Search Results for: pranika

The 12 Top Easy Family Dinner Ideas – The Best of Pranika’s Quick and Easy Dinner Series!

Each week, Pranika shares fantastic dinner ideas that are quick, easy and get the kids involved.  Here are 12 ideas to make dinner easier tonight!

Happy cooking!

Helpers Making Corn Dogs
Chicken Sausage Corn Dogs & Snowy Forest Bites

Helping Mom with the Pizza Toppings2
 

Semi-Homemade Pizzas & Sautéed Broccolini 

Pretty Girl Eating Leftover Turkey Soup
 

Turkey Soup

Full O'Beans Chili with cheese
 

Full O’Beans Chili, Quinoa & Cucumber and Radish Salad

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Cooking with the Kids: Potato and Spring Leek Soup

Hello BigKidSmallCity readers! I have missed cooking and blogging with you. It’s been a long while, and I am happy to be back; my girls are too. They were incredibly excited to be doing a post again. Hope you enjoy this one!

This past winter, I purchased a recipe book for a friend. It was a beautiful and vibrant recipe book with excellent reviews. It seemed well-written and a great gift for someone who cooks. My friend LOVED it and raved about it (affiliate The Love & Lemons Cookbook).

She cooked for many days from it, and even bought one for another friend. Her ringing endorsement convinced me to buy one for myself as well. I also liked that the author was from Texas and liked to support local farm shares.

So when I got the book a few months ago, I flipped through it and loved looking at the pictures. Such gorgeous pictures of food…and then I shelved the book.

Yes, I am admitting it.  Sound familiar?

I finally opened the book again this past weekend. I asked my younger daughter to flip through it with me and help me pick a recipe for dinner. I remembered that all the recipes were sorted in chapters by fruit and vegetable and that the recipes were vegetarian. Since we had to go to the grocery store that afternoon, it was perfect timing.

She stopped on a page that showed soup. I wasn’t sure the girls would eat leeks, but was willing to try. We wrote down the ingredients along with our weekly grocery list and headed out. I did forget the sage because I lost my grocery list while shopping, but I decided to substitute with complex and deep herbs like an Italian spice mix and fennel seeds.

My younger daughter helped me prep and the older one helped cook. The recipe was surprisingly quick, but very flavorful for the short cooking time! It was not difficult at all to prep or cook and the kids had loads of fun helping. We would definitely make this recipe again. If you absolutely must have meat, you could add shredded rotisserie chicken at the end to each bowl. This recipe serves a family of 4-5 people.

We will definitely be cooking from the Love & Lemons cookbook again. If you don’t buy cookbooks, you can check out Jeanine Donofrio’s blog at loveandlemons.com, or her Facebook page called Love and Lemons.

Recipe:

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HISD Magnet & Vanguard Programs for 2017-2018 School Year: Overview of the Programs, What You Need to Know & How and When to Apply!

UPDATE: Find the NEW 2018-2019 School Year Post HERE!

james-and-papa-at-school-lunch
Picture by Pranika!
It’s now time to apply for NEXT school year!

I’ve applied for HoustonISD Magnet Schools (and Vanguard Magnet Schools), 3 times in the last 6 years.  The first time around, I found it very confusing and overwhelming… but over the years, I’ve (mostly) figured it out (and decided to worry a lot less!).  In case you are also overwhelmed and confused by the HoustonISD application process, here is a summary of the process, key dates and changes for this year.

For the official information on applying to HoustonISD Magnet Schools, go HERE.  (And be sure to look at this new FAQ page.  it is very very informative!)

Key dates for the 2017-2018 School Year:

  • School Choice Open Houses, for more information about Magnet programs. (Optional, but very informative.)
    • October 1, 2016 Chavez High School 9:00 – 12:00
    • October 22, 2016 Heights High School 9:00 – 12:00
    • November 5, 2016 Austin High School 9:00 – 12:00
    • December 3, 2016 Sterling High School 9:00 – 12:00
  • School Choice Thursdays (Optional, but very informative)
    • Every Thursday from October 6 through December 8.
    • All campuses will provide school tours.
    • For elementary and K‐8 schools, the tours will start at 9:00 AM.  Additional 1:00 PM tours on October 27th and November 17th.
  • September 30, 2016 – Applications are open
  • December 9, 2016 – Deadline for Phase I (first round) Magnet applications.
  • December 10, 2016 –  Start of Phase II application window. (Note that the most popular Magnet Schools will fill in Phase 1.  If you are trying to get into one of these schools, you really need to apply for Phase 1 by December 9.  For an idea of the most popular schools, look at this HISD list.)
  • For Kindergarten Vanguard Magnet Programs (Askew, Carrillo, DeZavala, Herod, Oak Forest, River Oaks, Roosevelt, T. H. Rogers, Travis, Windsor Village), you will need to select a test date when you submit your application:
    • January 7, 2017 at Herod Elementary School, 5627 Jason St., 77096
    • January 21, 2017 at Herod Elementary School, 5627 Jason St., 77096
    • January 28, 2017 at Carrillo Elementary School, 960 South Wayside, 77023
    • February 4, 2017 at Carrillo Elementary School, 960 South Wayside, 77023
  • March 23, 2017 – Notification Date
    • By 4 PM on March 23, 2017. The official Phase I notification of a students’ lottery outcome will be viewable within the online application dashboard.
  • April 6, 2017 – Deadline for accepting your seat.
    • Documentation (recent proof of residency and a signed Magnet entrance agreement) must be turned in.
    • Students will remain on the waitlist of all programs which parents ranked higher than the highest program to which a seat is offered.

 

RECENT Changes in the Magnet Application Process & Answers to FAQs:

In case you have not applied in a few years, some things have changed.  Last year we had to start ranking our school choices (and not just apply to 10 schools and pick a favorite after we were accepted).  This year, the number of total applications is 5 instead of 10.

  • You can apply online or with paper… but with just one method.  You use the same application for all 5 school choices.
  • It only takes 10 minutes to complete… but deciding on which schools to apply to can take longer.  There are a lot of open houses and school tours that help you decide.
  • Your favorite school is likely the favorite school of hundreds of other families.  To see the popularity of the HISD programs, go HERE.  (This is a very cool resource… and lets you know what to expect.)
  • Parents can ONLY apply to 5 magnet programs this year.  This is for magnet programs and Vanguard magnet programs.  The G/T test dates are in January and February, so I would not make these all Vanguard schools because if the child does not qualify, they will not be entered into any lotteries.
  • Parents need to rank applications in priority order.  Parents will be able to adjust the order of their choices through the December 9 deadline.
  • In March, when HISD contacts parents of the outcome of the applications, all applications ranked below the top choice will be dropped automatically. Any programs you are wait listed that rank above the highest accepted choice, remain active.
  • Applications for students who live outside the HISD boundaries may be submitted any time after September 30, 2016 but they will not be
    considered until June 1, 2017.
  • Students must be in attendance on day one of school. Magnet seats are not saved if there are zoned students to fill the spaces.

So, for entering school in August 2017, you will apply to schools from September 20, 2016-December 9, 2016.  It will look something like this:

  • You apply to up to 5 schools for the 2017-2018 school year by December 9.  These include both Vanguard and Magnet Programs.
  • You will rank you favorite schools… for example: #1 River Oaks Vanguard, #2 Wharton Dual Language, #3 Poe Fine Arts, #4 Wilson Montessori…
  • In January/February, IF you applied to Vanguard schools, your child will take the G/T test.
  • In March, you will learn which schools have accepted our application (through the lottery).
  • If you got a spot at #2 Wharton, you would stay on the waitlist for #1 River Oaks, but be dropped from the waitlists from #3 Poe and #4 Wilson…
  • In April, you must accept your spot at Wharton or you will lose it.  If a spot opened up at River Oaks, you could still accept it.

 

What you need to know about HoustonISD:

ZONED SCHOOL

The school that you are zoned to is your neighborhood school and the one that your child will be automatically accepted into (as long as it is not too full). If you don’t already know which school you are zoned to, go to THIS website, type in your address, and choose the grade level your child will be in for the 2015-2016 school year.

If you are happy with your neighborhood school and want your child to go there, you don’t need to worry about the magnet application process*.  (One note is that a few HoustonISD neighborhood schools are over full.  Call your zoned school to see if there is any issue at all with attending your local neighborhood school.)  Contact the school to find out what you need to do to enroll your child and when to do it.

