I willing to exercise three days a week for 30 minutes?”, or;
  • “Am I willing to exercise three days a week for 15 minutes?”, or;
  • “Am I willing to take a five-minute walk at lunch 5 or more days per week?”, or;
  • “Am I willing to put on my work-out clothes and step out the door (or get in my car)?”
The trick here is back up the strategy until your answer is a resounding “yes”.  Not because you’re already taking that action, and it’ll therefore be ultra-easy, but because you can commit to it, and it’s a step forward.
4. Break it Down -Breaking bad habits needn’t be overwhelming.  Taking into account your readiness for change and to what you’re willing to commit, break your large goal into small, tangible objectives.  Effective goals that encourage breaking bad habits are:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Relevant
  • Realistic
Instead of “lose weight”, which is too general, decide how much you’d like to lose and by when.  Keep it realistic.  While losing 40 pounds in three months may happen with laser focus and unwavering commitment, establish a more realistic goal, such as:
  • “Lose 20 or more pounds by April 1, 2013”
This allows for the additional weight loss, should it occur (i.e. “or more”), but it sets you up to succeed.  A great rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “What would I like to be doing differently in three, six, nine, twelve, months?”  Again why are you setting the goal? What would you be doing more or less of if you reached your goal?  For instance, using the weight loss goal as an example, perhaps it’s:
  • walking up the foyer steps without experiencing knee pain, or without being breathless
  • wearing my size 8 wardrobe
  • throwing the football with my son for one hour without needing breaks
After all, you want to know when you’ve met your goal.  Consider creating goals for each quarter of the year, and then break them down into monthly and weekly goals.  Then, daily strategies.
5. Do Whatever You Want – Yes, really! When you begin to develop strategies to meet your goals, don’t forget who you are!  We often think that changing habits needs to be arduous and painful.  Not so!  Choose strategies that fit with your personality and likes.  For instance, if you’re  highly organized and love routine and structure, a work-out in the gym at a set time each day might fit.  A creative or brainiac?  Not so much.  In these cases, try walking park trails with your camera in tote, or listening to interesting scientific or business podcasts as you work out. There is no one, right method.

6. Elicit Support – It’s no surprise that having someone on your team helps you in breaking bad habits and instilling healthy habits. First, telling someone that you are making a change says “I’m serious!”.  Second, enlisting support helps you to hold yourself steadfast when you feel like giving up.  Having supportive “cheerleaders” helps hold you accountable, helps boost motivation, and helps you to hold your vision when you’d rather quit.  There are many means of support.  Of course, most ideal is to find a few supportive friends or family members.  Be careful, however, that they:
  1. Know you well
  2. Can “lean in” and support, without “leaning on” and controlling you
  3. Can remain objective and not just tell you what you want to hear, thus letting you off the hook too easily
Should none of your friends or family members fit the bill, or even if they do, consider external means of support, like hiring a life or health coach who can remain objective and hold your best interest in mind at all times.  Other avenues of support include self-help change websites.
7. Set Yourself Up for Success – This strategy dove-tails all of the aforementioned material in this article.  One of the most effective strategies is to start with the easiest change first, and then build on this success.  Think about it.  What brings us down faster than perceived failure?  Start with a goal you feel pretty confident that you can manage.  For instance, perhaps healthy eating or exercise has been difficult in your quests to lose weight in the past.  Then try daily strategies like “drink 64 ounces of water” or “eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables” until you master them, and then move on to the more challenging tasks.  Babies don’t learn to walk because of their failures.  If they did, they’d never learn to walk. They build on the steps that they’ve successfully taken. Take some baby steps first, and build on these successes to help pull you forward.

8. Manage Your Environment – Environmental controls go a long way towards busting unhealthy habits and developing great ones. Temptations arise when that which you are trying to avoid is immediately available.  Yes, you can go to the store for ice cream or cigarettes, but chances are much greater that you will dig to that Haagen-Das in or puff away at those Marlboros if you have these items within arm’s reach.  Not keeping the cornerstones of your vices at your disposal bides you time when you’re tempted.  Identify ways you can change your environment to discourage your old habit, and support your new one.

