Coming Home…

There’s something always so oddly humbling about returning to your alma mater for Homecoming celebrations. I went back to good ole Millikin University in central Illinois for this year’s celebration, mainly because my sorority had a big celebration planned for it’s Centennial for my chapter. 100 years! Can you believe it? I barely can – especially since my sorority, as a whole, is a young 125 years old. I haven’t been back to Millikin’s campus in probably 5+ years and it’s always interesting to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same over the years.

my dormer from freshman year! it's now empty because of asbestos

my dormer from freshman year! it’s now empty because of asbestos

When I first got into town, I stopped by the Walgreens I used to work during college and noticed that one of the same service clerks was still working there! I asked her if she remembered me and without skipping a beat, she says, “Yes! You’re Ashley! How are you?” Whaaaat! It’s been 8 years since I worked at her store and she still remembered me. Blew me away.

always gotta get a picture with this guy!

always gotta get a picture with this guy!

After that brief reunion, I headed to my sorority’s chapter house to find my pledge sisters and to dive into all that goes along with a fun weekend celebration. It was amazing to reconnect with sisters from across the country, see what everyone was up to and to be in a room (for the banquet) that boasted about 300 women all celebrating the same cause – our beautiful sisterhood.

our beautiful sorority house!

our beautiful sorority house!

I couldn’t believe how it felt to return back to school and literally feel like we picked up where we left off. I needed that weekend with my sisters to reconnect, but also to remember that some bonds really do last a lifetime. It was amazing to be around them again and to have fun and really feel like myself around them.  Have any of you made it back to your alma mater? Doesn’t it make you feel “old”?

some of my favorites!

some of my favorites!

Don’t be whack!

MMM… so I’m changing some things over from wordpress.com to wordpress.org this coming Monday. The site may be a bit wonky due to that change … so please just hang in tight, give me a few days to straighten this beautiful mess out and then I’ll be back with our regularly scheduled programming of fun-filled shenanigans!

I’m headed to my alma mater this weekend to celebrate my sorority’s 100 year birthday! Crazy, right? I haven’t been back to my college (for fun) in a few years, so it’ll be great to see the changes that have happened on campus. I fully expect to feel old this weekend and be reminded that I’m no longer a cute girl in my 20s but an established ADULT in my 30s. So…looking forward to that.

But I’m super stoked to be reuniting with my sorority sisters, some that I haven’t physically seen in 5+ years. I can’t wait to catch up with everyone and hear all about what they have been up to!

If you want to follow my weekend activities, I’m on Twitter at @shlee83 and on Instagram @shlee528!

Have a great weekend!

Eat, Chicago Suburbs: Deerfield’s Bakery

One of my favorite morning haunts is Deerfield’s Bakery in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It’s where we ordered our wedding cake – which was beyond yum-tastic! They have the best display of pastries and morning baked goods that will seriously make your eyes pop right out of your head.

deerfield1

They have a yummy assortment of cakes, bagels, mini chocolate covered treats, cupcakes, and anything else you can imagine, right as you walk in to your left. They also offer some delicious sounding smoothies and frappe inspired drinks! The picture below doesn’t even do it justice, as the display counter wraps around to connect to large free-standing glass cabinets with additional treats and a bagel bin to the left where you can pick a yummy breakfast bagel!

deerfield3

To your right (right across from these beautiful baked goods above) are all the breakfast treats on display. Everything from danish to donuts, to cakes, to muffins – they have whatever you’re looking for – fresh and ready to go! You can grab a box to take a variety of treats home with you – or grab a Styrofoam tray if you’re only looking for 1-3 treats. Everything is reasonably priced too – from $1.29 on up!

deerfield2

You can also order actual breakfast (and lunch) from here too! You order from a counter where there are options such as eggs (any style) paired with hashbrowns and toast to skillet style (eggs on top of hashbrowns and eggs). All egg-style breakfasts are reasonably priced and pair well with their Deer Joe brand coffee (which comes in light, medium and strong).

deerfield skillet

deerfield skillet

I went with a Deerfield skillet which included hashbrowns, with sliced ham, American cheese, and eggs any-style (I picked over medium), and came with your choice of toast. My skillet was $5.95 and paired with a medium coffee brought my breakfast to a little over $7! It was a great deal for the amount (and quality) of food you get! It was really yummy – the eggs were cooked perfectly, and the hashbrowns and melted cheese created a yummy blend. The ham was in reasonable bite sized pieces, and didn’t seem manufactured and had a good taste to it, as well!

I chose to sit inside the cafe, but there are options to also sit outside in the patio if the weather is cooperating. Also – when selecting your coffee, you can also add syrups for free! Everything from peppermint to hazelnut to a seasonal favorite pumpkin spice!

