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Friday, July 31, 2015

How to make simple oreo truffles -- FAIL KITCHEN

"I feel sad that I bought sprinkles for this."


Monday, July 27, 2015

It takes a village -- Guest Post

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think that in some ways, our "villages" are getting smaller as the years pass. Times are changing. There is an ominous feeling that we can't - or at least probably shouldn't - trust anyone with our kids except ourselves. We are solely responsible for bringing up our own kids. We almost have no choice but to become "helicopter parents," hovering over our children, fiercely protecting them and shielding them from the scary outside world.

However, when you are unexpectedly thrown into raising a child with special needs, you quickly realize that you have no choice but to find and embrace your village, to let go, and to trust others to help your family. Suddenly, there will be therapists entering your home and working with your child. There will be appointments with various doctors and specialists. There will be thorough evaluations, spanning hours, where you will watch your child's every move recorded and scrutinized. There will be advice. Oh goodness, so much well-meaning (but often frustrating) advice.

In the midst of all this confusion and uncertainty, this struggle between holding tightly and letting go, a few kind people will shine their lights into your world. These people are your villagers.

A villager will take the time to truly get to know your child, to gain her trust, get into her world, and to meet her where she is at that very moment. A villager will genuinely laugh at an awkwardly told knock-knock joke or a line of scripting from a TV show, even if it's the 8th time they've heard it that day, because they see the beauty in your child's attempts to communicate and connect. A villager will gently encourage growth, while still respecting your child's rights. A villager will watch, beaming with pride, just as you are, as your child achieves a milestone that you may have never thought was possible.

And....perhaps it wouldn't have even been possible, without the villagers' help.

Every single day, the villagers are showing up to their jobs, but not just working for a paycheck. They are changing lives - and not just the life of the child they are helping, but the parents, siblings, and other loved ones will be forever changed by their work. The villagers may not think often about the significance of what they are doing, but it is HUGE.

To our villagers: I thank you from the bottom of my heart. My children would not be where they are today without your kindness, your patience, your dedication, and your knowledge. There is a big world out there, and our villagers are paving the way for my child to find her place in it.

To the parents of special needs children: Seek out your will know when you find them. Trust them. Learn from them. Gradually begin to let go....and watch your child travel from his village out into the world.


"Amber Appleton Torres" is a stay at home mother of three, the eldest two of whom are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After their diagnoses, she realized she is on the spectrum as well, and got her own Asperger's diagnosis. She blogs about her family's journey at

Friday, July 24, 2015

How NOT to make a melon cake--worst fail EVER: Fail Kitchen

"I'll be honest, if I wasn't filming, this is where I pack it in, throw it all out and pretend this didn't happen."


Thursday, July 23, 2015

How much should a freelancer make? -- Guest post

Last year, I wrote a blog for Parentwin about my experiences as a freelance writer. Looking back on it, it's still a good post with some useful information in it, but it barely scratches the surface on what freelancers really need to know to make a living. And for new freelancers, it likely didn't help as much as I'd intended. Sure, you know where I go to look for jobs, you have some tips for maneuvering around Elance (which will soon be UpWork). But beyond that, it doesn't even begin to answer the number one question many freelancers have: How much do I get paid?

When you work for someone else, they usually give you a salary range. It makes it easy. Company advertises that they pay $50,000 a year and as long as you go to work every day and do your job, you get $50,000 per year.

But as a freelancer, you don't work for any one company. You work for a variety of individual clients. And many of them have an idea of what they want to pay, but good luck getting them to name a price when you first start negotiating your rates. They usually ask you to name your price.

And you're faced with a serious issues. You don't want to go too high and have them scoff at your price and walk away, but you also don't want to work for peanuts. Because chances are, once you set your rate with them, there's no moving it up. It's easier to get a new client at a higher rate than ask for an existing client to increase your pay by a lot. Even if the new rate is actually the fair, going rate for whatever it is you're doing.

This right here scares the hell out of freelancers. I've spent countless hours trying to figure out how much I'm worth. And that's the other issue here. Many freelancers have no idea what they're worth, or they lack the confidence to believe their skills are worth the price they've come up with. Especially when clients shoot back asking you to lower that rate, and well, if you're desperate for work... Chances are, you take what they give you.