9.  Automate – Employ the power of technology when possible, or establish routines that support your new habit.  For instance, if you’re trying to save money, divert a percentage of your paycheck to an IRA or savings account through direct deposit.  If using technology isn’t an option or doesn’t make sense, automate your daily habits.  For instance, if you’ve decided that taking a daily vitamin is an important habit this new year, set your vitamin bottle beside your coffee cups or water dispenser each day in order to remind you.  Set an alarm.  Use an app. Think about your habit, and determine what you can systematize to increase the chances of follow-through.  Cook healthy meals on Sundays and place into single-serving containers for meals throughout the week.  Cut up fruits and veggies weekly for evening snacking. You get the idea.  Automate for success.

10. Reward…Often – We often mistakenly see our end result as our sole reward, and we fail to set meaningful, regular rewards for ourselves along the way.  One of the hallmarks of an effective change strategy is to reward–early and often.  Seeing success early increases motivation.  Always keep a carrot dangled in front of you to edge you forward.  Be certain to make rewards relevant, enjoyable, but not the behavior you’re changing.  For instance, don’t indulge in a day of desserts after losing five pounds.  Instead, reap the benefits of your success, by buying yourself a new skirt or accessory to match an outfit you have your eye on to purchase once you’ve met your weight loss goal.

11. Make an Investment– In yourself, yes.  But also, a financial investment.  When things are free, they lose their perceived value.  When you’ve got no skin in the game, you can always do it later, right?  Spending some money on yourself, and also investing time and effort, raises the stakes.  You want a good return on your investment. So you work harder.  This could be as simple as spending some money on a quality gym membership, supplements, a health or life coach, or constructing a good old winner-takes-all contest with family members, friends or co-workers.  Fresh out of ideas for how to invest? Here’s a website that allows you to donate to your favorite charity as you master pre-established hurdles, or conversely, to donate to a charity you abhor if you fail to reach your goal (while research suggests that reward is more effective than punishment, experience tells me that goals are usually achieved through a combination of both – on the one side lies something we want; and on the other, something we really don’t want.  These both together push us toward our goal).
12.  Find Healthy Alternatives – While you’re busy changing behaviors, try to determine how your old habits served you.  Most will say, “They didn’t!”  While that can definitely be true, there might very well be something in it we think serves us.  We don’t repeat habits that don’t help us in some way, even if the word “Help” is used loosely.  Habits may provide comfort, companionship, excitement, distraction, or be ways of indirectly communicating needs and feelings.  De-coding why you have been doing something remains extremely important so that you can replace that habit with an alternative healthy strategy.  Determining the function of bad habits, and pinpointing obstacles for creating new habits is sometimes tricky.  Consider asking someone you trust if they can help you develop some insight.  If it’s a deeply-ingrained habit, consider hiring a professionally-trained counselor, therapist or coach to help you figure it out so that you can put it behind you, once and for all.  Without such insight, you’re bound to repeat the pattern.
13. Take a Breather – Build short breaks into your master plan.  We can do almost anything for short periods, but when we think about doing just about any behavior for a lifetime, we’re bound to stop short of our goal. Limit action strategies to specific time frames or periods.  For instance, if your goal is to “organize my home”, then set aside 30 minutes five days per week to organize a drawer, cabinet or closet.  When that time is up, stop.  If you’re looking at more of a lifestyle change, discard all-or-none thinking about it, and enjoy a moderate break. Have a sweet treat (outside of your home) once every two weeks.  Or, if you have more will power, stick to a firm plan for 4 to 6 weeks, and then take a week off.  Be certain that during your “off” time, that you don’t undo all of the progress that you’ve made. Make the goal to maintain or sustain, tread water, so to speak, instead of indulge and backslide.

14. Get Cozy with Your Emotions – This strategy sounds unfitting, right?  Well, emotional intelligence–getting acquainted and comfortable with your emotions, both difficult and pleasant ones–remains key to success in all areas of life.  Often, we participate in a bad habit because of poor self-esteem, faulty thinking or in an effort to resist feeling challenging emotions.  It’s not life’s events that we so fear.  It’s the emotions that accompany the life event that we work most to avoid.  Learning to label, tolerate, communicate and let go of emotions is a skill we can all learn and benefit from.

