My Story

Moving to Puerto Rico | telling my story series | Ruth, Writer missruthelias.com

In Latino communities, the term “gringo” isn’t necessarily derogatory….. It’s what they, the Latinos, call the Americans – the outsiders, the white folks with their bad Spanish accents.

It’s what they called us, when I finally got old enough to pay attention.

I was born in New York to a Latino father and an Irish-Italian mother. I already had an older sister, Esther, and two half-siblings from my father’s previous marriage. And another half-sister on the way.

My father’s simultaneous marriage with J, as we’ll call her, was what the world today calls polygamy. It’s the one topic I have avoided writing about on this blog and it’s one I am hesitant to address even now.

We are not Mormon – gather from that admission what you will. They – my parents and J – simply obeyed the call they felt the Lord was making on their lives. With this call – as with most calls the Lord makes, I would think – came the loss of man’s good opinion. It came with much persecution and censure. It came with much suffering. It is the undercurrent to nearly every event that has transpired in my life. Easily understood? Never. Of great responsibility? Always. But Jesus Christ has been the center and the mainstay.

I think when people first hear about my family, they might wonder what rock we climbed out of under. Do people outside of the openly Mormon Sister Wives still live like that? It seems both too strange and too antiquated of a concept to fit into today’s society. And I get it. I do. I will say this, however, that nothing about my family seemed strange to me until I got old enough to notice how strange it was to other people. This was around the same time that I caught on to the gringo label.

My younger half-sister and I would tell people we were twins when we were little – it saved us the difficult task of explaining that yes, we were only eight months apart, and yes, we had the same father, and yes, we grew up together, but no, we had different mothers… Being that my father was a distributor for a multilevel marketing company, we were always around people – but not everybody knew. Though a great deal suspected, I’m sure. The neighbors who would eventually wind up calling social services on us certainly did.

When we left New York to settle down in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, I was just under two years old. I don’t remember the snow-lined, sooty streets of New York City or the small, wallpapered apartment where I learned to take my first steps. But I remember the burning sun that baked the streets of our new neighborhood, the heat of the sidewalk beneath my bare toes, and the long walks to the supermarket to get our groceries before we could get a car.

Our life, in the late 90s and early 00s, was relatively normal. My childhood was idyllic compared to other kids – especially the kinds of kids I’d get to know as I got older. We were homeschooled. My dad worked from home. We weren’t well-off but we had enough to get by. My sisters and I shared a room; my mother had her own, which she shared with the little girl who came along soon after our arrival to Puerto Rico; J had her bedroom with her newborn boy; and my father had his own. We were a small but well-functioning family. Both my mother and J were in their twenties – young, bright-eyed, and intelligent. My mom handled the groceries; J supervised our preschooling. My father knew Spanish and my mother and “step-mother” picked up on enough of it to handle small talk. We played at the local playground and took plenty of walks to keep ourselves busy. We made a few friends in the neighborhood – one even undertook the task of teaching J how to make proper arroz con gandules.

As a kid, my world was full of books and games and movies and the occasional loud-mouthed child that raced through my house – ours to entertain while my father pitched healthcare products to their parents. Occasionally, that world contained business meetings in lavish hotels back-dropped by glittering casinos and scores of well-dressed customers. Other times it was not so glamorous – we went a month without electricity when I was about six because of a backed-up bill we’d been unable to pay.

Our neighborhood was suburban and jammed between another, fully crowded urbanization and the bustling, over-packed city of Bayamon. We lived next door to a well-to-do dentist and across the street from a middle-aged couple that gave us the kinds of sideway glares reserved for brothels. We got our fruit from street-side vendors and spent our spare quarters on limbers.

And yet, there was no doubt about it – we were the outsiders, the weird Americans, the gringos. And we weren’t like everybody else. We were a gaggle of little girls and a solitary boy – a sweet, wide-eyed, fragile tot – a dad, and two moms. And our incredulous neighbors weren’t having it.

And so, sometime in the middle of 1999, I met my first social workers.

