Youth Karate – My son earns his red belt


Jase sparing as a white belt.

Jase was six-years old when he first expressed an interest in karate. Around the same time, a flyer came home about karate classes done in the evenings at a neighboring elementary school. At $60 for a 10-week class and with the first class free, it sounded like a great opportunity for Jase to try karate.

He liked the class, so we signed him up for the winter session. And then the spring session. He enjoyed learning the moves. We attended karate weapons camp and he went to the required tournaments. By May, he was an orange belt.


Retiring Jase’s green belt as he became a blue belt.

And up through the belt colors he went – from white, to yellow, orange, green, blue and then to purple.  There are three degrees of purple. Beginning at green belt, the tests are further apart meaning you need more class hours and tournaments to rank up to the next level. It was finally as a purple belt that he won his first tournament. He then won the next one two as he got better at sparring.

Jase kept up karate for three years, taking the fall, winter and spring sessions and then skipping the summer. All of his hard work and practice finally paid off last week when he took his red belt test. (A red belt is the highest level he can reach as a youth, though there are three degrees of red, so he will be continuing on.)

The test for a red belt was much different than the others. For most tests, you did the required number of sit-ups and pushups, you answered history questions and then were tested on a few techniques or combinations. But there is more to a red belt test.

Red belt test requirements

  • 200 sit-ups
  • 200 push-ups
  • 1 mile run
  • 250-word essay on attitude
  • Know all history from white belt on up
  • Perform a 30-step kata (that he had to create and name)
  • Pass his techniques test

Jase has not written a lot of essays in school so getting him to expand on the word attitude was a little bit of a challenge. But we got the essay done before his test. He was more excited to work on his kata called Too Many Fighters. Originally, he made it complex until one of the instructors told him the secret of repeating his actions but just changing directions. That made it so much easier.


Jase the red belt (he also received a red uniform at the ceremony too).

The night of the test we had to arrive early so he could get through all those sit-ups, push-ups and run the mile. Needless to say, he was exhausted after that but no break as the test then began. They don’t let the parents watch the test, so I had to wait outside.

In the end, all the hard work must have paid off as he got his red belt. So proud of him. And glad that he will be sticking with karate in the fall.

Today’s Featured Author – Susan Leigh Noble

Yes – today I am the featured author on my own blog. So welcome to me! Actually I had an author flake out on me so instead of scrambling to find a replacement I decided to share an excerpt from The Heir to Alexandria. (You can read the first chapter here or check out another exciting excerpt here.)


Alista gasped, her eyes flying open. She pressed her hand to her chest as if to slow her pounding heart. The room was dark. The high window allowed in a sliver of light. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she began to recognize the room she was assigned in Aberdeen. The sound of Raynor’s heavy breathing comforted her.

It had only been a nightmare, she reassured herself. But it felt so real. It had been a cool evening. She had rushed forward as someone screamed. The scream was that of a woman. In the woods, she saw someone stabbed in the back. The woman perhaps? She didn’t know as she was grabbed from behind and dragged away. The last thing she remembered was the dragon, its pale body diving toward the ground, toward her.

Alista closed her eyes. She couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that had settled over her. Sighing, she rolled over, trying to push the dream from her mind. Her eyes popped open as she heard a faint creak. Red tinted her vision as she saw a dark figure beside her bed. The figure raised a knife high above her. Someone nearby began chanting softly.

Alista screamed. She rolled off the bed. The knife swished down, missing her by inches. As she fell to the floor, she struck the man’s legs. He stumbled backward.

Raynor leapt out of his bed. She saw his dark frame quickly cross the small room. He grabbed the man’s shoulder, whirling him around. Alista sat up. The dark figure pulled back his arm to ram the knife into Raynor’s gut. Alista rolled across the floor, crashing into the man’s legs. He tumbled onto the floor, dropping the knife. She scrambled back onto the bed, reaching for the lantern on the table beside the cot.

Footsteps pounded in the hall. The door slammed open. Alista lit the candle as Grayson burst into the room. Her attacker scrambled to his feet and ran straight at Grayson, slamming him into the wall before disappearing down the hall. She heard someone shout at the man and more retreating footsteps.

Now that the room was lit, she saw the other man who had been chanting at the edge of her bed. He still stood there, a surprised expression on his face. He looked at her. Their eyes locked for a second before he dashed for the door. Grayson grabbed his shoulder. He spun him, slamming him into the wall. The man struggled as Grayson pressed his arm against the man’s chest.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” he demanded.

The man jerked his head away, avoiding Grayson’s gaze. A bead of sweat trickled down his face.

“We cannot let this monstrosity happen. By the name of the all-knowing Hoc, the redhead must die,” he muttered as he pulled something from his pouch.