(*One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.)

 

MAGNET FOCUS

If you would like the opportunity for your child to attend a school you are not zoned to, you will have apply for a magnet transfer. THIS  is the part of HISD’s website about the magnet programs.

Each magnet school has a specialized theme that is incorporated into their classes and curriculum. For example, a fine arts magnet school may offer more exposure to music, dance, art and drama than other schools would.

 

APPLICATIONS

You can submit up to 5 magnet school applications, of which 5 can be for Vanguard schools.  Know that magnet schools can be very hard to get in to, so apply to several!  Also, children must quality for Vanguard programs.  In case they do not do well on the test, make sure you have selected some non-Vanguard magnet programs when you apply.

Apply online or print an application HERE.

 

VANGUARD

The Vanguard Magnet schools are different than the other Magnet programs. >Vanguard is HISD’s term for G/T or gifted and talented. Students must pass a test in order to be accepted as a transfer student at these schools.

You can apply to up to 5 Vanguard schools and must rank your top choices.  When you apply, you will select a test date for your child:

  • January 7, 2017 at Herod Elementary School, 5627 Jason St., 77096
  • January 21, 2017 at Herod Elementary School, 5627 Jason St., 77096
  • January 28, 2017 at Carrillo Elementary School, 960 South Wayside, 77023
  • February 4, 2017 at Carrillo Elementary School, 960 South Wayside, 77023

We did the Vanguard test several years ago and this is what we found… tell me if you have a more recent experience!  On test day, parents and children signed in then were directed to a large waiting area. Then students were called out on their own or in small groups while parents waited for them.

Your child probably won’t be called out immediately, so you may want to bring snacks and something quiet for them to do.

Once the students left the waiting area they met individually in a room with the person administering the test. When they finished they were brought back to the room then the parents and students could leave.

If a student passes the test, then he or she is entered into the lottery at the Vanguard schools already chosen on the application. If the student does not pass the test, he or she will not be considered for transfer to a Vanguard school. Children who pass the test but aren’t accepted into one of the Vanguard schools can still be in the Vanguard program at the school they end up attending (if that school has a program).

I always get asked for resources to help prepare kids and parents for testing.  Here is what has been recommended by other parents over the years… but review each to see what is best for you:

Lollipop Logic
Wiz Kidz
Kindergarten Test Prep Bundle for ITBS

Also, for Vanguard Testing, TestingMom.com is a resource for any parent who wants to prepare their kids Houston Vanguard Magnet or Neighborhood programs, as well as gifted programs in the surrounding area such as Katy, Fort Bend, Spring Branch, Cy-Fair, Clear Creek, and more.

TestingMom is holding a workshop on October 16, 2016 to teach parents fun ways to prepare kids for these tests. Learn more and sign up affiliate HERE

 

{One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.}

 

LOTTERY

Once the deadline for turning in applications has passed, the schools hold a lottery where they draw the names of the students they’ll accept. Any students who applied but were not chosen are placed on a waiting list in the order their names were drawn.

Many of the schools that you’ll be applying to will probably have long wait lists and you are not guaranteed to be accepted as a transfer student into any of the schools that you’ve applied to. I was waitlisted at around number 320 for one of them, in the 200s for another and actually got in to 1!

So, if you really don’t want your child to attend your zoned school you should to turn in applications to more schools to increase your chance of acceptance.

Status notifications (whether you’ve been accepted or your number on the waitlist) are online and sent through the mail in late March.

If you are on a waitlist you can monitor the changes online through the parent dashboard.

If you are accepted you have until early April to inform the school of your “intent to attend.”

Your place on any waitlists will remain the same though, so if you receive a spot at your second choice school, but are waitlisted at your first, accepting the second choice will not affect your chances of getting into your first choice.

 

SIBLINGS

Those of you who have, or who plan to have, additional children may be wondering if you’ll have to go through this whole process again. The answer is yes, but special consideration is currently given to siblings in the lottery.

As of now, up to the 25% of the incoming Kinder (or PreK, if it is a magnet PreK) class is guaranteed to siblings of currently enrolled students. If the number of siblings applying is more than 25% of the entering class, all sibling names are placed in a lottery and those spaces are awarded according to the order the names are drawn.

