Twenty Ways to Give Back This Christmas

isEvery year at Christmas, our family looks for ways to practice generosity and selfless service. This year though, there have been so many causes suggested that our budget simply can’t reach out to all of them. However, a family tradition every year includes delivering fresh cookies to fire departments and police stations, and donating to local toy drives. We also contact the headquarters for Fred Meyer stores and purchase discounted blankets, socks, coats, sweaters and caps. Then we visit homeless shelters throughout Portland to deliver these items where they are most needed. But this year, I’ve wanted to do more and thought that perhaps you feel the same way as I do.

So with this in mind, here are some great ideas to bring the joy of Christmas to others in your community or around the world. Because that is what this special season is really about. Isn’t it?

  1. Follow our lead by visiting a homeless shelter or tent city and donate blankets, gloves, socks, hats, or coats. Each little item keeps someone warm and can help them survive those cold winter nights.
  2. If you don’t have the money or items to donate, simply visit with the folks at the local homeless shelter or tent city. Sometimes just feeling like you matter as a person can lift your spirit.
  3. Sponsor an angel from the Salvation Army angel tree. This can become a special tradition for your family every year by picking out the perfect gift requested on an angel tree card.
  4. If you’re unable to get out to a store to choose an individual angel from their trees around town, you can still donate to the Salvation Army online! A donation online is just like dropping money into those little red buckets. Our local Salvation Army is reportedly very short this year in their projected donations, so every little bit helps.
  5. Shopping Fair Trade for Christmas is a wonderful way to find unique and personal gifts for friends and loved ones and it helps support artisans in developing nations. This is a win-win for everyone.
  6. One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area!
  7. One of my favorite organizations this time of year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. If you’re unfamiliar with this project, their website offers all the information you need to help. Briefly, Operation Christmas Child sends specially created care packages to children all over the world who need the most basic items as well as some personal gifts to really light up their world. Unfortunately, the national send-off week has passed, but you can still donate to the amazing cause at Samaritan’s Purse on their website. I want to make it a family tradition starting next year to pack a box together for a child who needs it.
  8. Participate in Operation Give, which sends 10,000 stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While, unfortunately, the deadline for stockings and stocking stuffers has passed, they are still in a great need for monetary donations right now to pay for shipping charges to actually get these stockings to the troops. 
  9. Another opportunity to support to our troops is through our USO program. The USO serves our troops year round, not just at Christmastime. They are always in need of support. You can donate at the link provided. Any online donations to such causes could be a thoughtful gift given in the name of others, such as neighbors or coworkers. It could be included in a card that a donation was made in their name to one of these wonderful programs.
  10. If you’re a pet lover, often local animal shelters hold food or toy drives for the animals housed there during Christmastime. These shelters tend to see an influx of new animals when the weather turns cold, because people are more inclined to drop off a stray for fear of them not surviving the cold. Shelters rely on such food donations well into the new year to care for the animals that wander their way. It would be a wonderful way to teach children to care for God’s creatures by buying cat food or dog food and dropping it off at your local animal shelter this Christmas.
  11. If you have a particular talent that you could share with others, now would be a great time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital or nursing home. If you play an instrument or sing, you could bring Christmas carols to the elderly or bedridden. If you have a knack for sewing, you could make a lap quilt for a child in the hospital.
  12. You could also participate in Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children who are terminally ill or have been traumatized, or who could otherwise just use a warm blanket around them. You can participate by donating a handmade blanket to a nearby Project Linus chapter, or by donating online to help pay for shipping and material costs.
  13. Ask around in your community, work, or church to see if there is a family with a particular need that you might fulfill. Perhaps there’s an elderly woman who just needs help keeping her driveway shoveled this year. Perhaps it’s a family who otherwise won’t have groceries this month. Whether it’s things or service, there is bound to be someone near you who could use some help, and there is bound to be some way you can help them.
  14. Shop local. Look for locally owned mom and pop stores to shop from rather than purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies this year. Shopping at local stores puts money back in your own community and supports families just like yours who are trying to make it this holiday season. You could buy gifts from the local bookstore down the street or shop for your Christmas dinner groceries at the family-owned grocery store in town rather than the large surplus store.
  15. Donate time, money, or food to the local food bank. Food banks always run low this time of year, and their staff is always stretched thin. Consider making it a family tradition to volunteer one Saturday before Christmas at your local food bank. You can hand out, sort, organize or prepare food for families.
  16. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. The cold weather sends people inside more than other times of year, and it seems harder this time of year for people in need to find a warm meal. Of course our current national economic state doesn’t help either. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can be a great bonding experience for your family, and can give you a chance to make friends with those less fortunate in our community.
  17. Bake cookies or other yummy goodies for your local firemen, police officers, EMT service providers, or teachers. Public service men and women don’t make a lot of money, but they do a ton of hard work in our communities. It would be a blessing to let them know how appreciated they are by dropping by this year with some baked goods and a smile.
  18. Make up coupons for your next door neighbors that give them one free law mowing, leaf raking, or car washing when the weather clears up. You could slip it in with a plate of cookies. It fosters a sense of community, allows you to get to know your neighbors, and shows them that you are willing to serve them as friends.
  19. Practice random acts of kindness by buying the lunch for someone in line with you at the local fast food restaurant. I’ve done this before, and I love both the reaction of the person at the window when I tell them what I’m doing and the reaction of the person behind me when they realize their meal is free.
  20. Donate to the cause of your choice on behalf of someone else. If a loved one has suffered from Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any other ailment, you can make a loving donation in the name of a friend or family member that supports a cause close to your heart. Many people appreciate these kind of gifts instead of little trinkets that will break or be lost quickly after the season.

