Planning for our cruise is still under way

In just 61 days, my family – along with my parents and brother – will embark on a Caribbean cruise as a joint celebration for my dad’s 80th birthday and my husband and my 20th wedding anniversary.

cruise list

Yes, we got our passports taken care of in February (or March for our son since they didn’t think the first birth certificate was official). We booked our shore excursions early too.

Occasionally over the past few months, we have briefly talked about things to take on the cruise and even bought a few things – water shoes, biodegradable suntan lotion and a new camera since ours stopped working on our last beach trip.

Now being a major planner, I need to start thinking about what we are going to pack and whether we need to buy anything else for the trip. One of my major concerns is over packing. It is easy to want to bring everything you think you might need, but the cruise cabin is not very big. We won’t have tons of room so packing smartly is needed.

Formal Nights

CIMG2188On our cruise, there will be two “formal” nights. Soon after we booked our cruise in December, we bought my daughter two nice dresses that were on an after-Christmas sale. Both my husband and I are already set for these nights, but my son has never really had the opportunity to dress up. I thought we might get by with dress slacks and a dress shirt. No so. Jase wants a suit, so he can be like daddy. (My husband is an attorney and often must wear a suit, though he hates it.) Now we bought Lexie’s dresses the next size up since we were buying them eight months before the cruise. I have been holding off with buying Jase’s suit. i am too afraid of a growth spurt causing it not to fit. I think we will buy it in July – a mere month before the trip.

Toys and kid technology

Typically when we travel, the kids pack a backpack with toys, stuffed animals, and their iPad/iPods. On our trip to Disney World last year, they were required to be able to carry this backpack through the airport. On this trip, I assume we will do the same, but I really want to limit at least them bringing any small toys that could get lost. Part of me doesn’t think they will use their toys very often but there will be some down time where they may need to get away from all the stimulus of the cruise and relax in the room.  Their iPads will go on the trip too but will be regulated to staying in the cabin.

And packing isn’t the only thing I need to think about. I am going to have to figure out how much cash we need to take for tipping of the people on our shore excursion and for buy souvenirs at vendors who don’t take credit cards. That reminds me…I need to add letting the credit card company know we will be out of the country, so they don’t think our cards were stolen to my list. See? So much to do and think about for a planner like me.

Today’s Featured Trio of Authors – Morgan Billingsley, Jackie Lee and Gabrielle Simone

The young writing trio of Morgan Billingsley, Jackie Lee and Gabrielle Simone, authors of The Perfect Present, are back with their second book- The Perfect Summer – filled with summer stories that will brighten your day, warm your heart, and prove that life is one of the greatest teachers there is.

Share and/or comment on this post to be entered into a drawing to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card.

The Perfect Summer

588x392_PerfectSummerIt’s summertime! That means it’s time to sit back, relax and just have fun, right? Wrong! For Marlena Fernadez, Gloria and Valerie James and Max and Mickey Martin…summer is all about life lessons in these three page-turning tales about kids in search of The Perfect Summer.

Synopsis of each Story

Jackie Lee

Fourteen old twins, Gloria and Valerie James, had the ideal plan to spend their summer vacation. They would spend their summer shopping, talking about boys, and going to the movies. However, when their dad felt the calling of the Lord, they were now going to have to spend their summer moving to another town and volunteering to mentor a bunch of snotty nose seven year olds. The twins do everything to sabotage their parent’s plans for them. However, in the end they learn lessons in life that truly makes this the Perfect Summer for both of them.

Morgan Billingsley

It’s summertime and Max and Mickey are headed to their grandmother’s house. But these two city kids aren’t ready for a Wi-Fi free country summer. But when Max makes new friends, he learns to adapt and have fun. Can he get his twin sister to see that attitude is everything and can determine whether they have the Perfect Summer!

Gabrielle Anderson

It’s summer vacation time, and the Fernandez family is headed to Disney! Marlena, the oldest, is not excited about riding the teacups, she out grew those long ago. She decides that she is old enough to hang out on her own. With her cell phone in tow, her parents allow her tackle the park alone. It’s no surprise that she learns many life lessons the greatest of which is family love.

About the Authors

Morgan Billingsley is a seventh grader, who loves writing, acting, swimming and volleyball. She enjoys helping out and making people laugh. Everyone who knows her, applauds her nurturing heart. Morgan can often be found assisting her mother, ReShonda Tate Billingsley at book signings. She is active in her school organizations and serves as secretary for her Teen group in Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Eleven year old, Jackie Lee is a lover of the letters and the arts. She has starred in three theatrical productions produced by Cherie Garland. She portrayed Crystal in “The Christmas Present,” Glenda, The Good Witch in “The Wiz” and the Ballerina in “One Night with a King.” Jackie’s love of arts also extends to church. She participates in the praise dance ministry at East New Hope Baptist Church. She utilizes her musical talents as a clarinet player at Forest Hills Elementary School Band. Jackie can often be found at various literary events assisting her mother and guest authors. She also enjoys journaling and making sketches in her notebooks. She resides in Virginia with her parents and siblings.

