Learn a New Language Badge

The Face of the Shrub

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Step One: You share jokes with your friends across a crowded room, or you can carry on a conversation with your hearing-impaired friends because you learned ASL. You plan to spend the weekend cozied up to the fire with a copy of Collette – in French. When you stumble across a mobile fiesta with a taqueria, and you can flirt with the revelers as you munch on the burritos and tacos you ordered -in Spanish. Your boss relies on you to help smooth things when an upset Asian tries to explain his problem, and you can translate his Vietnamese flawlessly.

Step Two: Knowing another language empowers you. You are in control of the situation, know what’s going on, and can have fun or fix problems because you learned that language others about you are speaking. Even if you don’t travel yourself, you may encounter a traveler from another country – or maybe a new friend is a recent immigrant and doesn’t know American English very well yet. If you know another language, yo can read favorite stories in their original language, and when you encounter foreign phrases, you can impress friends with your ability to translate. Learning another language also has hidden benefits – you learn new ways to express yourself and discover new concepts that broaden your understanding of your world.

Step Three: You don’t have to be flawless in the grammar and vocabulary. A calm voice, basic grammar, small vocabulary, and body language will get you much further than you expect – plus it will make native speakers more willing to increase your language skills. With that in mind, pick the language you want to learn. Do you have a neighbor who’s native language is not American English? Do you eat a lot in a Burmese restaurant, or follow Brazilian soccer, or want to know what they’re saying in those interesting Mexican soap operas? Do you have a deaf friend who signs? Let those interests help you decide what language to learn.

Step Four: Nothing beats having a native speaker help guide you along your studies to learn a new language. Even if you take a class, a friend or co-worker who already speaks the language will be a big help. There are on-line courses you can take, excellent DVD-and-book courses, and classes at local colleges and vo-techs to help you learn your new language.

If you choose to take private lessons, do your homewaork on the teacher. Are they affiliated with a school or a language institution? What method do they use to teach? Can they articulate where you should be in your language acquisition by the end of the course? How many courses shuold you take to be considered proficient? Check out the textbook, does it look as if it will speed you on your way to ordering dim sum or holding a pleasant conversation with your friends? Or is it more academic or technical oriented?

Step Five: Get the most for your money out of the class. Speak up in class. If you find ways to remain silent, you’ll never get the instruction and experience you need. You want to speak the language. right? So speak! Use tapes/DVDs of the language to master your pronunciation. Some online services have interactive speechware, and that’s really helpful. Use flashcards and books, too, so you learn to read as well as speak the language. Study with a buddy – either someone from your class or a friend who already speaks the language.

Step Six: Immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. When you say it in English, try to also say it in the language you’re learning. Practice out loud and often. Rent DVDs in that language, and listen to music in it. Visit websites in that language and decipher as much as you can. Join chat rooms where that language is spoken and join in. Victory is making yourself understood, progress is getting a bit better than yesterday.

Step Seven: Make a date with a friend or acquaintance who speaks hte language and plan to speak their language only. Visit an art gallery, museum, or have coffee or go to dinner. Dine at a restaurnat of the ethnicity of your language and order your meal yourself – in that language!

Step Eight: Claim your badge!


Entertaining Badge

Pi Row

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Step One: You enter your livingroom and see it filled with friends having a good time. One friend holds a couple of listeners rapt as he tells a story, the music you’ve chosen has compelled a couple to dance, and laughter bubbles up from a small group on the sofa. You take a moment to savor what you’ve done – with just a few simple ingredients, you’ve made a memorable evening for yourself and your friends. Was it worth the pre-planning and atention to details? You betcha!

Step Two: The best part of hosting a party are the memories you will cherish from it. Your friends will enjoy themselves and know just how much you cherish their company. You may have the opportunity to introduce some of your friends to other friends, or through hte medium of a party, and transform a co-worker or acquaintance into a friend. Best of all, once you gain skill at entertaining, you’ll be able to relax and play, too. Some parties can also function as networking, but we think they should ultimately be for having fun.

