Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2 Months on the Couch, Bad Idea

After a week of staring at the lighted sign across the parking lot from my favorite coffee spot and perusing the pages of the Biggest Loser Fitness Program, I finally worked up the courage to walk back into the gym. It’s amazing how much progress one loses in fitness after sitting on the couch for 2 months!

My legs and arms are spaghetti. I hurt in places where I never knew muscles exist. I smell like stale sweat. But, as pretentious as it may be, I am still proud of myself.

When I first stepped on a treadmill almost 2 years ago, I walked a 24 minute mile. I couldn’t do a single girlie push-up. I was wearing a size 20 in stretchy jeans.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Trip to the City

Even though I live outside of the most hopping metropolis in the country, I rarely make a trip into city. Today, however, was different - today was my toy donation day for my somewhat-impromptu toy drive for Safe Horizon.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a note on this blog asking for support in donating to Safe Horizon, a non-profit based in NYC that helps battered women and children escape violent homes. I found out that this charity was looking for toy donations for the kids on radio one morning as I was driving into the office.

That morning, I happened to be wearing my winter coat, a donation from a family friend, who realized that I wouldn’t have a coat this year, having left Brussels with my single suitcase in hand. I thought of how much that single gesture of generosity and kindness meant to me and knew that I needed to do something for these children.

I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but if you haven’t been involved a situation like this, it’s important that you know just how much a single item can mean. You leave with a suitcase, a backpack or nothing at all and you face rebuilding everything. As an adult it’s difficult. For a child or a parent wondering how to provide for a child, it must be absolutely devastating.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weight Loss, Take 2

With the Biggest Loser finale last night, the guilt I’ve buried over the last few months while sitting on the couch watching the show has boiled over (again).

A couple of years ago, inspired by the amazing success of the contestants on the show, I decided that it was finally time to commit to becoming healthier, to losing the weight, to saying good-bye to shopping in the plus-sized section forever. Over the course of 6 months, I took off 60 pounds, squeezed into a stretchy size 8 and felt amazing! I still had some work to do, with about 30 pounds to go, but I was really happy with my progress.

With the stress of dealing with the situation with Youssef, coming back to the States, rebuilding my career and writing around the clock, the gym membership has been gathering dust and the weight has been creeping back on.

No more! I’m getting off the couch. I’m putting down the chocolate. I’m investing in getting fit. I’m holding myself accountable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Small Heart-Warming Holiday Happenstances

It amazes me that every time I start to lose perspective on how kind people really can be, I’m reminded via some odd circumstance that there are really great, amazing people out there.

On Black Friday, I was one of the insane masses eagerly hitting the page-refresh button on the Walmart homepage at 3:00 am waiting for the online version of their sale to begin. I was lucky enough to score Rock Band at $50 for my nephews’ Christmas present.

When I placed the order I set the delivery to my parent’s house, who happen to live in the middle of Amish Country in Ohio, a.k.a. the middle of no-where. I spent the next week tracking the order in anticipation of their receipt of the package via FedEx, and then a few days ago, the FedEx site, read that the package was delivered and that “S[insert my last name]” signed for it.

One problem, I’m about 500 miles away and my parents never received the package. After spending an hour on the phone with FedEx explaining that it was not delivered and receiving all of the typical promises of “we’ll investigate it,” I hung up the phone feeling disappointed and angry, expecting the worst, wondering if the package was stolen rather than delivered.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can We Say Amen?

Finally, Real Help for American Victims of Domestic Violence Residing Abroad

For battered and abused women and children, leaving an abuser when you're living an a foreign country can seem untenable, impossible, hopeless. Finally, an organization has stepped to the plate offering assistance to victims of domestic violence residing abroad: The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC).

There is help for victims of domestic violence residing abroad. The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC), formerly the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line, provides essential services to expatriate victims and is teaming up with several local US Embassies in Europe raise awareness through the Global Campaign to Empower Americans Experiencing Domestic Violence Abroad. This campaign will transition to the Middle East and Far East in 2010.