Eleven year old, Gabrielle Simone attends Pulaski Academy College Preparatory School, where her teachers describe her as hardworking and passionate about learning. She is the student council representative for fifth grade, plays both basketball and soccer and has a personality bigger than life. The confident young writer is also the daughter of young adult author Celia Anderson. Having grown up tagging alongside her mom at book signings and lectures, it’s no surprise that she has become interested in the art. Gabrielle says that one day she would like to attend Stanford University in California, but that may change as she grows older. Currently she resides with her mother in Little Rock, Arkansas, enjoys playing dress up, singing and playing with her American Girl Dolls. She lists both her mother and maternal grandmother, whom she affectionately calls FeFe, as the people who have influenced her the most.

You can purchase The Perfect Summer on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Readers returning E-books

No this isn’t a post about ME returning a book but rather other readers returning an e-book they purchased. As usual, I am late to the party over this issue but reading online it seems it was a big uproar a few years ago with self-published authors.

I guess I am only thinking about it now as I finally have had readers who have returned my books to Amazon. The majority of my books are sold on Amazon, and those sales have been going pretty well since the release of my latest book, The Heir to Alexandria.

But as I looked at my past six-week royalty report, I noticed I had four returned books.

Returned books – April 19 to May 16

The Heir to Alexandria – 2

Summoned (Book 1 of The Elemental) – 1

The Elemental Box Set – 1

This had me wondering why these people returned the books.

  • Did they make an accidental purchase?
  • Did they begin reading it and decide it wasn’t for them? (genre or writing style based)
  • Did they (as many people on the Internet assume about self-published books) decide it was riddled with grammar errors, and they couldn’t read it?
  • Or perhaps they read the book all the way through and returned it?

Unfortunately, I will never know. But Amazon does make it easy for readers to return an e-book.

Amazon’s e-book return policy (from their website)

Books you purchase from the Kindle Store are eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within seven days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, you will no longer have access to the book.

I did read on several different sites that Amazon will stop allowing returns if the purchaser abuses the policy. But that ban doesn’t seem to happen until they have really abused the policy with an excessive amount of returns (say 30 returns in a year’s time. These numbers are just based on what I read. Amazon does not list an actual policy on how many returns you can make in any certain period.)

Of course, I am not against a return policy. Who wants to buy something without the possibility of returning it? I am all for people returning accidental purchases or books they truly dislike. But in most cases I am thinking a 7-day policy is too lenient.

Let’s look at the four scenarios from above.

1.) You accidentally bought the book by clicking the buy-now button. If you did so, I expect the return to be made right away. Same thing applies if you bought the book not realizing you are no longer in the romance section but somehow ended up in the fantasy section, and this isn’t a genre you read. Accidental purchase can happen. No problem. Return it promptly. (This should be done immediately and not take seven days.)

2.) So you bought the book and decided after beginning to read it that it wasn’t for you. It can happen. The book blurb could be well written enough to fool you. But if you do this a lot, I would suggest next time you download the sample. That gives you 10 to 20% of the book to read and find out if you like it BEFORE you purchase it.

3.) So you bought the book and were troubled with the grammar or plot line…again, I say next time you should download the sample. With 10 to 20%, you should have an idea if this is the book for you. And you should most definitely not be allowed to return it because you didn’t like the ending.

4.) There are a few people (I am hoping it is just a few) who will game the system by actually reading the book and then returning it. I read one person who said they return 60% of the books they buy. Even if they read it all the way through, if it wasn’t something they wanted to read again, they returned it. If you read the book, pay for it. It’s not that complicated.  People who read the books and then return them are short-changing the author their royalties.

Many people bring up the argument that brick and mortar book stores also accept returns. That isn’t a great argument as I don’t think those readers should be reading my book (assuming I had a physical copy of my books) for free either. The only person who should be reading it for free is those who downloaded during a free promotion, from a library or a friend who has already paid for it.

Could Amazon change their policy to benefit both readers and authors? Possibly. They could change the return policy to allow returns within “seven days or 30% or less of the book read – whichever comes sooner.”

Do I really expect them to change their policy? No. But I do wish that authors had more knowledge of exactly why their books were returned.

Recipe of the Month: Classic Butter Cream Frosting

P1040673I found this recipe online while looking for a frosting recipe for my son’s birthday cupcakes. It is simply and easy to make. I made it quite stiff (4 cups of powder sugar and just 2 T. of milk) so I could use it in the Pampered Chef Easy Accent Decorator. I will say that I did go ahead and sift the powdered sugar to ensure that my frosting was smooth.


