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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blog Post in Progress for Cinco de Mayo ... feedback appreciated

The following is a blog post I am preparing for the WOW! Women on Writing blog for Cinco de Mayo. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you as always for stopping by.

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and reasons to celebrate!

Celebrate YOU, today and every day!

I was pretty excited when I found out I would be doing the WOW! Blog post on Cinco de Mayo. What better day to encourage fellow writers to celebrate than on what is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride? Today is a great day to talk about pride in our vocation, and how we deserve to celebrate our successes. Author, Joel Osteen, said it eloquently: “When nobody else celebrates you, learn to celebrate yourself. It’s not up to other people to keep you encouraged. It’s up to you. Encouragement should come from the inside.”

If you have always been confident in your writing abilities or have always been embraced by agents, publishers, and readers, I want to know your secret! Many of the rest of us view each rejection as a step closer to our goal, and yet there are those moments when we wonder if maybe the school guidance counselor was right and we should have chosen what was categorized as a "real job". Wherever you are in your career or your literary journey, you have something to celebrate and pride is a lovely thing. Pride plays a vital role in self-confidence.  You may not want to go as far as commissioning a European sculptor to create a life-size statue of yourself in the center of town, but find a way to celebrate that feels comfortable to you. Our family has a large framed picture in the entry way (pictured below). Within this frame are some of our proudest moments and we have strategically hung it where we can see it when coming and going. It is a reminder of hard work and goals. It keeps us focused but is also a daily reminder to celebrate who we are. Other celebratory ideas include (but are not limited to):

• Throw yourself a book launch party
• Start a writers group in your community (and don’t forget the coffee and snacks)
• Start a Facebook page and/or blog for yourself as an author
• Frame a copy of your book cover, magazine article, newspaper article, etc… and hang it in your office
• Treat yourself to a massage, manicure, pedicure, or whatever makes you feel good
• Buy yourself something you wouldn't usually buy (ie: dinner at a particular restaurant, a new hand bag, a fun necklace, etc...)
• Buy a bottle of champagne or your favorite wine and enjoy a glass with that special someone in your life

There’s a time and place for being humble, but when you’ve reached your goal (whatever that means for you), remember to make time to celebrate. Better yet, celebrate without hesitation or guilt. The celebration will help you stay encouraged to set new goals and achieve those too. Remember the quote at the beginning of this post – “encouragement should come from the inside” and this is no time to be bashful. Take pride in your work and get out there and celebrate everything that you are!

Thank you WOW! for today’s blogging opportunity and the daily opportunity to work with so many talented individuals. Readers, I would love to hear from you – what are some ways you’ve celebrated you and your accomplishments? If you haven’t celebrated in the past, tell us why and maybe let us know how you plan to celebrate in the future.


Crystal J. Casavant-Otto is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, two  young children(Carmen 6 and Andre 4), three dogs, and nearly 200 Holsteins. Crystal is expecting another child at the end of September.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Encouraging and Creating Young Creative Writers

Just in case you missed my guest post on the WOW! Women on Writing blog yesterday, here you go:

Encouraging and Creating Young Creative Writers

Before I get too far in today’s post, I should tell you a bit about who I am. I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, a musician, and a dairy farmer. I don’t know how all these go together, but I have a sneaking suspicion that each of them play into my role as a teacher when it comes to teaching young people about creative writing. I work on special projects with my daughter’s class. She is in Kindergarten, and some of her creative writing has already been featured on my blog, submitted as part of a college project for her teacher, and shared with many via social media. My daughter turned six at the beginning of March; so when I speak to you about creating a young creative writer, I want you to know that a child is never too young to be creative.

The first stories that a child hears are simple spoken tales shared by their parents. Hearing develops in the womb at sixteen weeks. A sixteen-week-old child in the womb cannot understand your words, but the excitement and tone of your voice tell a very musical story (some scientists even argue that fetuses as young as seven months dream). After birth, it’s a similar situation. We read to our children, sing to our children, and converse in front of our children, and their brains process that information at whatever level they are at. That said, a child that can draw pictures—even simple stick people—can begin to tell a story.

