Ask Away Friday With So I’ve Been Thinking

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This week’s Ask Away Friday is coming to you live from my hometown in Northern IL. I’ve spent most of the week offline and it has been good for the soul and refreshing for my brain. My blog notebook is so full that I’ve had to purchase a second one while I was here!

Ask Away Friday is a weekly link up where two bloggers trade ten questions and then answer those questions on their own blogs. I love Ask Away Friday both as a reader and as blogger. I have generated a ton of new content ideas for future blog posts through participating.



This week I pared up with Stephanie who writes at So I’ve Been Thinking. Stephanie and I became blog friends a few weeks ago and took our friendship into real life this past weekend at Blog U. I love Stephanie and hugged her so hard as soon as we spotted each other. It turns out, she’s not a hugger. But, she still loves me anyway. Stephanie writes a puupuu platter blog full of great cocktail recipes, music, book reviews, healthy living, photography and a bit of everything in between. Check out her blog, I hope you love her as much as I do!

So I've Been Thinking

You recently posted about a blog planning kit. I printed a blog planner this year (I bought it February, printed it in April) and have barely used it. Your post indicates you’ve had way more success than me. What did you find most useful (can you name one thing?) What was the most surprising exercise you did?

I have the How They Blog Blog Planning Kit, which I adore. It goes much further than just planning posts for the week. Using it has forced me to really set some long term goals. I know a lot of bloggers who blog without goals and honestly those are typically the same bloggers who end up stressed out or burned out.

The best exercise I did was really nailing down who my reader was. I took a few hours at a coffee shop to make a reader profile for A Cookie Before Dinner. I even gave her a name, Sarah. I know A LOT about Sarah, based off of the comments of my frequent readers and those active on social media.

Every blog post I publish, every review, and  every sponsored post I do is driven by whether or not Sarah would be interested in it.

Having a reader profile is a blogging game changer. I know WHO I’m writing for. It has come in handy now that I’m starting to monetize my blog. It is very easy to say no to some things because I know that while they are great opportunities, they are things that won’t resonate with my readers.

You are going on a road trip with your family and I know you love classic rock – can you list five “must have” songs on your playlist?

On road trips, we actually listen to a lot of talk radio and podcasts. We are often driving super long distances and we’ve found that we space out if we listen to music, but talk radio helps us stay alert.

But, to answer your question, here are five must have road trip songs.

Jack and Diane- John Mellencamp

Bohemian Rhaposdy- Queen

Lola- The Kinks

Summer of 69-Bryan Adams

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynard Skynard

This was so hard to pick just five!

You and your husband are invited to a dinner dance where you will only know a few people and none of them very well. Do you go thinking you are going to have a great time and get to meet new people? Do you say yes and then cancel because you are too worried about not knowing anyone? Do you say no from the start? Whichever answer you choose – tell me why?

This is going to sound like a terrible answer, but it really depends on who we know that is already going to be there and if we are interested in pursuing a deeper friendship with them.

If Tom is going to be at this dinner, we are totally going (although we know him so well our kids call him uncle).

A mentor of mine once told me this- you can can cast your nets wide or you can cast your nets deep, but you can’t do both. I spent quite a season casting my friendship nets wide, but these days I’m focused on taking a few of those friendships deep.

Your very popular post “10 Commandments of Blogging” hit a nerve with lots of bloggers – in a good way. Now that it has been out there for a bit can you tell me what #11 and #12 would be?

I loved writing that post, it is one of my favorites! It has resonated with so many people!

Here are 11 & 12.

11. Thou shalt take regular and intentional blogging breaks. Stepping away from the keyboard to live life out loud will do wonders for you. I know it seems scary, but the internet will be here waiting for you when you return! I fully believe this to be an integral step to preventing blogger burnout.

12. Thou shalt act like the blogger you want to become, not the blogger you currently are. If you want to work with brands, you’ve go to start somewhere! If you want be known for being a great photographer, then start learning how to use your big girl camera! If you want to be known as the Queen of Comments, then you need to get out there and comment on other blogs.

You are the master of your own blogging destiny. If you want something to happen, you’ve got to work hard to make it happen!  The more I am around the blogesphere, the more I realize people don’t become successful because they get lucky with a viral post. They become successful because they hustle!

And those people who do get lucky with a viral post? They capitalize on it and keep the momentum going!

Did you always want to be a mom? What has been your biggest surprise about motherhood – good and bad?

I was a little girl who grew up dreaming about becoming a mommy.