Content Source: Bukisa - Finally, Real Help for American Victims of Domestic Violence Residing Abroad

Friday, December 4, 2009

Taking Some New Directions in Writing Online: The Great Revenue Share Experiment

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been exploring some new avenues in building income by writing online. Thus far, I’ve concentrated on websites that offer up-front pay, like Demand Studios, and predictable pay, like Constant Content, mostly ignoring revenue share sites offering longer-term passive income like, HubPages or Bukisa.

After reading two very helpful blogs, No Job for Mom and The Freelance Home Writer, I realize that I’m missing a vital piece of my potential income stream by failing to invest adequate time in passive income sources.

Over the next several months, in an effort to gauge the potential that revenue share sites have to offer, I’ll begin submitting pieces and tracking progress. I’ll post progress reports on my blog as I go to compare the effectiveness of these passive income sources.

What’s the baseline?

Thus far, in terms of revenue share, the only work I’m currently bothering to track is through Demand Studios. So far, my income from DS through their revenue share program has been very disappointing, especially considering that at least 2 of my articles consistently appear in the top 5 Google results for keywords associated with the content.

This month, I began submitting articles to Bukisa following several positive reviews. Bukisa offers pay per page view at a defined “index”, usually set around $4 per 1000 unique “qualified“ visitors. For writers that refer new contributors, the website also offers passive income opportunity by way of a commission on the new writer’s page views without penalizing the new writer.

So, at the beginning of this experiment, this is where I’m at:

Demand Studios Revenue Share
July 2009............2 Articles......  $0.16
August 2009........2 Articles........$0.25
September 2009....2 Articles........$0.24
October 2009.......4 Articles........$0.53
November 2009.....5 Articles........$1.20

As a side note: Please do not think that this means that DS does not pay. These numbers reflect only the articles that I have in their revenue share program. Their up-front pay for articles ranges from $7.50 to $15 per piece. In terms of the website’s professionalism and fixed income opportunities, I have nothing but nice things to say.

Thus far, in December, with 5 articles in the revenue share program on DS, I’ve only earned $0.01.

For the 4 articles that I’ve posted with Bukisa since December 1, I’ve earned $0.08.

Next status report to be posted: January 1. Let's hope things start looking up!

In the interest of full disclosure, if you click on a link to Bukisa through this blog, I will be credited as your referrer. This would not penalize you in any way, but if you would like to join Burkisa without being referred by my account, please open a new window and type in the web address or Google it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday Travel with Amtrak on the Pennsylvanian, Kinda Classy Newark to Pittsburgh, Kinda Itchy on the Return

I always have the most interesting travel experiences! With the holiday, I’m a little late in posting this travel review, but thought it might be helpful if you’re weighing your travel options this Holiday Season.

 Getting There

Thanksgiving morning kicked off with a jolt this year as I realized that instead of oversleeping my alarm for the office, I was oversleeping my Amtrak reservation. Today’s journey would take me on a trek with Amtrak from Newark, NJ, to Pittsburgh, PA (followed by a 2 hour drive to the-middle-of-nowhere-Ohio).

Because I was pressed for time, I opted to call a cab to Newark Penn Station. I realized that this was a very bad idea after the cabbie asked for a $62 fare. This seems mildly ridiculous considering that my train ticket was not much more than that.

Shaking off the sting from the gauging taxi fare, I entered the station to print my ticket, grab a coffee and peruse the newspaper racks and drop $16 on lunch-to-go at Zaro’s, located just outside the Amtrak waiting area in Newark Penn Station.

A word of caution on Newark Penn Station, if the taxis and the deli don’t gauge you, the bums will. I am all for giving to the needy, and I would be the first to buy a stranger lunch, but if you’re heading to the station, come prepared to drop more than a pocketful for the moments when you’re entering the station, ordering from the deli and waiting on the train.

Traveling as much as I do by air, I was expecting the long train ride to be a drag, but honestly I was impressed by the quality of the accommodations in business class - plenty of leg room, luggage space, very comfortable seats and even 120V outlets to keep my laptop going through the ride. While the ride is considerably longer on the train than it is by plane, there is ample opportunity to stretch legs, snack at the dining car and gaze out the window at the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania.

While I brought my lunch on the train, I was pleasantly surprised to see vegetarian options in the dining car. For business class passengers, the dining car also offers complimentary soft drinks and coffee in small sizes.