Step Three: Make up a good excuse to have a party and set a date. Is it the first day of spring? Did you just get an ice cream maker? Is there a movie marathon on TV or did the boxed set of The Addams Family TV Series just arrive? Are the play-offs coming up? Are your new rose bushes blooming? Is cold weather coming and you’re planning on lighting your fireplace for the first time this season? You just had a pool installed and you want to see it filled with friends having a good time. Those are perfect reasons to have a party. You may want to steer clear of major events like bridal showers, college graduation parties, New Year’s Eve parties and such if you’re new to entertaining because they come with specific expectations and often huge guests lists. Trivial reasons are the best ones for gathering a few friends.

Once you’ve picked a reason, you can pick a theme. Themes make it easier to plan a party. A Luau is obvioulsy Hawaiian-themed, with grass skirts, paper umbrellas, leis, ukele music, coconuts, and so on. It even defines most of the menu for you. Are you wanting to showcase your Mexican cookery skills? Then a Latin fiesta with a pinata and mariachi music could set the tone for the party. Or maybe a fleamarket find suggests a 50’s theme to you.

With a reason and a theme found, you’ll need to pick a date. Some parties just naturally have a date set – the play-offs of the major league game, for example. Other reasons give you more flexibility, like the ice cream social with home made ice cream straight from your new ice cream maker. Make sure your date doesn’t conflict with a major event that might occupy most of your potential guests. Consult with a few friends to see if there’s anything big going on, and then set your date.

Step Four: All fired up, you want to invite all your friends. Your party will be limited by the size of your home, your budget considerations, and even the theme of the party. Since this is likely your first party, you might want to keep the guest list to under 30 people. This isn’t the only party you’ll ever have, and while it may be a bit dicey inviting some co-workers/friends/relatives and not others, if you let them know your limits and that they will be invited to another party, they will understand.

Mix your guest list up a bit, but be sure everyone you invite will know at least two other people there so they don’t feel intimidated. Generally speaking, if you invite nice people, they will find common ground.

Step Five: Send out your invitations. Since this is an informal party, you do’t need to send engraved invitations, but cute ones with all the important information on them is very handy – date, time, place, reason, and RSVP information. For a while there, it was very trendy not to RSVP and just assume the host/ess knew the guests were or weren’t coming, but too many people who were host/esses felt slighted and too many guests stopped being invited, and that trend is thankfully reversing. Be creative with your invitations. Include a token for fun (a monkey from a barrel of monkeys to imply the fun you’ll have, a puzzle piece to bring to complete a puzzle, a pair of flip-flops for a beach or pool party…). And you don’t have to use snail mail for invitations – email works, or a notice to a filtered group of friends on your blog.

If you haven’t heard from all your guests a week before your party, follow up with an email, a phone call, or just mention it next time you talk to them.

Step Six: Menu! If you have a theme for your party, this is almost automatic. You don’t have to prepare all the foods yourself (or any of them, actually!), but you should make sure you have plenty and know how to present them. Go for a mix of savory and sweet, soft and crunchy. A cutting board loaded with cheeses and salami slices with a basket of toasted bagel slices and crackers and bowls of olives. nuts, and fruit slices or berries makes for good snacking. Visit your deli or freezer section of the grocery store for ideas. If you are cooking something, make sure it’s something you can make ahead, or whip up in moments.

Consult either a mentor who’s thrown parties you’ve enjoyed about things like themes and quantities, or check out some good party books or websites like http://www.lastminutepartygirl.com.

Step Seven: If you’re going to have a bar, keep it simple. Ask guests to bring wine or beer (depending on the party’s theme), and provide the ingredients for one or two mixed drinks – enough for every guest to have a couple. Stock up on fruit juices, sparkling water, gingerale, lemonade, coffee, tea, and possibly sodas. A good idea is to buy wine for homemade wine coolers and provide sparkling water and fruit juices and possible a mixer like a fruity liqueur to mix with the wine – it stretches the wine deliciously and increases the variety with very little effort or expense.

