Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Terrorism - Giving me more yet another reason to avoid the scary skies

Once upon a time I was researching an article I was going to pitch a few magazines on overcoming my fear of flying. I found a few places that had group therapy, a couple of sites with online self-help, and a plethora of books that dealt with the topic. Dealing with my fear of flying was going to open new doors for me; traveling with my children would never be so fun & Disney world would be a hop, skip, and a jump away instead of something only to be accessed by 6 hours of rampant white knuckled terror coupled with the looming shadow over my vacation of the trip BACK.

I'm so happy to report that all of this research is no longer necessary! Thanks to that idiotic terrorist who was too stupid to do anything other than set his pants on fire, I no longer have a reason to conquer my fear of flying. I can live in gleeful surrender and walk the high road to acceptance.

So it is here, on my blog, that I will admit for all the world to see/read:  I HATE FLYING.

I hated flying before it became 'stylish' to hate flying. On one memorable flight in 2006, as I careened my way on a WestJet flight to Toronto for a pitch on a reality show called "Dragons Den", the flight attendants had to drag out the oxygen mask and pitch an unsuspecting sleeping man into the aisle so she could sit beside me and take my pulse. The reason? Turbulence over the great lakes. Bump, bump, bump and I started to scream my ass off, crying, shaking, and hyperventilating.  It was a first for me, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.

I hated flying before 9/11, which gave everyone in the world a damn good reason to hate flying. It seems unreasonable to me that you should be careening in the air at 35,000 feet (most flights I've taken in the not so recent past went up to 40,000, although I have no idea why) in a metal tube the shape of a Jimmy Dean sausage package with 250 other people.  I kid you not; every single time I take my kids in an airplane I feel as though I'm about to send them to their doom.  I sit through the flight, hands wet and heart thumping, trying to keep my phobia from my kids. By the time I get off the plane, my entire body is tense and exhausted, like I've just kicked someone's butt for an hour. Not a fun place to be.

After 9/11, it seemed as though there was real progress made in preserving airplanes from being used as weapons of mass destruction. Security measures, increased safety regulations, the chucking of random Disney snow globes when your daughter wants to bring them on a plane (incidentally, I think Californian airports must have a room for these snow globes, then sell them on eBay to fund their Christmas parties).  All of these measures contribute to safety in the air, right? Really, I'm asking.  Because it's still all bullshit to me. I've always felt that just because they managed to pull it off once, does not mean that they won't try to take down an airplane again. Apparently and unfortunately,  I was correct.

I have a few theories that have allowed me to board planes and maintain my sanity.   
Theory one: Flying in Canada is safer than flying to US destinations.  Why? Well, number one I believe that our airplanes are maintained at a different standard than US planes.  Although I delude myself into believing this, it may or may not be true. I really have no idea, but it's my belief and it gets me on planes so please allow me to maintain the delusion. Unfortunately, I can fly across Canada 10 times and still not get to Disneyworld or the warm shores of California, so although I may feel it is safer, the strong desire NOT to fly within Canada negates my desire to be SAFE on airplanes.
Theory two: Certain US airlines are safer than others. Once again, probably complete BS, but I do have a few favorites and one very strong and intense dislike for American airlines. They threw my daughter's stuffed kitty into the garbage, deluding me into thinking that Dallas/Fort Worth had an American Airlines 'lost and found' department. Lost and found in the garbage can more like.
Theory three: Short flights are safer than long flights, as there is less time for something bad to happen. Really, I make myself laugh at this one, but as I've said before, it's my delusion and I'm sticking with it. It's just as simple for a nut job to take his homemade thigh bomb and try to set himself  on fire in the window seat during a 2 hour flight as it is for him to do it during a 5 hour flight. Short flights just allow me to suffer for less time. This is the reason I have visited Disneyland 3 times over the past 3 years and not ventured to sunny Florida (Does it look like I only vacation at Disney? It's true, much to the disgust of my husband)

As you can see, my theories are really just a way to convince my irrational mind to allow me to board the plane. Once I'm strapped in and taking off, the real fun starts. Thankfully though, I no longer have a reason to strap myself in anywhere! I'm free, because unless they (the Government) take their heads out of their butts and actually fix the problem (or we all fly naked and without baggage), I will never fly again. And I am NOT alone in this, which is also wonderful and makes me feel cozy in a fearful, clammy sort of way.