15. Get Back on the Wagon – We all fall off.  Because our human nature is to be “perfectly imperfect”, be rest assured that, you too, will fall.  But you won’t fail.  Take each mistake as an opportunity to assess the obstacles, so that you can use them to refine your plan.  Take each slip-up as an opportunity to be curious about yourself, and use what you learn to get back on track.  You may have taken an ineffective path at a “Y” in the road (i.e. your “slip-up”).  Now, consider yourself at a second “Y”.  You can either:
  • beat yourself up endlessly, which will likely result in further ineffective action, or;
  • choose an effective path by taking the opportunity to learn, refine, and recharge
The good news?  Just making a New Year’s resolution increases the likelihood of success:   Research supports that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions. Perhaps author and motivational speaker Steve Maraboli said it best when he said:
 “Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t “should’ve” done something. You can only DO something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!”
It is a new day.  In fact, it’s a new year. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. Instead, take the reigns.  Hold firmly. Till and cultivate. Manifest your life’s vision  in 2015.

Healthy and active ageing

Healthy and active ageing

Being healthy, physically active and socially engaged throughout your life has many benefits, especially as you grow older.
Some simple tips to help you to achieve healthy and active ageing include:
  • maintain a balanced diet. This is important for a healthy body and healthy brain
  • do regular physical activity. This is essential for your body and mind. Regular physical activity builds muscle and helps to control weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, pain, as well as bone and joint problems such as osteoporosis and arthritis. It can also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and help prevent falls and injury
  • actively participate socially and engage with others. This contributes to your overall health and wellbeing by strengthening your sense of belonging and creating social relationships.

How do I maintain a balanced diet?

To maintain a balanced diet, you should try to eat a variety of foods from different groups. This means trying to eat:
  • fruit and vegetables – two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day
  • foods such as bread, cereal, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods, preferably wholegrain or wholemeal
  • milk and dairy foods – use low fat milk and yoghurt and hard cheeses
  • meat, fish, eggs, beans such as broadbeans, soybeans and lentils and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • fish – at least two portions a week, including one portion of oily fish such as trout, salmon and sardines
  • smaller amounts of food and drink that are high in fat or sugar.
It is also essential to drink lots of water and other fluids in order to keep the body hydrated.
Visit the Australian Government’s healthdirect website for more information about eating healthily, or browse the eatforhealth website.

What types of physical activity should I do?

It is important to remain active as you age. For active ageing you should try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days to help keep your heart, lungs, muscles and bones working well. It’s a good idea to do a range of activities that help with fitness, strength, flexibility and balance.
For more ideas, download a copy of the Choose Health Be Active brochure from the Department of Health website.

What types of social activities should I do?

Joining a local group or taking part in regular social activities with family, friends and neighbours is a good way to keep involved and connected with the community.
There are also social support services that can help you to maintain an active social life by having someone visit you in your home, or by arranging visits and outings in the community.

Can I still enjoy alcohol?

Alcohol affects each individual in a different way, so there is no amount of alcohol that can be said to be safe for everyone. Always drink alcohol in moderation.
If you choose to drink you should be aware that there is always some risk to your health and social wellbeing associated with drinking. To minimise this risk you should:
  • consult your doctor if you are taking certain medications (either prescription or over the counter), or have any physical or mental health problems that could be made worse by drinking alcohol. It may be especially important for older people to note that alcohol can affect your balance
  • drink no more than two standard drinks on any day.

Can I smoke?

There is no healthy level of smoking, it harms people of all ages. Scientific evidence shows that if you smoke you face much higher risks of death and or illness from many different cancers, heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, emphysema and other respiratory diseases, pregnancy complications and many more conditions. Those who smoke are also less physically fit and have more breathing problems.
Quitting at any age has benefits, with the largest reduction in risk in those who quit the earliest.