Keep the drinks bar separate from the food. Finger foods rock, especially served buffet-style so friends can mingle and wander. If the drinks are placed on opposite sides of the room, there’ll be even mre reason for your guests to move around. Movement is good at parties. It allows people to break away from a monopolizer gently, and it encourages them to speak to more people instead of clusting into cliques.

Step Eight: Consider the ambiance. Clear the room so guests can move about easily. Move furniture out of the way if you need to. Find extra seats – separate ottomans from their chairs, or borrow some folding chairs or bar stools. Provide visible trashcans so trash doesn’t pile up on the tables. You can convert buckets and even laundry hampers into trash cans by lining them with a colorful trash bag. Pick a color to match your decor or the theme of the party. If you are using recyclable items, have one trash bin set up for each recyclable (glass bottles and aluminum are the most common). Consider your lighting: candles, side lamps, dimmed overhead lights, tiki torches, whatever works and fits the theme. Flowers and music also help set the theme. You can use artificial flowers mixed with real ones for added interest.

Step Nine: Do as much of the prep work as far in advance as you can so when party time arrives, you aren’t trapped in the kitchen (unless the party is in the kitchen). Decorate the night before. You can put early arrivals to work setting out the food and tweaking the decorations.

Step Ten: Greet each guest as they arrive and point them to the food and drink. Once everyone’s arrived, mingle and introduce those who don’t know one another. Clean as you mingle so the clean up is quicker. Dump used napkins into one of your trash bins, put empties in the recycle bin, put dishes in the sink. When the party’s over, clean-up should be a breeze – and some of it can wait until the next day.

Step Eleven: Claim your badge!

Cooking Badge

The Dinner
Originally uploaded by nodigio

This is a general Cooking Badge – Badges may be earned for specialty cooking, and pearls for expanding one’s skills in areas where badges have already been earned.

Step One: When you get invited to a potluck, you don’t have to worry about stopping in at a fast food place to pick up a box of fried chicken, or rely on chips and salsa. No, you can whip up a tasty dish of Tuna Waldorf Salad, or your special Potatoes Provencal, knowing you will be bringing home a dish scraped clean. When you host a party, you know the food will be exceptional because you prepared it yourself – and your friends vie for an invitation because they love your cooking. You keep a fool-proof pantry from which you can prepare a gourmet delight at a moment’s notice.

Step Two: The benefits of cooking your own food are too numerous to list, so we’ll just offer a few of our favorites. Do you know how much time it takes out of your day to eat out – and how big a bite it takes from your pocketbook? Surprisingly, you can cook a lovely meal for less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant, order your food, wait for it to cook, and then eat it, and drive back home again. You save time when you cook your own food because you can do other things as you cook (laundry, play games with friends, watch TV, play computer games…). You eat healthier because you know what’s in your food, and you don’t have to deal with germs left behind by that table of six with the two children who were running everywhere, wiping their snotty noses and sneezing or coughing on every surface they could reach. You can prepare a lovely, gourmet dinner for six for under $50.00. Can’t beat that in a restaurant. Your food is prepared exactly the way you like it, no need to return an overcooked steak to the chef or look in dismay at a salad drenched in way too much dressing. How satisfying it is to pull alof of bread from the oven and devour it to the last crumb with your friends before it has a chance to cool off.

Step Three: There are many different skills involved in cooking. For the purpose of this particular badge, we’ll go with the assumption that you are just starting your very own kitchen. The first thing you need to do is find yourself a mentor who will share with you information on how they run their kitchens, how they got started, and what they remember learning first. Ask them about their favorite must-have kitchen tools and equipment, the one indispensable fail-safe party recipe, and where they shop for ingredients.

Step Three: Stock your kitchen with necessary supplies. Most of us aren’t starting from scratch – we’ve accumulated odds and ends of kitchen gear: pots, pans, mixing bowls, hot pads, spoons, can opener… Inventory what you have. Now, do some research on what you need with an eye towards how you cook, and fill in the gaps. There are any number of good beginner cooking books out there. The Look and Cook series by Anne Willan (a 14 volume series) is fully illustrated and focuses upon one category of food at a time: Soups, Pies, Breads, French Country Cooking, Main Dish Vegetables, Meats, Chicken… They are available at most libraries or through interlibrary loan, so you can check them out before you invest in them. Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics, How to Boil Water from the Food Network, and Cooking for Beginners by Kate Fryer, are also good ones to investigate.