For the trip out to Pittsburgh, despite the very comfortable accommodations, there were some set-backs. The train became very cold about halfway through the ride. I found myself reaching for my coat and still shivering. Also, as time went on, the quality of the restroom declined considerably. I’m guessing there are some men who need to be taught the dynamics of relieving nature’s call while standing on a moving surface. (Do everyone a favor gentlemen, and just this once, sit down.)

 Coming Home

Coming back to Newark from Pittsburgh on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, I rode in coach in an effort to compare the differences in service and comfort.

The stark contrast was immediately apparent. The mass of riders huddled into the decaying semblance of a train station in Pittsburgh corralled the tracks to vie for the first crack at preferred seats.

Being the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, we all knew that the train was sold out, and yet there were those who felt that “sold out” did not apply to them. The people of the train ran amuck with varied feelings of mutual disgust, emotional laziness and lack of holiday spirit.

To the anonymous snob riding to Philadelphia, sitting in front of me, who felt that she was too good for just one seat wins the title “Queen of Classlessness” for her completely tactless and disheartening lack of consideration and Holiday Spirit. In her reign over two seats on a sold out train, the Queen of Classlessness dismissed the couple with a baby who needed to occupy the other 2 seats, seats which of course they paid for.

The baby began to scream out in horror of the Queen of Classlessness’ day-glo, over-tanned face as it scratched out a scowl at the poor child. Music to my ears, the nasty wench writhed in horror that an infant would dare cry in public in the presence of her royal highness, adding a statement to the father of the child to the effect of, “Great, now I have to listen to this kid scream. Can’t you quiet her down.”

After several unnecessary and inappropriate comments by this snobby, horrible young twit, the father of the child finally spoke up for himself and his family, snapping at her that she, and those around her purchased 1 seat, not 2. Then he added a statement to the effect of “You’re a spoiled, mean, selfish person.” (Yes!)

After several uncomfortable moments, the family moved to another section of the train. The twit who caused the trouble and then the people around her that wouldn’t give up their second seats complained about the family butting into their trip. Utterly disgusting.

And the worst part? The Amtrak employees were nowhere to be found during this whole episode.

Intent on calling out the snob for her heartlessness, the young woman sitting next to me and I discussed very loudly the importance of Holiday Spirit and the lack of consideration between people. Of course, since the snob was sitting directly ahead of me, I adjusted my tray table often and used the top of her seat as a support when standing up, 2 to 3 times per hour.

In an odd twist, I came to realize that I knew the woman sitting next to me. We used to live 2 blocks apart from each other in Pittsburgh a little more than 3 years ago. We frequented the same coffee shops, shopped at the same stores and rode the same bus. It’s kind of bizarre how small the world really is.

Getting back to the travel review…So, the ride in coach was less comfortable with less leg room, no arm rest between seats and very small tray tables. Luggage space and fresh air were limited, to say the least. The bathroom disaster was considerably more pronounced. If it weren’t for the electrical outlets and the frequent walks to the dining car, I would have been in crawling the windows to escape.

Tip on coach: Order a small coffee, tip well, be extra nice to the man in the dining car and you just might get free coffee for the rest of the ride.

Coming back into the Newark, the Pennsylvanian arrives at 10:40ish into Penn Station. If you’re a woman traveling alone, I would not suggest this route as a viable option. The station was full of shady individuals and the display of human suffering in the corridors was frightening.

Would I do it again?

In business class, with someone waiting for me at both ends of the train, absolutely. The cost was on point and the accommodations were comfortable.

In coach class, on a long trip, not unless I had to. With no one waiting for me (at either end of the line), absolutely not.

Some ways in which Amtrak can improve:
  • More secure stations
  • Cleaner restrooms on the train
  • Stronger conductor presence for problems when passengers go a little crazy
  • Recycling options to reduce the massive amount of waste from all of the paper coffee cups

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In Appreciation of World AIDS Day...

AIDS: Devastating the World, One Child at a Time

Of the more than 33 million people worldwide living with HIV and AIDS worldwide, more than 2 million of them are children. In Africa alone, more than 14 million children are AIDS orphans, devasted by the loss of one of more parent from the disease.

