How I found inspiration at Create & Cultivate Chicago

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

A couple weekends ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Create & Cultivate Chicago. If you caught my last blog post, you saw that I’ve been going through some major life changes. Around the time of this conference, I had officially settled on my decision to move back to the midwest and I was truly needing some inspiration to get me fueled back into blogging and photography. I had researched the heck out of this conference and all of the speakers (of course there were many speakers I already follow and love) and thought that a conference filled with industry professionals, bloggers and inspiring peers would get my creative juices flowing.

I have never attended a blogger conference before and let me tell you, for the first time in a while, I truly felt like I was where I belonged- surrounded by go-getters, #girlbosses and hustlers (not to mention, a ton of cute #ootd inspo.) At Create & Cultivate Chicago, I was surrounded by amazing women who just GET IT!

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

There are SO many subjects I want to speak about and I have SO much information to share, but for today’s post, I wanted to share how I found inspiration and Create & Cultivate Chicago.

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

The Speakers

There were so many speakers lined up for this conference, and unfortunately I didn’t get to hear them all! I wish I could have though because there were a few I wanted to hear that I missed out on (there are two different tracks.) I loved all of the panels I was able to attend, and wanted to share a few things that struck a chord and inspired me:

Mastering Food Photography: the ins and outs of snapping the perfect posed shot: Claire Thomas of The Kitchy Kitchen, Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking, Mandy Kellogg Rye of Waiting on Martha

I was really excited about this panel because, as you know, I love photographing- and eating- food! I was really looking forward to hearing these ladies speak on tips of the trade.

On food photography, iPhone-ography and staging/styling…
• “Natural light is key- I don’t shoot anything unless [there’s] sunshine outside. I like to keep it simple- when in doubt, an overhead shot works. Don’t overdo it- you really want to make it about the food shining through, and the colors and textures.” – Claire Thomas
• “We’re moving away from the messy shots where there’s crumbs… you have to be really careful. If you’re going to use crumbs or utensils, make sure they’re naturally there.” – Mandy Kellogg Rye
• “The best looking food is food that is ready to be eaten. Focus on the details you want to highlight- this translates for lifestyle and fashion too- where do you want their eye to go? Do everything you can to leave them there.” – Claire Thomas

So, after hearing this panel, I was pretty excited and feeling really motivated, because everything they touched on I was already doing- so for me personally, it was a ‘keep doing what you’re doing and keep working hard and you’ll get there’ moment. After the panel, I had the chance to interview both Gaby and Mandy!

• What is your advice on being unique without following trends?
Gaby: “You really have to figure out what message you want to tell people. For me, I just want everyone to live the California-girl life wherever they are. Don’t pay attention to the fact that there are one million food blogs out there- you’re your own voice! No one else can do what you’re doing. That’s who you are- rock it!”
Mandy: “When I first started out, one of the biggest things was high end photography- I’m an image driven person so an image would get me to click on something. I think finding a unique spin and an authentic voice- I know authenticity is talked about a lot but if it’s something you love, you’re going to naturally engage people in it. Being authentic, believing in your brand, great imagery and social media is key!”

• What is your source of inspiration for what you think is a perfect photo?
Gaby: “Color! I’m SO into color and an abundance of things. The reason I cook is to feed people that I love, so I love a party scene, like a bruschetta bar. Something that people would be like ‘we need to do this at our next girls night in!'”

• How do you find passion in a profession that you’re doing every day?
Gaby: “Sometimes you just want to lay in bed and watch Housewives all day! For me, it’s about getting out there and meeting other people in the field. My photographer is an incredible source of inspiration and even going to the farmer’s market. Keeping things new and exciting is helpful especially when you’re doing the same thing over and over.”
Mandy: “I live by the motto ‘Work Hard, Play Hard.’ It’s really easy to get burned out but you have to listen to yourself and take cues from that. When you feel yourself teetering on the edge (it happens to everybody!) take the time and do what you love. For me, it’s either going away for a couple days or running errands- but I leave my phone in the car or at home. I really truly try to decompress and get off of those things. You have to be really careful and listen to what your mind and body is telling you and do what makes you happy.