You may want to take a cooking class. Check your local vo-techs and community colleges to see if they offer classes, and if you have a cookware store (like Williams-Sonoma) or a grocery store like Wild Oats or Trader Joe’s, they offer cooking classes, too.

In addition to all the basics, there are any number of specialty kitchen supplies: woks, bamboo steamers, toaster ovens, microwave ovens, crepe pans, deep fryers, ice cream machines, stand mixers, rice cookers, vegetable steamers, roasting ovens, convection ovens, electric skillets, hot air popcorn poppers, juicers, grills, yogurt makers, sausage makers, pasta machines, vacuum sealers, pizza ovens, quesadilla makers, tortilla presses, chocolate fountains, food dehydrators, nut roaster, fancy cake pans, chocolate dipping tools, candy making tools, and more. Depending on what ethnicity you prefer to cook and eat, and what culinary specialties you develop, you may want to invest in good equipment for that.

Step Four: Plan your meals and menus. Restaurant meals taste so good because chefs spend a lot of time planning and prepping for the meals. You can do the same thing so when it’s time to cook, your meal goes together seamlessly. Consider which foods are off-limits (due to allergies or dietary restrictions or lack of availability) and place those foods on a DO NOT BUY List that you keep handy when you browse gourmet cooking magazines and cook books. That makes it easy to ignore an enticing looking recipe if you know you can’t make a decent substitution. Landlocked states would be less likely to have good fresh seafood, for example, and desert states would pay premium prices for pork as pigs love forests. Make separate lists of foods you love but rarely eat, and foods you eat regularly. With our global market economy, a lot of foods previously unavailable to us are now on grocery shelfs. If you want to be a locavore, or support local farming, you may want to consider the source of your food, but that’s another badge!

Once you’ve planned your meals, make a list from it of all the ingredients. Add to that list whatever staples a well-stocked pantry should always have that isn’t on your ingredient list, and this will give you an idea of what should be in your pantry.

Step Five: Stock your pantry. Inventory what you already have, check those off the list you created in Step Four, and go shopping. When you return home, store your foods where they belong: cabinet, refrigerator, freezer. If you were frugal and bought in bulk (that’s another badge!), spend a few minutes dividing up your purchases into recipe portion sizes. Those portions depend on how many people for whom you regularly cook – only yourself, a couple, or a family of eight.

Step Six: Prepare a meal using one of the cookbooks and your newly stocked pantry. Eat it and clean up afterwards.

Step Seven: Claim your badge!

Wine Appreciation Badge

Holy Ail Front

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Step One: When you order wine at a fine eatery, you sniff and swirl your sample sip with panache, confident that your choice will perfectly complement the meal you order. When you serve a fine meal at home, your dinner guests will rave over the Savignon you chose to accompany your boeuf in croute. You know which wine best brings out the nuances of your favorite dark chocolate. You’re proud of your wine cellar even if it is just 5 bottles.

Step Two: Wine is more than just a pleasure, according to medical research, a glass of wine a day can improve your health. Knowing which wines you prefer can make drinking wine more palatable for you. This knowledge will also save you money because you won’t be tempted to think expensive wine is better than cheap wine. A lot of cheap wines are surprisingly delicious and you’ll know just the one ones to buy. The more confidence you have in selecting wine, the smoother your parties will go. You’ll experience a new world of taste not justin the wine, but in the food you eat with your wine, for wine has a way of altering the flavors of food.

Step Three: Find where the wine is and buy a few bottles. If wine is made in your state, consider a visit to a winery. Most of them offer tours, tastings, and classes in wine appreciation. Some have wine festivals and may also set up booths at local fairs. Check them out because you can learn a lot from them. If you have a Trader Joe’s or World Market locally, ask if they have wine tastings and plan to attend one.