Any remaining siblings are placed in the general lottery, and if their names still aren’t drawn, they are placed at the beginning of the wait list. So, chances are that if your older child gets a spot at the school you want, your younger one(s) should too… but no guarantee… especially at very popular schools!

For Vanguard schools the younger child(ren) will have to pass the Vanguard test, but as long as they do the above will hold true for them as well.

If two siblings apply for an entry grade‐level program (and do not have another sibling in the program already) they are treated the same as any other applicant. However, if one is offered a place, the other is moved up the wait list, and placed among the other siblings. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)

For twins (and all multiples), you can have them treated like all other siblings or opt to have all the children receive one lottery spot.  All will be offered a seat or all placed on
the wait list. If they are on a wait list, they will not be offered seats until there is room for all of them. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)

 

MAGNET SCHOOL PRE-K

For elementary magnet programs, the “entry” grade is usually Kindergarten.  For Magnet dual language, Magnet language immersion, and Montessori Magnet programs, the “entry” grade is Pre‐K.

In the application, you can see which schools have PreK magnet programs.

Note that some schools have PreK programs that are NOT magnet programs.  Contact the school for details on applying.


School Lunch Box Ideas: No-Peanut Lunches & No-Sandwich Lunches Ideas!

Back to school means…  180 school day lunches, multiplied by 3 kids.

I love being a mom and I love having little kids and I know that packing a lunch is no real hardship… but I really don’t like it.  I spent years making the cutest bento boxes, followed by years of making boring old PB&Js…

How to Make Sushi for School Lunch with Chopsticks
This year I have a non-sandwich-eater at school and a kid in a no-peanut class.  With a little inspiration, I’m sure I can make lunches between super cute and super boring… so I asked the BigKidSmallCity community for suggestions.

This is what you told me.  Thank YOU!  (And if you have more ideas, let us know!)
Affiliate links included.

No-Peanut Sandwich Ideas:

  • Sunbutter: Made with sunflower seeds.  Check with your school, but this may be okay even if no nuts are allowed.
  • Wow Butter: Made with soy butter.  Check with your school, but this may be okay even if no nuts are allowed.
  • Honey Sesame Butter: Made with sesame seeds.  Check with your school, but this may be okay even if no nuts are allowed.
  • Nutella: Hazelnut spread (that some moms have been known to eat from the jar)
  • Almond Butter: Made with almonds.
  • Cream Cheese & Cucumber Sandwiches
  • Cheese, Meat and/or Veggie Sandwiches and Wraps
  • Cream Cheese & Jelly Sandwiches
  • Strawberry, Mayo, Turkey & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches!

No-Sandwich Lunch Ideas:

  • Quesadillas
  • Pasta Salad
  • Tacos/Burritos: Use Shredded Rotisserie Chicken and/or Veggies
  • Fruit & Cheese Plate:  Serve with Crackers or Pita Chips.
  • Hummus, Pita & Crudités
  • Cracker Sandwiches: Turkey Pepperoni, Salami with Cheese
  • Pasta “Muffins”
  • Zucchini Muffins: Freeze them… and they thaw by lunch.
  • Soup: Send in a thermos.
  • Dinner!: Send last night’s dinner in a thermos!  Spaghetti and meatballs, Tortellini, Mac and Cheese, Chicken Tenders, Broccoli Cheese Nuggets, Pasta, Couscous, Quinoa, Enchiladas, etc
  • Bentos/Homemade “Lunchables”: Fruit, cheese cubes, meat/chicken/tuna, etc

You can also see the highlights of my (old) years of cute bentos HERE.

Find even more ideas on WhatLisaCooks.com and also watch this ABC13 Segment from last fall…

Here are Pranika’s ideas for school lunches that are not sandwiches!  (And everyone always asks about her lunch boxes… the links are HERE!)


Best of 2015: 7 Quick & Easy Dinner Ideas!

The best of 2015: Pranika contributes quick and easy dinner ideas, and beautiful pictures, to BigKidSmallCity… and here are 7 favorites from the last year!

 

Antipasto

1. Cheater, Cheater, Antipasto EaterMy kids love to snack and who doesn’t love snack foods? Occasionally I must admit it’s nice to be daringly lazy when you don’t have much time to cook. I decided to create an antipasto platter and use premade polenta plus store-bought garlic bread for a fun and balanced meal.