It's only a 3 day drive to Florida from here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Freelancing 101: How I stay at home and still bring in a significant income

I simply cannot find my Christmas spirit, and I was going to write about that today but am feeling BLAH about the loss of my festive mood so much so that I don't even feel the need to write about it! How about that?

I've been asked a number of times how I make an income working from home. Believe me when I say this; I spent years trying to figure out how to make money while still taking care of my kids full time. Years. I just never thought it was possible. I have researched every single thing out there, and watched as others sold Goji juice or other direct marketing things.

In 2003, I started a web site called Kidswap.ca . I had just had my second baby, and Kidswap was my way of making money and staying home with them. I did make money for awhile, and it was a very popular web site. Unfortunately I hired a company who took me to the cleaners while they provided an entirely new web site that actually never materialized, and that was the end of Kidswap. I hope to bring it back to life some day soon, because it was a great resource.  But I digress, as we are talking about freelancing.

I spent some of my time promoting Kidswap through press releases I wrote.  I always had great success with the releases locally, and gained a lot of press for myself, so I thought I might be able to do that for other people. In 2008, I found a web site called Odesk. I signed up, not really thinking that I would find something for myself on there.  I bid on a few jobs and didn't have any success.  I was asking for $9 per hour, which is really low, but I thought if I could get some feedback I would have a chance to start working.

My first job was as an editor for a video about gas consumption. I did the video for the client, then edited his eBook for him. As I was working for him, I found another job writing short articles for a company in Australia. When they asked me to bid on that job, I panicked! I really thought that my writing skills weren't up to par with the other providers, and worried I'd get horrible feedback.

I did my first assignment for the client, and felt sick when I sent it off. She came back to me practically glowing about my writing, and hired me for a long term project right away.

I worked for her for 6 months, and as time went on I picked up small jobs here and there. I'd write press releases for random people, do web copy, book descriptions, even edited and rewrote an advanced Masters level Psychology paper. I think I knew more about it than she did!

As I progressed on Odesk and my 5 star feedback grew, I also upped my rate. I think the key to freelancing is starting off low and then slowly increasing your rate when your feedback goes up. I went from $9 per hour to $11, then $15, then $19. I'm now at $27, and I'm quite happy there. For me, that is a realistic amount of money for certain writing.

As my feedback went up, I stopped getting invitations for certain jobs (like video editing) and was asked to do jobs for bigger companies. I have a regular client who I tweet and blog for, as well as another who I blog for, and three more who I regularly write articles for.  Generally I've made over $1000 per month for the past few months, and really, that is nothing to sneeze at. It's not full time, and although I work weekends and evenings, for me it is simply the best job I could have.

I do have a work in progress, like many of the other writers on Twitter, and I try to get to it as much as I can. Some weeks it's all I can do to write 500 words of fiction before I head back to writing about drums, cymbals, or the environment. 

My experience has only been on Odesk, although I get updates from sites like Elance and they look appealing as well. I've never had a bad experience on Odesk, although I have had a few on Craigslist. The two jobs I took for paying gigs on Craigslist have resulted in a byline in a local magazine, but no pay and 3 press releases that a lady HOUNDED me for and never paid me. She likes to use the illusion of "Oh, I sent you an email months ago". I have written it off as a bad experience, and just blocked her from my email.