My biggest surprise about motherhood has been how much I enjoy the glory of the ordinary days. The rinse, lather, and repeat of motherhood can be really hard sometimes, but lately I’ve been soaking it up in between the diaper changes and dirty dishes.

I had a realization recently that my kid’s aren’t ever going to remember those amazing crafts and ideas from Pinterest. But they are going to remember coloring and playing with their mommy. I’m on a crusade to take back childhood one simple activity at a time.

The hardest surprise about motherhood is that it is very easy to quickly lose yourself in the midst of keeping humans alive. It has taken me some shuffling and re-prioritizing, but I am still doing a lot of the things I loved to do before I had kids. I’m not able to sleep in until 11:00 am anymore, but I am able to find time to read and write (my first loves).

Your family has a free weekend, money and time are no object. What would you do for two days?

We love Boston. If we could spend a weekend there playing tourist, we’d be in heaven. We’d stay at a swank hotel, take a duck boat tour, and go to a Red Sox game. We’d order tons of room service and spend our free time walking the city. Boston in late spring/early summer is my favorite!

What I notice most as I stalk read your blog is that I really want to call you up and hang out. Your posts make me laugh and seem so genuine. When I realized you lived in Western MA and I’m in Western CT, don’t think I didn’t have to talk myself out of seeing if you wanted to meet in Lee or Pittsfield (because that’s where the Coach outlet is and if I’m going to MA…). Anyway, I leave your blog feeling like we are friends, is that what you set out to do? Did you have this tone in mind when you started writing your blog or has it evolved?

Oh my goodness, that is the best compliment ever. Thank you so much for it, it really means the world to me!

It took a bit of time to find my voice but I love the tone of A Cookie Before Dinner. My goal is that my writing comes off conversational, relational, and genuine. I am the same person online that I am in real life. I love encouraging women, making people laugh, and sharing my authentic story. I don’t know how to write any other way than this.

Also? Let’s totally plan a date!

About a year ago you posted a list of current and future dreams. What have you accomplished from that list and what would you add and/or change if you were to write it today?

Last summer’s current dreams that were accomplished: I spent last summer really soaking up my last days as a mama to just Malone. We lived the heck out of summer last year and it was awesome. Lola was born in 10 minutes and 3 pushes, so I got my dream of having a med free delivery. I have definitely increased my readership from a year ago. I also went on a date with my  husband and sold a few more things on ebay. WOW! I made it through all of them!

Last summer’s future dreams that were accomplished: I attended a conference (BlogU) and have learned how to shoot my camera in manual mode.

This summer, I am focusing more on my health. I want to run/walk 30 miles a month for June, July, August, and September. I’m also working on making better choices with food. I’ve only got one body and I need to take care of it!

What is your favorite book? Why?

One of my favorite books of all time is The Edge of Never written by J.A. Redmerski. It is a love story about a boy and a girl who meet on a greyhound bus. It is deeply emotional, a well written story, and features two of the most compelling characters I’ve ever met. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a movie yet. If you’re looking for a summer read, I highly recommend it!

I always ask: When your children are grown and possibly even raising children of their own, what do you hope they remember most about you and growing up with you?

I get teary eyed just thinking about this!  There are so many memories I want to give them. I hope they always remember cooking with me. It takes a lot longer to involve Malone in the kitchen, but I adore teaching him about food.

Food is a love language that transcends generations and time. I want him to know my homemade chicken noodle soup, oatmeal chocolate chip, and pizza crust recipes by heart. I want him to know that every amazing dinner starts with a skillet, a pat of butter, half an onion, and a clove of garlic.

I want him to always be able to taste a memory of being four years old and rolling dough for pizza or coming in from playing out in the snow to a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup.

Stephanie had great questions for me, didn’t she? Make sure you head over to So I’ve Been Thinking to check out my questions and her questions.

If you’re looking to swap or  wondering more about Ask Away Friday, please let me know! You can email me at or let me know in the comments below! All of my dates in June are booked, but July and August are wide open!


  1. Janine Huldie says

    I absolutely love that you created. Blog reader profile for your blog and got to be honest never would have thought to do that, but definitely think it sounds like the perfect way to figure out who your reader is and who you are indeed writing for. Definitely might need to try this soon and see what I come up with. Thanks :)
    Janine Huldie recently posted..The Pin It Party – Week 57My Profile

    • NJ says

      The blog reader profile has really changed my game plan! My life is so much easier because I know exactly who I am writing to and what might work for my blog and what doesn’t!

