As if being a mom-of-two isn’t handful enough, Amanda Gibson has her plate full as an educator, writer, and cook (pun intended!). After moving all over the country to where she now calls home in Mobile, Alabama, the one thing that has always remained the same for Amanda was her passion for food. That’s why in 2016 she decided to start her own food blog, Lemon Baby — a destination for tasty seafood recipes, Game-of-Thrones-themed cocktails, restaurant reviews, and more.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Amanda and discuss all things Lemon Baby and her favorite blogging advice. She also shares how she’s teaching her kids, Spencer and Stella, that nobody is perfect and why it’s important for them to know how much they are loved everyday.
Keep reading to learn how Amanda juggles motherhood and multiple careers. (Spoiler alert: it may involve unwinding with a glass of wine at the end of the day.)
Name: Amanda Gibson, Instructor of English at a university; copywriter at Mighty; owner of Lemon Baby
Location: Mobile, Alabama
Education: B.A. in English literature from Florida State University; M.A. in Teaching from the University of Great Falls; M.A. in English (Creative Writing concentration) from the University of South Alabama
Children: Spencer (7) and Stella (3)
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first career aspiration came to me at the tender age of five; I wanted to be a dentist. I carried this goal with me all the way to high school, when I landed my first job as an assistant at my dentist’s practice. (At my mother’s urging, I called him from the pay phone at school to ask if he would give me a job. He assented, and it later came as a shock that all my subsequent job application processes were not as easy). I assisted procedures from root canals to fillings, and at the culmination of the experience, I decided oral health was no longer an occupational interest.
You’ve explored so many avenues for your passion for writing – you’re a copywriter, a novelist, a blogger, and a teacher. Phew! Can you tell us about why writing matters so much to you, and what you love about each of those areas of expression?
Although sometimes too solitary of an act for my extroverted self’s comfort, writing has always soothed my soul. When I write, I have time to choose precise words (unlike when I speak, which often results in word salad). I also love to edit — to polish a sentence until it gleams. As a copywriter, I enjoy being able to write from so many angles of vision. In advertising, you’ve got to evoke emotion and do it quickly. I’m still learning that art.
Writing a novel taught me so much about my personal writing style. I never write outlines. I cannot simply sit down (like, say at 8am every day) and start writing. The inspiration to write must come first, and then I obey. The independence of writing for my own site is something I adore. I’m an impulsive person, so I tend to cook (and subsequently post) on a whim, and I love that there’s no one looking over my shoulder and saying, “no one’s actually going to make that.” I get to cook what I want to cook, when I want to cook it. Teaching is both a challenge and a gift, but when a student’s eyes light up with comprehension and you know they just “got it,” it’s a wonderful feeling.
As a teacher, what are some lessons you’ve learned from your students?
My students allow me to relive the discovery of the classics from a 21st century perspective. Last year, we had a fascinating discussion of gender equality in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath juxtaposed with 21st century current issues. It was incredible. I’ve also learned to never assume. As someone who hears excuses day in and day out, (“my car broke down and I missed my exam…”) it’s easy to become a little jaded. But my students are juggling work, school, life, and family just like me, so it never hurts to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
Why did you choose to launch Lemon Baby? And where did that sweet name come from?
After I moved away from Montana and stopped writing my food column, I desperately missed that outlet. The only thing I love more than eating delicious food is writing about eating delicious food. It has long been a tradition for me, instead of going out to a restaurant on my birthday, to tackle a particularly tricky recipe. In 2016, that recipe was grilled octopus. I had enjoyed it in restaurants but never tried it at home. So for my 33rd birthday, we boiled a whole octopus in wine and other aromatics like garlic and lemon, coated it in olive oil, and grilled it. It was a triumph (and even more so because my children loved it). After we were done I thought, “other people might like to do this, too.” The next day, I bought the domain name. I have always had a mild obsession with lemons, and subsequently lemon print clothing, and as an infant Stella was often dressed head-to-toe in it. We took to calling her Lemon Baby, and the name seemed a natural fit for my fledgling website.
What advice do you have for moms who want to enter the blogging sphere?
SEO, SEO, SEO. I spent a lot of time in the beginning of my journey wondering if anyone was reading. They weren’t, at first. I wasn’t using keywords to my advantage (I didn’t even know what a SEO keyword was, actually). Now, many of my recipes rank first on Google searches. Traffic shouldn’t be one’s first goal, though. Good content is first and foremost, and for bloggers that includes photography. I cringe at some of my earliest food photos, shot with my old, (t)rusty iPhone 6S. I am still learning with every click of the shutter, but after upgrading to a DSLR, I feel I can finally halfway hold my own.
