Monday, November 9, 2015

Blog Tour: A Sister's Place by Savannah Page

A Sister's PlaceA Sister's Place by Savannah Page
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm very particular in my stories about sisters. Having a sister myself, I probably like to see my relationship reflected on the page. Why? No idea. The author hasn't met me. Even in this story, I didn't see my weird relationship with my big sister, but there are always similarities.
I was always very close to both of my grandmothers. I remember my maternal grandmother teaching me how to make Keethla Cookies and I remember hanging out with my paternal grandmother during a music contest day that took place across the street from her house. I spent a lot of time with them until their deaths in 2004. I don't know if my sister had a similar relationship with them, but I hope she did. Grandmothers are important, as are sisters, and I love how this book braided the relationships together to show how beautiful family is.
The premise of two sisters being forced to live together in order to keep their family home is perfect for a movie, and I honestly think it should be done. This is the kind of story that pulls on your heartstrings because it's so relatable. I felt like during my college years, my sister and I were at this fork, where we could either go our separate ways, or we could get closer. This is the same situation that Gracie and Juliette found themselves in, and Grandma Mimi saw that.
I love stories that speak to me, and this one definitely did. I can't wait to read more by Savannah Page.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Girlfriend Vacation Day 2: Embarkation Day!


Ready for Day 2 of the journey? The best part of the journey? 

I always get so excited for that first glimpse of the boat. I don't really remember it when we went on our first cruise, a Carnival, in 2009, but on the Disney Dream in 2011, we were driving up in a Limo my mom rented for us, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and my mom saw the boat first. She squealed and pointed, showing the excitement we were all feeling. On our second Disney cruise in 2014, out of Miami, we'd been driving for over 24 hours, and the Florida interstate was nearly never-ending. The exhaustion was overtaken by the excitement we felt the moment we saw the red funnels of the Disney Wonder.

Ann drove us from her home near Ft. Lauderdale down to the Port of Miami, and on our way there, it was raining (Not exactly how you want to start your vacation). Apparently it rains every day in Florida? 


When we got to the port, said our goodbyes to Ann (Love you! Miss you!), and we headed through security.


But on the other side of security were people just as nerdy about Disney as me. Like this family who dressed up as the cast of Inside Out (which I saw during our second day at sea. Amazing!). At last! Among my people!


When you check into your cruise online, you can pick a time to get on board, based on your travel plans. Since we got in the night before, I made sure to sign us up for the first time available, 11 AM, and we were in Group 5, so we didn't need to wait to get onto the boat!


Goofy is preparing the back of the ship for our cruise!


Crossing the gangway, ready to say Goodbye to Miami!


The Halloween Tree! I didn't catch the story (I ran late to it. Boo), but the next day, the tree was covered in Jack-o-lanterns!


The beautiful 3-deck atrium, decorated in an Art Deco fashion. Captain Mickey and his helm stand in front of Lumiere's French Restaurant. The Disney Magic is Disney's first Cruise Ship of their own (they used to rent and sail on The Big Red Boat). 

After getting lunch at Cabanas, the buffet styled after Finding Nemo, we decided to explore the ship, and we started with Senses Spa & Salon, where we got a tour, coupons for different treatments, and an invitation to come back for the drawing later that afternoon. 

All cruise ships are required to do a safety drill before we can leave port. Our meeting place was at the Animator's Palate, and while there we met three people, Jen, Renee, and Jen's daughter, Ava, who drew a picture of me while we were waiting for the drill to be over. I didn't get a picture, but we hung out with them a few times during the cruise. 

At the Spa drawing, none of us won anything, but they did offer a treatment, 5 Steps to Heaven, which was $100 off for people who came to the drawing. Kiri and Lisa opted to get it, and scheduled their appointment for that night. I would've if I could've afforded it, but while they were there, I walked around the ship, taking tons of pictures. I was going to go to a Movie Quote Trivia Game, but they started early and were halfway done when I got there, so I left. 


Deck 4 between Mickey's Mainsail and White Caps. I love this picture, with the carpet, and the picture of Walt Disney framed at the end of the hall.




This was about as quite as the Quite Cove was when it wasn't night time, but it was still always quiet, despite the family pool being just on the other side of the funnel, where it was always crowded, noisy, and nearly impossible to pass without bumping into someone. In the Quiet Cove, it is perfectly quiet, which I love. 

Despite the showers that preceeded our cruise, the rest of it was sunny and bright. You could see storms in the distance, and I could feel the rocking of the boat, so I'm guessing they were going a bit faster to go around the storms. But, we got to see some cool rainbows!



Anyway, that's all for now! Check back later for more adventures in cruising!

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Monday, November 2, 2015

Girlfriend Vacation Day1: The Long Journey

It finally came! Vacation has finally happened! The trip there and back was exhausting, but it was all worth it.

Kiri and I left on Wednesday night at 9 for Des Moines, where we picked up Lisa, who didn't get off work until about 11. I drove the first couple hours from Council Bluffs to Des Moines, and after getting food at Abelardo's, Lisa drove us to Kansas City, while I slept in the back seat (I was SOOOOOO SLEEPY!). 

I took no pictures during that time but waited until we got to the airport.

Aunt Donna took us to the airport on Thursday morning (Thank you!), and KC Airport is probably the easiest airport I've ever been through. Even easier than Eppley! There are the drop off doors, and right next to it is the gate to get to your plane. 


From KC, we flew to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which was a very quick flight. Our connecting flight to Miami was on the biggest plane I'd ever ridden on. And the nicest. We flew with American Airlines, and I don't care what reviewers say. I thought the people we dealt with from the check-in desk to the flight attendants were all very kind. You hear these horror stories about airlines, but it's really never been my experience. *knock on wood* 

Three rows of seats in coach.

