Thursday, October 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday Halloween Edition

Captain Underpants and Super Diaper Baby

My Halloween socks I was wearing while going through TSA. It wasn't Halloween. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Back from the dead- I mean the midsingles conference!


For the past several months I've been so completely engrossed in planning the midsingles conference that my blog had to take a back burner. If I had time to sit, relax, and write like that, I had time to be working on the conference. 
But the conference is finally over! And I'm slowly coming back to life! The recovery period from the conference has taken a little (lot) longer than I anticipated. For some reason I thought all I would need was a few days to sleep and unwind and I'd be back to normal. That was just crazy talk! Instead it has taken 3 full weeks of sleeping and just letting it all go! 
My spark of imagination and creativity is starting to come back as well. I actually want to write again. Finally!
Which reminds me that I haven't actually blogged about the conference itself. Maybe I will write something more descriptive later. But for now, here are the details-

We had 510 attendees. Considering when we started this process we were planning on 350-400, that was an overwhelming and amazing turnout. 
Our conference was different from all other conferences ever for several reasons. But the biggest and most important reason was that early on I had a phone call with Elder Clayton Christensen, who advised me to try something different. I took his advice and that changed everything. Most conferences take an approach of entertain and educate. That's all they do. They figure all it takes is you stick a bunch of singles all in one place and keep them occupied, and they will meet and marry. Right? Isn't that how it all works? 

Well, according to Elder Christensen, there is far more to it than that. He told us that if you want to get to know someone, you need to solve a problem with them. That's how you really see what a person is like, and learn about them. So he suggested that we have him speak for an hour about the problem and problem solving. We then had another speaker give more specifics on the problem. From there, we broke everyone up into small groups to "solve" the problem. 
The problem we chose was the singles program. We asked 510 single adults to sit down in groups of 20 and come up with their ideas for how they would restructure the singles program in the church. 
I was so nervous! This method had been tried in Boston and I had heard very good things. But it was very hard to pitch this idea to people and get them excited. I felt like I spent months trying to hype it up via word of mouth. 

Blessedly, people loved this. They loved solving the problem and feeling like they made a difference. They loved getting to meet people. They really liked this very new format! I am getting so much feedback about how much people enjoyed the small groups. I am so glad we did it!

My big thing that I wanted from the very beginning of the planning process was wanting a matchmaking opportunity. When I was in high school I went to a youth conference where we took a personality test in advance, and when we arrived at the conference they gave us a list of the people we matched with. I really wanted to make this happen, but I have to admit, making it happen was one of the most difficult parts of this conference. Finally in the eleventh hour a great possibility came up and we made it work. Again, I am so glad we did this! It turned out great!!  When people arrived on Friday night we gave them their list of matches. Immediately people dove right into it, looking around to meet their matches. I have to laugh about it now, but for a few minutes we actually had to stop the party and convince people to walk into the main room! Everyone was clogging up the reception area while they stood around and looked at their lists. Nobody was walking into the actual party! It was the first of many times I would hear myself say, "this is a good problem to have." 
And believe me, I said that a lot over the course of the weekend. 

I'm not in the mood right now to give a play by play of the whole weekend. So I'll stop here and save the rest for some other day. 
Getting to plan this conference was a huge responsibility and a great blessing. I have made so many wonderful friends and seen the best in so many people. I stretched my own abilities (and patience and endurance) farther than ever knew was possible before. And every last bit of it was worth it to see so many people enjoying themselves and making new friends. Out of 510 attendees, we only had one negative feedback email. (And that person really was quite ridiculous. She stayed for 30 minutes, didn't participate in anything, and left. Her loss.) 
When I got this calling back in January, I went home and cried. I didn't cry because I knew it would be a ton of work. I cried because I knew that when you try to put on an event for 510 (350) people to come closer to God, the adversary is going to work his hardest on you to keep you from reaching your goal. And that had me scared and humbled enough to cry. 

And I cried the day it was all over and we survived. We won. We pulled it off! 
The last thing I want to say is that none of this could have happened without our amazing team of volunteers. I had an incredible co-chair/partner in Derek. We never once divvied up who would handle what, except that I insisted he handle the money. We just equally carried the weight and helped each other out. (Ladies, I can't stop singing his praises. He's pretty dang amazing.) We had 4 women (Nichole, Valerie, Kimberly, and Candace) who each carried the weight of a big event/detail (FOOD!). Derek and I handled everything else, and trusted them to do their parts. All in all, we had 121 volunteers kick in and help pull this conference off. (510 attendees and 121 volunteers- is there any wonder we were exhausted?) 
Co-chair Derek and me acting like we're not ridiculously tired and running solely on caffeine. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

So this exists

While looking up something completely unrelated on Amazon today, I found this-
the R2D2 sexy bathing suit. Or as they described it, the "Artoo sexy swimsuit."




I just thought you all should know.

Also, this-
Wrong, so wrong.