 

Black Bean Soup with Sour Cream

2. Black Bean Soup: Why spend a ton of time in the kitchen, when all you need to do is throw in a few ingredients, chop a slight bit, and let an appliance do all the work? For this recipe, a must have is a slow cooker. I love to find slow cooker recipes that are a complete fit for my family, but also flavorful and filling enough for a meal.

 

Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia

3. Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia: Our family likes to eat fish and shrimp, so I try different recipes and some work and some fail; fortunately, this one is a keeper!

 

Pasta Shells with Meyer Lemon Cream

4. Pasta Shells with Meyer Lemon Cream: This recipe is delicious and you can really taste the meyer lemons in this dish. If you don’t have access to meyer lemons, you can use the juice a regular lemon in the recipe and add a tbsp of orange juice, preferably fresh for a similar taste.

 

Finished Bowl of Orange Cauliflower Soup

5. Orange Cauliflower Soup: My family accepted the Recipe for Success challenge, VegOut2015, last March. We tackled 30 different vegetables in less than 30 days. This is one of them!

 

Wrapping Up Fish and Shrimp in Parchment Paper

6. Fish & Shrimp in Parchment Paper: I cooked fish in parchment paper with my mom years and years ago and it was fun, so cooking this with my girls was fun and nostalgic.  A fish cooked “en papillote” is wrapped in parchment paper, and baked in the oven so it gently steams in its own juices. You can add a variety of aromatics, such as herbs, onions, and other vegetables to the parchment package to flavor the fish.

 

Summer Minestrone Soup

7. Minestrone Soup: I love one pot meals…who doesn’t?! It’s less to fuss about on the stove and more importantly, less to clean up and wash post dinner.
My older daughter adores minestrone soup, as do I; my husband usually eats anything I cook and my younger daughter…well she’s the picky one so I was hoping to entice her by mentioning there was pasta in the soup.


Blogs & Businesses: The History & Development of BigKidSmallCity.com

James Brooke Jill in the Country
For those looking to build their own online platform, for a business or blog, read on to learn a little about the history and development of BigKidSmallCity.com.  I recently hosted a Question-and-Answer call for those looking to start their own website…. and below are the answers to the questions they asked!

Why did you start BigKidSmallCity.com?

I started BigKidSmallCity when I was expecting my 3rd child.  I was about to take another maternity leave from my engineering job and was driving myself insane by cleaning up the same messes, over and over again, instead of exploring the museums, parks and festivals that were right next door.

I started website to be accountable for actually getting out of the house and exploring Houston with my kids.  Once we got good at it, I wanted to encourage other people to do the same.

For three years, I worked on BigKidSmallCity.com while I also worked as an engineer for a telecommunications company.  One year ago I was able to leave my corporate job and work on BigKidSmallCity.com full time.

How did you set up the website?

BigKidSmallCity.com was set up from scratch, in my house, with the kids running around.  My husband and I taught ourselves to set up the self-hosted website (with WordPress.org on the back-end).  It has always had a professional theme, developed for WordPress… and a not so professional logo, header and content.

When I got smart, I hired DesignInca.com to create a professional logo (and later to design book covers).  If I was starting all over again, I would have hired someone to do the logo from the start.

The content just got better over time.  As I figured out how to update the website, what I liked to write about and what was well received, the content improved.  The same goes for the pictures.

Simply to survive with the job, kids and blog, I created a post calendar… which is why you always get the weekend posts, the restaurant posts, park posts and other regular posts on the same day each week.

How did you pick the domain name?

For BigKidSmallCity.com, I knew I wanted to use Kid and City.  I could have used the word “Houston” in my domain name, but when it was created, I wasn’t sure I wanted to limit myself to one city or have the option to expand to other big cities.

Many combinations were already taken, as seen on GoDaddy.com, and I finally decided on BigKidSmallCity.com.
Since the name can be confusing, I also bought BigKidSsmallCity.com for those that typed it in incorrectly.

For more information on how to pick a domain name and how to purchase it, see the video HERE.

What tools do you use?

I use very few tools or schedulers.  I schedule my Facebook posts directly on Facebook (and encourage you to do the same for the best Facebook reach).  I post directly to Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

I do use GIMP to edit my photos and Camtasia to edit my videos.