  2. Stephanie says

    Loved swapping with you NJ and love reading your answers. So sweet and exactly what I was expecting (or hoping) for. So much fun meeting you IRL – there will definitely be a next time!
    Stephanie recently posted..#AskAwayFriday with Cookies!My Profile

  3. Lisa @ The Golden spoons says

    Love that you two paired up!!! These were great questions, too. Ahhh, BlogU memories! :-) I love commandments #11 & 12. I am equally overwhelmed/stressed and inspired with blogging right now. Stressed by putting in so much and feeling like I’m getting nowhere (# of followers, etc.). Inspired by BlogU and the things I learned there. This is my kids’ last week of school and has been crazy busy, so I haven’t had time for much of anything blog related. Next week we are on vacation. I am hoping this time away from the computer will be a chance to re-focus, set some new goals, and let go of the stress.
    Lisa @ The Golden spoons recently posted..What’s in Your Fridge??? {Tuesday Ten Linkup}My Profile

  4. Echo says

    Great swap! I love your blogging commandments! They are a great guide to follow! I also adore the list of songs you picked! There are a few of my favorites in there!
    Echo recently posted..Ask Away Friday!My Profile

  5. Tiffany says

    Hi NJ! I love this swap! I definitely learned something when you said know your Reader. I like to think I know my Readers and what they like but I have never thought of taking all their likes/dislikes and giving them a one person character! So cool and I think that could be really helpful.

    I also learned how to be the blogger I want to be…that’s awesome advice!

    Thanks for the great tips and I hope your having a wonderful start to your weekend.
    Tiffany recently posted..It’s 3:25 AM… I Know Where My Children Are.My Profile

  6. Rea says

    I’ve learned something new today: Make a blog reader profile! Thank you for sharing NJ! Never really thought of leveling that up before although it’s been quite on my mind but never know how to start. I love the biggest surprises you had/have about motherhood. You described it perfectly! And your blogging commandments are spot on too!
    Rea recently posted..Which Senses Do I Give Up?My Profile

  7. Beth at Structure in an Unstructured Life says

    Great swap – so much to comment on!! The blog planning kit sounds great – what drew me in is that it is more than just a planner. I created my own planner because I couldn’t find one I loved, but the other parts of it sound amazing! I always love reading how intentional you are with your blogging and your plan (not that I’m surprised!). 😉
    I love Boston – I’ve been a few times, and can’t wait to venture out there with my husband and kids at some point!
    Adding your book to my to-read list!
    And I love what you want your kids to remember! You definitely have the right start to every good dish! I try to get my kids involved in the kitchen, too. My oldest knows how to make a roux and that it makes our sauces thicker and richer. Made me happy when I realized he knew that. Always love those moments when i realize they are actually listening after all! :)
    Have a great weekend!

  8. Uplifting Families says

    I love your blogging tips. I know that I had to reach out to others and comment on other people’s stuff in the very beginning. It was a great way to meet new people but it also was beneficial to see what other’s write about too.

    I love that you created an actually “person” who is your typical reader. I kinda have a general idea and I know that more mom’s read my blog than dads. I want dads to be able to come to my site as well and learn things too. I have a few sections for dad.

    Most people don’t realize that my “blogs from mom” isn’t to be biased, but it is just a catch all category for all the misc stuff that I write about that doesn’t exactly fit into a specific category on my blog.
    Uplifting Families recently posted..#ASKAWAYFriday with Carol From A Battered HopeMy Profile

  9. Christy@SweetandSavoring says

    I admit, I laughed out loud at the ‘turns out, she’s not a hugger’ part :) I’m totally a hugger but can understand being nervous/anxious in a meet-up type situation and am not sure how I’d react!
    Also, love your blog planning tips! I need to make some goals for S&S…it’s long overdue. Those are great roadtrip songs!
    Reading this made me excited for our swap this week :)
    Christy@SweetandSavoring recently posted..How to Eat Well in Coastal MaineMy Profile

  10. Stacey Gannett says

    Hey NJ! Queen is always amazing for a road trip! LOL! You are so right that they will remember the times spent with mommy, my oldest will soon turn 21, he has wonderful memories of the living room camp-outs that he and I had after his dad and I separated. We would toss blankets on the living room floor and spend the evening watching movies that we had borrowed from the library, with snacks of course! An awesome swap, ladies! Hope you had a wonderful trip back home and have a great week!
    Stacey Gannett recently posted..#AskAwayFriday with Tia from Becomin Neurotic!My Profile


  1. […] her. And then there was me…I’ve spent a good deal of time stalking NJ’s blog, A Cookie Before Dinner, and I’m going to recommend you do the same. Fun, friendly and really funny – who […]

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