My Guilty Pleasure Revealed

Life is stressful. If you’re me, you’ve got a kid, you’ve got a business, you’ve got appointments, and you’ve got to deal with people on a regular basis. It is critical that you take time to unwind. Take time for yourself. Get your head out of the real world. At least that’s what I have to do to get through each week.

Allow me to admit my guilty pleasure. Brace yourselves! I watch TV series in marathon sessions, thanks to instant video streaming. That’s right. I’m a Netflix junkie. And Amazon.com. And whatever else works.

I’ve watched Breaking Bad in a shockingly short period of time, Dexter, Melissa & Joey, and Star Trek. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, all the seasons, more than once. More than twice. Okay, okay. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched it. But living in these fantasy worlds, day in and day out, gives me something to do on a regular basis that has nothing to do with my life. It’s a relief, even when the subject matter is a bit…extreme.

Clearly I don’t work and watch my shows at the same time. That would obviously defeat the purpose. But I will break out my crochet hooks or knitting needles, and even sometimes my exercise bike, and settle down for mindless entertainment. And with Smartphone technology I can even take my shows with me wherever I go. Not necessarily a good thing, but if I’m waiting for my daughter to get out of a homeschool class that’s too short for me to get actual work done, I have something to pass the time.

I’m sure we all have our guilty pleasures. What’s yours?

Homeschooling with Minecraft

I’ve been homeschooling my daughter for the past two years now, and it’s definitely been an adventure and a learning experience…for both of us. She’s now eight years old, and she’s got a strong sense of self. A stubborn streak that’s pretty awesome. So you may imagine that it’s pretty difficult to “teach” her things unless she’s self-motivated. Lucky for her, I appreciate and accept her personality and learning style, so “unschooling” is the method we use.

Minecraft is a game that my daughter has taken a huge liking to. And I was quite surprised to find out that it became a bridge for learning. In case you don’t know much about the game, I’ll give a brief overview. In Minecraft you can do what you want. There aren’t goals you have to meet, no “bosses” you have to beat, etc. It’s open ended.

The main things you can do in Minecraft are mine ores (coal, iron, gold, diamonds, etc.) and craft items and buildings. You can play alone or on a server with others. We are part of a homeschool server where parents monitor their children’s behavior. You can set it so there are monsters (zombies, spiders, skeletons) to fight, or not. You explore the game’s “world,” with various biomes (jungles, oceans, mountains, deserts), you find resources (wood, stone), food (cows, pigs, mushrooms), and you “live” or build or dig. It’s up to you.

So what’s this got to do with homeschooling? My daughter got really interested in iron and the things it makes in real life. She wants to know about diamonds, rubies, and other items from inside the Earth. She’s building things in the game and thinking about how to build them in real life. She’s reading the words on the screen and chats with friends on the server. And there’s math involved, resource management, electricity, and more!

She also watches YouTube videos (that I approve) where others are playing the game, so she learns how to do other cool things in the game and is privy to their knowledge base as well. For Christmas I bought her some papercraft Minecraft thingees, where she is building items from the game and working on dexterity, puzzling, putting things together, and creative play. The learning possibilities are endless. At some point she’ll realize she can buy things from other players on the server, so even money will be involved, as well as cooperation.

Before you get too concerned about this virtual reality and her socialization, rest assured that in real life she plays with other kids and talks to many adults. Sometimes she teaches them about Minecraft, other times she finds other Minecraft players just because she walks up to people and talks to them about her interest in the game. Like me, my daughter’s an extrovert, so I find that I have to reign her in more so than try to make her be social. When we get some time, there’s also a weekly group that meets at a local library where the kids bring their laptops and play, either alone or on a server. There are lots of ways to include real life socializing.

Minecraft has been a welcome addition to our homeschooling lives, and I’m excited to see her interested in science, architecture, and computers in general.

Have you played Minecraft? What about your kids? Have you noticed their learning from the gameplay?

Just Keep Writing

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One of the hard lessons I’m learning about blogging over the years is that you really need to just keep writing. I actually have a lot to say…blogger’s block isn’t something I suffer from. But I’m never quite sure if what I have to say is what my readers want to read. And so I haven’t written in a long, long time.

