Monday, September 29, 2014

10 Tips Surviving Your First Blog Conference (or any conference) Successfully

If you've been following FITO Blog (or any of my social media outlets) you haven't miss the fact that I just attended one of the most beneficial & influential conferences ever! I attended the Blog Elevated Conference in Galveston, Texas this past weekend. I haven't been to a conference in years, and especially never attended a conference that is solely centered around blogging. It was quite the experience and thrilling all at the same time. Today I am going to share 10 tips I think any conference goer could should know, whether for blogging, business or pleasure.

1. Be prepared and get ready to network, network, network - being prepared might seem like a no-brainier, since after all you know what you're getting yourself into... including travel and arrangements. But, a I truly believe a little preparation can go a long way. Make sure that you've practiced your introductions and can properly introduce yourself. Be ready, and willing to shake peoples' hands (and look them in the eye). Know what you're going to say about yourself and allow yourself to truly engage with others. Make a list of questions you'd like answers to, related to the conference. Ensure you know where you're going and have a solid game-plan established.

2. Business Cards - this one was my biggest mistakes and I am super bummed I missed this. I wish someone would have given me the heads-up before attending so that's why I think it's so important to share here. Bring business cards! (and lots of them!) Any type of business cards will do - fancy, elaborate, hand-written, whatever. You don't have to shell out tons of money on this, just get something with your information on it! Conference goers want to know who you are and how to get in touch with you once the conference is finished. It sets the tone that you are a professional and serious about your efforts. I feel like I missed out on one of the biggest opportunities to connect outside of the conference, and so many more further connections simply because I did not have any business cards on hand. For example, from just ONE quick 15 minute meet & greet session I gathered over 40 business cards. I have compiled over a hundred business cards from the 2 1/2 days of conference, of people with whom I want to connect with, and remain connected to. Yet they don't have my information... Exchanging business cards are quite standard and I promise you'll be asked if you have a card. Make sure you pack extras because you can't have too many cards to pass out, so bring plenty and hand them out at every opportunity.

3. Step out of your comfort zone - there are hundreds of like minded people that you are surrounded with. Jump out there and get to know those people. They could be your next collaborator, business partner, contributor so go introduce yourself. Have lunch with people you've never met before and open up. Sit next to someone new in each session, get up and move around. I promise (PROMISE) you will have things to chat about and discuss. All it takes is a little effort on your part. Get out there and make connections - there are some pretty amazing people out there just waiting to meet you too.

4. Express yourself and show gratitude - if you've been following a blogger for years, or really enjoyed a blogger's post about empowering women, go tell them! Let people know that you love their work. This really goes a long way and helps set you apart. Also, express your gratitude. There are many people behind the scenes busting their tail for YOU and your experience. Tell them "Thank you". Express gratitude to the speakers and sponsors. Let them know that their hard work is not going unnoticed and that you will use the tools they provided to you to help reach your goals. Then follow-up with telling them why you liked their session on "vlogging" and how you plan on using their social media tips in the (near) future. You'll have nothing to loose and at the end of the day, this good blogging karma.

5. Battery Packs -  bring back up batteries, cords, and chargers. I've never been somewhere where it is acceptable to be on your laptop, phone, and tablet all at the once while attending a speaker's session or lunch. You're in a constant networking mode and being on your Twitter feed all day is completely normal. But,  you never know when your wireless keyboard will loose power of your phone is dying because you've over loaded it with photos, Tweets, and recorded sessions. Bring back ups. I really liked the external battery packs to keep my phone charged. And always had access to power cords. Take a break and re-charge, and if you're not using your power cord to charge your phone, share it with your neighbor who's phone hasn't charged for a day. You never know when you'll be at your next conference and need an extra power cord.

6. Be willing to help out - if you see someone who needs help - extend a helping hand. Help pass out agendas, assist with people who look lost and help them get where they're going, lend someone your power cord to charge up (as mentioned above), pull up a seat for someone. Help when and where you can. We are all in this together and just because you're not a volunteer doesn't mean your knowledge can't help the person next to you, and visa-versa. It's better to be known as overly helpful than not helpful at all.