But listen up. It doesn't have to be that way. I've been doing this for just over a year and I know what to charge when it comes to ghostwriting. I have “What I'd like to make” and “The bottom dollar I'm willing to take” quotes. If I'm desperate for work, I'll offer the lower rate, but I never go beyond the lowest rate I'm willing to take. If I'm busy but a client approaches me, I usually quote the higher rate. And I'm always surprised when I get that higher rate, but so far, I've managed to get it about 75% of the time.

Pretty nice, huh?

You're probably thinking to yourself that this is all fine and dandy, but it doesn't help if you have no freaking clue where to start with pricing yourself.

There are two common approaches to paying freelancers. Some clients prefer to pay an hourly rate while others pay an upfront rate (for writers, this may also be a per word rate). I prefer the second method because I write insanely fast. However, I do consider my hourly rate when coming up with my price.

Here's an example:

I list my hourly rate as $50 an hour on my Elance profile. I could probably go higher, but I mainly write fiction because it's more fun for me. But fiction writing doesn't pay nearly as much as copywriting or business writing. But for me, it's faster to write a fictional story than it is to research a boring topic, so it pans out.

I can easily write 10,000 words in about four hours. So I ask for $200 for 10,000 words and I make $50 an hour. Easy peasy. I also look at it per word. I generally charge $2 per 100 words. However, my old rate is still one I accept from time to time and it's no my bottom dollar rate - $1 per 100 words or about $25 an hour. From here, I plan on branching out and offering my services to higher end clients eventually. You never know, I may write the next James Patterson novel. Probably not, but it's not out of the question for me.

I will make a confession, however. My first 10,000 word short story only paid me $35. I did it for feedback. I don't regret that one bit. Mainly because I never had to take that rate again. Generally, I encourage new writers to take one small, short project to get some sort of feedback, but to aim for no less than $1 per 100 words. If you can't write fast, no, ghostwriting probably won't pay enough for you to quit your day job.

Again, this is only for ghostwriting. When it comes to copywriting, well, be prepared to ask for more. A lot more. $50 an hour is a good starting rate, but if you have experience, skills, or a useful degree, you can easily ask for $100 an hour, and even more. I'm just getting my feet wet in the world of copywriting, but check out for some tips on making money in that arena. While yes, he does offer a course, I've found his free e-mail tips are extremely helpful in getting started. There are also several free blogs on bidding for copywriting jobs that can also apply to any freelancing.

And no, I'm not getting paid to promote the blog. It's just one of the best resources I've found, and his method is exactly the same as my method. He just explains it better than I can (which is why he makes $100,000 a year on Elance and I make much less than that).

Also, the reason copywriting often pays more is because you're usually working for a business, and businesses budget for marketing and whatnot. They consider it an investment and likely get a decent return on that investment. But clients seeking fiction are often individuals out to make a quick buck. They rarely make as much as a big corporation, and that's just a reality us fiction writers have to face. At least in the beginning.

The best piece of advice I can give you when dealing with a client is this: Remember that you're offering a service to the client. The client isn't doing you a favor by hiring you. It's a mutually beneficial partnership. You do work they obviously need. They pay you. You both get something from it.

When writing your proposal, feel free to mention your hourly rate to explain how you came to your pricing. It's always helpful for a client to see the justification opposed to a random number thrown up there. For instance, you can explain that your rate is $50 an hour and that 10,000 words takes you four hours to write. For that reason, your for X project would be X amount.

One final tip that has less to do with pricing and more to do with getting the job. Always attach a sample that's similar to what the project is asking for. Don't have a sample? Write something up that's similar. If it's a job that you truly want and you believe they're offering a fair rate, having a sample will set you apart from those who don't.

And I'm going to say it. Many of the freelance writers on Elance aren't very good. Many of them can offer bottom dollar prices for shitty quality work. Don't let that discourage you. In fact, it's a good thing. I find that I get almost 100% of the jobs I apply for even when I'm not the lowest bidder on a job. And my clients continually come back to me again and again, often raising my rates and paying me bonuses.  So when there is someone with talent or at least the ability to write somewhat well, they stand out.

Which is exactly what I am doing right now.

Almost makes me not want to share my secret with the rest of you, but too late now, huh? 