The possible result? I lost ALL of my PageRank. Just last month I had a PR4, but this month it’s dropped to PR0.  I’m not one to really watch my PR, and I don’t like allowing any one entity to, in effect, “own” the blogosphere. But I have to admit that I’m a little unthrilled at losing my PR.

I’ve heard all about Google dinging sites for having sponsored posts (I have several, but I thought my disclosure policy was pretty clear), and I’ve heard that it’s not a bad idea to keep adding fresh content.

So, here I go adding fresh content. And I’ve made all my comments no-follow. Maybe that’ll start to make a difference. Or maybe there’s a glitch in the matrix and I’ll get my PR back just because. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll take Dory’s advice and just keep writing.

Have you ever lost PageRank? What did you do to fix it?

Homeschooling 101

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Homeschooling while working from home is definitely not for the faint of heart. I mentioned in another post that this year will be an experiment, so we’re trying out different things to see what works.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my daughter has an affinity and a love for science, which isn’t surprising considering I have degree in biology. But what is surprising is her interest in geography and social studies. I borderline hated those two subjects in school.

We’ve explored China and Asia in general, she’s taken a Mandarin Chinese class or two, we take “trips” on the map and globe, and things of that sort. She’s also very good at art, so the shapes of countries and details of things like cars are something she notices a great deal.

Math and reading aren’t high on her list of fun things, though. When I was a child, reading and writing were like breathing to me, and math was pretty fun too. I’m not too worried, since I firmly believe in child-led learning (and a love of science and social studies will be enhanced by reading, as she’ll figure out soon enough). But during this experimental stage, I’m open to different ideas.

I’ve been hearing about several online programs for homeschoolers, and I decided to do some exploring. I read reviews and looked at sites, and I made contact with some.

This year (and every year) will be full of learning for both me and my daughter. There’s a lot of knowledge to be acquired, and no one will ever know it all. Life is just one big adventure full of things to learn, and the best way to learn is to live!

Make your own marketing materials

Having a successful business means successful marketing, as we all know. Along with cold calling, cold emailing, and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s just as important to have professional materials that you can physically hand someone. Lately, while out and about doing day-to-day errands, I make it a point to talk about what I do. What always follows is a request for my business card. I love my business cards, but I know I also need something more.

When I contact new prospects, I need to be ready to send them a brochure as well. Sure, my website is a brochure of sorts, but everyone has a website these days. Anyone can make a cold call or send an email. But a freelancer who uses a variety of marketing materials, both online and on paper, will stand out in the crowd.

Luckily, there are lots of options for getting printed materials for your business. You can hire a graphic designer and then hire a printer, you can try printing things from your own home, or you can use an online document producing and printing company.

You can create your own documents right on their site. Making your product is simple, and you can type text, add pictures, and move things around quite easily. You can also upload a finished project or use one of their templates. When you’re planning a major marketing campaign, details are important. You can get an idea of the paper types by ordering the samples ahead of time. I like to know the weight, the texture, and how light affects the paper when I have a serious project.

As a freelance writer, I sometimes run across clients who need printed materials as well. A reasonably-priced printing service is a great complement to my business. Besides brochures, you can try magnets, calendars, catalogs, window clings, envelopes, and a whole host of other marketing materials. And yes…even business cards.

Have you ever used an online printing company?

Don’t be shy!

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Okay, you’re self-employed. You have a wonderful freelance business. Maybe you’re a photographer, a graphic designer, a website designer, or a copywriter. Maybe you bake cakes, make jewelry, or fix cars. Whatever your business, there’s almost no way you can get customers if you don’t tell people you’re open for business. In other words, you have to market yourself.

But it’s more than just marketing. Sure, you can put an ad on LinkedIn, make prospecting calls, or send out postcards. But you also need to really tell people about your business.

Be a squeaky wheel. Talk to random strangers, tell your friends (and maybe your enemies), boast to your doctor/dentist/priest. If you have children or you’ve been around someone who does, you know how he always bring the conversation around to how great his kid is. Well this is what you need to do with your business. Everyone should know about it, just like everyone knows that Ms. Jones’ three-year-old can tie her own shoes.