7. Listen & Ask - Dayna Steele said something so simple, yet so profound. "Listen and Ask". Listen to those you're speaking with. Ask them engaging questions about themselves. Explore their world. If they want to know your entire life story they'll ask, but for now listen to what they have to say and who they are and truly connect with their stories.

8. Be open to suggestions and feedback - this goes right along with #6 & # 7. Please do not get your feelings hurt when someone suggest you should change the colors or font on your blog photos. Or that you should really be using WordPress. Or that you should do a blog post about something else... This might seem disastrous and earth-shattering to some, but be open to suggestions. Many of these people have been in the business for years and they've had countless successes. They're there for a reason and want to help YOU succeed too. Use their insight and knowledge to help propel yourself. Suggestions and critiques are not meant to hurt you, they're meant to HELP YOU. Be willing to accept it, and accept it with grace, and then THANK them for their insight. What kind of conference would it be if people are not giving you feedback and suggestions?! Isn't that the reason you're there in the first place? You need to know what others are thinking about your presence and image so listen, accept, and adjust. Take the suggestions that you can to heart, and gracefully accept the ones you can't. It's all about collaboration, and the more you know, the more you'll grow.

9. ALWAYS have access to the agenda, establish a game plan, & divide and conquer - you know those three break-out sessions that are all occurring at the same time and you want to go to ALL of them but can't be at 3 places at once? Have a game plan. The agenda is your best friend and you need constant access to it. Come up with a game plan before you start attending. Partner up and tackle each session individually. One way of doing this is to record the sessions. For example, my TSMRI team and I each went to different sessions and recorded each session. Then we uploaded the session recordings and our notes to share with each other. First establish which sessions are most beneficial for you and then divide and conquer. If you're traveling alone to the conference partner up with other attendees. I guarantee you they're looking for someone to partner up with and collaborate on the sessions as well. Simply ask and let them know what you can help to help them too.

10. Have some extra room - allow yourself some extra room and time. You will receive many handouts, notes and "swag" from some of these conferences. Make sure you have some extra room in your luggage, car, or carry on to stow away all of your goodies. Give yourself extra time to digest everything that you've been learning. These are jam packed days filled with alot of useful information, take time to reflect. I enjoyed taking a quick break down to the beach to reflect on all the knowledge I gained each day. At the end of the conference our car was packed to the max with all the things we acquired during the conference. Give yourself some breathing room so you can bring home all you gained from the conference.

Our car is packed up and ready to go the last day

Enjoying a nice stroll and selfie break by the ocean

Are you gearing up to attend any conferences in the near future? If so, what conferences? 
Do you have any tips not listed here for new conference goers? If so, use the comments below to share your tips and insight.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Five Faves Friday - Galveston Edition

Hey, hey hey!! This post is coming to you straight from the incredible Blog Elevated 2014 Conference in Galveston, Texas. My TSMRI team and I loaded up the car with our overly stuffed luggage and we hit the road yesterday ready to make our way to the Gulf Coast. Man! Oh, man!! Since we stepped foot into the salty air we have been  been simply swept away with wonderful information, awe inspiring talks, and the best dang networking I have ever experienced.

So since I'm here, why not bring this week's edition of #FiveFavesFriday, Galveston Style?!

I'm so excited so, Let's go!
Imperial Sugar - Two words: Sugar Scrubs. The amazing women from Imperial Sugar are not only awesome bloggers themselves but they showed us not one. Not two. But three. THREE! different and simple sugar scrubs. The scrubs smelled amazing, all natural and truly beneficial for your beauty regime. Not to mention they are completely customizable. I can't wait to share these with you (tutorials are coming soon) or if you're following me on Instagram you've had a little sneak into the wonderful world of these sweet scrubs.