Writing

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Journaling is wonderful. Writing memoir is helpful. But in and of itself, it is not enough.

It’s not enough to erase the pain.

It’s not enough to heal the wounds. 

It’s not enough to deliver me from all my sufferings. 

It’s not enough to give me peace.

It’s not enough to save me.

It’s not enough to wash away the memories.

It’s not enough to heal the hurt.

It’s not enough to fix me.

Writing is a gift. But it’s not my salvation.

When times are hard and it feels like the entire host of hell is stirred up against me, running to writing doesn’t fix it. It doesn’t fix it for me because it wasn’t meant to. There is only One that can fix it, and His name is Jesus. 

He binds up my brokenness and saves me from my crushing pain. He heals my wounds and anoints me with the oil of gladness. He is the only One I have.

These are the words my soul needs to live by. In them I’ll find my peace.

What words of encouragement do you live by?

Writing

writing quotes

I love quotes. Literary quotes, quotes derived from books: I find myself in them. It always surprises me when I realize that the things that puzzle me, inspire me, plague me, and excite me have already been discovered, dissected, and transformed into pieces of poetry by strangers whom I will never know. Isn’t it amazing how words can transcend time and space that way?

I’m preparing myself emotionally and spiritually to begin tackling my second book. Here are a collection of 21 quotes on writing that inspire me. (21 being a nod to my 21st year of life – gah!) I hope they can inspire you too!

  1. Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.

― Natalie Goldberg

2. Write what should not be forgotten.

― Isabel Allende

3. When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.

― Vickie Karp

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5. Don’t be a writer. Be writing.

― William Faulkner

6. Quiet people have the loudest minds.

― Stephen King

7. If it is still in your mind, it’s worth taking the risk.

― Paolo Coehlo

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.

― Anaïs Nin

9. There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

― Ernest Hemingway

10. Be the instrument playing the sound of your life’s passing.

― Jonathan Safran Foer

11. Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say.

― Mitch Albom

12. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.

― Terry Pratchett

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

14. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

― Anaïs Nin

15. The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

― Agatha Christie

16. This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard. 

― Neil Gaiman

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18. A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

― Thomas Mann

19. I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.

― Anne Frank

20. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

― Anton Chekhov

21. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea that you’re writing a book – just write.

― Isabel Allende

Are any of these quotes your favorite?

 

Life

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The holidays weren’t very joyous this year for my family.

Maybe they weren’t very joyous for you either. If that be the case, let’s do something, shall we? Let’s find as many things as we can think of that we are grateful for, and let’s thank God for them!

Here’s my list:

  1. Jesus – His birth, His sacrifice, His gift of grace, His love, His Holy Spirit, and His mercy
  2. My health and the health of my family members
  3. Our beautiful house
  4. Our gorgeous property
  5. The freshly cut lawn 
  6. Our mountain
  7. Electricity
  8. Running water
  9. A working washing machine
  10. A working water heater
  11. Food on the table
  12. Being able to have sushi this week
  13. Christmas cookies
  14. This song. I don’t understand most of it (it’s in Portuguese) but I cry almost every time I hear it.
  15. My brothers and sisters
  16. Pine trees
  17. My sister’s humor
  18. Homemade bread every morning
  19. My sister, who makes our bread
  20. Books
  21. Rain
  22. A working car
  23. My almost-2 year old brother + his hugs
  24. A new year 
  25. Our Christmas tree
  26. God’s love and how it fixes everything

What are you thankful for during this season?

I hope everyone is having a merry Christmas!

 

Memoir, Writing

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“My book… was written on stalled subway cars, noisy cafes, and park benches…”

— Lincoln Michel

I wrote my book in between music classes on loose-sleeve paper in a library. My oboe sat on the floor at my feet and in my ears I had a cheap pair of earphones. I couldn’t write much in those days – the most I ever finished was a chapter or two. It was still too raw.