What have you done to help?

Approximately 62 percent of children under the age of 15 living with HIV and AIDS do not receive live-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) worldwide, according to Unite for Children, a program organized by UNICEF. This staggering statistic highlights the crux of the struggle against AIDS and our failure in addressing the needs of this pandemic’s most disenfranchised victims.

Content Source: Bukisa - AIDS: Devastating the World, One Child at a Time

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Let Santa Forget Christmas for Children of Domestic Violence Victims

As you get ready for your yearly Black Friday shopping craze, take a moment to remember to include some kids on your list that Santa might not be able to give to this Christmas.

When women leave abusive partners, oftentimes they leave with nothing. When these women have children, the children often face a very difficult and emotionally draining transition.

This year many children will not have a Christmas. Many of these will be survivors or children of survivors of domestic violence. This year, make a difference in the lives of these children by giving, no matter how small the gesture may be, to a local toy drive or women’s shelter.

If you live in or near New York City, Safe Horizon needs your help. As the largest victim’s support and assistance non-profit organization in the United States with more than 80 programs for victims and their families, the center acts as a beacon for hope for many NYC women and children in crisis.

This year Safe Horizon needs you to step up for the kids by donating a new unwrapped toy for children who may not have more than just the clothes on their backs. For suggestions on what to donate, check out the Safe Horizon website.

Safe Horizon is accepting toys at 2 Lafayette Street in Manhattan until December 15.

If you would be interested in donating to Safe Horizon and live close to the NYC metro area, I’d love have you at an informal “Shop & Drop” event on December 12. This event is not associated with the non-profit - just a few locals getting togeter to buy for the kids and donate. Email me at miravu [dot] web [at] gmail [dot] com for more details.

A Cold, Hard Reality

Robyn Mendes, 49, was a mother of 3 children. Ms. Mendes was stabbed to death on January 3, 2009, by her daughter’s father, Gary Gomes who also murdered his mother, Katherine Gomes, 61, the next day.

Luz Forty, 38, was a mother of 4 children, 3 daughters and 1 son, ages 16 to 20. Ms. Forty was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Mario Gonzalez, on February 14, 2009.

Tiana Notice, 25, was a young women with her life ahead of her. Ms. Notice was allegedly stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, James Carter, on February 16, 2009.

Penha Quiterio, 67, was a mother of 1 adult son. Ms. Quiterio was shot to death by her husband, Armelin Quiterio, on March 12, 2009.

Maryse Antoine, 46, was a mother to a 3-year-old daughter and an 18-year old son. Ms. Antoine was allegedly strangled to death by her boyfriend, Souleymane Yacouba-Issa on March 22, 2009.

Silvia Rosa, 44, was a mother of two children married for 20 years to a man with no history of domestic violence. Mrs. Rosa was stabbed to death by her husband, Mizael Rosa, on March 26, 2009.

Linda Auger was a mother of 4 children. Ms. Auger was stabbed to death by her boyfriend on April 29, 2009.

Yuliya Galpernia, 42, was a mother of two children and nine months pregnant with her third child. Ms. Galpernia and her unborn child were allegedly stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Peter Ronchi, on May 16, 2009.

Rebecca Moulton, 27, was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Ms. Moulton was allegedly beaten to death by her boyfriend, David Vincent III, a man with an established history of domestic violence, on June 4, 2009.

Ana Cruz, 39, was a mother of four children and a grandmother of four children. Ms. Cruz was allegedly murdered by stabbing and smoke inhalation by her husband, Benjamin Sanchez on July 12, 2009.

Mary Beaton, 33, was a mother of an 11-year-old daughter. Ms. Beaton was strangled and suffocated to death by her boyfriend, Joseph Beatty, on August 28, 2009.

Giselle Rodriguez, 23, was a student at Fitchburg State College. Ms. Rodriguez was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Alexander Skowran, on September 21, 2009, just days before he was due to appear in court for proceedings related to a restraining order.

According to Jane Doe, Inc., these are the names of the women who have been murdered from January 1, 2009 through September 21, 2009, from the State of Massachusetts alone. This list does not represent the women across the United States and around the world who have lost their lives at the hands of abusers. This list does not include the children who have died as a result of abuse in the home.