When a child creates a piece of art or is animatedly explaining something to you, ask questions. Don’t assume that the scribble on the page is just a scribble or that the dinosaur is a tyrannosaurus. If you engage the youngest of children and ask questions about things, you’ll find that those pictures develop into written words and those short stories develop into longer stories and poems. What color was the slide? How big was the dinosaur? You were the tooth fairy—how did you get into the little girl’s house and what did you do with the tooth? Etc.

My children know that I write and ask me questions about what I’m writing (or what I’m reading), and we talk about my work as well as theirs. They beam with pride when they see my picture in the paper or I show them my name on the computer screen or in a book. To encourage their creative “work” as well, I have the luxury of going one step further than most parents. Most parents hang pictures or stories on the fridge or share them with friends and family. I am able to post some of the stories, pictures, and drawings on my blog, website, or social media. When the children see themselves and/or their creation “up in lights” as we say, they feel good and want to write more. This is something very easy to do as a parent, but a gift that will last a lifetime for the children. It’s never too early to share your passion for writing with your own children by volunteering at a library or school. Help encourage our future writers!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Matters Most - Book Review and Author Information for Bette Lee Crosby

Looking for a great read by a fabulous female author? Check out What Matters Most by Author, Bette Lee Crosby. She is running a promotion right now with a New Release sale for fans & followers $2.99 click here for details:

Review of What Matters Most
Review by: Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
Book by: Author, Bette Lee Crosby

What's not to love about Clay and Louise Palmer? They're just like my parents, my friend's parents, and so many of my neighbors growing up. They've been living almost separate lives for years and Clay has no idea how his decision to move would throw Louise into a panic. I remember thinking 'she's so stubborn' about Louise at the beginning of the book. As author, Bette Lee Crosby developed the characters, I realized the things I didn't like about Louise were the same things I don't like about myself. As Louise worked through her issues, I had an opportunity to look at myself more objectively. By the end of the book I felt kindred to not only the characters but to the author as well. What a fabulously told tale of family, friendship, and what matters most. 

This is the first book I've read by Bette Lee Crosby and I'm already adding some of her other writings to my bookshelf as "must reads".

Write on Bette Lee!

About Author Bette Lee Crosby:

Bette Lee Crosby’s work was first recognized in 2006, when she won the National League of American Pen Women Award for unpublished fiction with What Matters Most. Her novel, Cracks in the Sidewalk, received the 2009 Royal Palm Literary Award and then went on to win the 2011 FPA President’s Book Award Gold Medal. In 2011 Spare Change received the Reviewer's Choice Awards and it garnered a second Royal Palm Literary Award. Her books have earned numerous five-star ratings with readers acclaiming them as heartwarming and captivating.

Most recently, Bette completed a memoir written for Lani Deauville, a woman the Guinness Book of Records lists as The World’s Longest Living Quadriplegic. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Do I ... ???

Interestingly enough, not everyone is interested in living my life. Of course, I knew that ... in fact, I wasn't particularly excited about my life a year ago, and sometimes things work like that. Here's an example that may help you understand: My ex-husband would plan these elaborate vacations and I would fight him tooth and nail. Of course when I got to the destination or while I was enjoying the carriage ride through historic Charlotte, NC or touring the Vaderbilt Mansion, I was loving the vacation. I would often say "honey, this was such a great idea; thank you!" and he would sort of roll his eyes at me. Apparently I was so difficult during the planning stages (and even during the travel) that he had considered never letting me leave the county. That's just how I'm wired. Now that I've been to those places, the thought of going back makes me smile and I'm relaxed about it. I think it's a sort of stage fright and it applies to my everyday life. A year ago, I knew I would soon be moving to the farm and that my life would be drastically different. I was grouchy about the change, but now that I've experienced it for a few months, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

Now that you know how I process things, I want to share with you a conversation I recently had with a friend and the back knowledge will help you understand my response to a question she asked.

My friend asked me if I had any suggestions on how she could mold her life into exactly what she is looking for. I couldn't exactly answer the question without knowing more, but the general answer to that question is this:

Set goals - make them specific, attainable and measurable. Visualize the life you want, put pictures up showing a similar life to what you want, and then go after it. Don't stop until you get it!