Juggling the children while working is difficult. I tend to try to do work in the mornings after I drop them off at school, then forget about it until evening when I try to work again. I've worked until 1 am if I can manage to stay up that late, and I've worked straight through my last pregnancy and right after delivery. If I can manage to come home 15 hours after giving birth and empty the dishwasher, I can write an article or two. And I did.  I actually think freelancing would be more difficult for someone with one little baby or toddler at home, because of the constant attention they require. My kids play together, and at 8,6, and 4, they are all fairly self-sufficient and understand if I have to work. The baby, at almost 6 months, is another story, but I try to squeeze stuff in between naps and I drink ALOT of coffee (preferably StarBucks but mostly Tim Hortons b/c it has a kick to it like a shot of speed).

I get stressed, a lot, but this is what is best for my family. I find I envy those whose kids take the bus to school or have full time house keepers. My WIP would be finished I think, if I had any time at all.  Did I mention my husband frequently travels for work and often works evenings and weekend? Oh yes, it's basically just me on duty over here.

I hope this helps those of you who asked how you can really work at home, because it really works for me.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I need head shots and stuff

Head shots? Really? Someone told me today that I should get them, make me look more authentic! I know a few great photographers, but really, I hate having my picture taken.

On page 51 of my work in progress. Word count 11,000. Crazy, crazy. I have a very clear picture of how it should all go, straight to the end, but do you think I can make myself keep writing it? I almost feel as though if I finish it, I will find that the entire idea sucked and what was the point in spending so much time? Really, quite negative thinking on my part, but it's been a tough few years here.  My sunbeam needs a new battery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

You must see it, to believe it.

Sorry for the delay. Get caught up in other things.  My WIP progress count is at 10,700 and I'm still going, although it's more difficult on weekends when everyone is attacking me. Onto the rest of the saga known as the NorthPoleBC.

It was dark when we walked down the path to Mrs.Claus' house.  A string of laundry waved in the breeze, the pants from an obviously robust man.  Once you walk in, Mrs.Claus sits at the front of the room, welcoming you in. Suddenly, the cabin feels tiny, almost clausterphobic. You are about to find out why.

Mrs.Claus begins with asking how we are all doing, then showing us around her house.  She carries a red broom that looks like it's seen better days, and shows us her cherry pie that she just baked (it was glass) and on the wall a photo of her 'beloved.'  It actually sounded a bit dirty the way she said it, but I wouldn't find out how dirty until later when Santa referenced her 'baking him a delicious cherry pie' and both kids couldn't understand why because they knew it was glass. Really, you had to be there.

First impressions? Mrs.Claus' egg nog was spiked and she was a master 'thespian' of epic proportions.  We think she spent some time learning her craft while living with the Claus' for awhile at the North Pole (aka: The Betty Ford Clinic).

After reading a story that had not much to do with Christmas, I thought we were on our way out of there. But no. Alas, it was time to pull out the flute for a bit of a sing along. Now anyone who knows me understands that I am not a singer, I do not like to even sing along to Happy Birthday, and I will certainly never start a round of it. I can be found humming Christmas carols or mouthing the words to Happy Birthday. Does this make me a bad mother? Really, I'm seriously asking. Someone tell me.

At any rate, we sat through a lively rendition of "If you are happy and you know it." Not feeling very festive, I began to video tape on my cell phone for posterity and then tweeted the experience. FYI: Excellent cell phone reception at the NorthPole.  The experience was only made better when my son expressed his 'happiness' but 'spinning around' one too many times and ended up bailing into the bags of flour. Video can be seen here: Nate bails in Mrs.Claus' house.

After another story & a rendition of "Let it Shine" we were finally on our way (allowed to escape). We made our way back to the main hall, where we had a nice snack and sat by the fire. Very cozy.

Our visit to Santa was announced by an Elf helper who took us down the windy path to Santa's house. This was the best part of the whole trip. Really, really beautiful on the path there, and Santa was quite the guy.  He made a point of speaking to each of the kids (even the one who had his head buried in his dad's leg), and tried to talk to them a bit about what they liked & didn't like. He then sort of lectured them about being nice to each other and not fighting. I think Santa is psychic. He must have seen the bloodshed in the van on the way up to the Pole.