One abusive one too many.

Who replaces the void created in the world when these lives are so violently and senselessly ripped away? Who speaks for the children who have lost their mothers or for the women who can never again speak for themselves?

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Have you spoken today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yet Another Reason Why I'll Never Live in Belgium Again

The US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, released an alert today warning Americans abroad of a foiled terrorist plot in Europe’s capital. An incendiary device was found near the vehicle of a member of the foreign diplomatic corps. Thankfully, despite the involvement of the wholly inadequate Belgian Federal Police, the device was removed safely.

Last December Belgium gained the world’s attention following the arrest of 14 terror suspects in Brussels and neighboring city Liege who were allegedly plotting an attack on a European Summit to be held in the capital city.

If you’ve spent a significant amount of time in Brussels, you’re probably used to the often subway disruptions for Schumann, the Metro stop directly below the European Commission. You’ve probably been witness to the various demonstrations that take place from time to time from activist groups. You're probably more than used to the uncomfortable interactions between nationalities, especially that between the Arab community and the European natives. The city is rife with tension.

Despite the importance that Brussels holds in acting as the center of European government, the news this morning neglected to even mention this latest attempted act of terrorism. Then again, despite all of the demonstrations and shady activities I’ve witnessed in the European capital, the only incident I’ve ever seen on the news was that which involved the arrest around the European Summit in 2008.

Is the lack of coverage a result of selective or stifled media coverage? Who knows, but back in the days of real, investigative journalism, one might think it would be interesting to cover terrorist groups plotting attacks in the capitals of industrialized countries.

Just one more reason why I’m glad to be State-side again - media sensationalism in the US would have this blasted all over every channel, on every show, in every paper.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today’s Winner of the Most Ridiculous Use of Green Marketing Claims: CVS’ Greenbagtag

I couldn’t help myself being drawn into a curious, dumbfounded haze this evening while making my weekly after-work-chocolate-fix purchase at my local CVS Pharmacy. Fixated on the overflowing rack of green and brown paper with a bright green leaf, I stared in disbelief trying to make sense of how this Green Bag Tag is "green" in any sense of the word.

How does it work?

For 99 cents, shoppers can purchase this plastic “green bag tag” to hang from their reusable grocery bags and scan at the register to claim a reward dollar on every 4th visit to the store. So, for $1, you, the shopper, is paying to be rewarded for continuing to shop at CVS.

What makes this product “green”?

Absolutely nothing.

This tag, while doing little more than promoting shopping with CVS, is sold on a paper card and is made of plastic. Kudos for using recycled paper for the packaging, but is this tag even necessary? Considering that the CVS rewards program is already done electronically, is it really necessary to add to the waste stream and to add to the pollution muddying our air through the production of unnecessary no-value-added plastic? Do consumers really need two rewards cards from CVS?

Even if it promotes the use of reusable shopping bags, is it useful? Will consumers even remember to attach their CVS Green Bag Tag to their reusable shopping bags and then remember to bring it to the store?

Assuming the consumer actually remembers to use the tag and brings it with them to the store, how many would actually redeem and then use the reward dollars, which are of course only redeemable at CVS?

Great marketing strategy CVS! Get your customers to buy into a product that can only be used when shopping in your store. Set it apart from their current rewards program so that they will forget to use it. And, don’t forget to call it something politically savvy like “green.”

I love saving money. I love (nearly) everything green. But, I can’t bring myself to look at this product without a whopping, “HUH??”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blog for Your Mother

Add your voice to raise awareness on violence against women by making a commitment to blog on November 25, the United Nation‘s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women kicks off 16 Days of Activism, spearheaded by Rutger’s University Center for Women’s Global Leadership and the UNFPA, to raise awareness and promote activism in ending gender violence.

The 16 Days campaign begun with CWGL as a statement in linking November 25 with International Human Rights Day on December 10 in order to drive home the message that violence against women is a global human rights issue.