Sweet Swag - Speaking of "sweet", can we just take a minute to recognize the amazing swag?! It just keeps coming and coming...  and, there's still more to come. Hats off to some of the amazing sponsors, like Kroger, Proctor and Gamble, and Galveston Visitors Bureau. Check out this adorable journal included in our welcome bags.

Shrimp Fest - So apparently I have the best luck of perfect timing. Right now, the Galveston Island Shrimp Festival. Which we will be headed to this afternoon to pick up some shrimps and gorgeous views of the ocean. I not only love food, but I love fresh seafood. This was made for me!

The Incredible Bloggers - Can we take a moment of appreciation (and a round of applause) for the incredible bloggers that are upon us? Seriously, I have met some incredible men and women who are like minded, driven, and beyond inspiring. For example, I met Rachel Mathews from A Southern Fairytale today and I can't get enough of her and her blog. I felt as if I was meeting a celebrity when we shook hands. She's a photographer, mother, and an amazing cook. A native Texan (shoutout!) and one of the sweetest women I've ever met. Please go check out her blog, she truly is one talented lady. 

Social Media - Where in the heck would we be without social media?! I mean seriously! I know I wouldn't have this opportunity without social media and the research team I am a part of. But what is so cool is that it's been so much fun searching, browsing, and  connecting with so many amazing people and companies. I just love it!

Okay, so that's all for now. I will be posting a detailed post about my experience and what I've learned from the conference next week. But, for now, I've gotta run. I have lots more hands to shake, people to speak to, information to learn and  more fun to be had. 

If you want to follow along with all the fun you can follow me on Twitter @amandafitoblog or on Instagram for photos from the conference and around Galveston.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicken Piccata (with White Wine & Mushrooms)

I'm such a sucker for Italian food.
I'm an even bigger sucker for mushrooms.
Combine the two and you have me at "Hello! Chicken Piccata!"

So I know it's been a minute since I posted a #WineWednesday post... AND, since my last Wine Recipe was such a huge hit it's only appropriate to share another great recipe that includes WINE...

Which in turn only make this dish, that much better.


Living out in the sticks you don't necessarily have the best options for Italian grub and I'm quickly learning that making an Italian dinner at home is far more affordable. Not to mention, it tastes much fresher (read: better) than running out to the nearest Italian food joint that truly is only the Pizza joint that happens to serve a couple of Italian "classics". You know how that goes...

I saw this recipe from the grocery circular and I just knew I had to make it. Like immediately. So that's what I did.
And guess what, it turned out to be absolute perfection.
This is one recipe I knew I had to share with YOU.

Chicken Piccata

Here's what you'll need:

  • Chicken
  • Mushrooms
  • Dry White Wine
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Capers
  • Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Olive Oil  
  • Butter
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Linguine Pasta
  • Salt & Pepper

Start by pounding the chicken breasts until thin,  using a mallet or rolling pin. (Tip: put chicken breasts in between two sheets of wax paper like I did below, or use a large freezer bag to pound chicken using the flat side of the mallet)

The one on the right has been pounded to 1/4 inch thickness.
In a small bowl, toss freshly chopped parsley with olive oil, shallots, capers, and fresh lemon juice. Add salt & pepper to mixture, to taste.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook chicken until cooked through and lightly golden brown. About 3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil.

Reduce heat to medium, and add the remaining shallots, mushrooms, and garlic to the skillet. I used fresh mushrooms and then sliced them thin.

Saute until mushrooms are tender, about 1 minute.

Next, add the wine and the remaining lemon juice. Let simmer for 1 minute.

I used the Smoking Loon Chardonnay that I had on hand. Any dry white wine will work perfectly. 

Once sauce has simmered, whisk in remaining capers, fresh parsley, and butter. Add any juices from the chicken and season with a little bit of salt and "peps" (pepper)

Then assemble this beautiful dish onto a plate. First, add a nice big 'ole pile of linguine to a large plate. (You can also use a shallow bowl) Top linguine with one chicken breast. Add mushrooms + the juices from the pan and top over chicken and linguine. Finally, top with the fresh-parsley and caper mixture and serve. 