If you're curious, this is what I was actually shopping for-

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pretty busy for a girl without a job




It feels like my life is just one big party (and promotion) after the next these days!
This week my dear Mindy Gledhill will be back in town - with her tour bus! 
Next week- I'm stocking up on sleep. 
And then it's the midsingles conference! FINALLY!
We are just a few more people away until we sell out for this conference. It was always my goal to sell out, but I never expected us to sellout this far in advance, and with an increased max capacity (450). Everything is going great, but still, I'll be very happy when it's over. 
But literally the very next day after the conference, it's time to "Meet the Mormons." 

And I'm working with the distributors of the film to host a special showing of the film in the DC area.
I'll sleep when I'm dead. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

It's all good

Life is happy, life is good.
Life is incredibly busy and stressful.
The closer we get to the Northern Virginia Midsingles Conference, the crazier things are going to get. It's consuming my life these days. The number of details that can be planned out six months in advance, and then fall apart 4 weeks before the event are staggering to me. But we carry on! We're gonna get this thing done!
Earlier today I posted on Facebook how I had over 4,200 email in my yahoo inbox. I now have over 4,300. It's insanity.
There's more than just the singles conference going on. I am helping promote Mindy Gledhill's show, plus arrange for an exclusive film showing the day after the singles conference. And I'm trying desperately to apply for as many jobs as possible, make some money, balance some clients, and other things as well.
I've said it many times in the past, and I'll say it again- I'd much rather be crazy busy than crazy bored. I like this kind of crazy. It makes me feel useful.
OH!
I almost forgot my biggest piece of news!
I signed a book contract with Cedar Fort Publishing to publish my book, "Sharing the Gospel through Social Media." The book is no longer for sale now. I'll be working with them for the next several months to beef it up and rewrite some parts. It will be published, rebranded, and back up for sale in one year.
It's very exciting to have a book contract again. It brings some validation to the idea that maybe, possibly, I'm a half-decent writer. And reminds me that I'm pretty good at social media too. This book really is the culmination of the three things I am- writer, social media, and Mormon!
Holding my signed publishing agreement!

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Opposite Sex

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my feelings and experiences with the opposite sex. I had an epiphany that has never remotely occurred to me before.
It’s disappointment with the opposite sex.
First, let me start out by making this one thing clear. This post is not a “down with men” or “down with love” sort of diatribe. Far from it. I am a woman writing about her feelings and experiences with the opposite sex. This could just as easily be written from a man’s point of view. At least, I wonder if men feel this way too. I’m not sure. And that’s why I’m putting this out there to spark some thoughts and conversations on the subject.
After twenty-plus years of dating, I’ve become jaded of sorts. My expectations have been lowered significantly on the romance front. The twenty year old version of me dreamed of the day her crush would ask her out and bring a dozen roses to her on the doorstep. The 39 year old version of me has never had a man bring her roses on a date, and is impressed when a guy actually offers to pick her up, and doesn’t suggest she take public transit to meet him somewhere. Actually, the older version of me is just impressed when a man asks her out. That’s about all it takes to impress her now.
After years and years of being single, I’ve been disappointed over and over again. I no longer expect much. Oh I still have high hopes, but they are kept in check with a heavy dose of reality.
Nearly all of my experiences with the opposite sex have had negative returns. Even the good guys have left a bad impression at some point in time. Whether it’s an unrequited crush, cat calls from a man on the street, a bad breakup, or the guy at church yesterday who said to me, “why would anyone ever want your opinion?” most of the experiences I have with men are not positive.
My experiences with my own sex are different. We laugh, joke, share, and commiserate together. These are not experiences I have with the opposite sex. The positive experiences I have with men are getting far and few between.
And I worry about that.
I worry that my heart will build bigger defenses, higher walls, and tougher callouses when it comes to the opposite sex. You have to have a “strong center,” or “be mentally strong,” “have thick skin,” etc., when it comes to attempting to befriend the opposite sex.

In the long run, can all of these negative experiences be good? We need the positive experiences. We need to seek them out and find them. We need to start to like them again, and not just associate them with bad experiences. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lessons Learned and to be Learned