Knowing my friend as well as I do, I had to ask (because I knew she had something in mind already) "What exactly are you looking to achieve?" and she went on to explain that her ideal life would include time for yoga, mediation, whole food preparation and diet, reflection, and time for herself. I asked what was standing in her way right now and that boiled down to just two key issues: time and programming. She had been raised to be a 'good wife', someone who gives selflessly of themselves, someone who only does for themselves after everything has been done for others IF there's time in the day. I've never met her mother, but I would guess that the only thing she did for herself through the years was get her hair done (if that). My friend was programmed to feel guilty if she did things for herself. And of course, the time issue, we all understand ... there just aren't enough hours in the day, right?


People find time in their day for all sorts of things. We smoke, we read, we paint our nails, and we even take vacations sometimes or have coffee with a girlfriend. There's time. We may have to give up something else, but there most certainly IS time. The key about time is to start small. As my mother would say "Rome wasn't built in a day dear" and your lifestyle change will evolve over time. Meditation may be 5 minutes in the grocery store parking lot with the radio off, eyes shut, and hands in your lap. Eventually, mediation will look differently and you'll have a special room, candles, a yoga mat, or whatever else it is that trips your trigger. Similarly, eating whole foots today may mean you buy organic at the store and buy a food processor. This summer you'll plant some containers on the porch with tomatoes, next summer you may add a small garden in the backyard, and before you know it you'll be growing your own fruits and vegetables and upgrading to a larger and more efficient processor. If you were to plant an acre large garden tomorrow and buy a $500 processor, you would fail. So start small - especially when it comes to time.

What about the programming problem?

Repeat after me: "I must take care of myself to effectively care for others." Keep repeating that until you believe it. When you feel guilty, say it again and remember that guilt is a feeling YOU control. No one can make you feel guilty. I have young children, so I remind myself of this often. My children spent this weekend by grandma. I'm sure some people didn't think that shopping with my girlfriend, having fun at a bar until 2am, or eating at a grown-up restaurant were good using of my time. After all, I'm a mom. I should spend 525,600 minutes each year doing things for my children, right? WRONG AGAIN ... I didn't stop being Crystal when I earned the title of "MOM". If I don't take care of Crystal, Crystal cannot physically, emotionally, or spiritually take care of others. Whatever phase of life you are in, this will apply to you "I must take care of myself to effectively care for others"

Now, last but not least (and this probably should have come sooner as I'm not sure everyone wants to listen to me this long):


Get a mentor, accountability partner, friend, or something. Call it whatever you'd like. There has to be someone (or several someones) out there whose live's are similar to what you are looking for. Call them up (and don't tell me you can't find them ... this world is getting smaller every day ... social media? websites? blogs? etc... so pick up the phone and call the someone who is living your dream. Set up a time to either chat if they live far away, or set up a coffee/tea date or walk in the park to discuss things. The conversation will sound something like this:

"Hi, is this Sandy?"


"Sandy, you may not know me, but my name is Crystal Otto and I follow your blog. I admire where your life is and I want to be more like you. I was wondering if I could pick your brain and find out more about your journey so I have a bit more direction on my path to a healthier lifestyle. Would Tuesday afternoon or Thursday morning work better for you?"

of course at this point Sandy is flattered at your sincerity and you've already shown her that you're committed to your goal - you just called a stranger for heaven's sake! She agrees, you choose a time, and whala - you are nearly there. Everyone loves talking about themselves, and she will be happy to give you the keys to your dream world and I'm sure she'll help you with accountability. Best thing is, you probably just made a friend for life!

Now ... you've got all the keys ... so get out there and make your dream a reality! Then come back and tell us about your transformation, comments are truly appreciated!

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and dreams!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Take Inventory of Your Life

Don't get too excited by the title ... I am NOT the person to talk about taking inventory of items or possessions. My mother and husband would be happy to tell you that I keep weird stuff and get rid of all sorts of things I shouldn't (vehicle titles often end up missing, and yet I have enough books to start my own library ... some things I can't part with and other things I just end up throwing away because I'm not a clutter person). Anyway - that's the disclaimer for today's post. I take a daily inventory of my life and I am incredibly thankful that I do. A friend of mine recently mentioned that I should share this technique with others, so here goes...enjoy!