After our visit, he handed each kid a pack of cookies and said "Santa has to inform you that these cookies were made by Elves in a factory that has peanuts." Go Santa! I thanked him, because I have many friends with kids who have peanut allergies. Also, this is a good time to plug the peanut awareness bracelets that Protect Your Peanut is selling.  But I digress.

Cookies in hand, kids were thrilled to be able to look around for a bit, and we were treated to a quick, musical light display set up by the Elves. It was very nice.

My overall opinion? The NorthPoleBC is a great place to take the family. I really liked it. It was a bit on the expensive side, but you do get the 'experience' of it all. It needs some tweaking, because it's more difficult to fool kids who have been to Disney as many times as mine have (more than 5 times and the oldest is 8). It would be much better if there had been snow, as there seems to be right now, so go and make your reservation if you can.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yes, Virigina, there is a Santa Claus and he's closer than you think

We didn't plan on dropping on on the North Pole the other night, but due to a long month of work, work, work for Dad and a 5 day trip where I was climbing the walls, we all needed a little family time.

Checking the Northpolebc.ca web site, we saw some vacancies for that afternoon at 4:30 pm.  We decided to jump on it, because we're just such spur of the moment people here. *Having 4 kids means that is complete sarcasm*

We sent in our payment through Paypal (which I LOVE) and were on our way by 3:00 pm. 

Arriving at our destination (White Pine Beach in upper POCO), the kids practically jumped out of the car.  We were sitting in a small, unpaved parking lot right across the street from where we've taken the kids swimming in the summer.  It wasn't quite 4:30 yet, so they went across the street to see the lake while I sat in the heated car with baby.  It was chilly! Not Saskatchewan/Alberta chilly, but more than my frail, acclimatized body was used to. We had winter jackets and boots on, and we were still cold.

4:30 rolled around and no bus showed up. We waited, then waited some more. There was one other family waiting as well, and we were all starting to get a bit antsy.  It was getting darker and darker, and although I could see some beautiful stars that normally I can't see when we're in the city, I was getting a little irritated that we were standing in the cold with our kids (who were bouncing around freaking out about the north pole).

After a phone call asking WTH the bus was, it finally showed up.  Apparently their new web site allowed us to squeak in under the cut off time, and we were able to book same day which we shouldn't have.  No worries, we were on the bus in no time and on our way.

We arrived at the North Pole in less than 10 minutes.  I have a few suggestions for the bus trip there, because the flood of questions I had to answer about space and proximity on our way home gave me a headache:
  • Put a set of flashing lights/switches/buttons on your bus: It was a school bus, so obviously a school bus is not going to be kitted out with enough switches to turn it into the Magical School bus.  A fake control panel above the elf's head would go miles to eliminating the questions like "How do we get to the North Pole so fast?" Make it pretty, with lit up buttons and then make a huge show of it when you are on your way. 
  • Create a script or have someone create on for you: 
    • Such as "Welcome to the North Pole special transport system.  I am your host, Cracky the Elf, and I am here to take you through the space time continum so we can get to the North Pole in the blink of an eye.  Watch for shooting stars out your window, because then you will know when we are approaching the portal to the dimension known as the North Pole."  
    •  As they approach the hill leading down to the North Pole itself, slam on the brakes a few times, jostling your passengers, and make a big show of switching on buttons. Hit the turbo button and slam on the gas pedal, then slow down.  "You have no passed through time to the North Pole. That trip would have taken 23 hours by plane, but we did it in under 10 minutes."  
    • After you exit the vehicle at the North Pole and the other elves take over: "Thank you for flying North Pole Air."  See, simple scripting that will eliminate the need for endless questions after said experience.
 We arrived at the North Pole, and walked out of the bus into a series of cabins (for the non-magical at heart, the North Pole is based at a children's camp).  In the dark, even without snow, it's very pretty there.  Christmas decorations abound, and we are led into the main lodge where there are two, large elves waiting for us. *NOTE* All elves should have pointy ears, as my 6 year old son scoffed. Otherwise, they aren't real elves but humans pretending they are elves.