Several months ago I had mentally and emotionally reached a point where I had to accept and admit to myself that I was very unhappy. The move to Washington, DC, for the new job had not gone to plan. The friends and activities I thought I would have waiting for me here had not turned out as expected. My salary situation was complicated and considerably less than I had anticipated. I had nearly no social life. I was poor, broke, bored, and lonely.
Going to my mid-singles ward (congregation) every Sunday exacerbated my pain. Everyone else there seemed to have a network of friends, nice clothes and cars, and all the things I had hoped to have, but hadn't panned out.
I began to mentally check-out and withdraw from my ward. But I didn't turn away from the Church, Spirit, or gospel. I turned more to prayer than I had in a long time, in search of guidance. I had partially made the decision, completely based on my pained emotions, to leave the mid-singles ward and go to my nearby family congregation. I figured no one would notice my absence, since no one had noticed my presence.
I prayed more than once. I prayed for several days, if not weeks. And then one day I began to receive an answer and guidance in the way that I often receive answers to prayers. It began as a foreign thought in my mind. An idea that I knew didn't come from me. Just an idea that forced me to think and puzzle it out, and reconcile it with what I knew and felt.
I find that these moments often come to me when I'm driving and my mind is clear. When I used to drive from Roanoke to DC so often, I had many of these moments alone in my car. I miss them now.
It was a Thursday afternoon. I remember it clearly. I was in my car. And a thought came to me that I had to work out, ponder on, and eventually it led me to an answer.
What that thought was is not what's important. But it was the feeling I had at the end of it. I recognized the experience. I had had similar experiences in the past that had prepared me for major life changes. A little seed was planted in my heart that opened my mind to accepting a major change just around the bend. These have always been changes that I could not control, but would need to accept for my own happiness. (For instance, every time a bishop has been released in my ward, I knew it in this same way in advance.) I don't handle imposed change very well. I always need to come to the same conclusion that the change was needed and the solution was the best option. And sometimes I don't agree, or it takes me a long time to get there. And so these moments where I have felt the Holy Ghost prepare me in advance have been cherished and important to me.
And that Thursday afternoon I got the answers to my prayers- there was about to be a major change in my life, and I needed to be prepared to accept it.
And so I was.
In the following days I was "called" or asked to co-chair the mid-singles conference. After I prayed about it, I readily accepted the assignment. I knew it would be a tough road ahead, but I felt spiritually prepared.
But then I went home and cried for hours. I've planned conferences in the past and knew what I was getting myself into. I didn't cry about the workload though. I knew I could survive that. I cried because I have been there before. And I know that when you are in charge of planning a spiritual event for 400 people, Satan will do everything to ruin your life.
I wasn't wrong.
These last several months have been a true test. I've nearly stopped blogging altogether because I just don't want to share all of the difficulties I've been hit with. Of course, the hardest thing I've endured is losing my job. (My grandmother dying, my apartment getting condemned, and car troubles rank pretty high up there as well.)
But on the hard days, the really hard days, where my life is just not easy or rosy, it helps to stop and remember how clearly and perfectly I heard the answers to my prayers.
I know I am in the right place and the right time. I know I will survive this.
I know there are some who would like to believe that for every major effort and sacrifice we make, we are paid back in obvious blessings. For instance, put your heart and soul into planning a major conference, and you'll get your dream job.
I don't believe it's always so obvious. For me, my heart can accept that I've survived and received dozens of blessings these last few months, because I was willing to devote myself to the Lord's work. I haven't gone hungry. Miracles have paid my rent. Hearts have been softened and opened to offering me unexpected assistance.
There are less than 7 weeks left to the mid-singles conference. The workload is getting heavier by the day. I can rarely relax without my brain overflowing with the dozens and dozens of things we need to get done. This is about the point where most people would want to run and scream and never do this sort of thing again.
Trust me, I have those feelings- often! But then I'm reminded one more time that I know that I'm in the right place at the right time. I find the strength to make one more phone call and one more email. Because I can do this. WE can do this. (I'm not alone. I have a great co-chair and committee.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I love to cook


I'm making dinner for a small group of friends this weekend. I can't wait. I need the creative outlet just as much as I need to socialize.
My life is consumed these days with the planning of the midsingles conference. (58 days and counting!) As I get more and more involved in the details of it all, I find that I need to awaken the creative side of my brain as well. I need to start thinking about the fun, decorative touches to add to the conference. And that side of my brain is stagnating.
But that's why I love cooking. It brings it all to life- socializing, feeding, eating, loving, touching, tasting, and creating.
My friends (unless they read this, and I don't expect that they will) have no idea what they are in for. I'm pulling out all the stops- 4 course meal, tablescapes, the whole kit and caboodle. I'm making homemade Italian bread, shopska salad (because it's cheap, easy, tasty, and I miss Europe), homemade spaghetti and pasta, and something fun for dessert. Haven't decided what dessert will be. Probably something light and fruity. And I'm making basil lemonade.
Nearly every ingredient will come from my garden, which makes me very happy. (And my pocketbook happy.)
Since I know they won't read this, I'll share this detail too. One couple is being set up. The guy knows, the girl does not. I believe in not telling both parties, so that they aren't both anxious and nervous. He isn't behind it. He doesn't even know her name. Of course, he also hasn't accepted the invitation yet, so there's that. I'm keeping the numbers 4 girls, 4 guys. Only problem is I'm one guy short. Presumably the one that would be my date. That's a problem. Gotta work on that.
Also need to figure out where to buy Serbian soft cheeses. And clean my couch.
And maybe decorate the living room.
But first, I have to finish getting over bronchitis and this migraine. Which, I might add, do not go well together. (Coughing + migraine = misery!)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

No thanks, Amazon

I got the following email today from Amazon KDP.
It's complete garbage.

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com



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