• What is your advice for finding your next step?
Gaby: “Just not being afraid to do something. I thought about doing my Snapchat cooking show on a Thursday and started it that Friday! Just do it- such a Nike thing to say but I think it’s so important to just go for it. No one’s going to kill you if you did something wrong- you can always re-do it. That’s the beauty of living in a digital world. Not being afraid to taking a risk.
Mandy: “When I started, I had a vision of where we wanted to go. We said yes to a lot of things and opportunities naturally follow. Saying no is harder than saying yes- but your career will flourish and last years and years by staying true to yourself. Be open to whatever comes. It’s an adventure- it’s not always about the end game, its about the journey.”

• What is a piece of advice you would tell yourself when you first started?
Gaby: “To not be afraid of any failures that might come. Everyone has failure- just do your best. If [you’re] passionate about it, you will be successful.”

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

Influencer 101: Negotiating deals, working with bloggers and monetizing your influence: Emily Jackson of Ivory Lane, Jessica Sturdy of Bows and Sequins, Geri Hirsch of Because I’m Addicted, Hilary Sloan of ShopStyle and Lily Berg of DBA.

Monetizing my blog has been something on my to-do list for a while now, and so I was really curious to hear Lily Berg and Hilary Sloan speak. Thankfully, after the panel, I was able to work with one of the many ShopStyle reps on location and they were able to help me straighten out my account! I thought it was so cool that ShopStyle had reps there, readily available to help with any questions or concerns.

On media kits…
• “Your media kit is the most important thing you can have and just an overall sense of knowing your worth. For your media kit, having your statistics on your website, all your social media followers, but also keeping a deck of  what you’ve done- the different partnerships, the content you’ve created, content you’re really proud of. Something to show brands.” – Jessica Sturdy
On agencies looking to sign new talent…
• “I’m always looking to work with someone who is looking outside of the box. My clients are creative and doing really innovative things, like video and snapchat. They’re tackling all their different platforms. They’re thinking of this as a brand. I don’t have patience for someone who just wants to throw up an Instagram and go in front of a pink wall and call it a day. I want someone who’s looking at their [analytics] and who knows what their conversion rate is, who knows whether they should post at 5:00pm or 6:00pm. We want to work with people who are seeing this as a sustainable business  and who want to have a 10-year career.” – Lily Berg of DBA
“As influencers, the thing you really need to think about is what kind of business do you want this to be? Do you want this to be a post on Instagram and have a link or do you want this to be something that you’re in for the long haul? If you’re in it for the long haul, you want to look at partners who can help you build and scale that audience. Being aware of your traffic and conversion insights- start looking at those things and evaluating the opportunities you have in front of you and make the decision that makes the most sense for your business goals.” – Hilary Sloan of ShopStyle

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

Of course, I loved hearing all of the other panels and the rest of the conference was jam-packed with information, inspiration and tips. I loved being able to hear The Everygirl Co-Founders (aka my boss ladies!) Alaina Kaczmarski and Danielle Moss. Also, hearing Garance Doré speak totally solidified my girl crush on her.
On maintaining a good work and life balance… “You have to find what makes you happy- you have to find a place where you are healthy and happy. But if you love what you do, you don’t mind working.” – Garance Doré

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

The Details

Create & Cultivate was held at 19 East in Chicago. This venue was amazing! I loved the natural light and the outdoor space, as well as how all of the different rooms connected with each other. I also liked being able to try out all of the different sponsored drinks and products (hello Gevalia coffee, you’ve got me hooked!) There were a few pop up shops (Whitney Eve, Lulu & Georgia, Mira, Topshop and more.) There was a beauty bar where you could get glammed up for the day (WISH I would have taken advantage of getting a touch up on my hair!) as well as an ACTUAL bar too!