The UNFPA identifies 16 forms of gender violence:
1 - Sexual violence as a weapon of war
2 - Prenatal gender selection
3 - Female genital mutilation
4 - Date rape
5 - Bride Burning or other dowry-related violence
6 - Child marriage
7 - Human trafficking
8 - Domestic violence
9 - Crimes committed in the name of passion or honor
10 - Abduction of children and adolescent girls during war or combat
11 - Bride kidnapping
12 - Sexual harassment at work
13 - Physical or emotional violence by an intimate partner
14 - Exploitation of domestic workers
15 - Femicide
16 - Forced sterilization and other coercive reproductive practices

On November 25, join the Blogger’s Unite community in speaking out about violence perpetrated on our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and global neighbors. Take a stand by making a commitment to post a blog entry on one of the many forms of violence against women.

More details on the blogging event are available at the Bloggers Unite website.

Rutgers University Center for Global Women’s Leadership - 16 Days of Activism
UNFPA - 16 Days of Activism

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

6 Months to May

Firey Flower, Courtesy of Artie Fiorno, all rights reserved

Just a passing thought...wishing it were Spring as the trees begin to dwindle into a barren Winter...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leave the B*st*rd: Summoning the Courage, Utilizing Resources to Leave an Abuser

When I was debating whether to leave Youssef, we were living in a country where I was not a citizen, where my ability to communicate was restricted by my less than fluent understanding of the language, and where I had little knowledge of or access to resources to help me. Money was tight, every hour of my day was controlled, and he held all of the cards.

What prompted me to plan an out? Several important things converged. He gave me a really terrible beating. A friend reached out to me. My mother sensed something on the phone. I began to have problems with my visa. I read something that shook me.

Domestic abuse escalates - emotional abuse to physical abuse to sexual abuse. Once the abuser has mastered the first three, what’s left? There is only one place the violence can escalate from there. I was terrified that he was going to kill me.

If you are in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. Take a look at the links in the bottom of the post for some helpful resources and consider some (non-professional, personal) advice below:

Make a plan.
Keep it secret. Do not tell him you’re leaving him. Do not tell your friends. Do not let him know in any way that you are planning to leave. Abusers often escalate when they are afraid of losing their victims. Keep yourself safe by keeping your plans secret.

Cover your tracks.
If you have visited websites geared specifically at domestic violence resources, delete internet cookies and the browsing history for the relevant pages each time that you are finished using the computer and never view these sites when he is at home with you.

Take almost nothing with you. The more you pack, the more noise you make, the more dust you disturb, the easier it would be for the abuser to sense your plan.

If you’re an expat or living out of the country, contact the local U.S. Embassy once you leave. Just like in cities across the US, different countries have different track records with removing abusers from the home and protecting the abused. The only difference here is that if you’re not a citizen you technically do not have rights. Do not trust that just calling the local police will resolve the legal issue or offer any sort of protection.

If possible, go somewhere that will make it difficult for you to return. For example, leaving Belgium while I was in the middle of resolving my residence permit meant that legally I could not reenter the country without applying for a visa. This happy accident was immensely helpful in keeping me from making the mistake of returning to him.

Reach out for support.
If you haven’t already done so, contact a women’s support group that specializes in finding housing solutions for victims of domestic violence in crisis. Memorize the emergency number of a local women’s shelter. Call the shelter. If that does not work, call the police or the rape or women’s crisis center at a hospital, if you’re outside of the country, get to the Embassy. You will not sleep on the street.

Reach out for more support.
Follow up on counseling to help you deal with and process the emotional trauma that you experienced. Here’s the cliché…healing takes time. It will be difficult. You may feel like the world has ended. You may suffer from depression or panic attacks. You may feel completely and utterly confused wondering why you still love someone so horrible. You may want to go back. You are going to need to invest real time and real effort in healing.

Start living again.
Ok, so it’s not that easy, but it sure does sound nice…

Important Resources
National Domestic Violence Hotline
United States Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women
International Hotlines
US Embassies

Mini-Guide: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

When I came back from Brussels, desperately aware of my personal financial crisis, jobless in a stifled job market, I scoured the internet searching for an opportunity, any opportunity, to make money. After a little trial and error, intense research, more trial and error, followed by frustration, I found a wealth of opportunity, surprisingly easy to infiltrate, right at the tip of my fingers. All it took was looking in the right places.

