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