Friday, April 29, 2011

My first guest blog - Self-Publishing 101

(Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for inviting me to post on your blog!!)

For those who don't know her yet, Elizabeth Petrillo Marcellin is another fantastic author. I will be reviewing her book, Element Keepers, here when I get the time - and it is highly recommended!

We began discussing self-publishing about a month ago, and she mentioned I should write an article helping newbies to the game... So I did! You can view my post on Elizabeth's website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

G is for Goddess, Gratitude and Elbow Grease

Several years ago, on the evening of a full moon and the summer solstice, I was hit with a sudden and burning need to proclaim my devotion to the Goddess. Standing barefoot in the moonlit night, surrounded by comfrey and ripe blackberries, I announced to the universe my promise: To pledge my life, and that of my daughters, in service to the Goddess.

Little did I know what that would mean...

Now, as a little background, I am not a religious person. Spiritual in an all-encompassing, earthy kind of way, sure - but not tied to (or particularly involved in) any one path. But for some reason, that evening, I was Called. Please feel free to substitute "God", "Energy", "Aliens", or whatever word works best for you in place of Goddess - that is just the aspect of the divine that rings truest for me!

Since that promise, I have experienced both the worst and the best life has to offer. I have been literally broken, physically and emotionally - and I have learned to heal, truly and wholly, and to love and be loved. I have discovered that the greatest of life's challenges also offer the greatest gifts - although we have to work to unwrap them, and they often need aging and the right catalyst to ripen. I have also realized what it means to "serve the Goddess" - and that it is not just a verbal promise, but a commitment to work my arse off!

Rather than saying devotionals and prayers or taking a vow of celibacy (which I did do for a time), the way I can best serve and celebrate the Goddess is by embracing my own power, beauty and wisdom - by becoming as true an embodiment of divinity as I am capable of and realizing my full potential. My girls will grow up learning to do the same, and I will do my best to help every woman I befriend discover her own divinity.

Goddess, I am incredibly grateful to you for the gifts I have been given - not least of all my husband, who is the light of my life and the sun to my moon, and my children, who are are the most precious of jewels and the shining stars in my sky. Thank you for always giving us enough, and for providing me with the raw materials to make something incredible. Thank you for the strength, beauty, compassion and wisdom you have given to me - and for showing me how to find it in every person and situation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

F is for Focus

We've been having parenting challenges with a couple of our little ones lately, primarily revolving around a lack of ability to focus and pay attention. They can be told something - instructions, a rule, or what have you - and moments later it is as if they never heard it. As you can imagine, this is rather frustrating. Admittedly, they come by it honestly... I was diagnosed with both ADD and "absent seizures" as an adolescent, and these two definitely share those tendencies!

However, I am of the opinion that behavior is learned. While they may have tendencies toward spaciness and forgetfulness, they can (and will) learn ways to deal with it - as I continue to do even today. Staying on top of things is a constant struggle for me, and I see that reflected in my girls' behavior. It's not out of any sense of laziness or malice, just a simple "Oops; I forgot!" ... But it does have real-world consequences, some of them pretty serious. As an adult, if they "forget" that they have work on a certain day, for example, that could very well be the end of their job - setting in motion a whole crazy CHAIN of consequences!

I am finding that there is no easy answer to teaching my children how to pay attention, focus and think through their actions. It is a constant process of learning (or teaching, depending on where you stand), and is different for every person. An excellent article I came across that offers some practical and effective suggestions for teaching children to focus is titled (prepare to be shocked) "Helping Children Learn to Pay Attention", by Jane M. Healy.

Many of the suggestions Dr. Healy offers are things we already do in our household. Many others are things I understand and support, and just haven't had the time to put into practice! Family martial arts and yoga have been on my "must-do" list for a long time now, for example. *laughing*

I have to wonder... Would so many kids (and grownups) have "ADD" and other focus difficulties if we didn't spend so much time indoors and plugged in?? I highly doubt it. Someday, we'll move out to the country and test that theory.  :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for eBook

I don't think Jeffrey and I initially had any comprehension of how MUCH is actually involved in self-publishing and marketing your own book. It's waaaaaay more than just writing a good book and uploading the file somewhere - you have to find an editor, format it correctly (and differently for print vs. ebook), design the cover, build a website, blog, network, market, solicit reviews, design trailer videos, learn new software, panic when your computer crashes, check stats every 5 minutes, lather rinse and repeat ad nauseum... It's pretty crazy stuff!!