My last piece of advice is to avoid falling into what I call the “vortex of comparison.” Countless studies show that social media has a tendency to make us feel simultaneously more connected to one another (hello, Instagram friends you’ve never met in real life) and less confident in our own abilities. When you see the (carefully curated) glimpse into someone else’s life, it’s hard not to wonder why your living room isn’t as perfectly styled or why your clothes aren’t haute couture. The reality is that real life is messy, and social media allows us to harness that chaos and project our ideal self, even if it’s just for a second. Find your voice. Spend the time and energy you would devote to comparing yourself to others on crafting something uniquely yours. I’m often told Lemon Baby is compelling to people because of the stories I tell and the way only I can tell them.
You’ve lived all over the country – what did you learn from each wildly different location? How do you think all that travel has impacted you and Lemon Baby?
Moving locales has always been exciting to me; I was born in NYC and have lived in Boston, Virginia, Montana, Florida, and Alabama. I spent my early childhood in Carroll Gardens, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. One day, right before we moved away, I was walking down the street with my mother. I tripped and skinned my knee, and my mother, in her attempt to cheer me up, said there were no sidewalks where we were moving (rural Virginia). “The sidewalks are soft in Brooklyn,” I replied. Clearly, I have a sentimental (and somewhat sassy) streak. But I think that story exemplifies how I approach where I reside. There are advantages and disadvantages to every location, and what makes them special is our unique connections to our surroundings. Living in NYC and Boston taught me that while I love the amenities and culture, a large Northeastern city just isn’t for me. I prefer a more languid style of living, yet the small-town life in rural Montana was a little too insular for me (but the Rocky Mountain views were spectacular). Mobile is a perfect-sized city. It’s intimate and yet bustling in its own way. In the words of my 4-year-old self, its sidewalks are soft.
Despite loving where I live, I thirst for travel. I was fortunate to be raised by two jetsetters, and one of my absolute favorite things to do is stay in a nice hotel. Whenever I go anywhere, tasting the locale is always on the top of my list of priorities. My mom and I go to Europe together every year, and I always come home inspired from our travels to cook or bake. Case in point: after returning from Scotland two years ago, I recreated a sumptuous afternoon tea spread in order to prolong the luxury a little bit longer. London is up next in the second week of May, which means tea, tea, and more tea.
How did your career change, if at all, when you had your kids? How did you handle childcare and maternity leave?
I experienced premature labor and high blood pressure with my son Spencer and was forced to go on strict bed rest until delivery. In one afternoon in January, I went from teaching middle school to staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, indefinitely. I was terrified. Fortunately, Spencer stayed cooking for another 10 weeks, but I had already lost my teaching job. Motherhood is an adjustment enough without having to forge an entirely new career, and I was terrified. But we made it work, and, in hindsight, I’m thankful for the push into new territory that brought me to where I am today. When Spencer was almost six months old, he went to daycare while I taught part time at the university. I was hired full time five years ago. Maternity leave went much more smoothly with Stella. I was lucky enough to teach until the day before her birth.
How has your career path shaped how you parent? Do you find any skills from motherhood are helping your job now?
I find myself wanting to make the most of the limited time I have with my family. As parents, we do the best we can. Every moment of childhood can’t be magical, but I put pressure on myself to make magic for my kids. As far as skills, they say patience is a virtue, but there’s nothing that teaches you patience like motherhood. It’s a work in progress, to be sure. Motherhood has also helped me own my flaws and get my ego out of the way. I am big on apologies. If I yell at my kids, I apologize. It happens. No one is perfect, but I feel it’s essential (as a mother and a general human) to own our imperfections.
What’s next for you and Lemon Baby?
I have some really awesome sponsorship opportunities on the horizon, but my next goal is to write a cookbook. It’ll happen as soon as I can find the time (which means there’s an expected release date of 2067, ha!). In all seriousness, a cookbook has always been a dream of mine, but I first need to find the right publisher. I’d love to focus on seasonal entertaining recipes — sort of a beginner’s guide to throwing simple but elegant gatherings. I’m also hosting some upcoming cooking/baking classes, specifically focusing on French macarons. I want to do all the things!
What does a day in your life look like?
Every morning, my husband and I get up around 6am. I make coffee and wake, dress, and feed the children while Grant gets ready for his morning in court. Around 6:45am, I bustle everyone into the car and Grant takes them to school and heads to his office. I finish my coffee and eat breakfast. At the university, our schedules vary from semester to semester, so depending upon my course schedule, I’ll head to campus to get ready for class, teach, and hold office hours. If it’s a recipe development/photo shoot day, I’ll spend a few hours baking or cooking, styling and photographing, and then writing the post and SEO. After teaching, I’ll head to Mighty and put in a few hours writing or editing copy. Around 5:30pm, I’ll start dinner, and Grant will pick up the kids from school and daycare. We eat together as a family, and if it’s a recipe I plan to post, Grant will hold off the kids while I style and photograph a plate before we dig in. After dinner, the kids watch a show while we clean up and have a glass of wine or a cocktail (which I also may photograph for Lemon Baby) and chat about our days. Bedtime for the kids begins at 7:30pm, and we will try to squeeze in a Netflix show (and perhaps a second glass of wine) after they fall asleep. Around 9:30pm or 10pm (if the show we’re watching is compelling enough for us to watch two episodes), we turn in for the night.