Ways to Spending Christmas This Year


Many are the ways of Christmas, changing from country to country taking on numerous shapes and colors as diverse as the peoples who first started them for those who through the course of time turned them in to traditions. It is strange and wonderful how dissimilar all these Christmas habits are, ranging from waiting till January 6, “Dia de Los Reyes” (Day of Kings) to open up ones presents (tradition practiced in Spain) to Poland where people do not even delay till Christmas day; as their presents are opened as soon as the first star makes its appearance in the sky on the evening of Christmas. There are even those countries such as Russia and Greece whose orthodox churches have not adopted to the Julian calendar and are still using the Gregorian calendar; making their celebration of Christmas take place about a fortnight after the 25th of December.

As for myself I have been fortunate enough due to my many travels to spend Christmas in many a country where this holiday is upheld and thanks to this fact I have seen for myself the many ways people in the United States, Poland, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Italy, Hungary and the Soviet Union celebrate Christmas. The customs I have seen in these lands were of true beauty as I was invited to people’s homes in all of the above mentioned countries well with the sole exception of Soviet Union. It was in this last country where I spent this day in a hotel (Cosmos) in Moscow in the year 1988 during the time when the words glasnosts and perestroika were becoming known to most Americans; thanks Gorbachov. This being a man whose popularity in America at the time could match that of any other politician or actor.

With Regards to Christmas I can not say much about what it is that Russians did or ate on this day, as the hotel did not offer anything special on the menu. In truth the only thing I learnt about Russian Christmas while in the Soviet Union was from our Russian tour guide who told us that in the Soviet Union Christmas was not celebrated; as in her country New Year’s Day served as a combination of the two. She also told us how people gave presents to each other on that day and how her and her husband would pay a man to dress up as “father Christmas” and go to their home to give their son his presents. Of course needless to say times have changed since my visit to the Soviet Union. As this “empire of evil” as Ronald Reagan called it was eventually eradicated by history.

As for the other countries where I spent Christmas, Hungary was also unique in the fact that it was the first country (the Soviet Union being the 2nd) where I spent Christmas with no family or relatives of any kind. The year was 1987 but unlike in the Soviet Union I spent the day in a pension which was the apartment of a Hungarian family which out of some sort of kindness perhaps seeing that I was completely alone invited me to join them for their Christmas Dinner.

It perhaps was the oddest feeling I had ever had sitting down to dinner on Christmas day with people whose language was as foreign to my ear as mine (me speaking Italian, French and Spanish apart from English at the time) was to theirs. The meal I must say was not bad in its humble way though for the life of me I knew not what I ate as my hosts were unable to explain to me what I was eating which was some sort of meat which was probably pork. In a way I felt honored because this family which was far from being affluent had invited me, a person who was only renting a room in their apartment to share in their Christmas meal which I could imagine based on what I knew of eastern block countries had cost them a lot of money. It was while sitting down with them at the table that I noticed a certain dignity in this middle aged couple, infused with the tremendous joy and pride they took in not only the way they ate their simple meal which I could see in their faces but the way they spend this day. I must however say that I felt rather relieved when they opened their presents that they had not bought me anything, for I given that I had not expected to be invited to Christmas dinner had not bought them anything either.

I felt good after the meal and it was not because I had eaten something but because it had been that feeling of Christmas that makes people a little nicer that had propelled them to invite me so I would not spend this day alone in my room or walking through what was probably a very empty city. The following day came which was the 26th and leave early I did as I had to catch a very early train to Warsaw so it was on the night table in my bedroom that I left the key along with a ten dollar bill. It is funny how that might not seem like much to the average American or Hungarian now a days but then 10 dollars was the average weekly salary for many a person in Hungary. The money I left not as payment for the meal but as a small present which I feared to give directly, as hurting the feelings of someone who had invited me to Christmas was the last thing my heart desired; so I did it in a way that might be understood hopefully as a traveler in a rush giving what he can.
The country which saw me spend the most Christmases is the United States which does not really celebrate the evening of Christmas but uses it as a time to get ready for the day to come. It is generally on this eve that food is prepared or people (those who have one) sit in front of their fire places listening to Christmas songs or watching one version or another of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

It is the day of Christmas itself, the 25th of December and only this day that is of real consequence in the USA. As it is on this day that children along with their families rise early from their slumber to those presents under the tree and in their stockings. On this day after going through an emotional round of Christmas present opening, the turkey is carved for young and old; as families go about eating their meal. As a personal comment I must admit that I always found having turkey for Christmas slightly tiring specially after having had it less than a month before for Thanksgiving.