What do you use to track your statistics?

For a quick look at my daily page views, I use the WordPress Jetpack Site Stats on the back-end of my website.  For detailed statistics, I use Google Analytics.

Which social media platforms do you use?

My audience is mostly moms, so Facebook is my most popular social media platform.  Because my website is a “news” website, I post 15 times per day and have a goal of posting 24 times per day.  (Not all blogs will post like this.)

I also use Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, ZomatoInstagramPinterest, and LinkedIn.  Twitter is where I’ve made most of my connections with other bloggers and news stations.  Periscope is where I have started live broadcasts on things to do for the weekend.

Each week I also post my favorite things to do in Houston for the weekend to YouTube, and embed the videos on my website.  (Note that these videos are uploaded directly to Facebook for the most number of views.)

Zomato is where I share my restaurant posts each week.  (Not all blogs will care about restaurant reviews.)

Pinterest is fun for me, but not a major driver of traffic.  Instagram is a glimpse into my days exploring Houston.  And LinkedIn was once used to develop connections in the engineering world… and I am now moving it to make connections in the blogging world.

Remember that all social media should be used as a platform to get people back to your website.  Good engagement on Facebook could disappear due to some Facebook change… but you fully own and fully control your own website.  See more details in this VIDEO.

How long did it take to build an online platform?

When I started the website, only my mom and my friend read it.  This was bad because I was spending so much time on it, and no one was reading it.  This was good because I did not really know what I was doing.

I was not focused on the website full time, so things could move faster for you, but it took 1 year for it to get recognized as a place to find things to do in Houston with kids.  It 2 years for it to “tip” and it to grow quickly with more readers, email subscribers and Facebook likes each day.  At 3 years, I could ask a good rate for advertising on the website.

The funny part about the growth is the change in attitudes about BidKidSmallCity.com.  When I started, people would make comments about my cute little mom blog.  Now people are really excited when I tell them I own BigKidSmallCity.com.

What has made BigKidSmallCity.com successful?

I work very hard and I am very consistent.  It’s not hard to post a weekly events list each Tuesday, but it’s easy not to do it.  I always had the idea that if I just do what I had scheduled on my calendar, checked the results, and worked to improve them a little at a time, I could do well.  So far, so good.

Where do you get your photos?

I use my own pictures.  You can get stock photos, but I really want my readers to see what I see.  If I am reviewing a Houston park, I was the pictures to match what you actually see at the park that week.

I do occasionally use photos from theaters or festivals.  This is rare, but sometimes cameras are not allowed in a venue and I need to show readers what it looked like.

Be sure to never ever take a picture from another website… even if you link back to them.  You need to have written permission to use a photo from someone else’s page.

What kind of camera do you use?

I have a Nikon D90 and a Smartphone.  If you are just starting, I would not run out and buy a DSLR.  Instead I would focus on using good light and cleaning up the background of what you are photographing.

Turn off the flash and take all your photos by a window or outside.  (If you see someone in pajamas, photographing a lunchbox in the driveway, it is probably me.)

Be sure to clean up the counter top or toys and not have a lot of clutter in your photo.

Also, think about what kinds of photos would make you stop scrolling through your Facebook feed.  Probably they are bright and eye-catching.  These are the photos you want to take… with your smartphone or camera.

What do you do to get the attention of news stations and magazines?

The first time I was on the news, it happened unlike all the rest of the times.  The results were also unlike all the other times.

In the early days of BigKidSmallCity, I wrote about my son Joe and his Garbage Can Business.  This was just a small part of the new website.

Someone at a Houston sanitation company saw it and shared it on social media.  When I thanked her, she told me to contact the national Waste & Recycling Newsletter.  I did and they picked up the story within days.

Now remember that I was a very new blogger and really only had my mom and friend reading my posts.  To have my story shared on social media and in a national newsletter was a really big deal for me.

I decided that I would try to share the story with some more people, so I looked up every news station in Houston and sent them an email through their contact forms.  I gave a brief summary of Garbage Man Joe and shared the newsletter coverage.

Most of the stations ignored me, as I had expected, but NewsFix emailed me back the next day!  Go HERE (and scroll down) to see the story. I was over the moon to have this story featured on NewsFix.

But it did not stop there.