Step Four: Keep a wine jounral. In it, you will list the wines you buy, when you buy them, what you tasted when you sampled htem, and label information fromt he bottles. You may also want to list food pairings you particularly liked so you will know what wine to choose next time you eat that food.

Step Five: Follow the traditional wine tasting procedure. It’s been developed over centuries to help people match their wines and foods and activities. There is a difference between a wine tasting and drinking wine – drinking wine is a full experience with the meal and music and company that makes the entire event memorable. A wine tasting is like a tasty chemistry experiment.

Swirl the wine gently in a circle. This aerates it to improve the flavor. Be gentle, you don’t want to splash it out or get air bubbles in it. Hold it up against a pale background (white is considered best) to look at it, the depth of color, the way it clings (or doesn’t) to the glass. This gives you hte beginning of a feel for the wine.

Sniff the wine. Now that you’ve given it a bit of air to release the aromas, you’ll be able to smell more of it. Our sense of taste is linked to our sense of smell, so smelling is naturally the first step to tasting.

Swish the wine in your mouth. Take a moderate sip – about an ounce. Don’t swish it like mouthwash, be gentle here as well. Move your tongue around to allow the wine to reach all parts of your mouth. You have different types of tastebuds along your tongue so each section will pick up different flavors.

Swallow the wine. There are more tastebuds down the back of your tongue at the top of your throat that will be missed when you swish. Let the wine flow down your throat. Some people say you should breathe in through your nose as you swallow, but too many people choke when they do that. It may be an acquired skill.

Take a deep breath. We prefer to breathe in after we swallow to avoid choking hazards. Breate in through yur nose with your mouth slightly open. The air will move over your tongue and down your throat, releasing more aroma molecules.

Pause between each step of the tasting process to allow the flavor to develop and to pay attention to the taste and the way it changes.

White wine should be chilled slightly before tasting. Taste white wines before reds because reds are stronger and linger longer. Cleanse your palate between wines with a plain cracker or bread, which will soak up the flavors and remove them from your mouth. Wine can be recorked and chilled although if you have a vacuum corker, that will preserve the wine much longer and prevent it from turning to vinegar (although allowing a wine to vinegar can be a good thing, it’s not so good if you plan to serve it with dinner).

Step Six: Learn the label lingo.

Grape Variety: For a wine to be labeled with a particular grape, it must contain at least 75% of that grape’s juices, like Merlot,Chardonnay, Zinfandel. Some wineries blend grapes for special flavors or to provide balance. Whether the wine is a varietal or a blended wine, there is no quality difference. The difference is in flavor and knowing the provenance of the wine.

Appellation of Origin: Exactly where the grape comes from. This can be as broad as the province or state, or as specific as the exact vinyard. Most often, it’s listed as the county, township, or American Viticulture Area( AVA) such as Napa Valley. In Europe, they sometimes give regional information instead of grape varietal.

Terroir: This term refers to the growing conditions in the region where the grapes grew – soil, lcimate, and anything that might affect the grape.

Vintage: This is the year the grapes were harvested. Wine in which 95% of the grapes are harvested in different years is marked as “NV” for non-vintage.

Brand Name: This isn’t always the name of the vinyard or producer of hte wine. Some grocery stores and restaurants buy “special label” wines from producers to sell as their own.

Step Seven: Stock your wine cellar. Most restaurants offer versatile inexpensive house wines, and now you can do the same. After you’ve sampled a few wines, pick a few reliable ones you’d like to keep on hand. You don’t need an actual cellar to store your wines as long as the place you pick for them meets these criteria:

1. No excessive exposure to light, heat or movement (so don’t put your wine above your stove or near a window, or where you have to move it all the time.

2. Stable temperature – between 50ºF and 60ºF, so warmer than the refrigerator, but cooler than room temperature.

3. A little humidity to keep the corks moist and tight.

4. Store bottle upside down or on their sides – a wine rack helps with that.

Step Eight: Claim your badge!