Some around the world may find it strange how Americans (well some any way) go shopping on the 25th as many though not all the stores are open. It is with the intension of getting those truly last minute presents or getting those boxes of Christmas cards at half price (to give out next year) that arouses many an American to leave the comfort of home to go to one of those department stores. Naturally there is also the case of those teenagers whose wish is none other than to spend their present which was given to them in the form of cash or gift certificates. I even recall how 21 years ago I bought my first camera on the day of Christmas in a store on 5th avenue in New York. There are also those who take advantage of open grocery stores to get those items they might have run out off or forgotten in all the rush of the season.

After myself the second biggest traveler in the family is my older sister Mili (though not my oldest) who has also spent Christmas in several different countries given the many places her Spanish husband was posted to by his former employer Columbia Pictures. It was in Ecuador (in the city of Guayaquil) in the year of 1984 that I spent one of the most memorable Christmases due to the tropical weather. I if truth be told never felt the need to see snow on Christmas for New York contrary to popular concept does not show off snow covered streets every year but however it was not beach weather that I was used to either.

As for the celebration of Christmas itself I can not claim to have noticed anything that distinguished it from the way the same festivity is carried out in Peru or Argentina. People in Peru and Argentina like those in Ecuador also stay up till midnight on the 24th to wish each other a merry Christmas with a big hug after which they tear in to their presents and then at their turkey dinner. It was with great hunger I noticed the meal is consumed in these countries as they abstain from victuals till midnight and for the most part have not eaten since lunch. This appetite in some is even further increased by the tragos (drinks in Spanish) they drink in the lead up to that minute that turns Christmas eve to Christmas day. Another thing about Peru, Argentina and Ecuador that I found unique was the way in which fireworks are used at midnight to light up the sky. I being American was only used to seeing such displays on the 4th of July.

As for Italy, the country of birth of my grandmother and where part of my heritage comes from, it is strange that I have only spent Christmas there once and it being not long ago in the house of my daughter’s Godfather Erico Jannone; (who sadly passed away earlier this year) who lives near Torino which in English is known as Turin. As for Italian Christmas, the only thing that really separates it from the American version is that they eat seven types of seafood. Apart from this there is not much difference between Americans and Italians as they both wait till the 25th of December to both celebrate and open presents though they part company when it comes to going shopping; for Italian strict social laws do not allow businesses to open on this day.

The country where we spend Christmas can not help but influence how we spend it but one thing that we must never forget is the people who we celebrate it with us. It was in the company of my now late “compadre” and his daughter and son that my wife, daughter (The Little Opera Singer) and I spent this most special of days on the Christian calendar. It was his pleasant demeanor added to his regional Neapolitan charm that made this day so grand as he told my daughter all about the befana. Befana being the name given to the gift bearing witch who visits toddlers on Christmas.

Last but not least I will describe my Polish Christmases where people also have their distinctive way of celebration and that being to perform all the rituals of this holiday on the 24th of December on the day they call Wygilia. It is at the moment when the evening’s first star lights up in the sky that Polish people start in. First by sharing a wafer of some kind with each other as they exchange season wishes. As far as I am concerned, I can not in earnest claim to have taken a fancy to this almost ceremonial act though I have nothing against it either as I simply do not take part in it; as I do not feel any emotional connection with it. It is after the sharing of this wafer that Polish people start in on their meal that includes twelve dishes, one to symbolize everyone of the Jesus’ apostles. The dishes are for the most part cabbage composed along with other things that do not include meat as the Polish tradition (though not of the Church’s) does not allow the eating of any meat that is not fish. I in my personal preference prefer not to eat each dish, therefore I concentrate on just three or four of them; as my taste buds prefer to concentrate on fewer foods at a time.
It is following the meal that presents are opened though in my case I save the presents I am giving, not only to my wife and daughter but others for the following day and how could I proceed other wise than also saving the presents which have been given to me for the same day?