I'll save the gory details of most of it for another post, but here are the basics of what I've learned regarding the easy way of actually creating (and self-publishing) an ebook:

1) All eBook publishers are not equal. Most of them require completely different formatting; if you are techy or willing to take the time to learn, this is a little bit of a hassle but not the end of the world. If your tech knowledge is limited to Microsoft Office and the internet, you are best sticking to Smashwords for publishing your eBook! They will take your (properly formatted) MS Word document and run it through their "Meatgrinder", converting it to the various alternative formats - and then sending your book to multiple distribution channels! Voila. You are now selling your book at Amazon, Sony, Apple, and more - with a minimum of frustration.

2) Start your book with NO FORMATTING. None. All those lovely paragraphs you created using the tab key in Word? BAD. Consult the wonderful and free "Smashwords Style Guide" for more details.

3) Find an editor. It's easy to think you can skip this one, but trust me - no matter how wonderful your writing is, you need an editor. Check your friends & family list first to see who might qualify as a free or low-cost option; offer to bribe them with autographed copies, chocolate, booze, babysitting - whatever it takes!

4) Get your marketing started well before you actually publish your book! Create accounts on social media networks, especially Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Shelfari. Spend time there. Get to know people. Engage in useful conversation - don't just promote your book, that comes across as spammy and is a definite turnoff.

5) Publish your book to Smashwords. The process takes awhile - typically a couple of weeks to be accepted into their "Premium" category, longer if you need to fix formatting errors. Tagging your book and creating an appropriately enticing description and author bio are important, as is placing your book into the relevant categories! Give these items some thought. Also consider pricing - while some authors charge the same price as paperback novels, a majority are pricing their books at $2.99 or even $.99. There are divided schools of thought on eBook pricing; go with your gut - and check out J.A. Konrath's blog on the subject.

6) Send advance copies to reviewers! If you search the web for "indie book review", you will find a number of reviewers happy to accept your book for review. Keep in mind that not all reviews will be positive; be prepared to accept whatever they dish out with grace and good humor.

7) Announce the release of your book!! Tell friends, family, co-workers, neighbors; create and send out a quick press release to your local paper and related publications (such as Parenting Magazine for a book on "Dealing With Your Demon Child", for example); make sure a link to purchase your book (or to the book's website) is in every electronic correspondence you send out... Be the book.

8) Be grateful for the sales and reviews you get, and don't expect to quit your day job any time soon! A new self-published author typically only gets a handful of sales in the first couple months; sales increase with oodles of marketing, additional books, and sheer dumb luck.

Self-publishing is definitely a labor of love! Whether you want to make a living off writing or are just excited about the thought of seeing your book in print (albeit electronically), the world has definitely changed for writers - and the possibilities are limitless, if you are willing to put in the time and effort. But most importantly? Have fun!! Life's a game, not a race to the finish.

D is for Doomsday

Sorry, I couldn't resist.  LOL  With everything crazy going on in the world, it seemed an obvious choice! Let's see if I can throw a little science into the mix...

Alright. So, it's 2011. Which means next year is 2012. Is the world as we know it going to end??

Short answer: Highly doubtful, but who the heck knows?!

Natural disasters, political craziness, economic collapse, nuclear threats, sunspots, 2012... The list goes on. Regardless of validity, "Armageddon" is a prominent thought in our global consciousness right now. But hasn't it been "The End Of The World" time and time again? Every generation has its doomsday fears; is now any different?

Humans tend to think we know an awful lot, what with all our research and science and data and all that... but the truth of the matter is, we've been living on this planet a comparatively short time. The earth is not a static ball of rock that we live on and have mastery over; it is a dynamic, living, constantly changing being of its own - and we happen to be one of the tiny creatures living on its surface! When natural disasters like the recent Japan earthquake happen, we all seem to go a little bit crazy asking ourselves, What could we have done to predict or prevent this from happening?

... And the answer to THAT question is: Probably not a darned thing. There are some warning signs out there when the earth gets unsettled, but whether anything monumental will happen (or not) is really anyone's guess.

Right now, for example, we seem to be in a period of extremely heightened seismic activity. There are largish earthquakes happening ALL OVER the globe on a daily basis. Magnitute 6+ earthquakes don't even make it beyond local news. To add to that, we are entering solar cycle 24 - which is predicted to be the largest in well over 100 years. Solar activity has been correlated with increased seismic activity. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? For those curious souls out there, here are a few hard science links that may be of interest. Unless you prefer the "ignorance is bliss" mindset - which is not always such a bad way to go.  ;)

Seismic monitoring stations:

Yellowstone Seismic Maps
Pacific NW Seismic Network
USGS Earthquakes
New Madrid

Solar activity:

SolarIMG (photos and graphs of solar activity and more)
Solar Terrestrial Activity Report
NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

... What do you think?? I would love to know your opinion!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

C is for Contraception


Okay. If that and the word "Contraception" didn't scare you away, then off we go!! LOL

A little background: I have been using an IUD (or intrauterine device) for contraception since my youngest was born, 5 years ago. Conveniently, the lifespan of said device is 5 years. So, it was time for me to either get the thing replaced or find an alternate method of birth control. With 4 children already between the two of us, Jeffrey and I would definitely prefer not to have another baby!