A few days after the story aired in Houston, we got calls from Fox & Friends in New York and radio stations all over the country.  The story also made it’s way to the Huffington Post.

All of this coverage was the result of a good story and a message through an online contact form.  Really unbelievable.

It took another year of writing and building up BigKidSmallCity.com for me to be featured for things to do in Houston with kids.  The first several connections were made on Twitter.  Some people who followed me told producers or reporters about me.  They sent me Twitter messages and we set up interviews.

Now that I’ve done this for 4 years, I have some more connections and will occasionally get an email or phone call.   In the beginning it was just Twitter and contact forms.

If you are just starting out are, make sure you have a timely and good story that makes sense for the news station to cover.  If they have to work hard to make your content work, it probably is not a good fit.  Also, if you get asked to do an interview, be sure the topic fits for you.  For me, I love the exposure of being on television, but controversial or negative stories do not attract the right audience for my website.

Who contributes to BigKidSmallCity.com?

I write most of the posts on BigKidSmallCity.com, but I am very very lucky to have some Houston moms that contribute.  Juliette is the rock star that writes a restaurant every single Wednesday.  I also have Felicia who writes food and book reviews and Pranika who shares dinner ideas.  Shanna started the very popular parks series and now sends over a lot of pictures and ideas.  Alex has also written for BigKidSmallCity.

You can always see the author at the top of the post.

Was your goal always to make money with BigKidSmallCity.com?

My goal at the start was to be an expert at exploring Houston with kids.  This has evolved over the years but I always had this dream of not just working from home, but being able to make a living by hanging out with my kids.

How did you monetize BigKidSmallCity.com?

The readers do not pay me, unless they buy a book.  The money comes in from ads on the website, sponsored posts, affiliate links and some freelance writing.  I also have a new eBook and am working on another book.

How do you network with other bloggers?

In Houston, I go to the monthly Houston Blogger dinner.  Join us!

I also attend conferences, like the local Blog Elevated.

My niche is pretty small, but I do work with other bloggers and we help promote each other.  The way to be successful as a blogger is to be generous and cheer for other entrepreneurs.  (And, also, it is good to avoid the ones who are determined there can be only one prom queen.)

Which online resources do you recommend?

If you want to start  your own website today, you do not need to wait for a conference or a dinner.  Use these online resources:
Affiliate links included

  • Blogging on the Side – This eBook was written by a blogger making $30,000+ per month.  She has gone from working for a free pizza to being able to retire her husband from his full time job.
  • Why Your Blog is Failing… and How to Fix it – This is another eBook written by the blogger mentioned above and her equally-as-successful partner
  • BlogPreneur Online Course  I just purchased this new online course and am 3/4th of the way through.  This series includes videos and printables and goes through the basics, the tricks to social media and monetizing the website.  I’ve been stopping the videos to implement the suggestions on my website… and this would have been very useful 4 years ago!
  • Intentional Blog Course
  • Money Making Mom – This book was written the owner of MoneySavingMom.com.  She is also making more than a full time income from blogging… and has 17 people working for her!
  • Money Making Mom Scopes – Most afternoons, Crystal offers free scopes on blogging topics.

What does your daily to-do list look like?

I could work 20 hours a day on the website, but I need about 4 hours to keep it going.  Most posts are scheduled at least a day in advance (and many are done weeks in advance).

My actual to-do list is a piece of paper… where I write down every single thing I need to do the next day.  I write them down… and often cross out the ones that are optional.

So, it looks something like this…
Tuesday:

  • 7:00am – Drive Kids to School (Bring lunches, water and backpacks)
  • 11:00am – Online Meeting (website/ID)
  • 1:00pm – Conference Call (Number/Password)
  • 3:00pm – Pick up Kids
  • Make Lunches for Next Day
  • Help with Homework
  • Film Video for Things to Do in Houston
  • Prepare Restaurant Post for Next Day
  • Prepare for Lunar New Years Posts (Or whatever is about a month out)
  • Publish on BigKidSmallCity & Post to Social Media: Events List & Where in Houston Post
  • Post to Instagram (I am new to Instagram and making an effort to post each day.)
  • Connect with 5 People on LinkedIn.  (I have a lot of engineering connections and am not trying to connect with more bloggers/marketers.  I send requests to 5 people each day.)
  • Pin 5 Pins
  • Check Twitter Followers (Each day I spend a few minutes retweeting, following new people, following people back, and unfollowing those that no longer follow me.)
  • Check Facebook (This is my number 1 social media. Each day I look at the insights, see what was popular and add it to a spreadsheet so I can share it again later… In a couple months I will have a lot more followers to show the evergreen content.)
  • Schedule Facebook Posts: 11:00am, 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm, 4:00pm, 5:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm, 10:00pm, 11:00pm, 12:00am…

What do I need to know to start my own website?