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

The Takeaway

Overall, this conference was 100% worth it. Not only did I get to hear amazing women speak, but I also got to meet my team of “Everygirls” as well as a few other bloggers I had kept contact with. I truly walked away from the conference feeling inspired in many ways:
• I felt like I was ready to get my business on the road; After speaking with many industry professionals and a few PR reps, I felt like I had the information I needed and the motivation to make my blog into a brand and business, and incorporate my side hustles into my blog and brand to make one GIANT business down the road.
• It was so awesome to be surrounded by other women who KNOW that you’re not just taking a picture of your breakfast or outfit, they understand it’s for a higher purpose and it’s ‘on brand.’
• I have a lot of material to share for a while!

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

suculent wall

How I found inspiration at Create and Cultivate Chicago

I’ll be doing a follow up post talking about the benefits of going to an industry conference. Have you ever attended a blogger conference before? Did you attend the Create & Cultivate? If so, what were your most memorable moments?

Imagery via Jennifer Kathryn and Monica Wang for Create & Cultivate (+ my iPhone)
more info on Create & Cultivate Chicago here.

Real Talk: Keeping it 100

Flower and Berry Flat Lay

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around these parts for a while huh? I promise you, it hasn’t been something I’ve done on purpose. It’s not that I’m ignoring my editorial calendar on purpose either because I’ve got one jam packed for the next two months. And believe me, I want to write and I have plenty to say. But real talk, let’s keep it 100.

I’m trying to hold my shit together. That sounds crazy, but it’s the truth- and honesty is the best policy. I’ve really been trying to hold it together for a few months now. When I first started this blog, I always thought that I’d try to keep my personal life mostly separated. I wanted to maintain some privacy and I feel like that’s a decision I  stuck with it pretty well. However, as I evolve throughout life both personally and as a blogger, sometimes it’s okay to air these feelings and sometimes it just has to be done.

I think to say that I’m undergoing a ‘life change’ is an understatement, because I really think this ‘life change’ has been going on for the past year and it hasn’t caught up to me until now. When I lost my dad, it really hurt, bad. I always thought I did pretty well with not dwelling on it because I never saw the point in dwelling on something you couldn’t change- all I could do is remember the great times and all of the important lessons he taught me (that’s what he would have wanted too.) Although I grieved appropriately, I’m still dealing with it- most days are better than others though.

I think that combined with this house flip (which looks AMAZING, and I have no regrets in doing it) has really stressed me out- it’s so scary putting a house that you’ve invested money into on the market. Like, scarier than I thought it was. And there’s really no way to segway into this properly so I’ll just say it. I am no longer in a relationship- it was a respectively mutual decision but you know what, it’s still hard. At the same time though, I feel like I have the opportunity to blossom.


Therefore, I’m moving back to the midwest for a while. You know, I keep saying it’s a temporary thing, and I think I say that to make myself better. The truth is that I feel like a failure for leaving NYC. I know I shouldn’t but I do. However, I think once my mind is clear again, I’ll catch up to what my gut has been trying to tell me- sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes, you just need to slow down, take your time, reevaluate and then keep moving. And that’s okay! And if you’re in the same situation as I am, whoever you are, I hope you believe it’s okay.

I’m really excited for my future and I’m excited to put me first again.

I know this is all a lot of information but I wanted to be honest and to say that I’m trying to get my shit together, and I don’t think I’m  the only one out there. Things will be changing around in my life and on this blog (in a REALLY good way!) and I thought it would be so fake of me to keep writing posts without sharing this personal bit of me. It feels really good to have gotten this off my chest AND it’s a great reminder that writing is one of many sources of therapy for me. Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in shareable content and pin-able images as a blogger, but writing your heart out always feels so great.

I’m going to start being more personal and I want to share my journey through life, ups and downs included. This is just a little bump in the road that I’m getting through and I thought it was something I needed to share because eventually, you would have wondered what was up.  I know I’m not the only one (speak up if you feel me!) and I can’t way to blossom.