I wrote my book in the public library with my father at my side. He was creating a multilevel marketing company; I was writing books. I brought my USB stick and inserted it into the old computer. The librarian hovered nearby, anxious to be of assistance. When the afternoon had drawn to a close, we could hear the chains jingling on the gate outside, signaling the end of the work day. We would pack up our things – my father, his papers, me, my bag – and say goodbye to the librarian. We rode home through the city on our bikes.

I wrote my book at night, when the generator had run out of gas, and I was all alone in my Dad’s office downstairs in the dark, my laptop hooked up to a cable that ran out the screen door and to the car that was parked ten feet away, the hood up, wires entangling around the small electrical box that was attached to the car’s battery. We had no electricity during that year and had to charge our electronics by the battery in the car; every half hour, I would go out to the car, climb into the front seat, and turn on the engine, letting the battery recharge while I sat in the dark, damp silence.

I wrote my book sitting on my bed, staring at the unpainted walls of my new bedroom. Sweat formed on my upper lip, my temples, and I shifted uncomfortably, staring at the same pages on the same old Word document. Nothing changed much during those months.

I wrote my book on the back porch of our apartment, beneath the shade of a single tree – the which I often stared at, wondering how it got there, surrounded as it was by buildings and broken down gates. The fading sun glinted on my laptop screen.

I wrote my book after poring over old pictures, articles, newspaper clippings, journals, and medical notes. I compiled a box full of this sort of memorabilia.

I wrote my book at the dining room table. The television was blaring and the children played on the balcony outside the window. Trucks blared as they lumbered past and tires screeched as teenagers in their cheap, little cars raced past our humble little apartment – the Bucket House, as we called it, because of the leaks in the ceiling – blasting reggaeton music.

I wrote my book on a breaking down laptop, the wire rigged up to keep the battery charging. I kept it on a little desk next to my bed. No more sitting at the dining room table or hiding on the porch out back. I was stuck on my bed, staring at the now painted walls, struggling – as I had for years now – to put down on paper the words that tumbled around inside my head.

I wrote my book on the bedroom floor of a stranger’s house, now on my sister’s laptop. “Hiding out again?” People joked with me. I didn’t try to explain.

I wrote my book sitting in the living room of our new house. It was quieter now. The children still played and now there was the barking of dogs and the neighing of horses, but the trucks and screeching cars were gone. I wrote every day and the months passed quickly. At night, I scribbled my thoughts on scraps of paper in the dark and in the morning, tried to decipher them.

On New Years Day, 2015, I told my father that I had a present for him. I was newly twenty. The project that had encompassed my life from the time I was thirteen until the week I left behind the number nineteen had come to something of an end.

“I finished my book,” I told him.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

Neil Gaiman

Writing prompt: where and how did you write your book? 

Self-Publishing

 

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When it comes to self-publishing, everywhere you go and everything you read inevitably points to the same conclusion: support teams are massively important, so get one.

In the beginning, your support team may consist of just your mother and maybe a handful of sympathetic friends. Actual professionals may be a long time in coming. That’s okay. The point is to surround yourself with people who care about you, about your message, your project, and your story. This is the beginning of your “tribe,” as Jeff Goins would say. They are the faithful few who will help promote you, be the first to write reviews for you, share your work with others (online or otherwise), and stand as your support when it comes time to broadcast your story/work to the world. 

Right now, my support team – that is, the one which has to do with actual promotion, meaningful contributions (help-wise), and back-up – is small.

Quick note: I have a theory that two support teams will naturally develop in the process of writing and publishing a book: a technical one and an emotional one. I’ll be mostly talking about the technical one, although right now, my support team is kind of a blend of both.

It consists of my mother, my elder sister, and two of my younger sisters. My older sister is a burgeoning graphic artist, website designer, blogger, and writer. She asked me recently if there was anything she could help me with and I told her I needed somebody to study the ins and outs of CreateSpace, a site providing free tools for self-publishing and distribution. She already has the whole formatting concept down pat – she tried to explain it to me and I must admit, I felt my eyes glaze over. I didn’t even try to understand it – it’s like algebra, a subject I wasn’t too fond of. But she is learning the ins and outs of it, just like I asked her to, and that fact brings me a lot of relief. Which got me thinking… she is one of the starring figures of my “support team,” as is my mother. What a relief it is knowing that I won’t be forging this self-publishing path on my own, that I’m going to have help and support along the way, and that I don’t have to do everything by myself. This is one of the many benefits of having a support team.