I just wanted to throw in a quick note here that pricing very much depends on the work you are doing, your experience, and the clients you're working with.

I don't know anything about ghostwriting, but I know as a freelancer for national and local publications, I started by gratefully accepting $50 for an essay or article of about 800 words. Now I won't touch a project like that for less than $150, and I strive to average at least $300 a piece. I am trying to work myself up to $800 - $1,000 a piece. And if you're doing content marketing for a large, money-making business, you can charge even more.

On the other hand, I edited novels for three years for a small publisher for $25 for 20,000 words.


I don't know. Pricing is hard, but never underestimate yourself.


Kristen Duvall is a writer of tales both real and make-believe. A Midwestern girl at heart, she now resides in Southern California with her boyfriend, Great Dane, and a rescued calico kitty she lovingly calls the Kiki Monster. She's a full- time writer with one book out now titled Femmes du Chaos.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

So this is 33

I was going to make a list of presents a newly 33-year-old mother of six-year-old twins would actually want for her birthday, since presents are nice and all, but these days usually aren't what I really need.

But I got it all. Seriously.

Yesterday was my birthday, and yesterday:

- The garbage disposal was fixed and the sink unclogged. Huzzah! No more hand washing precariously in one side of the sink while increasing grossness built up no matter what I did on the other side! No more scraping food scraps and uneaten, soggy cereal into a bag and putting it out to roast in the Florida sun inside a black trash bin.

- I wrote a 1,200-word piece for the print edition of the Washington Post. One of my favorite things is being in real print.

- Speaking of, I picked up two copies of Backpacker Magazine Jul/Aug 2015, where an as-told-to survival story I wrote is on page 49. My first national glossy! Yay!

- I had a science story publish in another awesome magazine. One I had been trying to sell for a while.

- My husband came home from work with glittery wrapping paper, a cake, and a mini-bottle of champagne to celebrate.

- My kids and husband threw me the best party. They wrapped one gift each (pearls!, a Calvin Klein purse!, a hair styling gift certificate!). They sang me happy birthday. They ate cake with me.

- The girls did not fight or cry or whine or be annoying once during the whole thing!!!!!

- The girls, while they were supposed to be getting ready for bed, made me a PINATA, out of paper, tape, and some Hershey's Kisses, had their daddy hold it, and let me whack it with a sword...and IT WORKED.

Anyway, last year, on my 32nd birthday, I was going viral for an essay I wrote for the Washington Post. My first ever for a paid publication. I was giving interviews, and fielding phone calls, and trying to hold on as my life took a sharp--radically sharp--right turn from where it had been heading.

I'm still on that path, and so far, so good. It's been a phenomenal year, and this one will be too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I'm Coming Out -- Guest Post

“SURPRISE!” the gang of revelers shouted. My mother and grandmother practically barreled me over with tackle-like defensive hugs, forgetting that I’m a slight man without any athletic ability. I’d barely made it through the front door of my childhood home, to have my weekly Sunday night early-bird special dinner with my mom and grandma, when I was accosted by a group of casually dressed well-wishers, some of whom were already three sheets to the wind.

My watch read 4:30p.m. Clearly, for some of the guests—for as long as I’d ever known them—it was always cocktail hour somewhere in the world.

“Um, hi everyone. What are y’all doing here?“ I continued to fend off hugs. I’d never been a hugger, even as a child. “I’m still thirty-six you know. Nothing’s changed since we celebrated my birthday together four months ago.”

The entire group laughed me off, as though I was the drunken elephant in the room. I liked a good party. And, my mother and grandmother never needed an excuse to throw an event—after all, my mother had me at twenty, raised me as a single mother holding down three jobs to make ends meet, while my grandma helped to raise me. I decided to get my freak on with them. If they wanted to party, who was I to stop them?

The dining room table was brimming with food. Loud music blared from my grandma’s ancient record player she’d refused to throw away. My mom’s bar on wheels, nearly tipping over from the grabby hands trying to pull bottles off of it to refresh half-empty drinks, was making its rounds. The middle-aged to nearing geriatric crowd of my family members, and some very cute men who looked to be near my age, were even wearing party hats. Everything seemed to be in order, until my gaze stopped upon the banner hanging above the living room fireplace mantle.