One word to the wise on finding work online: be careful of the gimmicks. Never, ever pay to work.

I’ve summarized below some of the sites that I’ve used over the last few months with links to a few of my favorites.

Demand Studios
Hands-down the best online freelancing opportunity is with Demand Studios, DS as we writers lovingly call it. While DS has one of the most stringent sets of standards for writers and editors, it is clearly worth the application process. With consistent work and on-time payments at a fair rate, Demand Studios is a great place for a serious online SEO content writer to work.

Constant Content
Another amazing website to work for, Constant Content, allows freelancers the freedom to choose what they want to write, and, even better, set the price for their work. The site has editorial standards and a very supportive community of writers.

Associated Content
AC, a slightly controversial website, pays less than Demand Studios and has little editorial oversight on the quality of its content than DS and CC. Did I also mention that it pays less? AC pays primarily based on a revenue share model, meaning that you get most of your revenue from the number of clicks your articles receive, which can be very frustrating if you're new to the site. However, Associated Content allows a lot more freedom in terms of the types of content that the site will post.

Other revenue share sites include: HubPages, Suite101, Helium

Freelance Marketplaces
There are also several freelance marketplaces that allow writers to bid on projects. Typically, these sites require quite a bit of time to develop a reputation and bid on projects. Also, because the pool of freelancers is so large, with workers around the world bidding on the same projects, the pay through these sites is typically less than adequate. The other downside to online freelance websites is that many times, in order to get a payout, the worker loses money in payment processing.

Some of the freelance sites are: Elance, RentACoder, Guru

Blogging and Website Development
Using Adsense to monetize a self-hosted blog or on a free blog hosting site like Blogger is also an option to generate money online. While the Adsense pay is typically much less, for the most, part than actively writing for DS, AC or CC, blogs feel a lot less like work and a lot more creatively malleable.

For self-hosted sites, affiliate marketing links and advertisements are also options. While many serious online workers, swear by website development and blogging as revenue streams, for the freelancer who is more of a writer than a web developer, the learning curve is a bit steep, not to mention the time investment for a financial return is a bit difficult to manage when finances are tight.

A Million Options
There are a multitude of freelance options online, many more than can be summarized in one blog post. If you’re just starting out, take advantage of learning from the structure that editorially mediated sites, like Demand Studios or Constant Content, offer before stepping out into some of the more fluid, time-intensive options. Once you get your feet wet, you’ll quickly find, that the web has a lot more not-so-secret hidden opportunities than you thought.

Good luck in your online endeavors!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Jaunt Sans Style - Continental Flight 787 Newark to Orange County

Two words Continental - What happened?

As a former super-trekker, I’ve flown nearly every major [and minor] airline. Tonight was the first in more than six months that I’ve boarded a flight, and, wow, a lot has changed.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, Continental is no longer a part of The Sky Team Alliance, which includes partnerships with Delta Airlines, Air France, Alitalia and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to name a few. Now a part of the Star Alliance , famous for its partnership with US Airways, Continental has moved its entire loyalty program, including all of its members. This is unfortunate news to those of us who leverage our Delta Skymiles for free travel on Continental.

Had I known this, I would not have inched my way to the back boarding line in bewilderment realizing that I no longer had my super-special frequent flyer privileges. I also would have probably booked another flight. Feeling out in the cold with a major shift in my consumer status with an airline with whom I’ve done a lot of business, I boarded my flight to Orange County, head hung low, inch by inch as the endless line of non-Continental members slowly shuffled onto the plane.

As you can imagine, Newark to Orange County is a fairly long flight, just under 6 hours. So, I’m sure you can understand my amazement when I saw the amenities the plane had to offer. Flying a 737-800, Flight 787 was scheduled to run with a small plane designed more for regional travel than for transcontinental treks. To make it more unbearable, the plane was not equipped with televisions (as the Continental website promised). So, with no in-flight movie or any other form of entertainment, we began our 6 hour flight in a plane designed to make the masses feel more like sardines neatly tucked into a rectangular can than valued customers.