It was raining in DFW. Aways fun.

Okay, now how awesome is this? There was a screen on the back of the chair in front of me, with a remote, a plug to charge my phone, and tons of free shows, movies, articles, music, and games! I watched Pitch Perfect 2, and it might be sacrilege, but I thought it was better than Pitch Perfect. I know I'm in the minority.


 I asked for the window seat on the way out, and look at the billowy clouds below! Like Care-A-Lot!


I wanted the window so I could see the Gulf of Mexico as we flew over. It was pretty dark, but the pictures show more than I was actually able to see.


After nearly a full day of traveling, I was so relieved to get to Miami, where our cousin, Ann, was waiting for us at the airport. Check out the city!


My mom sent us down with a quilt she'd made for Ann, which was supposed to get to her last year when we drove down, but we ended up not meeting up. So armed with a carry-on suitcase (which I never take onboard), we took it all the way to Miami, and Ann and her family loved it. Ann later told me the boys were taking turns sleeping with it. 


Their house is so cute, and the in-laws are super close, sharing a backyard (courtyard?). It's awesome that the boys are so close to their grandparents. I'm glad I grew up with mine.


 We also fell in love with their dog, Daisy. She was a sweetie pie.


I feel like Kiri, Ann, and I need to get together more often. As the Martin girl cousins, we're almost convinced that we have a superpower of remembering teeny tiny details that freak people out (I've used this power to freak out our cousin Joe's wife, Brooke, shortly after we met). I think the three of us should vacation together sometime. (hint! hint!)


There will be more pictures to come because I have so much to share about the trip itself, but now, I'm just thankful we made it. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Blog Tour: Geli Voyante's Hot or Not by Elle Field

Geli Voyante's Hot or NotGeli Voyante's Hot or Not by Elle Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness! This book was so clever! Once I got past the fact that Geli was British (slang kept throwing me), but I really loved how quick-witted she was.

The story moved on at a really fast clip, mostly because Geli's stream-of-consciousness rambling actually made sense and made me laugh along with her shenanigans. I honestly thought her rivalry with Tiggy was ridiculous, at first, but at the same time, what girl can't relate to her sworn enemy from childhood?

This is the kind of story that makes for a quick, fun weekend read. I was reading and couldn't put it down. Every spare second, I found myself reaching for my kindle to continue on Geli's journey and take a closer look into Geli's world (I seriously wanted her flat/apartment. It just sounded amazing, and if I could live with my best friend, too, I would. There were so many parts of Geli's life that made me seriously jealous from her job to her clothes, and her relationships.

It was slightly predictable, but most Chick Lit is, and I am perfectly okay with that. Sometimes you don't want to read anything too deep, and after the book I'd read before this one, I was wanting something on the lighter side. I really enjoyed this book and want to read more by Elle Field!

View all my reviews

This book was provided for the tour for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Things I Learned Writing, Publishing, and Unpublishing My First Book

As I've mentioned here before, I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine. I saw the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and a light clicked on. It was what I had to be, and I wrote pretty much every day during elementary, middle, and high school. I had big dreams of making my mark on the world with the written word. Writing in college was harder because I wasn't writing for me, anymore, but for an audience who didn't like what I presented. I have learned some things about writing and self-publishing.


Writing One book does not a millionaire make

I had big dreams of this first book making me an overnight success. Like, I would be able to quit my day job before Christmas. This was in 2012, and I'm still at the same day job. So I want you to know that writing one book without a plan of action as to marketing won't make you a success. 

That's not to say you shouldn't try. Once one book is written and published, you've got to get on your next book. If your audience reads your book, likes it, but there's nothing else there, they'll move on to another author. If you want writing to be your business, you have to write. Don't rest on your laurels. 

Writing is Hard

I used to think writing was something mindless that I did for fun. But as I grew up, and learned about writing and storytelling, I learned that you have to put a lot of things in your book besides a day in the life of your characters. You have to think motivation, theme, characterization, etc. I've met so many people who tell me they want to write a book, to which I encourage, but I also tell them it's harder than it seems. It seriously is. There's a reason writers need a lot of coffee: ideas are fleeting, and we need to get them out of our heads as quickly as possible, no matter how late we need to stay up. 

Editing is Hard

Writing is nothing compared to editing. When I first wrote Sugar and Spies, I thought the editing was just going through, looking for typos. Subsequent read-throughs have shown me just how wrong I was, which is what led me to pull it from Amazon. The story is disjointed, there are plot lines that I never tie up, it ends on a cliffhanger (kind of). 

Editing goes beyond looking for typos. Looking for typos is called Proofreading. Editing is looking for story flow, characterization, plot, inconsistencies, It's best to pay for a professional editor, someone who doesn't have an emotional connection to your work. Do your research. I wish I had. 

Formatting is effing hard

Formatting, oh formatting. The biggest headache in the world of publishing, IMHO. Around the time I published my book, my mom had published hers, and my dad did her formatting. He walked me through it, but it was the biggest headache in the world. It's time-consuming, and if you don't save your work consistently, your computer could be a giant jerkface and restart (ask me how I know). 

There are a lot of places that tell you how to format, but none of them are written particularly well. You can pay to have it done if you're doing self-publishing (Indie or Mainstream publishing houses do this for you). I've actually started writing my stories formatted. It's amazing the difference it makes. It just looks cleaner, it makes it easier to look at when I'm reading it on my phone. It makes a huge difference. I'd say, save yourself the trouble and format as you go.

Hitting publish is easy

Who knew, right? The hardest part of hitting publish once it's all uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, etc, is telling yourself you're ready (though I really should've silenced the voice in my own head, but I digress). If you've done everything right, from writing to editing, re-editing, proofreading, formatting, given it your all, it's time to send your child out into the world. But your job isn't done. Not by a long shot.