‘I’M COMING OUT,’ it screamed in neon bright colours of the rainbow. Frozen in horror, like a Beverly Hills ageing doyenne who’d overdosed on Botox, I couldn’t escape. I quickly scanned the room searching out my grandmother and mother.

“Mom? Grandma?” I called out to no answer. The music was overbearing. “Ma? I need to talk to you.”

I maneuvered my way through the crowd, finally spotting my matriarchs near the roving bar.

“Yoo hoo honey, over here!” my grandma chimed, waving me over.

“So, how do you like the party?” my mother asked.

“It’s nice. I even like the cute gay boys as party favors, but I’m a bit confused. Why are you throwing me a coming out party when I came out twenty years ago to you both when I was still in high school?”

“Who the hell said that this was your coming out party?” my grandma retorted, waving her martini-glass filled hand around.

“Grandma, are you telling me you’re loving the ladies these days?”

“Don’t be such an ass,” In one giant swig, she downed the four ounces of her Grey Goose medicine.


“Yes, you got me. I only buy cereal to munch on the box,” she shouted. The loud buzz of the room stopped cold. Everyone was staring at us thanks to my mother’s genetic predilection for screaming rather than whispering.

“So, then who’s gay?”

“No one, but you,” my mother retorted. “Coming out doesn’t have to mean just announcing to the world that you’re gay.”

“Okay, what then?”

“We, your mother and I, are coming out publicly to say that it’s about damn time you hitched your ride to a handsome fella, and give us babies,” my grandmother announced. “We have marriage equality now thanks to the Supreme Court.”

“Excuse me?” I stammered.

“You’re a thirty-six year old healthy, handsome, brilliant plastic surgeon, but you’re still single,” my mother advised as though she was telling me something I didn’t know. “We’ve watched men swim in and out of your life for the last twenty years, leaving us less and less hopeful as each failed relationship enjoyed a burial in the proverbial sea full of fish you’ve dated. We want you married already, and called daddy before the year is out.”

“What your mother means is that we want your kid calling you daddy, not your spouse.” My grandmother was not shy. “Honey, what you do in the privacy of the bedroom is non of our concern.”

My relatives nodded their heads in agreement, while the gaggle of gays lined up eagerly to get down on their collective bended knees to propose, upon hearing that I was single and ready to mingle according to my motherly pimps. And, it didn’t hurt that I was flush with cash. Enhancing boobs paid the bills.

“You’re both so cute, but you’re extremely deluded.” I glared at them, forcing my veneers to give them the most genuine fake smile I could muster. My relatives and the queue of wannabe suitors looked at me expectantly. I laughed uncomfortably. “I’m so happy that I can legally get married, but I’m not ready to settle down. Can we just talk about this privately?” I tried to usher them into the kitchen, but those two small immovable Moai had dug their heels in so deep into the shag carpeting, they weren’t going anywhere.

“Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of your family and potential future husband!” my mother stated.

I hung my head, my cheeks flaming with embarrassment.

“This party is as much a coming out for us as it is for you—you get to play debutante while we fix you up with our future son and grandson-in-law. It’s a win-win for all of us,” my grandma added. “You owe us grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now get flirting!”

“Shall we start the dating show portion of the party?” my mother asked, pointing to the eager puppy-like participants waiting to self-promote their attributes to me.

“What makes you think any of them will make suitable partners?” I asked.

“Since you can’t seem to find Mr. Right on your own, we found several options for you through,” my grandma added. “They all believe in God, country, marriage, and their mothers. What more do you want?”

“But, we’re Jewish,” I interrupted.

“What, they can’t convert? Jesus was a Jew—they know that,” my grandma retorted. The chorus of pretty boys nodded their heads eagerly.

“Since you’ve got everything figured out, why don’t you pick the groom for me? Hell, pick out the egg donor, or kid that we’re going to adopt. My vote doesn’t count?”

“No, it doesn’t. The vote was cast for you by the five learned Supremes who know what’s best for you and us. We’ve waited over twenty years to give you away in holy matrimony. We’ve had it up to here with you Grinderella. No more Mr. Right Nows,” my grandma ordered. “Thanks to the highest court of this land we’ve earned the right to see you get married, and hear the pitter patter of little chubby feet before we’re dead because you’ve got the right to get married. So, get a move on it!”