Serve with your remaining chilled white wine & ENJOY!

Chicken Piccata

by Amanda Hicks
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves 2)
  • 2 (6-8 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 tsp Olive Oil, divided
  • 2 Tbs plus 1 1/2 tsp shallots, minced
  • 2 Tbs plus 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 1/2 tsp capers, drained and divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • 6-8 oz linguine, cooked
Using a meat mallet, pound chicken breasts between 2 sheets of wax paper until chicken breast are to 1/4-inch thickness.
Toss 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley in small bowl with 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon mined shallots, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 1/2 teaspoon capers. Season parsley-caper mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a heavy, large nonstick skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and sauté until just cooked through and golden-brown, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil.
Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons minced shallots, mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and sauté until tender, about 1 minute.
Add white wine and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice; simmer 1 minute.
Whisk in remaining 3 teaspoons capers, butter and minced parsley.
Stir in any juices from chicken into sauce; season with salt and pepper.
Add cooked a portion of linguine to a plate then top with one chicken breast.
Add mushrooms and pour sauce from pan over chicken and linguine.
Sprinkle chicken with parsley-caper mixture.
Serve & Enjoy!
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Texas Tailgate Torpedoes (a.k.a. Jalapeno Poppers)

Yippee! Football Season is upon us! 

I absolutely love Football season. Cheering for your favorite teams, the clatter of cheers and commentators fill the house all weekend long. And, my ultimate favorite: Football/ Tailgating Food! It's the perfect excuse to whip up something warm, cheesy, spicy, and oh so Yummy! Guilt free, of course. Cause after all, you need some food fuel to help you cheer on your team to a championship... right?!

First up on the Football Food menu: Jalapeno Poppers! You just simply cannot go wrong. The perfect combination of cheese and spice and everything nice (+ a little Bacon). 

Texas Tailgate Torpedoes (a.k.a. Jalapeno Poppers)

These poppers are perfection. Simple, quick, and did I mention wrapped in Bacon?! Regardless of who is winning on the field, you'll be a winner in the kitchen with these Texas Tailgate Torpedoes.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Fresh Jalapenos 
  • Cream Cheese
  • Mexican Shredded Cheese
  • Bacon
Start by rinsing and cleaning your peppers, then lay them out to dry. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Set your cream cheese out to allow it to thaw to room temperature (for easy mixing, of course). 

Next, carefully slice your peppers length-wise and remove the seeds. I find it easiest to scoop the pepper guts out with a spoon. Wash your hands thoroughly and avoid hand contact with your face. Your fingers will be spicy. Or use gloves. 

Combine softened cream cheese and shredded cheese to make the pepper filling. 

Once cream cheese filling is mixed, evenly scoop the filling into each pepper half. Then lay one piece of bacon flat onto a cutting board.

Wrap the bacon around the pepper filled with cheese to create a neat little torpedo. Place each bacon wrapped pepper on a foil lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pepper halves. 

Once all the peppers have been stuffed and wrapped into little torpedoes. Bake in the oven at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Turn up the oven to 425 and continue to back for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Depending on how crispy you like your Bacon. Be sure that the cheese does not completely melt out of the peppers while cooking. That would be a sad, sad thing...

Once the peppers reach your desired level of bacon crispy-ness, remove the torpedoes from the oven and carefully place on a paper-towel to drain the remaining bacon grease and to cool. Serve warm & Enjoy!