Marketing is HARD

You still need to guide your "child" after you've sent it into the world. I didn't do this. I half-assed it, found one blogger to read it, sent it to my friends, spammed my Facebook page, started having Kindle sales, but none of it really made people want to get my book. I've learned a lot about marketing in the last three years, as well as the differences between Self-publishing, Indie Publishing, Mainstream/Big 4 publishing, and I know that either self or indie is the direction I'd really like to do in the future (Self is when you publish it yourself, indie is when you find a small, independent publishing company to publish your books. There are lots, too!). But with the big publishing houses, I've heard that you have to do most of your marketing, yourself, so if you have to do that, anyway, I'd just go through a smaller company who can focus their efforts on you, specifically.

I also wish I'd arranged some kind of opening day. I was so anxious to push it into the world, that I basically did it in the dead of night, and casually mentioned it in my blog the next day. That's what you do when you're ashamed of something, not when you've got something to share that you're proud of. 

Building relationships gets easier

With marketing comes making friends with other writers. The only writers I knew prior to this whole journey were about three friends from college, my mother, my sister, and several people from college that I wasn't terribly fond of. Since joining Goodreads as an author, I've made tons of new author friends!

From there, I met author Samantha Stroh Bailey, who wrote the novel, Finding Lucas, and she introduced me to a Facebook group of authors. I somehow met author Ashley R. Carlson when I stumbled across her blog, and got super excited watching her process in creating her own first novel, The Charismatics. I think that's the beauty of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter: finding people you admire, and building connections and a network of other people with the same dream. 

Finding optimistic writers has been instrumental in changing my own mind, business model, and how I do everything. Plus, when you have something good to share, these people are really quick to celebrate with you. We're not in competition, which is amazing. You just have to take the first step of reaching out and being open to meeting people. It's hard for introverted me, but it's been a blessing. 

Unpublishing, and why I did it

After I realized that my book was far from the perfect piece of writing I'd hoped it would be I knew my readers and future readers deserved better. I've been on the end of picking up a book that hasn't been properly edited, proofread, formatted, and was rushed into production. It wasn't ready, and neither was I. Unpublishing has been freeing if you can believe that. Now I know that there are only about twelve eBooks and six paperbacks out there. Those are better odds of people reading poor work than if it had become a runaway best-seller, with terrible reviews due to negligence on my part. It was just for the best to take it back until it was truly ready. 

Luckily, I've got it to rewrite, plus its two sequels pretty much were written, all just in dire need of editing for content, clarity, and pacing. 

  • Do you have any writing tips that have helped you?
  • Any great Twitter Chats, or groups I should know about? 
  • Have you ever unpublished a novel? How did you feel about it?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Twitter: The Other Social Media

For a lot of people, Twitter is a way of life. For me, it was more, What the heck is this? I honestly didn't get the point of Twitter, I didn't really want to get it. 140 characters isn't enough for what I wanted to say (I feel like I'm more long-winded than I should be, especially when writing).


Where It All Began

Back in 2012, I went out to Denver to visit Lauren. We spent the weekend hanging out, enjoying each other's company, and doing what we do best: dreaming. I'd recently published Sugar and Spies, and was at a loss as to find readers, find an audience, and truthfully, why would anyone listen to what I had to say? I mean, really?

Well, that weekend in Denver, I finally signed up for Twitter. I had NO IDEA what to do, what I would post, how I could find followers. I think the first couple people I followed were probably from the cast of Chuck (Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin), as well as people I know in real life (Lauren, Lindsay), and I left it at that.

Growing My Following

It wasn't until a couple years later when my followers really started to grow. I'd read this book called How I Made Over $42,000 in 1 Month Selling My Kindle eBooks by Cheryl Kaye Tardif, who directed me toward a website to find other authors to promote my books. I joined the Twitter group, and my following has steadily grown from there. 

I also started following the blog, Oddly Lovely, and she has some AMAZING Twitter use tips, which I implemented, including separating the people I follow into groups, which makes it less daunting to erad what people are sharing (I just want to read about politics? There's a group for that. What about actors? Got a group for that, too). Score. 

Getting The Hang Of It

It's really been in the last year that my following has really boomed, which has really surprised me. Part of it is because I've started utilizing Twitter Chats. I got the idea by following the blog, The Nectar Collective, and watching one of her chats, #NectarChat (Wednesdays at 8 PM Central). She asks a question, and you answer, and you can also answer other followers questions. I haven't participated, but I have enjoyed watching, and finding out blogging Twitter Chats. 

But that's not the best part about Twitter Chats. There are Twitter Chats for EVERYTHING. I've really participated in TV Show Twitter Chats. These are really fun, especially on Reality TV, like Project Runway and Ink Master. And you want to know the best part about Twitter Chats with TV shows? When famous people Like and Retweet you. 



I don't really have a lot of tips on how to build your following, aside from talking to people, joining Twitter Chats, and just being on it, but I think during those days when I'm watching my shows live, I get the most Twitter Action, because it's this great community where you're all following something (Though, it's SOOOOOOOO weird for me to join in a Twitter Chat for Ink Master, since I'm rooting for Chris Blinston, who is from Omaha, and people who aren't rooting for him see him as the villain. I see Matt and Kruseman as the smug villains of the show. It's like, are we really watching the same show?