When it comes to motherhood, what are you most confident in? What are you still insecure about?
Affection is a big thing for me. It’s essential to me that my children know I love them. I always hug them, sometimes too tight (as they say). We snuggle. I’m confident they are secure in the knowledge that they are deeply and unconditionally loved. I’m still insecure about the thing I imagine all mothers are insecure about — that sometimes the weight of being responsible for such precious beings threatens to crush us, and we worry we just aren’t enough.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with your kids or as a family right now?
Not surprisingly, cooking/baking as a family is a favorite thing to do together. Stella, 3, is super into helping me in the kitchen right now (and extremely vocal and domineering, but in the best way possible), and it’s pretty adorable. I have this precious video of her barking directions at me on how to stuff last year’s Thanksgiving turkey. Spencer loves to bake with me, and he’s quite the little food critic. When we made homemade moon pies together, he declared, “more marshmallow” before deeming them worthy. We grill out often when the weather is nice, and some of my favorite memories are us in our backyard, just laughing, playing tag, or catching lightning bugs.
How do you and your husband divide parenting roles? How has parenthood changed your marriage?
Although I took on most of the new baby duties (because of maternity leave and breastfeeding), now that the kids are 7 and 3, it’s pretty much equal. He takes them to school and most often picks them up. We both take turns getting up in the middle of the night to soothe away the nightmares. I do the lion’s share of the cooking, but he’s our grillmaster.
Children transform a marriage, and there’s no question about that. It’s no longer just about us anymore. We were married for four years before our kids and together for four years before that, so we built a strong enough foundation to withstand the earth-shattering tumult that is procreation. That isn’t to say we don’t have our spats. But there are two beautiful reasons (six, if you include our Border collie and three ducks) to attempt to resolve that spat and move on, instead of letting the momentary resentment fester into something much more insidious.
How do your kids inspire you, in your career or otherwise?
Having children is sending pieces of your heart out in the world. It’s incredibly awe-inspiring, terrifying, frustrating, and wonderful. My children inspire me take risks because I want them to see what it looks like to attain lofty goals. It’s cliché, but we all want the best for our kids. I want them to know that hard is not impossible and that the most rewarding accomplishments are the ones we initially thought unattainable.
If you have to choose just one, what’s been your favorite moment from motherhood so far?
One day when Spencer was about two, I was having a particularly difficult time. I just remember feeling so defeated — like anyone else in the world could be a better mother than me. I was rocking Spence in his chair and singing Baby Mine, my favorite lullaby (from the original Dumbo movie). After the first verse, he cupped my cheek in his hand and started singing the song back to me in his sweet, baby voice. I hadn’t even known he knew the words. We spend a lot of time trying to make our children feel cherished, but that was a moment where the tables were turned. I felt so incredibly loved.
Amanda Gibson is The Everymom…
Best meal in Mobile (if you have to choose!)?
Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka-cured Salmon Toast at Southern National. It’s surprising and elegant, and it’s garnished with this gorgeous, hot pink beet puree that is just fabulous.
Favorite post/recipe on the blog?
Probably my French macarons. Multiple people have sent me pictures of their Raspberry Elderflower macarons, and each one has been absolutely perfect. That’s a major feat for a tricky recipe like macarons, and I love knowing that my recipes work for people. There’s also the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star dessert buffet I did for Stella’s first birthday, which is dear to my heart for obvious sentimental reasons (despite baby Stella’s hysterics).
Best way to end a long day?
Drinking rosé on a front porch with my girlfriends.
Weirdest pregnancy craving?
Mashed potatoes and honey. So weird.
Kids movie you actually really like?
The Hotel Transylvania series. My husband and I both love the comedic duo of Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg.
Sweets. I am absolutely, unequivocally, addicted to sugar. It’s really the only vice I actually feel guilty about. Regularly binge-watching The Great British Baking Show or The Mindy Project is actually a source of pride.
Most embarrassing mom moment?
I don’t embarrass easily, so this is a hard one. About a year or so ago, our daughter was –ahem – stopped up. So I took Spencer to the grocery store to get remedies: prune juice, bananas, prunes, the whole shebang. As the cashier is ringing everything up, Spencer says to her, “Stella can’t poop.” Moms deal with oversharing on the daily, so I just laughed it off, but the cashier was mortified and her mouth just dropped open, which actually made me more embarrassed. Maybe she thought I was Stella? I probably should’ve clarified that one. Whoops.