It doesn’t take much to bless the lives of others, and this is the perfect time of year to make someone’s day and life magical in more ways than you can ever imagine. So bring your family and friends together this month and find ways to participate in the joy of giving. The warmth you will feel inside your heart will be the greatest gift you will ever receive. 

Blessings to you and yours,

Kaylin

Tough Love: A Lesson in Self Survival

Tough love is a hard and sometimes sad road we must walk down as parents when facing disruption in our families. It is a process we use when we need to step away from control or stop our desire to help a loved one who has become too dependent on drugs and alcohol or when this individual simply needs a huge wake up call because they are self destructing their own life or destroying the mental wellbeing of other members of your family.

Most unhealthy relationships have a caregiver and a dependent party, whether this is a friendship, a parent/child relationship or a romantic relationship. When the caretaker has had enough, is drained emotionally, physically or financially by the dependent party, a step taken backward by the caregiver is taken to let the dependent fall on their face. In other words, this step taken backwards usually leads to a huge jump forward.

The dependent one is shown that he needs to take charge of his own life. Tough love can be “sink or swim” and can be heart-wrenching situation to endure. But when the swimmer rises from the depths of his dependence and becomes fully his own person, it is a win-win for both individuals.

So what do you do when you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place with someone you love? How do you take two steps backward to help them bounce forward? After doing a bit of research, I discovered how to use tough love on your loved ones, and yourself, to help them change their lives for the better.

1) Let go of your needs and wants.

Sometimes we want something very badly for another person. We think we know what they need and what will make their life change for the better. But most times we are enabling the dependent in our relationship.

Learn to let go and let your dependent figure things out themselves. It can be hard, but focus on you and let them find themselves.

2) Establish healthy boundaries.

Know your limits. Be able to decipher your needs and wants and your dependent’s needs and wants. Learn to say “no” when you want to say yes.

3) Do not fall for the victim story.

Everyone loves a great drama or a sad sob story. Do not fall for it. Listen open heartedly and learn to separate your head from your heart.

A sob story is a manipulative way of trying to get negative attention. You want the dependent to become their own hero, so don’t allow them to be their own victim by falling for the story.

4. Don’t do for anyone what they can do for themselves.

Plain and simple! Unless this is an elderly adult or a young child, do not do more than what you need to do in your relationships. Trying to do everything for someone else who is capable is only destroying your own energy levels, confidence and can possibly deplete your bank accounts.

If someone is physically and emotionally capable of doing a task, let them.

5. Seek help.

Seek professional help if you cannot learn tough love or are having difficulty stopping your enabling practices. When you want the best for someone, learn to walk away and get help. Like the old adage says, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Only you can find an oasis and enjoy!

So when you are sick and tired of worrying about someone else day in and day out or find yourself disheartened by their angry attacks, try tough love but also try self love and you’ll find yourself regaining your sanity along with your personal happiness.

So…you want to find success as a self-published author?

From an obsessed writer who’s been at it for years and continues to struggle even today, I wave a hand and say good luck. Becoming a successful author, whether you’re self-published or have gone the “normal” route, is not a cost-free endeavor…and in MOST cases, it’s not a miracle that happens overnight. Even after your books are accepted and printed, advertising and basically Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 9.38.54 AMgetting the word out is a high-end, unforeseen expense. As in any success story ,  whether it’s producing a product, acting in a play, or creating a modern miracle, it’s all about being “discovered” by the right people at the right time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something amazing to happen. But to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t so. You have to be a dedicated, relentless self-promoter and, unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.

What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.

These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.

Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads. She’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities.

Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.

The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.

I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.

And something else to consider when it comes to self-promotion is the fact that there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”

Next, you may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.ukAmazon.esAmazon.frAmazon.itAmazon.de).which is definitely a plus…if your book is seen.

Thirdly, it’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400 – $550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective opinion in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. However, be prepared! There’s no guarantee that the reviewer will like your book and you might have just spent a small fortune on one of the cruelest critiques of your life.

As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable as well.

Another option is BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service targeted at indie authors. Most of the time, the results are honest and kind, and the positive aspects of your book are duly noted, making it possible to share your accomplishments on all your social sites.

Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99 means that it costs about $3.70 to produce each book. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make any money at all.

Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced between $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.

Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.

The trick, of course, is making people aware your book even exists. This is where hustling takes over. You become a virtual marketing machine by joining book clubs and exchange groups, producing book trailers, offering giveaways and contest goodies…whatever it takes to get your book into a reader’s hands and that all powerful review on Amazon.

Yes…self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors and each of them are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other authors say today — could be wrong in just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 and higher. So there’s no telling what next year will bring.