  • What tips do you have for using Twitter?
  • Don't miss the live season finale of Ink Master tonight at 9PM Central on Spike TV! 
  • If you're on Twitter, follow me @martinbeks

Friday, October 9, 2015

Blog Tour: Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

Center of GravityCenter of Gravity by Laura McNeill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an intense read. It took me awhile to get into it, mostly because I had no idea exactly what was going on. The story is told from several different viewpoints, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
I honestly thought that Jack spoke a little too eloquently for an eight-year-old, but he was a good character, who definitely had a lot to say.
I think stories of sociopaths, ruining the lives of those around them are something that a lot of people can probably relate to. You're just going about your day when you suddenly walk into the line of fire. Hearing the story from Ava's POV was familiar, and you could definitely relate to her (at least I could). Every encounter she had with Mitchell was like walking on glass shards. You knew it wasn't a good idea to do it, and you felt every single cut. I was surprised that she didn't just sit in her house, not making any noise because God knows, he would've heard it, and had her arrested. I honestly thought it took a little long for Ava to get a backbone, but once she did, Look out!
Once I got into the story and the groove of the different POVs, I really got invested, but the formatting of my eBook made it really hard to focus sometimes. People would be talking, and then on the same line, someone else would start talking, it got really distracting. That said, I really did like this book. Mitchell was a scary antagonist, and while there were parts that seemed like Jack's character was a little inconsistent (He's eight, but later on, Ava tells her Father-in-Law that Jack is taller than her? How short is she?), but I liked it.

View all my reviews

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blog Tour: "How Do You Know?" by Meredith Schorr

How Do You Know?  (Seeking Happily Ever After, #1)How Do You Know? by Meredith Schorr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meredith Schorr has a way of writing my emotions into books. I don't know how this is. We've never met in person, and until "Blogger Girl," I never knew she existed.
I don't mean this in a bad way, at all. Just gonna say that right now. In this book, Maggie is about to turn 40. She spends her entire year grousing about turning 40, and if she's ready, what her life should be at that age, based on what everyone around her is doing (Comparison really is the thief of joy). I know exactly how she feels. I just turned 30 two weeks ago, and all my friends are starting to settle down.
I did have a hard time getting into this book. Probably because it kept hitting the notes of how I feel, which is WEIRD. Blogger Girl did the same thing.
I think I'd probably be friends with Maggie. She swears more than I like (I'm such a lady with language, it's not even funny), but she's very sincere, cares for her friends and family, and most of all, doesn't want to be the reason someone's future gets ruined. We've all been there.
I really love that Meredith writes such relatable characters. One of the hardest parts of characterization is writing a person who isn't perfect. I have the problem of writing the person I wish to be into my characters. When that happens, you end up with a Mary Sue. Or worse. Bella Swan. That doesn't happen with Maggie Piper. She's funny, she's nice, she makes mistakes, she says the wrong thing, she can't lie to her family (again, I relate). She's a real person, which is exactly why you wanted to root for her, why you wanted to see her get her happily ever after, by any means necessary.

View all my reviews

This book was received and reviews as part of the Chick Lit Blog Tour. The book was free, but the opinions are my own. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Now that I'm 30...

So, I've been 30 for a week and a half now. Not much has changed. I'm still writing, I'm still broke, I'm still counting down the days until my vacation cruise (22 days!), and I'm still working full time, four days a week. 

But, I do think that I need to focus on a lot of things, and maybe by writing mine out, I can help you guys.
Photo by ellehem (c)Unsplash

Now that I'm 30, I'll try to stop obsessing over numbers. 

I've lived three decades. My 20's are gone. Finito. Just obliterated. 

There is this scene in the cinematic masterpiece, The Decoy Bride, where our heroine, Katie, almost drowns. When she's rescued, she says, "My entire life flashed before my eyes. Halfway through I was just bored!"

Sadly, this is where I am right now. Aside from graduating college, and that year when I thought my book was hot stuff (despite what sales told me), I honestly don't have anything that I want to recall that isn't vacation-related (22 days!). And that is so depressing to me. Which brings my to my next point.

Now that I'm 30, I'll push myself to get outside my comfort zone.

I used to be a social butterfly. In college, I was always out with friends, doing stuff, running up and down Broadway, painting Columbia Red. The year that followed graduation, I was torn down so badly that I'm still trying to recover, six years later. There was a year or two after when I was still going out, making friends, but no bosom friends. All my great friends are from college. I'm still trying to make friends as an adult. Hell, I haven't even had a legit date since about 2008. Talk about depressing.

"I've gone man vegan. They say after seven years, you don't notice."
But, I've signed up for MeetUp.com to meet people in the area with similar interests. If I meet a man from this group, color me stunned. I won't be holding my breath. 

I did decide to sign up for a dating service after I return from vacation (22 days!). Probably Christian Mingle. My friends, John and Dinah met there, and CM seems less intimidating (and costly) than eHarmony.

I can't begin to stress how much I DON'T want to date online. But I'm going to do it. Because I'm 30.

Now that I'm 30, I'm going to learn some new skills

Have you ever heard of Codecademy before? It's a free service that teaches you different computer languages and programs to broaden your hireability. How about Skillcrush? They're another company that teaches you to code, but with an emphasis on their Career Blueprints, which can lead you into a new line of work that is extremely rewarding. I just finished their 10 day boot camp, and it was very interesting, and was explained very well. My plan is to save up the money for their Web Developer Career Blueprint, a 3-month class that is offered annually, and hopefully start to build up a side business to really make something of myself. And pay off my student loans. Aren't your 30's when you finally come into money?

Maybe one day I can be this smarmy.

Now that I'm 30, I'm going to go back to keeping a journal.

I used to write all the freaking time. In notebooks, in journals, if I had a pen, I would write on a piece of scrap paper, just to get my thoughts out of my head. I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings, and that's how I would get them out and try to solve them.