My mother is the one who I will be taking along with me when it comes time for book tours and interviews and all that terrifying stuff. Not just because I want her to be there, not just because I know she wants to be there, but because her steady stream of encouragement over the last twenty years of my life has practically guaranteed her an honored spot in the Hall of Fame. There were so many times I came to her and forced her to sit down and listen to me rant about my raging ineptness, my frustration over the lack of progress, my bewilderment where it came to executing what I often felt was an impossible task, and she patiently listened, helpfully consoled, and patted my back when there was nothing else she could do. Those were defining moments for me, whether anyone realizes it or not. Those were the moments I needed help, and I found it in her. She didn’t expect anything in return. She just did it because she loves me.

My point? Surround yourself with people who don’t expect a return on their loving support. However, if at all within your power, keep these people in mind when your turn in the spotlight comes. They earned it. As for those who didn’t, I guess they’ll wish they did.

The two big ways a support team can help you:

Marketing & Promotion

This could be as simple as having them share one of your posts on Facebook, reposting or posting about your blog or website on their Instagram or other social media site, or telling other people about you, your work, or your site.

The private group gave me the ability to interact directly with the people who would be the front line in our marketing and promotional activities — from writing reviews, to spreading the word.

Jeff Goins, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Launching a Best-Selling Book

Jeff recommends starting a private Facebook group which consists of those people who you’ve been able to recruit as your support team. The group page would basically serve as your “working table” for all your projects where you can share things you need help on, recruit specific members to promote something, or share an article that would benefit the other members, etc.

The Book Launch

 

This post isn’t a breakdown on what a book launch is, however, just to briefly touch on it – a book launch is in itself, somewhat self-explanatory. It is the process of launching your book into the market, and each launch is different (or so say my sources). A strategy is needed in order to maximize promotion and book sales. While I won’t be getting into the different strategies or methods that can be used, I will say that having a support team (or, in synonymous terms: a launch team) is essential, according to all that I’ve read. Here’s another excerpt from Goins’ great article on book launching:

Here are some ways to leverage a launch team:

  1. Ask them to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads when the book launches (assuming you’ve given them free access to the book early — which you should).
  2. Encourage each member to write a review on their own blog. In exchange, highlight these people on your blog when the book launches! See below for how we did that.
  3. Coordinate a Thunderclap.it campaign (a great way to get a lot of eyeballs on your book during launch day as long as the campaign succeeds — so make sure you set a low enough goal that you can achieve it).
  4. Share important blog posts, guest posts, or listing site mentions and ask members to support by checking it out and sharing if it resonates. I told our team that I’d retweet as many of them as possible when they talked about the book.

By this point (getting ready to launch point), your support team will have (or should have) grown. You can include blog readers, social media followers, friends, family, you name it! How do you do this? Again, you can use the concept of a private Facebook group. You can invite as many “members” as you like (Jeff says he had a team of no less than 250 people!) and all these will pitch in when it comes time to promote like crazy, leave Amazon reviews, blog post, and campaign.

I’m still in the baby stages of the ballgame, but ever since I first read about having a support team, I’ve pondered the kind of people that it would take to make up one. I can think of several off the bat, and as time goes on, I know my support team is going to grow. It’s funny, because in most areas of my life, I’m thoroughly independent: when it comes to the things that matter, I yearn for collaboration.

I guess that’s what publishing a book really is all about: the collaboration between writer and reader, seller and buyer, author and team.

Stay tuned 😉

COMING SOON

Family

 

For those of you who don’t know, I have about a gazillion siblings. Nine of them have formed a choir, and they are aptly called Somos Elias. You can watch their videos on Youtube by looking up the channel misshannahofficial.