Get Published Badge

Practical Handbook

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Step One: You walk into Barnes and Noble or Borders or Books a Million, and there, front and center, is a display of your book. The librarian tells you copies of your book are always checked out. You see people reading your book at the park or on the bus. People write you thoughtful letters about your book. Fans write fan fiction using your characters, and other fans create RPG characters to play games with your world and characters. Your ideas, stories, and knowledge are widely shared.

Step Two: Getting published can be as wonderful as the visualization above. Reality is a bit dimmer, but no less wonderful. Your fan mail may not arrive by the van-load, but you will get some. You may have to be the one to arrange for the display of your books in your local bookstores (many of the will do so for local authors), but you will still have a featured display of your book. The big bang about publishing is that you might see other people reading – and liking! – your book. You will meet some very interesting people in the process – your publisher, your editor, your agent (if you have one), local booksellers, fans. If you take a book-signing tour or attend book conventions, you’ll get to know hotel staff, convention staff, and other authors. You’ll develop your skills as a writer, and you may be encouraged to write another book. You will get paid for publishing your book. Few authors can make a living off of writing novels, but if you’ve written a non-fiction book, depending upon the need it fills, you may be earning royalties on it years from now, a pleasant little bonus.

Step Three: You’ve already earned your Writing Badge, so now you’re ready to pimp that book! Your first step is to speak to other people who’ve published in your field. If you attended writer’s conventions as part of your Writing Badge, you’ve met published authors, and may already have a person you can contact about the special challenges of getting published. Ask them; many are more than willing to share.

Step Four: Do your research. If you want to publish via traditional publishers, seek out the right publisher for your book (www.writersmarket.com). A romance publisher won’t consider a shoot ’em up western, a western publisher won’t consider a gothic mystery. Find out what category your book is and send it to those publishers, you’ll have a far better chance of being considered. Study the submissions guidelines as if you had to ace a test – because you do! Publishing is a Pass/Fail – and you want to stack the deck as much in your favor as you can so you pass. Follow publisher’s guidelines scrupulously. If you attended (and are still attending) writer’s conventions, don’t be shy about asking to be introduced to publishers and editors. Don’t pimp your book right then, but do ask if you may contact them later with a query letter or submission. Be sure to mention a few books they’ve published before (part of your research – know what your potential publisher is publishing, and read a few so you can mention htem when you meet). Visit websites or read books on how to write a query letter and a cover letter so when you send yours, it will be good. You may not need an agent for magazine and poetry submissions, but in the book world, it can help you navigate all the minor diffrences between publishers and imprints and to meet the requirements of editors because they often know these people and “do lunch” with them, may have sold to them before. There’s a trust and a bond built p between editors and agents, and that’s worth having work on your behalf. A good agent is worth his or her percentage. And be prepared for the time it will take. From acceptance to bookstore can take two years. That’s right – two years. From first submission to bookstore can take much longer than that. You’ll also need to be prepared to re-write to the editor’s specifications. best suggestion ever for submitting is to start writing your next book while the first one is still in the submission process.

Alternate Step Four: If you choose a POD (Print on Demand) publisher instead of a traditional publisher, the process is a bit different. POD publishing is still new enough that there are a lot of scam publishers out there among the legitimate ones. Most professionals in the writing field will try to discourage you from attempting POD publishing because it’s still confused in their mind with vanity presses.

Let’s take a brief moment here to discuss vanity presses. In one single word, if you’re thinking of a vanity press: Don’t. Not ever, not for any reason. You can tell a vanity press by several important clues: they will ask you to pay them to print your book. They will ask you to buy a pre-set number of your books. They will have fees for every step of the publishing process. You will have to pay for your ISBN and the copies of the books the Libray of Congress requires. They may charge you a copyright fee. You may end up spending thousands of dollars on a book that flat won’t sell – and you’ll be responsible for selling your book yourself or paying hefty fees to a marketer.

While POD publishing may also cost you, the difference between them and vanity presses is that they will not charge you a set-up fee, ask you to buy a pre-set number of copies of your book, and you will not have to buy your books in advance in order to sell them. Many good POD publishers will help you with formatting, covers, imprints, ISBNs (there’s a fee for that, because the Library of Congress charges a fee for an ISNB, most POD publishers only collect what the Library of Congress charges and they will submit two copies of your book to the LoC at no charge to you), and distribution to booksellers like Amazon.com.