Source
Last week, the day before my birthday, I bought a journal at Walgreens that is green with dandelions etched on the leather cover, and it's got a ribbon bookmark and a magnetic closure on the front. It also says the word "Believe." I bought it because I wanted to start a prayer journal. I'm terrible at remembering to pray, which is ridiculous, because as I Christian, I should want nothing more than to cry out to my Creator for a good conversation. But how do you talk to the One who made the heavens and the earth? The one who designed the person you're meant to be to find oiut what you need to be? 

That's why I got the journal. I've paired it with a couple Bible Studies from YouVersion, a free Bible Study app which has TONS of studies from big name people like Joyce Meyer, Kari Jobe, and Billy Graham. I'm currently working through three, one on prayer, one on starting your day with Jesus, and also a read through the Bible in a year plan. What have I learned? 

So far? That I'll never be perfect, but that God doesn't care, so long as I have a repentant heart, and a desire to live my life on His terms. And they're not bad terms. At all. 

The journal is also to remember to pray for certain people, because I never remember to pray for people, which is a horrible thing for me to not do, as a Christian. 

But mostly, now that I'm 30, I'm going to get a freaking life.

By now, you've probably figured out that I'm a hardcore introvert who'd rather stay in and watch TV than go out around the people. If I wasn't, then the resolution to get out more wouldn't be on here. I haven't decided if I want to get married and have children or not. I'm so disenchanted with the world that the idea of me finding someone to share my life with is kind of crazy. It's remembered in my prayer journal, but we'll see what happens. 

The point of getting a life isn't to find a boyfriend or husband, it's be be fulfilled, and to be able to give my best to people. I want to live a joyous, active, adventurous life that isn't walled in by worldly convention. I want to la-la-la-la-live out loud, to coin a phrase by Steven Curtis Chapman. 

  • Please tell me I'm not the only one with decade resolutions.
  • Tell me yours. You know you want to.
  • What's your favorite adventure?
  • Have I mentioned I'm going on vacation in 22 days?!

Monday, September 21, 2015

30 Things about Turning 30

Today is my 30th birthday.

Got that?

I'm 30 YEARS OLD.

Holy cow. I honestly have no idea where the past 30 years have gone. I'm almost positive that this picture was taken last week.


Sometime in 1986-87. I'm the short one in the middle.
My mom is slightly older in this picture than I am now.

Anyway, I thought it'd be fun to make up a list of a mix of 30 things I'm glad are over, and what I hope to do in my 30's. And maybe some things you might not know about me.



Without further ado.

  1. I'm glad a went to and graduated college. I might have massive debt, but those are years I'll cherish forever. 
  2. I've discovered that I'll probably never be a famous actress or singer. Now I'm setting my sites on either a writer or TV personality. ;-)
  3. I got to go to Disney World three times in my life. Ages 6 (almost 7), 11, and 18 (almost 19). Each visit was magical and two of those trips I got to share with a grandparent. Fabulous memories. 
  4. I discovered cruising in 2009, and have discovered it is my favorite form of vacation.
  5. When I was 20, I went skiing for the first time on Spring Break in Colorado (2006). My friend, Kristen thinks I never gave it a fair shake. I'm not coordinated enough for skiing.
  6. I'd never been to White Castle until the day before I turned 23. I went to St. Louis with Lauren and our friend, Jess, and on our way home, we stopped through White Castle for dinner. I haven't been back since. We don't have any near Council Bluffs.
  7. I've been Maid Of Honor in one wedding, my friend, Jess's in 2007. I've had several people ask me to eventually be their MOH, though (quite a few are from my childhood, who I haven't seen in years).
  8. I've never really been on a good date. I've had a couple in my life, and was bored to tears.
  9. On that note, the few blind dates my friends tried to set me up with in the past never happened. The guys cancelled before they'd even met me. “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~CS Lewis
  10. I love to cook, and have been using Craftsy to hone my skills. My knife skills are pretty awesome now. At least, better than they were a couple months ago. 
  11. I love coffee more than chocolate. Put the two together, and it's the most heavenly combination. 
  12. I went 26 years without getting a single cavity. I'm not even entirely sure they were real cavities. I think I got told weak spots were cavities by a poor dentist. 
  13. I have no idea where my Jane Austen obsession comes from. My family doesn't seem to get it. 
  14. To this day, the greatest burger I've ever had was from this restaurant in or around Orlando, Florida called Jungle Jim's. It was a Peanut Butter Burger, and they had this deal where if you didn't like it, it was free. The waitress came back after I'd practically licked my plate clean, and I said, "I probably can't convince you I didn't like it, can I?"
  15. I miss taking voice lesson. I just can't afford them, but I absolutely loved singing opera and musical theatre. 
  16. You're all familiar with my cat, Jane Austen, but I also have had several cats over the years, and my very own dog. When I was ten, we adopted a dog, Rosie, from the shelter, who turned out to be pregnant. She had five puppies, four rottweilers and a little blonde that we kept and named Charmin. She was my baby. She passed away in 2010 when I was at my lowest. The very next day, I was able to pack and move back to Council Bluffs. 
  17. I'm strangely addicted to Hallmark Movies. When my parents were on their vacation, I started watching in the morning after Golden Girls, and when I realized it was four movies later. #NoRegrets
  18. When I was twelve, Titanic came out, and I became obsessed with it like most girls my age. The only difference was I was NOT obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio like most people. I was obsessed with the spectacle of the whole movie. I studied everything on Titanic, the people, the costumes, the sets, the history. If I could step on theTitanic, I would. I wouldn't stay, though.
  19. I used to be obsessed with heels and wore them all the time. In the last couple years, they've started to really hurt my feet and back, so I've stopped. I've got them in their original boxes in my closet. Occasionally I'll pull them out to look at them, put them on, but that's it. It's a bit sad. 
  20. I'm a Food Network Fanatic. I think my favorite series is Chopped, but Worst Cooks in America is a very close second. I can't wait for Worst Celebrity Cooks premiering soon!
  21. Jamberry has been a super fun business. I made my money back from my starter kit really quickly (like within a week), and it's just a great company to work for. I was telling Kiri that even if I don't stick with the selling in the long run, I really enjoy how disaster proof my nails usually are. 
  22. Parks and Recs was the most amazing comedy I've seen in awhile. It was just so randomly clever. It was another way Lauren and I could bond, and still connects us across two states. She's the Leslie to my Ann. 
  23. I'm a super crazy Captain America fan. It all started with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I keep looking for Captain America comics to read, but I really enjoy the character. One of my goals for my cruise in October is to get a picture with him. Eep!
  24. I'm also a super crazy Little Mermaid fan. A couple years ago, someone at church compared my voice to Ariel's and my friends agreed with it. That is probably one of the best compliments I've ever received. 
  25. I've been playing piano since I was five. Twenty-five years. If I was better at forcing myself to practice, I'm sure I'd be really REALLY good. But I'm TERRIBLE at forcing myself to practice. I do love playing, though. It's a cool talent that I worked for. 
  26. I prefer waffles to pancakes. I used to have a Cinderella Waffle Iron that my aunt Donna got me for Christmas when I was in college. Lauren and I used to do Waffle Sunday with Bisquik Shake 'n Pour in the dorm. When it broke, I was heartbroken. If someone can direct me to where I can get another, I'd love you forever. 
  27. Little Women introduced me to the profession of writing, and every quiz I take about "Which Literary Character Are You?" pegs me as Jo. As I get older, I totally agree with it. 
  28. The Harry Potter Series, when read or watched in its entirety, makes me bawl my eyes out super hard. When our parents went out to Kansas a couple years ago, Kiri and I watched all of the movies and ended with going to see Deathly Hallows Part 2 in the theatre. We were total wrecks. 
  29. My best birthday to date was probably my 21st when my sister arranged to have a bunch of her Ren Faire buddies present me with a black and purple rose at the Kansas City Ren Faire (Going on every weekend from now until the end of October!). That was pretty epic. 
  30. It was really hard coming up with 30 things about turning 30. I either lack imagination or have too many ideas that don't mesh with this theme. 
Here's to a new decade! I can't believe my 20's are now in my past. Here's hoping I become like Jenna Rink on 13 going on 30, and I become "Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving." lol