© 2015. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.


Naomi Elana Zener is the author of both Deathbed Dimes and satire fiction, which is posted on her blog Satirical Mama. Her vociferous blogging has been read and appreciated by industry bigwigs such as Giller Prize winner Dr. Vincent Lam and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Paula Froelich. Naomi blogs for Huffington Post and her articles have been published by KvellerAbsrd Comedy, and Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club. She’s currently working on her sophomore novel. You can connect with her on her website or on Twitter @satiricalmama.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Just get off my back

Internet, I am being hounded.

I first saw this article three days ago being passed around a writers' group. Then I saw it again. And again. And now it's hit the general population with Jezebel picking it up, and I just want to say that I really think it's total bullshit.

Like women writers don't feel shitty enough about their work and themselves at every fucking turn. Like it's not hard enough for us to even send shit out time and again to fucking silence. Or worse, a patronizing pat on the head. We just want to eat, and we'd prefer to do it by practicing our craft, and if we use certain turns of phrases, could you just get off our backs?

I like just.

I like using it, I like writing it, I like the way it makes my fucking pushy as fuck pitches sound. It helps me.

I send out upwards of 15 pitches a week, and I send out double that in follow-ups, so excuse me if I'm just checking in, because, for fuck's sake, that is what I am doing.

I'm not FORWARDLY IN YOUR FACE CHECKING IN. I'm not checking in to see if you've read my awesome fucking idea you've probably already barfed on and laughed about with your coworkers. I'm just checking in on it in case by some miracle of faulty modern magic you missed the email that not only popped up at your desktop at work but probably pinged your phone and got automatically added to three different to-do lists of yours.

I'm just acknowledging that editors are busy as fuck and no, actually, I don't think I deserve a reply just because I had the metaphorical balls to pitch a thing, but just in case you happen to like the idea better today than you did two weeks ago, here is a polite motherfucking nudge.

Dudes, like, what if I just don't feel like being freaking assertive in a follow-up? Does it mean I have low self-esteem? Am I suddenly the next victim of impostor syndrome? No. What if it simply means I have respect for another person's job and life, and silence is generally regarded as a no, so if I'm going to push it, how about I just be freaking polite about something for one time in my life?

And if the answer is no, or more silence, I'm not crying in my goddamn cheese curls and beer about it. I'm sending it to the next editor to nope. Until it gets a yes. So excuse me while I make double sure my first-choice publication doesn't want it in a way that might leave the editor feeling kindly toward me as opposed to having them think, "damn, why does she think the sun shines out her ass? I didn't even like her 839654829672906702 shitty essays in WaPo and Time. Bitch."

You know what I would like people to judge women writers on? THEIR WORK (TM Brooke effin' Binkowski, who is a rockstar).

If some bro is chilling over at Big Publication Inc., and he doesn't go further than my pitch because I use the word "just" in it somewhere, but my clips are stellar, my idea sharp and timely and my turnaround fucking faster than a Palin can get pregnant (too far? probably too far. I'm sorry.), then who is losing out? Not me. I'm moving my pitch to the next bro in line, and dude who can't move beyond one word in the language that indicates respect for his position can just watch something else I do go viral from the sidelines. Whatevs.

I will write my goddamn emails the way I want to write them. I am so sick of these rules. It's like a 1993 romance up in here (anyone else remember that godawful book, The Rules? WHO IS WITH ME?)

I don't need to hear about what semantic bullshit I can pull to suddenly make my words shine off the page. I don't want to twist myself into a pretzel of "this guru tells women to do this to be more like men, and this guru tells women to do that to be true to themselves and this guru says fuck it all, you're a girl so good fucking luck, try not to cry on the way home as you stand on the subway to make room for my manspread junk."

I'm just tired, guys. I'm just so tired of it. What I want in this world is to write an email the way I want to fucking write it and have it be read and weighted by the merit of the content within, and the tone and cadence (of which just is a part), and have them get a feel for the type of writing and person they will be getting by working with me.

And I am a polite son-of-a-bitch. So, yes, I'll just be checking in whenever the fuck I want.

Just get off my back.


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