There are valid reasons to seek a POD publisher instead of publishing traditionally. The most common one is that you’ve written a specialty book that has a very limited buying public. A family cookbook, a family genealogy, a book on very local flora or fauna, a history of a single building that isn’t famous, or a sequel to a fiction series a publisher dropped but still has enough fan demand to warrant publishing it to finish out the series. That’s one of the downsides to publishing traditionally, if you’ve written a series and sequels don’t meet sales quotas, the publisher may drop the series, leaving your fans bereft, and you with an unsold novel or two. Publishing via POD will get those books into your fan’s hands and give you a small royalty for them.

If you want to publish yor book yourself, we recommend going to a reputable POD publisher (like http://www.lulu.com).

We suggest you try traditional publishers first because they have a wider distribution for a new author and they can help teach you about publishing along the way. If you don’t earn out your advance, you may not get the second book published. “Earn out” means the publisher earns back the money they paid you in advance for your book. They speculated that your book would earn a certain amount of money and they paid you what your royalty percentage would be on that figure. You won’t receive any more money from the sales of your book until the advance is earned out. Any sales made after the advance is earned out will earn you a royalty, whatever amount was negotiated when you signed the publishing contract.

Step Five: Submit. Now that you’ve written your book, done your pre-publishing research, and put your book into the correct submission format, you have to actually send it out. Expect rejections, hope for acceptances. There’s been more than one author who’s wallpapered a room in their rejection slips before they finally got accepted. J. K. Rowling almost didn’t get published at all. Her books didn’t get popular until after her third book was published. She wasn’t an “overnight publishing sensation” even if she did become a publishing sensation. It took time and effort, and she garnered her share of rejection slips, too. Be proud of your rejection slips – they show you had the courage to submit your book. When you get your first notification back from a publisher – acceptance or rejection, you can go ahead and claim your badge because you fulfilled the requirements for it – you wrote a book and you sent it off to be published. Or you can choose to wait before claiming your badge until you see a printed and bound copy of your book.

Alternate Step Five: If you use a POD publisher, you will need to do all the steps a traditional publisher would have done for you: hire a proof-reader (spell-checker and grammar-checker can do only so much as any author who’s gotten their book back to see that correctly spelled buy wrong words slipped by – like “there” and “they’re”), hire an editor, get cover art, format the book, get interior art (not all books need this), submit the completed book for publication, approve the galley (which is usually a .PDF – if you can format your book in .PDF, you’re a step ahead), buy your ISBN, and print. Many POD publishers will offer some free cover art, will give tips and suggestions and how-to articles on formatting, will offer limited publicity and marketing tips and srtategies, allow you to choose how your book will be published (hardback, trade paperback, download, mass market paperback), and possibly give special imprints for free, and will offer proof-reading and editorial serves for a smaller fee than vanity presses. You can set your own royalty rates. May we recommend not setting these too high so the price of the finished book remains reasonable to your buyers? The POD will accept what you set up, put up a link so people can find your book and buy it (and review it!), and they’ll send you your royalty check when you earn over a set dollar amount (it’s really low – between $10 and $25). Some PODs will give you room for a blog, a storefront to sell all of your books, and private access to your account history, sales history, royalty history, print history, and works in progress. You have total control of your book from the first word you write to the finished print copy – and all the marketing after you get it printed.

Step Six: Claim your badge!

Gardening Badge

Golden Globe Tomatoes

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Step One: Imagine stepping outside your door – onto your little apartment patio or into a 5 acre paradise – and plucking the ingredients for your salad. Maybe you don’t have a patio, but you do have a shelf with a gro-light, and a couple of containers of salad vegetables and herbs, and you pluck a few and drop them into a container to take to work for snacks and as part of your sack lunch. Maybe you grow cutting flowers isntead, so you always have fresh flowers in your livingroom or on your desk at work. Imagine having a dinner party and your friends arrive with scissors to snip their own salads!