Peace out.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Finds #2

Good Morning! Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your day and weekend are absolutely amazing! I want to take a moment to remember all those who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 attack. I can't believe it's been that long and how much the country has changed since that fateful day.

"Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.' " 
-- President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001.

We Will Not Forget.
*****
I've got another week of finds to share with you, and I'm pretty jazzed about all of them.

Colour Lovers

Have you heard of Colour Lovers? It's a website where you can design palettes and designs, and use them to make your own web designs! I'm still exploring it a little bit, but I'm hoping to be able to re-design my entire site, eventually! If you join (for FREE!) follow me! Martinbeks.

Podcasts

So, with my new phone and new car, I finally downloaded this app, Podcast Addict, to see if I could find anything worth listening to. I think I inherited my dad's love for Talk Radio, and while I was in the gym this week, I listened to three episodes of KM Weiland's Helping Writers Become Authors podcast. I love that she uses nerdy stories to make her points. It makes things very clear to me. I also listened to a couple episodes of Dave Ramsey while in my new car. I think I'm addicted!

OnStar and the New Car Experience

I realize OnStar has been a thing for many years by now, but I've never had a car with it, and since I got my new car last weekend (!), I've been having a ball playing with all the new features. I hope I'll never need to use the rescue portions of OnStar, but on their app, I can start my car from ANYWHERE! I was in the gym locker room, pressed the button, and when I came out five minutes later, it was on and nice and cool for me! 

I was also waiting for my dad the other day, and hopped on my car's WiFi. Yes. My car has WiFi! I don't know why I'll need WiFi, since I have no children that will need to be preoccupied in the car, but while waiting for my dad, I was able to use it instead of my phone data. Pretty cool stuff. 

I can also make hands-free phone calls, use an Aux Cable to listen to Audible, Podcasts, and Music from my phone. I think I'm in new car Heaven. Now to budget everything so I'm not having to LIVE in said pretty new car. ;-)

Craftsy

If you're a person who likes working with your hands, you need to get on Craftsy.com ASAP. I discovered them based on a Facebook ad awhile back, advertising a free knife skills class. I got an account, and then forgot about my free class for about six months before I hopped on to check it out. 

Craftsy is a website that has online classes your can purchase to teach you almost anything, cooking, baking, sewing, quilting, woodworking, drawing, painting, gardening, so much stuff! Plus, like the knife skills class, they have several mini courses that are free! 

The Knife Skills class, taught by Brendan McDermott, is VERY helpful and informative. he starts you off slow, showing you how to hold a knife in the safest way possible, and how to do basic cuts, chopping, and even peeling with a knife. After watching the class, I took his tips with me into the kitchen, and I've been a prepping fool ever since! I can julienne carrots now! How crazy is that?! Plus, when I was watching him break down a Butternut Squash, I couldn't help but wonder how I hadn't chopped off my hands in the past. Absolute craziness. I HIGHLY recommend this class.

  • What have you found this week that you're absolutely loving?

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Tornado of Emotions: Leasing A Car for the First Time

I've talked about my car troubles in the past. Here, here, here, and here. Once or twice a year, my car decides to crap out on me. It was a cheaply made car that I've been regretting almost since I drove it off the lot (The visors broke within a month).