As one can see there are many ways to spend Christmas and I have been blessed to see several of them thanks to my multicultural family and travels, so it is with the truest sincerity that I state that all of the methods of celebrating Christmas are great in their own way. This making it that none be better for that would make some worse, none be more special for that would make some less; as they are equal in their differences and similarities. After all do they not carry the same purpose behind them which is sharing with one another? It is with this thought that I end this article by saying that no matter how one chooses to spend one’s Christmas eve or day; may it be joyful as that is the purpose of this day to my way of seeing things.

20 Tips to get more traffic from Pinterest

The internet is getting more visual every day.  We spend hours every day staring at the screen, for work, for emails, for leisure and gaming, for entertainment, for TV and more.  Our eyes can get tired from too much close up work, too much reading text and are inevitably drawn to images. Big, bright, bold images.  That’s why so much advertising is image based rather than text based.  And Pinterest is the ultimate image-based way to browse the internet.  Done right, it should also be in your top 5 traffic referrers to your blog.  So spruce up your boards, get busy with commenting and tracking, and see how can you get more followers and traffic from Pinterest.
1. Be neat and tidy and organised
Spend a few minutes a day over the next few days tidying up your boards.  Make sure you don’t have two boards the same, make sure your pins are in the correct boards, go through and edit each board to give it a description, and a short but appealing title, remove empty boards.  Rearrange your boards with those most important or most appealing or most popular along the top line.  Give each board a relevant and attractive cover.

2.  Give yourself a shout out
Your top row of boards is your most valuable real estate and those that are immediately obvious to new visitors.  Make sure that any boards you have that feature your own products or posts are along that top line – give yourself top billing in your own show.

My Pinterest Page – I’ve done pretty well in the last 9 months with over 12,500 followers.

3.  Use group boards to your advantage
Group boards are really popular among bloggers and internet users with the same interests.  Join group boards to showcase your own work to the board followers and set up your own group boards to attract new followers to your Pinterest account.  You get a nice full board without having to do any of the work!  Monitor any of your own group boards carefully for spammy or inappropriate content and remove it quickly and remove the offending pinner.  You can find group boards in this directory.

4.  Learn what images your readers like
Check what content is being pinned and note the types of images that are picked most often.  You can find pins from your own site using this address  

5.  Watermark your images
Not everyone will necessarily pin your image from the original source, sometimes by mistake.  Make sure the content can still be found by adding your website address to your images.  Have a search box on your site so a reader can find the correct content in case a pin has the site address rather than the post address linked.

6.  Interact with pinners and leave comments
If someone pins your content or leaves comments on your pins, join in the conversation.  Thank them for pinning, add a comment and be sociable.  However, take care.  Pinterest can suspend your account for spamming the boards if you simply go through and Like all the pins and comment with ‘thanks for pinning’ in a short space of time.  Reserve your attention to the pins that bring in the most re-pins or traffic.

7.  Learn Pinterest Tips from the experts
New to Pinterest and need some help?  Learn from the best with this book - Pinterest Savvy: How I Got 1 Million+ Followers (Strategies, Plans, and Tips to Grow Your Business with Pinterest) (affiliate link)

8.  Create niche boards Pinterest can be overwhelming with its content.  Help your visitors find exactly the content they want by breaking down your large boards into smaller niche boards.  Don’t have a board for food if you can split it into cocktails, desserts, crockpot recipes, appetizers, BBQ etc.  It will make it easier for you to find the content you want too.

9.  Brand your page 
If you are primarily using Pinterest in conjunction with your blog, website or business, then make sure your user name and profile reflects this.  You can change your name to your name plus your blog name, or just the blog name or whatever seems best to you.  Do add your blog address to your profile and write a brief description of what your boards might feature. Search engines do index this page and your other boards so make your descriptions keyword rich to appear in search engine results.

10.  Add your own pin description
The description for your pin can be almost as important as the image.  Add a caption or alt tag description to your blog images that will become the default description if that image is added to Pinterest.

11.  Have a PIN IT button
Encourage your visitors to Pin your content by having a Pin it button with every post.  Each post should ideally feature a range of social sharing options – make sure Pinterest is one of them.  The more times your image is pinned, the more visits and repins you will get.

