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Lebanon's Michele McDonald, the married mother of two young sons, has found her niche online as the writer, cook, do-it-your-selfer, gardener, seamstress and craft artist behind the web site, thescrapshoppeblog.com. McDonald gave up her career as a research scientist at Vanderbilt two years ago so she could spend more time with her family at home and found blogging to be an ideal and profitable pursuit. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Crafty blogger Michele McDonald polishes off some colorful knobs for craft storage containers.
Michele McDonald created this poppy pillow utilizing a technique called Huichol yarn art, also referred to as yarn painting. The Huichol (Native Mexicans) press yarn on to boards coated with wax and resin to create designs. McDonald used the technique using fabric glue.
At the 2013 Snap! Conference, Michele McDonald, left, participated in a Blogger Challenge hosted by Lowe's. She said, "They provided wood and tools, and groups of us were challenged to create something within an hour. It was a lot of fun, and we designed, made and painted the garden bench shown in the photo." Submitted

Michele McDonald creates crafty blog, nets 100,000 hits a month

When Michele McDonald, the mother of two young children, decided it was the right time to bail out of her career as a research scientist, she had no inkling if her fledgling career as a web writer might take flight.

With a mind overflowing with crafty ideas, she plunged ahead. Today her Scrap Shoppe blog snares 100,000 hits a month, while she also blogs for four commercial clients, thus allowing her to earn a five-figure income.

"I had no clue when I started. A lot of bloggers don't know how much work it is. There are a lot of one-hit wonders, but five or six months later they haven't done anything else. They didn't have the time to put into it," said McDonald, who works about 30 hours a week from home, churning out a myriad of crafts projects, recipes, handy tips and suggestions for home and yard.

The scientist turned writer, who left Vanderbilt two summers ago, describes her blog, saying, "I kind of do a little bit of everything. I don't really have a niche, but I do everything from small crafts to paper crafts to home décor, and I cover recipes, gardening, sewing. I still go back to graphic design and do printables from here. It keeps it interesting. Nobody knows what they're going to see next."

Enjoy Michele's blog

To read Michele McDonald's crafty blogs, go online to thescrapshoppeblog.com.

McDonald, who kicked off her blog in 2009, calls it a crafty place that focuses on fun, creative and unique crafts and DIY projects that also covers such topics as organization, kid activities, scrapbooking, jewelry making and outdoor ideas. Along the way she also shares fun freebies that her readers can download and use for their own crafting.

Born and raised in Knoxville, she earned a science degree at Tennessee Tech and a master's degree in chemistry at Middle Tennessee State University. She met her husband Daniel, an engineer and native of Lebanon native, at Tech. The couple has two sons, Gavin, 7, and Caleb, 4, who are students at Cedars Preparatory Academy.

From the laboratory to the 'blogosphere'

For nine years McDonald worked as a research assistant in a biological science lab where she and her associates studied infectious proteins known as prions and amyloids.

"They have to do with mad cow disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Type 2 diabetes," she said. "We worked towards trying to figure out the structures in these proteins and what made them form the way they did. From there, hopefully, we would progress and create drugs to prevent the proteins from misfolding. Our lab worked closely with Stanley Prusiner of the University of California, San Francisco, a Nobel Prize winner for his prion work.

"Hopefully these diseases could be either preventable or treatable. Maybe one day we can treat these, and maybe I did something to help them," she said.

Looking back she notes it was not an easy decision to give up a career that enthralled her, but the pull of family proved stronger.

"My kids were getting older. When you work that far away, I only got to see my kids about three hours a day. Now I can go on field trips and be a lot more involved," she said.

Burgeoning blogger

Before exiting Vanderbilt she had become interested in graphic design and was designing scrapbook T-shirts for her own MM Custom Creations.

"So I started to blog to help sell the T-shirts, but then reading a blog about T-shirts wasn't very exciting," McDonald confessed. "So I started doing crafts and putting that on a blog. At first I didn't realize there were other bloggers or that anybody else was reading it. I was just by myself and on my own little blog island. There were other crafts and DIY bloggers but not very many.

"I kind of just dove in and didn't know what I was doing. I've taught myself a lot of things, sewing, html, anything that I think I want to know how to do. I try to teach myself how to do it."

She has proven to be an apt teacher and pupil.

"I'm doing pretty good and getting bigger every year. I have four steady jobs," she said. "I blog for Old Time Pottery, DecoArt, Online Labels and Expressions Vinyl. Plus I have my regular blogging stuff and an Etsy shop."

As for her blogging for commercial businesses, she says, "I try to keep mine specifically for crafts. It seems like more and more companies are realizing the strength of bloggers and that we can spread the word."

A portion of her income comes from those who, courtesy of Google, advertise on her web site. Those include such businesses as Home Depot, AAA, Hertz, Viking River Cruises, Michael's, Amazon and World Market.

"If somebody goes to my blog and see the ads, if they stay on the page long enough for the ads to load, I'll make some money, but for it to really make money, you need for people to click on the ads," she explained.

Making vs. buying

McDonald has gained helpful information by several ventures to the Snap! Conference, an annual three-day blogging convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, that focuses on crafts and small DIY projects.

She said the last event in April drew about 350 bloggers, mostly women, who attended blogging specific classes and learned how to get better noticed by Google.

"It was really great to be around so many like-minded people," she said. "I talk to my husband and he'll listen, but they know where I'm coming from. Blogging is an excellent way to make friends."

McDonald also draws inspiration for her ideas from her mother.

"When I was in elementary school she was very involved with the PTA, and one year made a scrapbook, and it won an award. She's very crafty and hands-on, and that effected my whole way of thinking like, 'Well, I can make that rather than just buy it,' and she was always like that."

A visit to McDonald's blog reveals a wide variety of projects to choose from as well as tempting recipes.

"All of the recipes are my own or some I discover and tweak. I don't like to pass off something that is not my own," she said.

And there are cool projects such as one headlined "21 Mason Jar Teacher Gifts," where a parent can find creative, inexpensive ideas to help say thanks to their child's instructor. And there is one post for cooks titled "50 Sweet Potato Recipes."

"I like to do roundups, gathering a bunch of projects that other people have made and share them in one spot," McDonald said.

Social media maker

Every Friday she posts a Pinterest feature from a link up to a Pinterest event which has some 2,000 people linked to the Pinterest Party, thus they can all network.

"On Tuesday I have a series I call 'Tried It Tuesday.' I take a recipe I found on Pinterest, and if it's good, if everybody at home likes it, then I link back to the original person and share their recipe," she said.

And earlier this summer she premiered a weekly newsletter that already has 200 subscribers.

As for what's next, she responds, "I try to take it slow. I'm up to four companies a month. As it goes on I'll try to get more and more. This is a steady job, not just a one-time thing.

"I think I love the flexibility. I get to make my own hours. I love crafts, so I'm getting paid to do something I already enjoy doing.

"Every week I have something new. I have a lot of things that I want to do or try. Not everything works, but most things do. I don't make things just to make things. It takes a lot of time. I have a purpose," said the former scientist who has discovered there is no place to work like home.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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