I’ve never had lunch here before, but the breakfast is enough to keep you coming back. And if you’re in the mood for something bigger and better – they have THE best cake in the Chicagoland area. We purchased a 3 tier cake which was moist and coated with the best buttercream frosting, ever!

 

Tips on Coming up With Blog Content (or how not to be boring)

DISCLAIMER: This is a sponsored post brought to you by Grammarly.

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because bad grammar is no joke! Seriously. It stinks. I just found out about Grammarly’s services – which is basically a product to help you catch those pesky spelling and grammatically errors that might plague your writing. It’s an instant checker which plows through your content seeking simple errors and even complex errors, such as (gasp!) plagiarism. Why more teachers do not use this product, is beyond me. After the system checks your content, you receive a “report” on how well it did on a scale of 1-100. Green check marks means your stuff is good to go. Red alert triangles? Well, you better re-think what you wrote. It even flags “word choice,” which it seems to do that for me often. Apparently Grammarly isn’t a fan of my writing style. It’s worth checking out! There’s a monthly fee for it’s use but I could easily see someone gaining value if they write a lot (bloggers, teachers, students, etc.)

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I’ve battled boring content for far too long. What’s interesting for my readers to read? What will keep them coming back? Better yet – what’s interesting to write about and won’t put myself to sleep? While participating in Jenni’s Blogtember Challenge, I realized that when I started some of the topics, that I felt at a stand still with not a clue how to begin. As ideas started to formulate on something I thought I might share, the words began to pour out of my finger tips into a coherent (that’s super important) post that was somewhat entertaining but made sense.

I think some of my best posts have been unforced. They have been times when I just start writing and before I know it there’s a finished product. I don’t have a pre-planned schedule like many bloggers out there have. No Google calendar for me. Rarely I’ll keep a running list of things I know are coming up that I want to share – but mostly I write on random thoughts and feelings – or on weekend activities that JP and I do. It’d be nice to have some form of criteria or guidelines to remain more consistent in my writing, but I feel that my best content comes when I just jump at it at 9 am (I usually write my posts a day in advance). Here are some tips, though, for those of you looking to provide better content to your readership:

  • Find the Meaning: Sounds intense. Like the Meaning of Life. But really, you should find the meaning in what you’re sharing. How relevant is the topic to your readers? Does it resonate with you? Are you just throwing up a post because you don’t want to miss a day? I’ve gone many times with posting only a few days per week. Mostly because I didn’t have the time to blog and because I didn’t really have much to share. Maybe I’m up to my neck in a work project, or busy with some super large life event (hello, wedding) … in those cases I just am not going to put something up that is a waste of time to read or write. Find the meaning in what you’re sharing. Make sure it’s something that you’re happy with!
  • Use Pictures: Bloggers say this time and time again. So much so, I think my eyes are bleeding reading this back to myself. But it’s totally true. Aren’t some of the best blogs the ones with pictures? The clearer, the brighter, the better! We all can’t afford a fancy DSLR camera or have time to learn how to run said DSLR camera. But smartphones CAN take beautiful pictures. You just have to have thought behind your images (you know iPhones take crap pictures in any sort of dark environment) and there are tons of awesome (read: free) apps out there to enhance those images even more! Plus, the new iPhone 5S takes much better frontward facing pictures with enhancements to the camera!
  • Be Honest: Especially when doing reviews of restaurants, movies, etc. Be honest and true in your opinion. Not everyone will agree with you, but if you provide an honest opinion you’ll write better content. Your opinion will flow right on out of you and allow your readers to also gain a better view of who you are as a blogger/person (cuz we are all really people, right?).
  • Learn Your Boundaries: How much do you want your readers to be in on your personal life? I think some of the best blogs out there allow for the readers to gain some form of personal connection with the blogger because they share details of their life that make them real. Your opinion can matter, but you’ll find that your readers can connect more if they know more about you. That doesn’t mean every post has to provide intimate details on your kids, your weekend plans, your financial situation – but sometimes that’s the best content too because it’s something that’s personal to you. Know what that looks like to you and how comfortable you are with sharing your life. Trust me, there’s some good content in there!

I think overall it’s finding your voice and finding what inspires you to write better. Practice! Write and re-write drafts, if you need to. Spend time scanning for spelling errors. You’ll see that sometimes you point of view may change on a topic or you may find a better way of explaining your thoughts by just spending a few minutes reviewing what you wrote. And most of all HAVE FUN! We can all tell when a blogger is going to fall off the blogging wagon, right? Posts decrease, content drags … they’re not enjoying it. So make sure to enjoy yourself, too!