Step Two: There are lots of reasons to garden, whether it’s a few potted plants on the windowsill just for pretties or five acres of culinary independence. Even the most inept of us can find a plant that will survive under our care (says the person who killed an air plant!), and we may find they thrive for us. That can give you a real sense of accomplishment. Even a single plant can brighten a room. Plants are excellent interior decorating objects. If you grow herbs, vegetables, and fruits, there’s nothing so satisfying as eating what you grew. Many people find that working with plants calms them and makes them peaceful. It relieves the stress of the workday. You don’t need acres of garden to get that feeling of peace and accomplishment. A single potted plant can work.

Step Three: Pick a spot for your garden, whether it’s a shelf in your kitchen, a windowsill, a hanging basket on the railing of your balcony, or a strip of ground by your door. If you have at least 3 square feet and 6 hours of sunlight (or can supplement the lighting with gro-lights), you can grow a small garden.

Step Four: Collect your gardening gear. Let’s say you’re going to grow an indoor salad garden, with a mesclun mix of lettuces and greens, some basil and parsley, and maybe even a cherry tomato like Sweet 100. You can grow all of that in 3 square feet. You’ll need 3 containers that are 12″ in diameter, organic gardening soil, vegetable fertilizer if the potting mix isn’t pre-fertilized, a seed packet of the mesclun mix (you can get spicy or sweet or a blend of both), and three plants: one basil, one parsley, and one cherry tomato. The cherry tomato plant will need a cage to support it and the little tomatoes it will produce. You’ll need a small roll of weed barrier cloth, a watering can, a fork, and a pair of scissors, and if your location doesn’t get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, you’ll need to get a gro-light for them, and a lamp to hold the gro-light bulb. A 3 foot long tube light will provide enough light for all three pots.

Of course, you aren’t limited to what is suggested here. You can choose to grow flowers, or tropicals, or succulents, or an herb garden in a strawberry pot. Or you can research square foot gardening or lasagna gardening and grow plants outdoors. Both the square foot method and the lasagna method are quick, fuss-free, and easy – no digging!

Step Five: Once you’ve gathered your equipment and seeds/plants, it’s time to sow them! First, line your pots with the weed barrier cloth – it will let the water through without washing the soil out into the saucer of the pot. You can also use coffee filters, but they might be a bit too small to work well. Next, fill the pots up to an inch below the rim. If you bought an organic gardening blend of potting soil, it may already be pre-fertilized. If not, you’ll fertilize the soil at this point. Then follow the instructions on your seed packet, putting the mesclun in one pot, the herbs in one pot, and the tomato in the last pot. Top up with soil to within half an inch of the rim and water.

Step Six: Tend your garden. Container plants are very much like infants – they need to be tended every single day. You need to check their water levels (some newer containers have water indicators on them or watering pockets – these are great!), their amount of sunlight, and even their temperature – especially if you’re growing them outside. Wind can dry a container plant out in no time. You can help retain moisture by mixing perlite into the potting soil (1/4 perlite to 3/4 potting soil) and by mulching the pots with sphagnum moss, and by putting up a wind break around the container. Indoor plants won’t dry out from the wind, but it can still be too dry for them. They may need misting occasionally to help stay moist. They’ll need to be fertilized every three weeks, even hte plants with pre-fertilized soil. Container plants use up nutrients quickly because the nutrients aren’t renewed by plants growing near them in the ground. Be sure to read the watering needs of your plants so you don’t overwater them – yellow leaves are a sign of over-watering or fungus from being too moist. Drooping and dry soil are signs of underwatering.

If you want a continuous harvest of lettuces, sow more seeds every two weeks.

Step Seven: Harvest time! About a month after planting, your lettuces should be ready to harvest, just snip them about an inch above soil level. It’ll take about 2 months for your first tomatoes to ripen. Basil is ready to harvest when it’s 12″ tall. Snipping it will cause it to grow bushier and put out more leaves. The same with parsley. If you planted curly leafed parsley, it’s ready when you get full bunches about 4 to 6 inches tall. Like basil, cutting it causes it to come back.

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