12.  Pin your own material
Don’t go mad and spam your own Pinterest boards simply with your own blog posts and images.  Think that a comfortable ratio would be one pin for your own content with every 10 pins of  other content.  You can have self-promotion boards such as my ‘I made these‘ board but don’t bore your followers by making all your boards about you.  Or you won’t get many followers, just your Auntie Pam.

13.  Pin more tutorials
Tutorial pins see a 42% higher click-through rate than the average pin. [Source: Pinerly]  So if you feature tutorials on your blog, make sure to pin them and make it obvious there’s a tutorial behind that picture.  80% of pins on Pinterest are re-pins, so you need to pin your own stuff and get your stuff pinned and re-pinned in order to get those re-pins in front of a wider circle who will see and re-pin and so on.

14.  Be topical, timely and trending
If it’s February how many clicks do you think you will get on your Christmas recipes board?  Not many.  But get a Valentines Gift ideas pin in front of visitors at the beginning of February and it has a much higher chance of getting pins and click throughs.

15.  Include a Call To Action
If you want something, then ask for it!  Include a Call to Action in your pin, such as “comment below”, or “click here”.  The graphic at the top of this post was designed especially for Pinterest.  It’s in a vertical format so it takes up more room, and it includes a CLICK HERE call to action.  I don’t just want people to pin it and save for later (which might never come), I want them to click it now and come visit this post.

16.  Try out different sorts of images
There are several ways you can make your images more pinnable.  Try a vertical format rather than horizontal to give your image more space on the boards and feed.  Include a title on the image itself, especially if the image is the end result and you are featuring a tutorial – make it clear what’s behind the image.  Make a storyboard image showing several of the steps and the end result – again this identifies a popular tutorial post.  There is a great post on Sverve with examples that you will find really useful.  Try to include at least one of these options for every post.

17. Make your images find-able
As Pinterest grows with more than 30 million users, and countless pins being added every day, it is also an excellent visual search engine.  Keep this in mind when describing your pin.  Include rich keywords.  Is your post about a recipe for BBQ sauce?  Then make sure BBQ sauce recipe is included in the description.  Hashtags aren’t as widely used on Pinterest as other media – a well crafted description and an eye-catching image are all you need.

18.  Verify your account
This is easy to do and gives you another opportunity to brand your page and attract visitors to your site.  Your URL is right there in your page header and is clickable.

19.  Create great content behind your pin 
Pins come from readers.  A reader must like what you have written and want to share it or save it in order to even think about adding it to Pinterest in the first place.  So make your content Pin-worthy.  Show how to do something faster, cheaper, better or easier than ever before and write a post that deserves to go viral.

20.  Be cautious about monetizing Pinterest
I don’t think for most pinners this is a big issue, but I do know that bloggers can be approached by brands to pin their products for money.  You can also join sites like Viraliti to be paid to pin.  Exercise discretion and only pin those products or sites that you believe would appeal to your readers.  And don’t forget to follow the FTC disclosure requirements and mark your pins as an advert.
I’m sure you have lots of other Pinterest tips too.  How do you use Pinterest to bring traffic to your site?

Loaded Cookie Bars

I hope you all had a great weekend (and fun celebrating Halloween if you do so).  Post Halloween there is usually lots of candy and treats lying around, so it's a great time to make these cookies.  The base dough stays the same, but you can basically chose your mix-ins, depending on what you have on hand, leftover, or whatever sounds good!  Oreos or graham crackers add a perfect crunch, and M&Ms, chocolate chips, or a variety of bit sized candy bars add some sweetness.  These cookies really leave it up to you! 
These make up in no time at all and are great treat to share, or enjoy on your own with a tall glass of milk.  I took them to work with me and they lasted just minutes!
Loaded Cookie Bars
Recipe Adapted from Averi Cooks
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP vanilla
1 cup flour
2 cups/12 chopped Oreos (or grahman crackers, or pretzels, or other cookies)
1/2 cup M&Ms (or other candy/chocolate chips)
To begin, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Then prep an 8x8 pan with foil and spay with cooking spray.
Begin making the cookies by melting the butter.  Let cool slightly, then add egg.  Mix in brown sugar and vanilla and mix until smoother.  Next, add the flour and stir until just combined, being careful to not overmix.  Then it is time to fold in your add ons.  I used Oreos and M&Ms but you can use whatever you want!  I mixed in half of my M&Ms and held back the other half.
Place batter into pan and smooth or pat out as best you can (dough will be very very sticky).  Then sprinkle remaining M&Ms or candy on top of the batter. 
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes.  Top should not look doughy and the edges should be just barely browning.  If you can, use a toothpick to test the center.
Make sure to let the bars cool in the pan for at least a half hour before slicing.  Store in an airtight container. 