You do You mug

thanks for reading.

images via 1 / 2 / 3 (mug via)

My Hidden Talent


Another month, another linkup! This month, the girls at The B Bar / The Well  asked us to share our hidden talents.

To be honest, I don’t really think my talents are hidden because I’m always pretty vocal about what I’m up to!

I have a fond childhood memory where my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew u-  I said “an artist” as I was drawing a landscape sketch in my notebook. Although I’m not a ‘pencil to paper’ artist, I think my love for being creative has benefited my blog and photography business. (Although, I do have to say whenever I do sketch or paint, it comes really naturally.)

Coffee Shop Photoshoot 7 image via Everlasting Love Photography

I’m very good at networking, connecting and sharing helpful information that others might find useful. I feel that I do have “the eye” needed for photography or design, and I am so thankful for that- I’m a very visual person and I love seeing how colors pair together with an overall design.

Being able to visualize a design plan was a huge plus while working on the home I’m flipping (#MonroeFamilyFlip)  Also, networking and connecting with other creatives has been a great way of growing my blog and personal growth- I’ve made a couple of great friendships too!

Shop the B Bar linkup

As far as a hidden talent. I’ve been told by multiple I’m a really good singer but I’m way too embarrassed of myself to actually prove that (let’s just say I was belting out tunes when I thought I was alone in the ‘flip’ house- but turns out my mom was behind me the whole time… Her response was ‘Damn, I should have made you sing more as a kid- we could be millionaires by now!” I tried out for one solo in front of my high school choir class and that was the most courage I could ever muster to sing in front of someone!

What are your hidden talents and how do you leverage them? 

I participated in this link up with a ton of other lovely ladies- be sure to check out what their hidden talents are too!

Alyssa J Freitas
Annie Reeves
The Not Quite Adult
Equal Parts of a Whole
Life Modifier
soak and simmer
Carrie Loves
Emilie Lima Burke
Knowing Kelly
Something Good
Cassandra Monroe
Ember & March
Feathers and Stripes
Leigh Clair
Southern Soul
All The Pretty Stars
Perfect Enough For Us
Mrs. on the Move
The Toppy Top
Mint Julep Girl
A Minimalist Blog
Beauty and the Pitch
Meg Biram

Transitional Summer and Fall Headwear

If you’re anything like me, you tend to shop for the months coming ahead instead of shopping for ‘now.’  Aside from a few last minute purchases needed for some events, I have completely stopped shopping for summer- it’ll be the end of August before I can say ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte,’ and I want to be prepared.

One of my favorite accessories for both summer and fall is a cute hat that will complete my look. I love to take advantage of wearing hats for style before I’m forced to bundle up for the cold weather.

summer staples: think straw, panama and floppy styles.  images viaonetwothreefour

summer hat inspiration and style
fall staples: think knitted, wool, floppy and beanie styles.  images viaonetwothree

fall hat inspiration and style
The key to finding transitional summer and fall headwear is finding styles in a neutral color scheme and light materials. I’ve rounded up some headwear that I’ve got my eye on- both for last minute summer purchases and prepping for the cooler months ahead.

summer hat inspiration and style products

How to Interview a Subject For Your Blog

How To Interview a Subject For Your Blog 1

During my time as a Public Affairs Sergeant in the military, I learned many journalism related skills that grew me professionally. Most of these skills were perfected over time, like interviewing subject matter experts. When I first started, I wasn’t as confident in my interviewing skills and my questions definitely needed work. After seven years on the job, my skills improved greatly and interviewing subjects became routine. I’ve complied some tips that I’ve learned over the years and I hope they’ll help you the next time you conduct an interview!

Although this post specifically mentions ‘for your blog,’ please know that these tips are great for any person for any project!