“Stop him,” Raynor yelled, leaping forward.

The man plunged the knife into his side. He gasped, his eyes bulging. A strangled sound escaped his lips before his body went limp. With a look of disgust on his face, Grayson released him. The man slid down the wall, landing in a heap on the floor. Grayson pulled the knife from his side. He lifted the blood-drenched blade to his nose and sniffed.

“Poisoned?” Raynor asked.

Grayson nodded. “Dragon’s bane.”

Footsteps sounded in the hall. Suddenly, Sanders appeared in the doorway. Winded, he leaned against the doorframe. His face was already beginning to bruise.

“The other one?” Grayson asked.

Sanders shook his head. “I didn’t expect him. He got a good hit in before taking off down the hall. Asher went after him.”

“Guard Alista,” he ordered as he ran out the door.

Raynor crossed the room to her. “Are you all right?” he murmured as he pulled her into his arms.

Alista nodded, afraid to speak. Her heart raced from the scare, but as she closed her eyes, it wasn’t the knife coming toward her that she saw. It was the look of contempt on the face of the man who had been chanting. The coldness of his eyes would stay with her for a long while.

Book Blurb

HeirAlexandria_ebookcoverBelieved the descendants of the Gods themselves,

The Alexandria line ensured peace,

Until they were brutally murdered.

But rumor spread a maid escaped with the youngest daughter.

Now as the world rushes toward a period of unrest, the nations’ Kings continue their 200-year-long-search for the Heir to Alexandria – the one person who can bring peace and stability through divine power.

Alista has her own search – for the parents who abandoned her as a baby years ago. When her only lead proves to be a dead end, she heads to the capital with a reluctant escort. Grayson is just following his aunt’s order, but he would rather be on one of his solitary scouting missions for the Landra Guard. However, when Alista unintentionally curses a guard in front of the King’s court, everything changes for both of them.

Now forced to travel to Covington for testing, danger lurks at every turn as a secret society strives to prevent the return of the Alexandria line. Are Alista’s visions of the future enough to save herself and those traveling with her?

You can purchase The Heir to Alexandria on Amazon, Smashwords or Barnes and Noble.

6 book promoting tips

A lot of times as authors promote their book through trial and error they find things not to do. Maybe a blog tour doesn’t work out the way they planned or a holiday sale doesn’t bring in the sales they hoped for.

Learning from our mistakes lets us know what we shouldn’t do but doesn’t necessarily say what we SHOULD do. And the problem is what works for one author, may not work for another.

Sometimes it is the small things that you do as an author that have the biggest impact. Here are six book-promoting tips that should help all authors.

1.) Invest in a good cover – Yes, yes. We have all heard this before. But it bears repeating again. A good cover is one that is uncluttered and stands out when at thumbnail size. You have mere seconds to grab a reader’s attention.

Readers will not see this cover first.


What they will see is this cover as a small thumbnail first.


2.) Include your other books and upcoming releases in the back matter – If readers have finished your book, most likely they enjoyed it. So now is the time to tell them about your other books. List series in order and let them know about upcoming releases. But don’t just tell them – provide them with links! And don’t forget to ask your readers to write a review.

3.) If writing a series, consider pricing your first book for 99 cents or free – I have tried many series because the first book was discounted. And you can bet that if I liked that one, I will be willing to purchase the other books in the series at a slightly higher price. And once they start reading your books they may buy other books not in the series.

4.) Include you Buy Link high on your page – When running a promotion, request that the buy link be at the top of the page near the book cover and not at the bottom of the page. You want it easy for readers to buy your books. I have to admit that the way I lay out my Friday Featured Author page, the buy link is always at the very bottom. But people shouldn’t have to scroll through the whole page to find it. So I guess from now on I will put it in BOTH locations so readers never have to hunt to find it.

5.) Promotion of a new release can never start too early – Some authors wait to release date or right before release day to give out details on their books. They may hold off so they don’t spoil anything, or perhaps they want to have something to announce on that day. But your promotion of your book should happen months before. You want to tease readers. You want the clamoring for the book to come out. You can do announcements on title choices or cover reveals. And of course, run excerpts of your book on your blog in advance of its release.

6.) Work to market directly to your readers or potential readers – Instead of hoping someone stumbles onto your blog, consider doing a newsletter to keep readers up to date on your work. And if you do a new release contest, be sure to email the losers too. Not only can you tell them you appreciate them entering but the email can be a gentle reminder that your book is out and available for them to purchase. Anytime you can be proactive and reach out directly to your readers (rather than waiting for them to find you) is a good thing.