Just start. You will not get it perfect at first, but you won’t know what you need to fix until you mess it up a little.

I would just spend some time deciding on your domain name, making sure it is available across all social media platforms… and then setting up your own self hosted website (not on Blogger.com or WordPress.com). Just do it!


As Seen on ABC13: 5 Lunchbox Ideas that Don’t Include Sandwiches

It’s back to school and back to school lunches!  If you need some easy ideas that don’t included sandwiches, watch Pranika on ABC13!

Thanks to Kat Cosley for working with BigKidSmallCity for lunch box ideas!

Also, the most popular quesiton of the day is… what kind of lunch boxes is Pranika using? They are: YumboxBentgoPlanetboxLunchbot.


Quick & Easy Dinner Idea: Summer Minestrone Soup!

Hi this is Pranika! I love one pot meals…who doesn’t?! It’s less to fuss about on the stove and more importantly, less to clean up and wash post dinner.

My older daughter adores minestrone soup, as do I; my husband usually eats anything I cook and my younger daughter…well she’s the picky one so I was hoping to entice her by mentioning there was pasta in the soup.

Summer Minestrone Soup
It might seem too hot to even think of eating soup, but the dish felt refreshing and healthy. I chose to make this meal on a Sunday so we could cook together, be relaxed and have enough remaining for leftovers for all four of us later in the week.

The whole family joined in on the prep and cooking and while the pot simmered and cooked, we set the table, relaxed and chatted. On the side, we simply had toasted garlic bread.

My younger daughter happily ate the soup, asked for seconds and gave me four thumbs up (I think she approved!). My husband and older daughter raved about it as well. This was truly delicious and we will definitely be making it again.

It was a longer dinner to cook (about an hour), but on a weekend it worked for us and we are happy to have one less meal to cook during the week; this soup will also freeze well for later use. Happy cooking and eating!

[Read more…]


Quick & Easy Dinner: Fish & Shrimp in Parchment Paper!

Sprimp and Veggies in Parchment Paper
Hi this is Pranika! Our family is big into seafood these days, so I am trying to be creative instead of eating the same sautéed shrimp and fried fish all the time. I cooked fish in parchment paper with my mom years and years ago and it was fun, so cooking this with my girls was fun and nostalgic.

I cooked both fish and shrimp because one of my girls doesn’t like fish…yet; we like to say she hasn’t developed the taste for it!

A fish cooked “en papillote” is wrapped in parchment paper, and baked in the oven so it gently steams in its own juices. You can add a variety of aromatics, such as herbs, onions, and other vegetables to the parchment package to flavor the fish.

Wrapping Up Fish and Shrimp in Parchment Paper
When the fish is done, the parchment will puff up. Basically, if cooking fish is intimidating and messy, then cook it this way because it really will cook itself! Just make sure to add a little liquid (such as lemon juice, wine, etc) and ensure that whatever you add to the parchment should cook in 12-14 minutes.

If you want to add something that needs longer to cook, then partially cook it beforehand as I will note below. On the side we had baby roasted potatoes with sea salt and broccolini with lemon, sea salt and a touch of olive oil.

Happy cooking and eating!

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Quick & Easy Dinner: Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia!

Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia1
Hi this is Pranika! Our family likes to eat fish and shrimp, so I try different recipes and some work and some fail; fortunately, this one is a keeper.

For added garnish and flavor, you can top the fish with salsa verde, sriracha if you like a kick, or a squeeze of fresh meyer lemon juice as we did. I usually buy fresh fillets on Saturday or Sunday and cook them within 24 hours so I don’t have to freeze and thaw.  On the side we had simple dish steamed tri-color cauliflower dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt.

Happy cooking and eating!

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