Texas Tailgate Torpedoes (a.k.a. Jalapeno Poppers)

  • 7 fresh Jalapeno peppers
  • 8 oz stick of Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 cup of Shredded Mexican-Style Cheese
  • 14 Slices of Bacon


  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Rinse and clean peppers, lay out to dry
  • Cut peppers length-wise and remove seeds
  • Combine Cream Cheese and Shredded Cheese until mixed well
  • Stuff each pepper with cream cheese filling then tightly wrap with one slice of bacon
  • Repeat for remaining pepper halves
  • Place bacon wrapped peppers on a foil lined baking sheet
  • Bake wrapped peppers in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes
  • Turn oven up to 425 degrees and continue to cook peppers and additional 10 - 15 minutes until bacon starts to become crispy on the outside
  • Remove peppers from oven and place on a paper towel to drain grease and cool
  • Serve warm and Enjoy!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Five Faves Friday - Autumn's in the Air

Autumn Bucket List - My social media feeds have been blowing up with photos and ideas for fun Autumn to-do's. I couldn't resist making our own. I've jotted down a few things we'd like to do this Fall and plan to add a few more. I am super excited about Fall this year, and all the fun festivities it brings with it. Do you make a seasonal to-do list? I can't wait to see how many we can knock out this season.

Cooler Temps - Cooler temps in my part of the South means temperatures in the high 80's and I will take it! Last night was bliss while we walked our property out to the lake. It was amazing and I can't wait for temps to continue to fall. I'll be eating those words as soon as we get an ice storm, but for now the weather is perfect! And, yes, Texas has ice, not snow, but ice... ahhh the irony.

#FallFunSwap - So as if my new blogging friend, Lindsay, over at The Pursuit of Pink, could get any better. She teamed up with Colleen Samantha to host a #FallFunSwap. I love Fall and I had to jump at the opportunity to participate. I can't wait to fill up a package full of some of my Fall favorites. If you'd like to join too, there is still time to sign up. Sign-up's are due Sept. 23rd. Click here, for all the awesome details and stay tuned for the reveal next month.

Comfort Food - You know us Southerners love out Comfort Food. So after being on the road and feeling like death for the past week I could not wait to get back into the kitchen. First dish on the menu? Pot Roast with Fresh Carrots, Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli-Cheese Casserole, and lots of Gravy. Praise the Lord for Gravy!

Specialty Cocktails - A few weeks ago I met my brother for cocktails and a quick catch-up sesh in our home town. My in-laws had mentioned a new spot, Simmer, and I couldn't wait to check it out. The bartender, Dillon, was amazing and made me the perfect "end of summer" cocktail. In fact, the name of it is: "Summer's End". Made with Gin, Fennel Syrup and fresh cucumbers. It's one of his original creations and not listed on the menu (making it that much better). It was out of this world! Especially since temperatures that day were 100+ degrees. It was the perfect combination. Refreshing and Delicious. The ice bar made a nice addition too.

What are you loving on this week? Are temps cooler in your neck of the woods? 

I'm linking up with Texas Women's Bloggers for their Sweet Tea Social

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Hey y'all!! 

If you haven't noticed it's been a while since I've been in this little creative corner of the bloging world. And, Holy Moly has a lot been going on.

The beginning of the semester always creeps on me and I feel like I am never quite prepared. Between being a full-time grad student AND teaching courses, it has been one thing after another. I enjoy the challenge and staying busy, but finding balance lately has been so so so tough.

I've also been in a huge funk lately and I just can't seem to shake it. I won't go into the pathetic details and express the amount of tears I have shed over the past couple of weeks, but it has been tough. I can't quite put my finger on it either. I am truly blessed and have an amazing life, but I just feel down... low... in the pits.

Not to mention, illness (that has felt like death) has hit my household. Leaving me lethargic and completely deprived of any type of motivation.

Oh yeah, and we took a road trip from Cali back to Texas... Sounds fun, right?! Yeah, not so much for this girl. My rock-star of a husband decided to do the trip in one day from Vegas to home, and let's just say being in the car for 20+ hours (+ not feeling the best) is not my thing anymore. I used to love it. Roadtriping that is.... But, now I am beginning to despise it. And what's worse, I think I am starting to not like traveling at all anymore. Sad day. Is it bad that I just want to stay at/ in my little slice of heaven that is our home? Please tell me I'm not the only one. My Mom thinks I'm crazy and I am pretty sure my husband will never plan a trip for us because I literally woke up in tears every day while we were away. It's tough on me, my husband (mostly because he has to listen to me bitch) and it's tough on my fur babies. I might need to seek professional help...