A beautiful Christmas tree is the centerpiece, you can sit by the fire or go outside on the deck and roast marshmallows, or grab a hot chocolate and watch your kids color at the tables.  It's very cozy, and if it was snowing it would have been absolutely perfect.

The first stop on our tour was the craft cabin.  The kids were led in creating a gingerbread craft that they really enjoyed.  The elves told stories of their education, which was funny. 

Second stop down the dark path: The toy factory.  Much to my shock, the kids were allowed to stuff a toy and keep it.  Most places only allow you to make paper crafts, etc. This got a huge thumbs up in my book, as they all left with a souvenir of the north pole that they can cuddle.

After a walk down a very dark path, past the lake with a huge iceburg and polar bears (not kidding, very nice) we ended up at the Post Office.  Here the kids were to deliver their letters to Santa (which we didn't have with us) and Santa would write back.  I'm sure they will be waiting at the mailbox for his reply.

Each of the little huts is decorated for Christmas, and there are twinkly lights everywhere.  It's very pretty.

Down the path a bit farther and we get to Mrs.Claus' house.  This part of my story requires video and photos, because it's just not to be believed.  I will be back to post more soon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Yes, I did visit the North Pole (at northpolebc.ca that is)

I am so tired. I have been writing freelance articles every chance I could get today, and I'm still 4 days behind. I am hoping that I can update the blog tonight, but my eyes are closing and everything is going a little wobbly.

I will be back tomorrow to write about the Northpolebc.ca.

It was fun, and I have some interesting video of the experience.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And there is nothing like a birthday party to make me feeling like barfing

Oh my, I have hosted, cleaned up after, and eaten my way through my 2nd birthday party this month.  It serves me right for only procreating during two basic times per year, because I have 2 kids with birthdays in June and 2 within 3 weeks of each other in Nov/Dec.  This, of course, makes you wonder what I was up to at the end of September and around Valentines Day. Clearly my eggs only dropped twice a year.  I am nothing if not predictable.

Today's festive event was held at the sanitarium called "Captain Kids." Complete with a butt burning molten lava slide (I kid you not, my child used his sweater after the first attempt and has what I can only call 'rug burn' on his rear), this place was a true mecca for germs and sweaty fun.  Party started at noon and by 3:00 pm my children were begging to go home.

To survive I ate the delicious cake I baked, complete with 4 different colors of icing in "Wiggles" colors and paced.  I also dished out a hefty dose of GermX everytime anyone came near me or the baby.

My 4 year old had a great time for the most part, but he really just wanted to be at home playing with his toys.  This is the first true taste of personality that I've seen from him. I predict a homebody in this one.

Just a personal side here: I'd like to say something about my little Wiggly J before I let the thought go. I was upset when I became pregnant with him, because it was unplanned and life was so stressful to begin with.  As time went on, I became more used to the idea, but when they handed me that baby on December 1st four years ago, I was just as surprised as if I was told I was pregnant that day. Here I had a perfect little baby that I hadn't asked for, and I could have flipped out over how lucky I felt at that moment. My little Wiggle has been a gem straight through the past four years, and although he's at that age where he's always right and I am always wrong, I wouldn't change a hair on his head.  He has expressive eye brows, a big vocabulary (that's not really appropriate mom), and a way of naming colors after his favorite music (I'll take a blue Anthony crayon) that is just beyond amazing. I was lucky then, I'm lucky now. Enough said.

I completed 1000 words today.  I was just inspired, sat down, and finished Chapter 3.  I could have done some freelance work, which I am going to do now, but instead I wrote for fun.  After today, it was a great relief. I loved it.  This is the first time ever, ever, ever that I've had a person in me shouting to get their story told. I write about her as though she is trapped inside of me trying to get out, and its just  a thrill to get it on paper.  Not to say that the first draft isn't going to be complete crap, but it's so fun to see it out there.

Good night!