My lack of super-duper-elite-member status explains the amazing seat assignment I was given on the flight, last row directly adjacent to the restroom and the food preparation area, an odd combination of functional spaces. As the flight drew on in its first hour, the smell of convection oven factory-farm burgers-in-a-bag and blue nastiness from the toilet began to mount an attack on my eyes and nostrils with its insidious potency.

Of course the flight would not be complete without a medical emergency, Directly to my left, as I was typing my review of the disgusting odors of the rear of the plane, a man exited the restroom by way of gravity. Falling just to the left of my leg, the man, so swaggerly dressed in slightly smallish sweatpants and a t-shirt, groggily grumbled himself into a complete loss of consciousness.

Kudos to the crew for their quick attention as they proceeded to give the man oxygen and called for a doctor on board. With a self-proclaimed doctor monitoring the man‘s pulse and an oxygen tank installed over his mouth, I was asked to move to another seat, closer to the coughing children, while the crew debated whether to request an early landing for a medical emergency. Instead of landing, the afflicted man was propped up directly behind me in my former seat with an oxygen bag covering his face.

As the flight drew on, at about half-way through, the crew begins its meal run distributing trays of factory-farmed, processed-beyond-recognition-almost-food in neat, orderly boxes organized by subunit. As well as this flight was going, hope that my meal request was actually going to be honored, waned and faded into oblivion. As the second to last row, the only option available was factory-farmed cow with a side of lettuce that the airline passed off as salad. The flight attendant rolled her eyes when I explained that I had a special request and left never to return. I notified another member of the crew that my vegetarian meal was missing and he followed up by offering to give me more lettuce, not salad, just lettuce. So, I pushed the 2 inch by 3 inch by 1 inch container of lettuce back at him. His remedy? Hard rolls from first class and a packet of [non-vegan] cookies. Ugh.

As a bizarre twist, the non-vegan cookies, Brussels by Pepperidge Farm, just go to show how very bizarre my luck really is. See previous blog post

Serendipitous Reunions

So, here I am staring at it. The remnants of pre-cellular communication at Gate C72 at the Newark Airport where I poured nearly all the change I had into a pay phone to let my Mother know that I landed safely back in the States. I didn’t expect to see that today.

When I left Youssef earlier that morning I had nearly nothing, just a suitcase, a few Euros and a plane ticket home. No cell phone, no US Dollars, no job. I had no idea what I was going to do. I spent most of the time in the Brussels Airport and on the plane crying. When I landed in Newark, I was so numb and empty and alone.

I exchanged my few Euros for Dollars at the currency exchange in Terminal C and went looking for a phone before my connecting flight. Lugging my heavy, overstuffed bag across the terminal, I came to the first phones that I could find. I called home to hear my Mother’s voice crying with joy, elated that I made it.

Several months later I’m sitting at the same Gate, staring at the same pay phone that announced my entry into safety. This time, however, I’m here in a different capacity, from victim of domestic abuse fleeing from her abuser to businesswoman hopping a late afternoon flight to Orange County, California. What a contrast!

So today, am I still broken and lost and confused? Absolutely. Do I still want to cry? Do I still have panic attacks? Do I want to jump out of my skin and scream demanding an answer for what he did to me? Absolutely. Would I ever go back? Never.

If you’re involved with someone who hurts, scares, humiliates or belittles you, stop waiting and just leave. Don’t tell him that you’re leaving. Don’t take everything with you. Don’t second guess yourself or worry about your job. Don’t even tell your friends. Just leave.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Getting Started...What Is This Blog All About?

Last November, I stepped off a plane in Brussels, Belgium, for what I thought would be the path to the rest of my life, which of course revolved around a tall, dark and handsome mystery man. After six months, I realized how deep a mistake that life-changing event was.

Had that been the only major mistake I’ve made in my life, this blog would probably be focused solely on domestic violence. Unfortunately, in my human “I-know-what-I’m-doing” approach to disaster combined with the most bizarre luck on the planet, I have mistakes-a-plenty.

So, what is this blog all about? It’s partly a sounding board for the personal perspectives of a woman facing unique challenges in rebuilding her life. More than that, I hope that this medium will become a useful collection of resources on how to face challenges impacting many of us, from women’s issues to career development to dating mishaps.

Thank you for reading and interacting with this blog!