However, we DID had the MOST amazing meal in Vegas at Guy Fieri's new place at the Quad. Two words: Truffle. Fries. Plus a bacon and Mac & Cheese burger and this little piglet was in a food coma for three days straight. Delicious! I am such a huge fan of his and his restaurant did not disappoint. The menu was out of this world and the service was absolute perfection. Here's a little sneak peak. It really was "Off the chain, Mayne!"

Le Reve The Dream, by Cirque de Soleil show did not disappoint either. Shit, I even cried at the end... which is par for the course lately.

Images// via

On the flip side, I do have some pretty exciting things to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

Next weekend I will be attending the Blog Elevated Conference in Galveston, TX. I have teamed up with the Texas Social Media Research Institute and I gladly accepted the chance to join the conference this year. This is going to be such an amazing experience and I can't hardly wait... Although I am having a slight bought of  anxiety about traveling again. 5 hours in the car is much more doable than traveling from Vegas to Texas. Plus, I'll be able to meet so incredible people while Hubby holds down the fort.

Also, if you're in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area in November I would love for you to join me and my team for our Social Media Conference on November 8th. It will be full of insightful information and a great way to network with like minded social media gurus. Click here to register now!

So that's what's been going on in my world lately... What about you? How have YOU been lately?

Friday, September 5, 2014

{But First, Coffee} Mug Swap Reveal

A few weeks ago I logged onto my computer and perused my daily dose of blogs. I have been reading Kallie's blog: But First, Coffee for months now, and on that day I noticed she was hosting a "Mug Swap" party. "How cool!" I thought to myself. So I decided to dig a little deeper. After reading more about the swap, then searching #BFCMugSwap on Instagram, I knew I had to participate. I love my morning coffee and I love networking with other bloggers and blog-minded people. "What a genius idea!" I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to meet a new face and heck, get a mug outta of it too! (hello!)  What I didn't expect was the friendship and FUN that I experienced. 

The whole premise behind the mug swap is to be partnered up (via Kallie's amazing partnering skills) and get to know your Mug Swap partner over the course of a couple of weeks. Typically, via email and social media. By the end of getting to know one another you each mail your partner a mug you see fit and visa versa. 

So, here's what happened:

On, August 15th, Kallie emailed all the participants a list of the partners and their email addresses. 
On August 18th, I emailed my partner, Lindsay, from The Pursuit of Pink.
Now, at first I didn't put two and two together and didn't realize it was THE Lindsay from Pursuit of Pink... you see, I have been following Lindsay's blog and absolutely love her!! When she emailed me back it was an instant connection. We sent each other long emails filled with fun facts. I swear, it was like chatting with one of my best friends. We just had SO MUCH in common. We both love Pink, and anything girly. We both are in the middle of huge transitions in life as we just both moved (to more rural areas). We like the same kind of music and we both LOVE Britney Spears. It was seriously a match made in heaven. 

Below are some photos of my mug package I sent to Lindsay

Package complete with a mug, spoon, my favorite coffee, a hello note, a set of coaster I made and lots of confetti
"Good friends are like stars, they make the world a brighter place." Lindsay does just that.

Stationary by Hallmark

All ready to ship to Lindsay!

Here's a few photos from Lindsay's package to me

Just by the packaging I knew it was going to be GOOD
Then it just kept getting better

Eeeeekkk!! This mug!
Mug by Ashley Brooke Designs
 I've been eyeing ABD for eons. I've been following her designs on Instagram for forever and I never thought I had a "need" to buy one of her mugs that I so wished for... but now I have one of my very own, Thanks to Lindsay!!

Image via Instagram - Enjoying my new mug, confetti and all!

I had so much fun and will be participating again and again! Thank you Lindsay for the PERFECT coffee mug and for your friendship. I hope you enjoyed this experience as much as I did. Thank you to Kallie for hosting a fabulous mug swap!