Promoting yourself as an author really is just a matter of trying to find out what works for you. I hope these tips will help. If you have any tips that have worked for you, please share them in the comment section. They just may help another author.

Chaperoning school field trips

Ever since Jase started preschool, I have always attended his field trips except for one when he was 5 in the Gift of Time program (a special preschool class for kids who are 5 but not ready for kindergarten). Going on field trips and helping out in their classrooms and school is one of the reasons I chose to be a stay-at-home mom.


Jase at a pizza place during a field trip for his 4-year-old preschool class.

Chaperoning a trip obviously means different things from preschool to elementary. In preschool, parents drove up to four students to the field trip location. (Two parents per vehicle.) Of course because the kids are young (4 or 5 years old), there was monitoring and directing of the students. It gets easier when they are in elementary school.

I don’t know how other elementary schools do their field trips, but our school has always welcomed as many parent chaperons as there are parents willing to volunteer. This means that for the younger grades – kindergarten and first grade – there is typically one adult for every two students.

In kindergarten, they always go to the farm. It is actually a Christmas tree farm, but it does have goats, chickens and a donkey. There are some learning areas and a hay ride around the Christmas tree fields. And best of all they have a great play area for the kids to tire themselves out after the picnic lunch.

Lexie at the San Antonio Zoo on her first grade field trip.

Lexie at the San Antonio Zoo on her first grade field trip.

For first grade, the trip is always to the San Antonio Zoo. Here they just let the parents and kids wander and tour on their own. The only requirements are not to buy anything from the gift shop and to meet back up at the front when it is time to get on the bus. With Jase’s class, I was assigned to walk around with another dad and his son. With Lexie’s class, I walked around with her and her friend whose mom couldn’t come.

Lexie making a terrarium at the Botanical Gardens on her second grade field trip.

Lexie making a terrarium at the Botanical Gardens on her second grade field trip.

This year’s second grade field trip for Lexie was the botanical gardens. While a lot of the day was spent in individual touring groups (it was me, a special-education teacher and four kids), we began the day with a lesson which included each student building their own terrarium.

In second grade, Jase went to the Witte Museum. There was an educational lesson followed by self-guided tours. Again, I was paired off with another mom and four students. Man it was harder to keep track of these boys (not to mention everyone from our school was wearing the same school shirt.)

Jase on the glass-bottom boat on his third grade field trip to The Meadows Center in San Marcos.

Jase on the glass-bottom boat on his third grade field trip to The Meadows Center in San Marcos.

Jase’s third-grade field trip by far was the most eventful. We went to the Meadows Center at Spring Lake in San Marcos (about a 45-minute drive north of San Antonio). They had six stations set up for the kids to rotate through. We made it through three stations before the storms hit. In fact, we were on the glass-bottom boat when the rain began to pour. We actually had been tracking the storm all morning and had been hoping it would hold off. The field trip was called off. Those without parents ate lunch on the bus and then went back to school. Jase and I ran for the car, got soaked and then went to McDonalds for lunch.

And this leads us up to last week’s chaperoned trip for Jase’s fourth-grade class. All five fourth-grade classes boarded charter buses and headed to the state capitol building in Austin, TX. The parent chaperons followed in their own vehicles. (Chaperons never get to ride on the buses here.)

Jase during the Vistor's Center tour at the State Capitol in Austin.

Jase during the Vistor’s Center tour at the State Capitol in Austin.

It was full day. We went to a museum, ate lunch on the capitol lawn and then toured the capitol. The students enjoyed pizza before getting on the buses to return to school. Since the drive is about an hour and half each way, this field trip did go longer than the school day. The kids left at 8 am and didn’t return until 5 p.m. – about 2 1/2 hours after school was released. The kids had a blast, and Lexie is hoping they have this field trip in two years when she is in fourth grade. (It is a new field trip. This was only the second year.)

No matter where we go or how many students I am asked to supervise, I love going on these trips with my kids. And I know they love that I am able to go with them too.

Today’s Featured Author – Crystal Klimavicz

Today I welcome author Crystal Kilmavicz to my blog. Her third book, This Side of Perfect, is due out next month.

Guest Post

Hello! My earliest memory of wanting to be a writer is from the summer before I started the eighth grade. I just had just read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and remember closing the book with a resounding snap and stating, “Oh, I could so write this.”