Take Inventory of Your Life
Do you do things that aren't fun? Do you do things just because you've always done them? Have you lost sight of your goals? Do you have any direction at all, or are you just trying to get through the day?

I'm going to start by telling you about my previous life. I am not complaining, but I want you to see that no matter how you answered the questions above, there is hope for you...

I was working 40+ hours each week IN the office, plus working from home, checking my smart phone at all hours of the night, thinking about work ALL the time, and I felt great. I felt like I was really accomplishing things; people respected me (or so I thought) and I could buy things for my family. I thought I was living the American Dream. I had purchased a beautiful house with a nice yard, I drove a nice SUV, my children were attractive, and I had some money left over to purchase aesthetically pleasing things. Luckily I was fired from my job, because I had fooled myself into a false sense of purpose. I thought I had it all. What I didn't see was the reality of the life I had woven for my family.

My reality was that the nanny was the only one enjoying my lovely home and tranquil gardens. I wasn't home to enjoy them in the daylight and I honestly hadn't sat in some of my own furniture ... EVER ... I got up before the sun each morning, took a shower, left for work before my children woke up. I drove home after dark, after the children were tucked in bed, I did a bit of cleaning, leafed through the bills, checked some emails, thought about ways I could be better and more efficient/effective at work, and I crawled into bed. I didn't really know what was in the fridge, because most of my meals were eaten out and the nanny did the cooking and shopping for the children. I didn't even do my own laundry or take the time to meet my daughter's chiropractor. I didn't notice my son's speech impediment or his hearing loss. I missed both children's first steps, first words, and I have two potty-trained children but I have no idea how to potty train anyone, or teach them how to tie their shoes.

See how different reality was from the way I viewed things? I didn't have time to think about what I was doing or why I was doing it. I felt like I was doing okay because I was able to write the checks that supported the lifestyle that I wasn't even involved in. Now ... life is very different. I know what my goals are, and several times each day I ask myself if I'm having fun. If I'm doing something that isn't fun, I ask myself what purpose it serves and then decide if it should be continued or discontinued. Here's an example: I volunteer on the board for _______________, and I enjoy it, but it takes me away from my family quite a bit and I find myself dreading the meetings and not looking forward to the events. It would serve a purpose if I was looking to network and grow my business, but I'm really looking to grow my family, have more time for writing, and reading - so it's not fun and it's not serving my ultimate purpose in life. I resign. Plain and simple - now I'm done with it and I have extra hours each month to do things that are fun!

Here's a little secret too - resigning isn't as hard as you think. Sometimes people will ask you to stay or ask you to explain why you're leaving, so be prepared with those answers, but for the most part, people dislike confrontation and they won't even ask. Worse yet...or maybe better yet...they won't even care. It's really not as scary as you think.

Don't just quit volunteer things either. Is your job fun? Does it serve a greater purpose? In the grand scheme of things are you really bringing home enough money to justify the hours you put in or the stress? I have a friend who has three children and after paying a sitter, paying for gas, etc... the job (and yes she has a college degree) she dreads going to each day pays her about $7 per day. Add in the convenience foods they sometimes purchase because she doesn't have time to cook, or consider the doctor visits because she's exhausted and stressed out, and she is paying these people to keep her employed. She's not having fun and her job is not serving a greater purpose. She has decided that working from home in a freelance position would be better for her, for her family, and for her long term goals. Had she not taken an inventory, she wouldn't have realized that. She would have kept doing what she has always done and she would have woken up after all 3 children graduated and wondered "what happened to the last 20 years of my life?"

If it's not fun and it's not serving a great purpose in your life, think about ways you can either make it fun or discontinue doing it. This rings true for relationships too. Don't continue a friendship with someone just because they've been your friend for 20 years. If they drain the life out of you and you don't have fun with them, and you don't feel warm and fuzzy after speaking with them ... pull away from the friendship. Taking an inventory of your life will help you stay focused on your goals and will increase the 'fun factor' in life. It's easier to get out of bed in the morning if things are fun. (this doesn't mean you get to quit cleaning toilets or scrubbing floors - those things serve a greater purpose of keeping your home aesthetically pleasing and healthy for you and your family, but I'm sure you knew that!)

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and fun with a purpose!