Before the Interview


1. Brainstorm Your Angle

Before I even begin thinking about my interview subjects, I typically sit down and brainstorm what angle I want my article to go in. Your angle doesn’t have to be concrete but having a clear idea of what you want to write will give you a clue on what to ask your subject, or if you need several subjects for different supporting information. You’ll want to decide if you’re writing a news or feature article, or if you’re writing a questionnaire that will show off the subjects personality (these are usually used when featuring someone.)

2. Plan your Questions or Conversational Bullet Points

Now that you have your angle, it’s time to start planning your questions. It’s good to have the basic questions that will provide you with the information you need to complete your article. However, be sure to think outside the box and ask open ended questions that require the subject to answer with thought.

3. Reach Out to Your Subjects

I personally think contacting subjects via email is the most practical and respectful way to reach out to schedule an interview, but if your subject has an office space with a public number, feel free to try that out too- you’re guaranteed a quicker response if you’re facing a deadline. Be clear on what you’ll be interviewing them about- this will give them an idea on how to form their answers.

4. Discuss How You’ll be Holding the Interview and What Equipment You’ll be Using

I like interviewing my subjects in person because it gives a more personal feel and you can pick up on things, like their personality or environment, that you normally wouldn’t have through email or phone. However, bloggers aren’t always in the same area, so conducting an interview via phone or email has its advantages. For one, some subjects get nervous and prefer to answer questions through email or phone. Also, emailing the questions to the subject may allow them to give you a more detailed, informative answer. As far as recording equipment, I use my trusty Sony voice recorder, but in a pinch, I use my ‘Voice Memos’ app on my iPhone. Of course, always bring a pad of paper and a couple pens for backup.

During the Interview


1. Pick a Quiet Location

If conducting your interview in person, be sure to pick a quiet spot that won’t interfere with your subject’s attention, conversation or your voice recordings. You could always visit their office for an interview, or if you want to hold it in a coffee shop, call ahead and ask what their least busy times are.

2. Make your Subject Feel At Ease

Offer to buy them a coffee if meeting at a local cafe or give a rundown of your questions before hand, just to make them feel at ease.

3. Fact Check!

If you you need your subject to clarify on an answer, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s better to be right about your facts rather than assume. Also, make sure you spell your subjects name, title/occupation and other details. There’s nothing worse than misspelling your subjects name! (Thankfully, I have never done it my whole military career- SO proud of that! But I have spelled a word wrong that ended up on the front page of my base’s newsletter and right on the general’s desk! Thankfully I had enough time to pull the remaining copies from print (and from the general’s desk!) fix the error and reprint the newsletters. The word was ‘beginning’ and yes, it still haunts me.)

4. Take Notes

Even if you’re using a voice recorder, don’t feel like you should rely on it. Jot down notes during the interview as backup. Whenever your subject says something particularly quotable, mark down the time from your recorder- this allows you to find that quote easier post interview.

After the Interview


1. Thank Your Subject and Confirm Contact Information

Be sure to thank your subject for taking the time to speak with you. Confirm their contact information just in case you need to contact them to clarify any other questions you may have. If you have a business card, now would be a great time to exchange yours with your subjects.

2. Transcribe Your Notes While the Interview Is Still Fresh

Typically after an interview, I grab some food and coffee to go and sit at my computer until my notes are transcribed and my story is partially written. It’s best to knock your notes out right away because your short term memory will pick up on bits of the interview, which will help you out while you’re writing. I usually listen through the interview and transcribe the parts that are most relevant to the angle I’m going with. After writing my first draft of the article, I take a break or get some air and revisit it to further proof read.

3. Follow Up with the Subject

Once the interview is posted, send your subject a follow up email to thank them again and send them the link to your article for their viewing.

The greatest thing about interviewing people is that you’re able to gather information straight from the source and you’re getting to know someone’s story. Interviewing a subject is also a great way to make connections in your industry. Have you ever conducted an interview or have you ever been interviewed?

images via: 1 2 3