For a variety of reasons (which I am happy to discuss in detail if anyone wants to know), I elected not to get the Mirena replaced. After taking it out myself about two weeks ago, I am certain I made the right decision. However, I have previously used about every birth control method known to man - and have very poor tolerance to any of them. My body just doesn't like outside intervention or hormonal interference. ;) So, the most appealing method to me came up as Natural Family Planning!

This method of contraception has gotten a seriously bad rep over the years, but it goes beyond simply 'being careful' - today's NFP includes checking your BBT (basal body temperature), cervical position and mucus, and other symptoms - actually being aware of and charting your own body's cycles and rhythms using scientific indicators for ovulation and fertility. If done correctly and cautiously, it has about a 99.5% efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy - which is on par with an IUD or even tubal ligation. It is also pretty darn helpful if you are trying to GET pregnant!

Okay, I get paying attention to when you ovulate - but not all women know when they ovulate. How do you tell? Well, beyond the ovarian pain, general crankiness (or horniness), and other obvious symptoms, your body goes through some measurable changes. One of those is a slight temperature spike during and for a few days after ovulation, and the other is a change in cervical mucus and position(thus the "eew factor" lol). Becoming familiar with how to track these signs is a challenge of its own!

Fortunately, there are tools and resources to make it easier, such as:

So, now the challenge for me is to re-learn my body's symptoms and cycles. Having been without a period for almost 5 years, dealing with PMS and ovulation and menstruation is a bit strange! Being able to track my own fertility and prevent pregnancy? Priceless. I'm also planning on teaching my daughters (one of whom already menstruates) this knowledge - that they may grow up more aware of their bodies (and the repercussions of their actions) than I did! :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for.... BENTO!!

... We watch anime at our house. A LOT of anime. Not the whole "fighting robots" or Pokemon stuff; generally unique, interesting, fun and well-thought-out shows that just happen to be animated! Well... okay, some of it's a little weird - like the zombie living with a necromancer and a vampire ninja and a weird magical girl who carries a pink chainsaw and... you get the point. ;)

One of the common themes in many of the anime shows we watch is a thing called "Bento". Bento is apparently what everyone in Japan eats for lunch. Unless they're eating Yakisoba sandwiches, of course (which are actually weird but quite good). Bento can be any of a number of things, ranging from simple finger foods (think Lunchables) to crazy Hello Kitty shaped rice balls (called "onigiri") with cheese and fruit cutout shapes. Seriously. Do a Google image search for "Bento" and see what comes up!

I have no idea how they create half the stuff they do - but I want to learn!! After digging for a bit, I've discovered shaped rice molds and cutout punches for seaweed (to make faces and such), a myriad of different bento boxes (which are really freaking cool) and TONS of other accessories. No more boring lunches for my kids! LOL

Admittedly, I'm a bit concerned about the amount of time it could possibly take to put something like this together:

... But doesn't that make lunch seem a little more entertaining?? And besides, if I'm going to take up a hobby, why not make it something sort of useful?! Now, if only I could find a nanny and housekeeper willing to work in exchange for room and Bento... :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Adventure!!

Alright. I thought about making out lists of what I should write for each day of the A to Z blog challenge; "A" was going to be either Andrographis or Astragalus - both of which are very useful herbs!

... But that seemed kind of dull.

So, I started thinking: "What do I NOT know that I would like to learn more about?" And that, my friends, is what I'm going to focus the coming month on.

Too many people get stuck in nice comfy ruts, sticking to what they know or deem safe - and I've never lived my life that way. Life is an adventure, and it's meant to be LIVED! Devoured, savored, attacked, rejoiced in. There is so much to do and learn and share; join me in this wonderful adventure as I seek to expand my horizons this month!

See you tomorrow. :)

A to Z Blog Challenge for April

... Just wanted to let y'all know that I finally gave in - I will be participating in the 2011 A to Z Blog Challenge. That means I get to write 1 article every day for the WHOLE MONTH!! ... Which, considering I post an average of a blog per month or so, is indeed a challenge for me!

If you'd like to join me, please visit and sign up on their list.

Happy Blogging!