1 cup unsalted butter, softened (not melted) – ideal texture should be like ice cream

3-4 cups of powedered sugar, sifted

1/4 t. salt

1 T. vanilla extract

up to 4 T. of milk or heavy cream


Beat butter for a few minutes on medium speed. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and mix on low until sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream. Beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a stiffer consistency, add remaining sugar. If frosting needs to be thinned, add remaining milk 1 tablespoon at a time.


Update on the 52-week Organizing Challenge

At the end of last year, I announced my intention to take part in the 52-Week Organizing Challenge. Today begins week 22. I posted an update on the first eight weeks in February and reported it was going well.

Since then…well, let’s just say it hasn’t been going as well as it was in the beginning when I was all gung-ho about it. There have been a few weeks where I am too busy to even look at the challenge. And as before, some weeks are more helpful than others. I spent part of May getting caught up on some challenges.

While in the beginning, the challenge seemed to be about purging and organizing my kitchen, the next weeks were about the dreaded paper organizing.

Here is an update on weeks 9 through 21.  (Sorry it is so long. Perhaps I shouldn’t go 12 weeks between updates.)

Week 9 – Addresses and Contact Info – We have everything in Microsoft Outlook. I took this time to purge old addresses and add in our doctors, pharmacy and a few other contacts that we were missing. Easy-peasy job.

IMG_3293Week 10 – Mail – Another easy week where you were supposed to find a way to handle all the mail that comes in.  To help rid some of the piles on my desk, I bought a file organizer (right) and labeled out where documents that come across my desk should go. And I added an inbox to my desk. Now I just have to make sure I actually clean it out.

Week 11 – Paying bills – This was another easy week. I already have a set day to pay bills (Wednesday). And now that I have a Bill to Pay folder (set up from last week), I won’t be losing bills in the piles of paper on my desk. The key is to get into the habit of filing the paid bills afterwards. (Ugh…I hate filing.)

Week 12 – Receipts and Tax Documents – This is one that didn’t seem too important. We hardly ever keep receipts unless it was for a big purchase. And we don’t keep receipts for tax purposes (except with my husband’s business.) I guess we may find out we regret this later, but if we haven’t needed them so far, I don’t see why I should start collecting them now.

Week 13 – Filing System – I did mention I hate filing, right? Well, I do hate it. I have a filing system, but the files are overstuffed as I keep putting things in but not purging them at the end of the year. So this week took quite a bit longer (and I admit, I am not done yet. I keep putting it off.)

Week 14 – Email and Digital information – Boy, do I need this one. I have a habit of keeping a lot of e-mail in my inbox. (You never know when you might need it again, right?) So, I made some folders to control the massive amounts of emails and am working on going through everything. I also made sure our backup for the computer is working properly.

Week 15 – Magazines & Newspapers – This wasn’t a big week for me. We don’t get any magazines. My mom gives me some once in a while, but I usually go through them and then put into the recycling bin. The same thing goes for the newspaper. I read it in the morning, and then it is in the recycling bin. I hardly ever keep an article out of either the magazines or the newspaper.

Week 16 – Passwords & Manuals/warranties – I already had a system for keeping up with passwords. My manuals and warranties were in a file, but it needed to be cleaned out of products we no longer had.

Week 17 – Home Office – Finally, a decluttering mission. And one that I still need to finish. I am so ready for a paper-less society. This week was all about decluttering your desk and organizing the top side of it.

Week 18 – Emergency Preparedness – We didn’t have much done in this area. We use to have a fire extinguisher, but it had since expired. I ordered two more (one for the kitchen and one for our upstairs office). We also ordered a fire escape ladder for Lexie’s room as it is the only one that doesn’t have an easy way out.

Week 19 – Cleaning Schedule – This week was really one of the weeks where I caught up on the challenges that I missed. I set up a basic cleaning schedule when I first had Jase and have stuck to it even 10 years later. (Monday – bathrooms, Tuesday – the kitchen and the kitchen floor, Wednesday is for paying bills and cleaning the living room floor, Thursday is for laundry and vacuuming the upstairs and Friday is for any other cleaning project.)

Week 20 – Bathroom – Declutter and get rid of those half-full bottles that you never use…that was the key this week. We are bad about holding onto things “in case we need them.” So I purged a lot this week and organized all three bathrooms.

Week 21 – Medicine/First Aid Supplies – I am usually pretty good about getting rid of expired medicine so this was an easy week. Both medicine cabinets are cleaned up. And I updated our first-aid kit.

So as you can see, some weeks were better than others. I also have small list of things I still need to finish from some of the past weeks. Here is to keeping at the challenge, so I have a more organized house by the end of the year.