However, as life will have it, the start of my professional career took me into sales for many years before I eventually pursued my passion to write. I began writing full-time four years ago and have completed three novels. Though my inspiration to write novels was born from family tragedy, it is proof that out of difficulty and pain there can be a positive outcome.

falling through treesMy first novel, Falling Through Trees was published in 2014. It is semi-autobiographical as first novels often are, though the characters and scenes all stemmed from my imagination. It tells the story of two sisters, Kate and Molly, and the mother they share. The sister grew apart and went their separate ways until a family tragedy forces them to confront each other and the secrets of their past. The older sister and main character, Kate, must discover how to find joy in life and, ultimately, learn how to let go.

the daysMy second book developed when I volunteered at a local home for the elderly. The book strays from women’s fiction into historical memoir. It is a collection of short stories that capture the past of both individuals and of our nation; I interviewed fifteen people from the ages of 85 to almost 100 years old. The book is called The Days of Not So Long Ago and was published in 2015. I have since been commissioned by two other families to write their mothers’ memoirs.

the side of perfectMy third book is a sequel to the first. Entitled This Side of Perfect, it continues with the characters’ lives one year later. Kate believes in her heart that life should be good. She has her family, a new home, and they are living back in Maine near her sister and the beaches she adores. As months pass, however, she realizes that the idea of perfection is not quite right, and her heart begins to stray. It’s not until that which she loves most is taken away, that Kate finds she must fight for her family and for happiness. This Side of Perfect is filled with drama and even more suspense, and will be released in June, 2016.

I love the idea of women who face struggles and fight for what they believe. I begin each novel by writing my ideas on Post-it notes, plastering the notes onto my bedroom wall, and then allowing the storyline to unfold as it may. My writing journey has been rewarding in many ways, and I now teach the concepts and techniques of creative writing to both children and adults.

From Maine originally, with time spent in Atlanta and overseas in Kiev, Ukraine, my husband, two children and I live on Daniel Island, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Close to numerous beaches, the smells and sounds of the ocean are as precious to me as they are to Kate, my main character.

Today, I write every day both for my novels and for various blogs. I am a regular contributor to Readers Unbound, and a guest blogger for various sites. I am also the new writer for the online CSA tennis newsletter. I also lead two local book clubs and formed a writing group aptly named Guilty Prose.

CrystalOne aspect of my life that not many people know about is that I contracted spinal meningitis when I was an infant, and spent three months recovering in the hospital. Every year when I returned to the same doctor who had attended me, I heard how fortunate I was “just to be alive.” Now, I always aim to appreciate life to the fullest and remember to give back to my community. When not writing, I love to get outside and exercise; I run regularly, play tennis, head for a bike ride, and spend time with my two beautiful children.

I hope you will check out my books and my website. I post infrequently and specifically, often tongue-in-cheek, and try to put a smile on a face and some inspiration in thoughts.

Crystal’s books can be found on Amazon.

It has to end sometime…Ending your novel

Recently, I read a book and instead of ending the story after the climax, the book went on and on. It was a romance novel, and the author seemed to want to keep writing about this relationship all the way through the engagement and up to the wedding. She even had an epilogue with a baby in it.
the-end-signAll I could think while I was reading was why is this still going on? There was no more tension in the story, and it just seemed like filler. Yes, I love the happy-ever-after of a romance novel, but once you have gotten the couple together the book needs to end shortly after that. Any extra wrap-up of a wedding or a child can be in the epilogue. (Can decide if you need an epilogue? Check out my post on that topic here.)

Stories naturally follow a story arc. After the Climax, you have the fall out. This is the point where the consequences of your character’s choices are played out. And then we have the resolution, the point where the characters return to their regular lives.

After the climax, your story should not go on and on. It needs to end at some point. Here are some tips to ending your novel.

  • Ensure the ending makes sense. Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. Your ending doesn’t have to be happy (unless you are writing a romance novel in which case there usually is a HEA). The ending does have to fit appropriately to the rest of the story. The reader will feel robbed or tricked with anything that doesn’t make sense.
  • Don’t be predictable. Even with a HEA ending, you don’t have to be predictable. There should be more than one possible ending for a book. Try to keep your reader guessing what will happen up until the end. (But re-read the point above. Twists in the plot are fine, as long as they make sense and aren’t simply tricks.)the end
  • Ensure that you do wrap up any loose ends or subplots to your story. Every question you placed in your reader’s mind should be addressed even if the answer is to say the character will address it later (after the book ends).
  • Don’t introduce new characters or subplots at the end – even if you are writing a trilogy or series. Any appearances toward the end of the book need to have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play.
  • If possible, you can link your final words to events in your opener as a tie-back, or you can create a feeling that your final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.

Deciding how to end your book and what the final words on the page will be can be a daunting task. The bottom line is that the ending of your book is what the reader is going to remember. Yes, the opening scene must draw them in but a satisfying ending is going to be what gets you that good review or word of mouth recommendation.the-end

Take your time and decide how best to end your story. Just don’t the ending drag on and on and on.