My sister and I have been talking about trading out our cars for something cheaper for the last two years or so, especially since neither are worth what we owe. Kiri actually contacted the husband of a friend of ours to help her get a new car with a lower payment. She suggested I come with her to keep her company, and maybe we'd get lucky and find one for me, too.

We decided that leasing would be a better option, potentially, because we'd get a better car, build up credit, and not really have to worry about depreciation. Plus, several months of free oil changes and tire rotations.

All sounds pretty great, right?

It would've great except for one thing.


WE WERE AT THE DEALERSHIP FOR GOING ON SIX HOURS!!!!!!!

I can't believe it takes that long to get approved for anything. There's so much back and forth with you, the salesman, and management. It's absolutely exhausting. I can't imagine doing it too often. It's absolutely ridiculous.

While we were waiting, we kept imagining the worst, hoping and praying that the extra time was going to be for our benefit, and that nothing bad would happen.

I honestly hate shopping for a car. I've done it three times now (well, the second time, I didn't do any purchasing, but it was still a learning experience), and the best part was the test drive.

Today, Kiri and I both test drove a 2015 Chevy Cruze, which was great, with a smooth ride, and it looked like I'd be getting that car, but after being left to our own devices for probably close to forty-five minutes, Robert, our salesman, returned, asked us to follow him, and I admit, I was a bit scared.

He laughed, I laughed, I was still not entirely certain what was going on. Then he took me to a 2015 Chevy Malibu, had me sit in it, check out some really cool features (CARS have WiFi now! Why do cars need WiFi?!) including Blu-Tooth, phone holders, XM Radio, OnStar, spacious trunk, and remote start, which can be started with an app on my phone from anywhere. Come Winter, I can start my car from my desk at work, and it'll be toasty when I get out!

Oh, and there were only six miles on it. It's a baby! Almost too little to be away from its mommy!

That left us with the scary part of the day. The cost.


I've been paying $300/month for the last year and a half. Paying a bit more every month than I needed to, as I wanted to attempt to pay it off early. It was rough. Like really, really rough. Things were breaking on it (Remember the visors?) left and right, it was old, questionable, and while I think with the right owner, it would go to 150k miles, possibly more. I know I'm not that person.

For the same price (almost), I could have this brand spanking new car, with all its bells and whistles, everything that's included in the lease, a much safer car just before winter, everything lined up. I kept thinking, "Can I get this down any lower? Should I try to get this down any lower?"

In the end, I agreed to the terms. Winter is coming, having something that is reliable, with new tires, and remote start, that will do well on hills and in the cold is something that I feel I need.

I also have to say, working with the husband of a friend was a lot better than working with a regular salesman. He kept joking that if he didn't help us as much as he could, his wife would kill him. Despite the waiting, the whole process was slightly less stressful than the last couple times, when it felt like the salesman only cared about his commission.

If you're in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, Edward Chevy Cadillac is great, and Robert Simmons very nice and knowledgeable. He's been selling cars for the last fifteen years! If you go, be sure to mention my name.* ;-)

I get my car soon, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll run a full review on it once I get it and drive it around, but I'm seriously excited about it.


  • Do you prefer to lease or buy?
  • What's your favorite car?

*For every person I refer that buys, I get $100. If you buy from them, you'll get the same deal for everyone that you refer!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Finds #1: Blogging Tools

I'm back. My blogging has been sporadic, at best, but I've been trying to find out ways to blog more, My dream is to use this blog to help me be a full time freelancer, but until that day comes, I'd like to share some cool things I've been finding on the internet.


Twitter Chats

I think the most I've participated in Twitter Chats is when I'm watching Project Runway, and need to vent to the world about designers I don't like. Turns out, there are professional things you can do, too!

Wednesday night, I took part in my first Twitter Chat, #NectarChat. The next one is on September 9 at 9 PM PST (I think. Check out The Nectar Collective for more info on that one!), and I was going to participate in #ElleChat last night, but I was too late. I did read up on some great tips, though. It was kind of cool to get my feet wet, and hopefully figure out how to use Twitter for finding writing clients. I feel like such a newbie with certain social media things, but I'm really working to get to know what some are.

Which leads me to

Periscope

I just heard about this on Wednesday, on the radio, didn't really pay it any mind, but then while I was reading up on #NectarChat, it was a popular topic, so I signed up. Follow me @martinbeks!

Periscope is a way for you to broadcast live to your followers, and they can comment while you're talking. How cool is that? If you're doing a tutorial, people can ask you questions while you work, so you can get back to them right away! I don't think I know how to ask questions on there yet, but I guess if you tap the screen, a heart comes up, and I guess that means you really agree? Can someone clarify this for me? I'll be doing a bit more research in the coming weeks. I'm currently watching Dana Loesch, and DANG! Is she on fire! This is a woman who has some very strong opinions (no wonder I like and follow her!). Hope I enjoy other broadcasts as much as I enjoyed hers!

I have no idea how or if I'll ever do my own broadcasts, but maybe it's something to consider, eventually. 

Change.org

This isn't new to me. I've signed several petitions here in the past, which have been animal and writing related. For instance, a couple years ago, I signed one to change the laws in a friend's town so that her family could keep backyard chickens, which not only provided her family (five children!) with healthy, organic food, but was a way to teach her children responsibility, and life science. I've done a lot of research into backyard chickens myself, and I honestly think that every home having a flock of chickens is a good way to help connect America to what it eats, and how things work. Not to mention, what a way to save money! I mean, yeah. You need to pay for feed and bedding for the chickens, but you'd be getting organic eggs in return that are super fresh. What's not to love there?

*Ahem*

Sorry. Getting off my high horse now. Sadly, that petition didn't pass, but I'm very optimistic about this next one.