I haven’t been great about shouting from the mountaintops about Theda K. Communications. But like the start of the fall season, I am turning over a new leaf. Fair warning to the next person who finds himself in line behind me at the grocery store.

Have you told everyone that you own a business? What are you waiting for?

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

Time for a change – What’s next?

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For the past seven years, ever since my daughter was an infant, I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona. I can’t say that it was “home,” but I lived there for a chunk of time. I’d actually moved to Tucson from Atlanta, Georgia. Tucson made more sense at that time, when I was a new mother and I wanted to stay at home with my daughter.

Thank goodness Georgia didn’t mind me too much. Crayon Writer’s new home is back in Georgia. We drove across country and we’re starting over. How exciting and scary all at the same time!

What lessons did I learn in Arizona? I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, cactus can be beautiful (who knew that they have such wondrous flowers?), and the desert is nice year round…for the most part. I got to know the mother I became, and my daughter grew up in one of the most unique places in the country (nature-wise). I also learned that diversity isn’t just a good thing in nature. Tucson lacks racial and cultural diversity, so it was time to move back to a place that thrives on diversity.

On the horizon for Crayon Writer is pretty much what I’ve always said I wanted. I will homeschool or unschool my daughter, I will continue to work at home and grow my writing business, and I hope to hire an employee in the next 12 months. I’ve updated my business’ website, and I’ve created Facebook pages for this blog and Theda K. Communications. LinkedIn is also something I’m going to become best friends with.

Change is inevitable. Change is exciting. Change is renewing. So join me on my new adventures in a not-so-new locale.

The Great Cloth Diaper Hunt 2012

A few years back I posted about the Great Cloth Diaper Hunt, an online scavenger hunt. Several small businesses, especially work-at-home-mom companies, sponsor the event by hiding a GCDH icon somewhere on their site. Thousands of hunters look for the hidden icons on the various sites, hoping to win the grand prize or even smaller daily prizes.

While the name of the hunt focuses on cloth diapering, many of the sponsors have other types of businesses. I’ve seen soap makers, knitters, jewelry designers, and more in the past.

Theda K. Communications, my writing company, is a sponsor this year! Please show your support by registering for the hunt, which starts May 1 and ends May 31, 2012. You can register anytime before it ends. Make sure you tell them that Theda K. Communications sent you (I might win free ad space if I refer lots of folks).

The hunt is really fun, and you learn a lot about cloth diapering and other small businesses. I remember fondly how much I learned while my daughter was still a baby (seems like a lifetime ago). I hope you register and enjoy the hunt! And if you have a small business, consider becoming a sponsor when the next hunt starts.

Saving money – online and off

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As a mother, I try to find any and every opportunity to make money and save money. Making money is pretty straightforward (though not necessarily easy, I admit). You have to either find someone to employ you, find someone to buy stuff from you, or invest your money so it can work for you.

But saving money is another way to “make” money, and couponing something a lot of my friends are doing. It’s not something I’m great at (yet), but I do try. You may have heard of “extreme couponing,” where people buy groceries worth hundreds of dollars and wind up paying a fraction of the cost. Some people even wind up getting money back when they go to the store. Extreme couponing usually means clipping coupons, stacking coupons, and buying items in bulk. Personally, I’m not the most organized person in the world, so adding lots of paper to my life isn’t the best idea.

What I am good at is using online coupons. Being a freelancer, I spend a lot of time online, so that’s also where I tend to do my shopping. Also, unlike the stereotype, I abhor going shopping in malls and such. Online coupons are usually in the form of coupon codes. So there’s no clipping involved. You just take note of the code, found on various coupon code websites. When you make your online payment, there is usually a spot for you to type in the code. It’s super easy. I use coupon codes for things like webhosting, clothing, toys, and more.

The thing about coupon codes is you have to find reputable sites, and you have to keep checking. Codes expire all the time, but there are also always new ones. Before you shop at any online store or buy any product or service online, check to see if you can find a code for that company.

Coupons are an excellent way to save money, both online and off. If you’re not using coupon codes online, you’re pretty much throwing money away.