Manly Happy Birthday

I know I have been absent from the craft posts for quite awhile.  I've been working on lots of little things, but keep forgetting to take pictures!

November is a busy month for birthdays in my family.  My dad, brother in law, father in law, husband and godson are all born in November - it's a busy month!  Today, I wanted to share some cute cards I made for my dad and father-in-law for their birthdays.  These cards would also make great Father's day cards!
The idea is based off of a cardmaking class I took once, but I adjusted it based on what I had on hand.

First you will need to cut your "suit" fabric.  One piece should be 3 1/4 inches by 5 1/2 inches.  The other side should be 1 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.
Inked edges of both pieces of paper.
Now you need to create the fold for the lapel.  To do this, on the top of the larger piece of paper, make a mark 2 inches from the top left corner, and a mark 3 inches on the left side from the bottom.  Score along this line to connect the two marks and fold back.
If you are using double sided designer paper - you are all set.  I was using designer paper, and didn't like the coordinating side, so I cut a piece of the teal paper to cover up the folded back piece.
On the smaller piece of paper, make a mark on the left edge, five inches from the bottom.  On the right side, make a mark 3 inches from the bottom.  Score between the two marks and fold back.
Using a tape gun or your adhesive of choice, adhere the narrow piece of paper.  Then apply the larger piece of paper, overlapping the smaller piece of paper slightly.
Trim off the overhang from your lapel on the smaller piece of paper.
Stamp on your Sentiment.
Adhere buttons using glue dots.
For the bow tie, use a punch or trace a bow tie shape and adhere using foam squares. I traced mine as I don't have a bow tie punch!

Buttons are from Jo-Anne's
Sentiment is Paper Smooches

Days of Christmas, Woodland Christmas Centerpiece

So, it is confession time--centerpieces have never been my forte.  A bowl of fruit in the middle of the table, some mail scattered around it and I was good.  

But, the last few years I have had fun creating unique, SUPER inexpensive centerpieces with items I find around the house.

This year was no different. After making my Christmas table runner and picking my woodland theme, I knew a centerpiece to fit the theme would be easy. This year's centerpiece took less than 30 minutes to gather and put together.

Christmas, candles, pine branches, copper paint, centerpiece, DIY, woodland, logs, pinecones, fusion mineral paint, http://bec4-beyondthepicketfence.blogspot.com/2015/12/12-days-of-christmas-day-8-woodland.html

I picked up this great set of Eddie Bauer candles in a cute wood box for $5 at the thrift store.
I used 3 logs from our wood pile cut to three different lengths for the candles.  I did nail a small nail in the middle top of each log to keep the candles in place.
logs, use what you have, DIY, copper paint, candles, Christmas centerpiece, http://bec4-beyondthepicketfence.blogspot.com/2015/12/12-days-of-christmas-day-8-woodland.html
I cut some branches and some evergreen pieces from our yard.
I painted the branches and some pine cones with Matthew Mead's Copper paint from Fusion Mineral paint.  This color has been another huge inspiration for my Christmas theme this year.
woodland, fusion mineral paint, branches, pinecones, DIY, centerpiece, Christmas, http://bec4-beyondthepicketfence.blogspot.com/2015/12/12-days-of-christmas-day-8-woodland.html
I put the branches in an ironstone pitcher from the thrift store.
I put it all on a garage sale tray painted with Fusion Mineral's Fort York Red.
Simple, woodsy, perfect for my Christmas home. 
Christmas centerpiece, woodland, branches, pinecones, logs, candles, Christmas decor, http://bec4-beyondthepicketfence.blogspot.com/2015/12/12-days-of-christmas-day-8-woodland.html
Look around your home for easy items to use in your centerpiece this season.