I signed one today, about changing the dog breed laws in my hometown. For the life of me, I had no idea Council Bluffs HAD dog breed laws! Totally baffling. Anyway, if you have a moment to sign it, I'd really appreciate. Breeds aren't the problem! It's unfair to take a loving animal from its loving family just because he happens to be a Pit Bull. It's just bananas. 

That's all I've got for today.

  • What finds have you uncovered this week? 
  • Any advice you can give me on Twitter Chats or Periscope?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cruise Planning 101: It's Not As Difficult As You Think

I'm in dire need of a vacation. I'm currently at a place in my employment where my PTO is accruing faster than I can spend it (thank you, HyVee, for my feeling-guilty-when-calling-in-sick work ethic), and I just like to dream about tropical locations and fruity cocktails brought to me by a waiter, who I'm unsure of how to tip, because I'm never sure of tipping protocol in other countries.



I'm also becoming the unofficial Cruise Gal at my job. I've had no less than five people ask me how I can go on a cruise every year, especially the super expensive DISNEY cruises. 

The answer to that is knowing where to go, when to buy, and how to save.


I went on my first cruise when I was 23. I'd just graduated college, as had my sister, and our mother had just kicked cancer's booty. We had a lot of celebrating to do, and since my mom had been laid off from one company, only to be re-hired by the company that bought her previous company, she had a hefty severance package that she wanted to use on something fun. A pretty cushy situation, if you ask me. 

It was the Carnival Fascination to Key West and Nassau for five days, with two days at sea. It was absolutely amazing. Throughout this first cruise, we kept saying how much fun we were having, how great the food, service, etc, was, and to this day, it's one of my favorite vacation memories, just because it was all new and exciting. 

In 2011, my parents arranged a family reunion-type cruise with my mom's siblings, and it was on the new Disney Dream. We went back to Nassau, and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. Everything on the Dream was so opulent and beautiful, we felt like we were on a modern-yet old-fashioned cruise liner. It has probably been my favorite cruise to date.


About a year went by, and my mom noticed that my sister, dad, and I were all moping around. She said we needed something exciting to look forward to, so she booked us a cruise on the Disney Wonder, out of Miami to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. After that day, we couldn't stop smiling for anything.


That was kind of the kicker to our cruising. Almost as soon as we got off the boat, I started planning my next cruise, and this time, I set my sights on the Disney Magic, which had just been remodeled. I went in October 2015 with my sister, and our friend, Lisa. It was an absolute blast!



In September 2016, my sister and I did our first duo cruise, just the two of us, to New England, visiting Boston, Portland, Bar Harbor, St. John NB, and Halifax on the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas. Bar Harbor was our absolute favorite spot. It was just the cutest place! We actually met our parents in St. John, NB, as they were on the Carnival Sunshine.


Our next cruise is in December on the Ruby Princess. It's all paid off and we're just raring to go!

Whew! That was a lot. Now, onto actually affording to go on a cruise.
  1. SAVE SAVE SAVE! Set up a separate savings account, and have direct deposits go into that account, every paycheck. If you find yourself with extra money, put it in your savings (Shop around for higher interest rates, too). 
  2. Book through a third party cruise company. We go through CruisesOnly.com and have been very happy with them. It's not to say that regular cruise websites don't have better deals. Sometimes, the deals are the same, or better. Which leads me to my next point:
  3. Watch the websites for specials. We try to get in on No Deposit sales (you still have to pay something to hold your spot, but it's not as much). Plus, they're always having deals where you can get on board credit, depending on the length of your cruise. 
  4. One of the best things about calling in to set up your cruise is that they set you up on a payment plan. So long as it's paid off  4 months before you leave (that's what I've been told, anyway), you should be good. 
  5. Stick with the same cruise line for savings. This, take with a grain of salt. This will be our third Disney, but I don't think we're actually saving money. We do get to book excursions earlier, and there's a special line to skip ahead while boarding, which is great, but unless you go A LOT, you don't see the specials like some do. My parents have been doing a lot of Carnival lately, and we were going to use Carnival, but we got a good deal on Ruby Princess.
  6. Plan ahead. You can get reasonably great prices if you keep an eye on things, and book early. Sometimes you can get great rates when they're trying to fill the rest of the rooms on the ship, but I never want to take that chance. I say about a year in advance you should start looking. I've already got my next cruise on my radar (I won't be able to afford the down payment until after Disney, though).
As you can see, it's not difficult. It takes a little planning, but it's doable. If someone like me can do it (and I'm terrible with money), then anyone can. :-)

Even after your cruise is paid off, I recommend opening another savings account for spending money. Keep yourself to a cruising budget so you won't get any surprises. Your room key acts as your money while you're on the boat, and frequently charging things to your key could get you into trouble.

One thing I always like to do is to take your savings, and put into onto a Cruise Line Specific Gift Card. Take your gift cards to the Guest Services desk to place on your account. They'll use this money before charging your debit or credit card. For mother's and father's day, and my parents' anniversary, my sister and I got them Carnival Gift Cards for a little extra mad money for their trip. I got to use gift cards for my last few cruises. It was very helpful, and a bit off my mind. I'm paranoid I'm going to walk away from my trip thousands of dollars in the hole. When things are paid for in advance, you don't have that fear.

My final tip is this: DO NOT GO INTO DEBT FOR A VACATION. 

Sorry. That was my inner Dave Ramsey speaking. But seriously. Saving money for your trip as opposed to putting it all on credit cards, will make your trip that much more enjoyable because you won't have to face the bill later. Be mindful of your onboard spending. And don't forget to bring cash to tip for Room Service (usually, the food in room service is included, except for alcohol and cans of soda. Just check before you say yes).

Your Turn!


  • What vacation advice do you have?
  • Where is your favorite vacation destination?
  • Have you ever cruised before?