They upload covers of popular Christian songs and these are done in our living room (which yours truly usually ends up recording on our phone camera… one word: OW). However! This time around, we had an actual film crew come in to professionally film their first real music video!

Weeks were spent deciding on location spots. The film director (aka: Kevin, an incredibly awesome human) spent a day or two driving around the island with my sister, looking at beaches and checking out mountain-terrain spots. In a turn of sudden events, a friend offered her parents’ lake-house as a possible site: Kevin checked it out and bam! Location was a go.

At the last possible minute, I was recruited to be the One-Woman Cooking Show. This means that while the kids were off sitting around campfires crooning their little hearts out, I was up at the house, frantically banging pots and pans around and over-salting absolutely everything.

DAY #1:

We woke up at four in the morning on Tuesday to begin packing up the cars and getting ready. (We squeezed 16 people’s luggage into the trunks of three cars and tied all of our extra bedding to the roof of one of the cars; somehow, the guys managed to fit five huge logs into their trunks as well as three days’ worth of groceries in there, although I have no idea how.) We bundled in the cars and off we went. Two and a half hours later, we reached our destination

A peek at some of the perks of the lake-house ;)
A peek at some of the perks of the lake-house 😉

I’m sure that somewhere in the hidden by-laws of the Blogosphere, posting pictures of other people’s houses is frowned upon. Thus, I will only give you the above-shown glimpse of the property.

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The boys jumped right into the pool upon our arrival with no qualms.

David, my mother's youngest, holding the whopping grapefruit he found.
David, my mother’s youngest, holding the whopping grapefruit he found.

While the crew went off to set up the sites, I got to cooking. Our (very funny, friendly, hospitable) hostess graciously volunteered to help me and I gratefully passed the buck of making ten cups of rice to her.

The day was spent exploring and getting to know our hosts and preparing for the next day of filming.

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The lake in the morning.

DAY #2:

The next morning, I woke up to roosters crowing (a sound I loathe, by the way) and was stunned by the glorious sight of the morning sun on the lake.

The kids were trussed up and sent off for their first shoot, which took place on the river.

The kids and crew at the river.
The kids and crew setting up.

Meanwhile, if anybody cares what I was doing at the time, I was making enough mashed potatoes to feed a small army. They were the kind that comes out of a box. Despite the fact that I’d never made them before, you’d think following the very simple instructions on the back of the box would be pretty fool-proof. Nope. I still managed to miscalculate an entire box of the stuff and it came out so over-salted, the kids dumped barbecue sauce on it just to mask the taste. #Fail

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That evening, the kids went for their second shoot: the campfire scene.

Elijah and John. You're going to be reading a lot about them in my book.
Elijah and John. Remember these faces. You’re going to be reading a lot about them in my book.

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DAY #3: 

Certain of the kids were selected for close-ups and off they went to sit on pretty little cliffs and wander picket-fenced lanes.

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The crew, with the assistance of my brother, the blondie in green.

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That night, I was finally able to go along to check out the filming process! That was an adventure in itself. The fire was set up, the logs arranged, and I hung on the outskirts wearing one of my brothers’ sweatshirts and an ancient pair of converse, taking scenic pictures of the lake (which looked ethereal in the fading light of the day).

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As the night dragged on, I sat uncomfortably on an upturned log and fidgeted. This filming business was no joke. Scenes were shot over and over again. The fire was a little drama all of itself. It refused to catch and burn – the guys kept pouring lighter fluid over it to keep it going – it eventually sustained itself and proceeded to burn for seven long hours. Light faded and then the woods were pitch black.

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I was amazed at my siblings’ endurance. They did exactly as they were told and didn’t complain. We had nowhere to sit in between shots except for on the one garbage bag which we’d brought for the guitar and a couple of logs. By the time 9:30 rolled around, two of my brothers were asleep on said garbage bag and I was seriously contemplating joining them.

They didn’t finish until midnight.

We blearily picked up our trash and supplies and stumbled to the cars. Once back at the lake-house, we crashed into bed and slept somewhat soundly till morning.

Our last day at the house was spent packing and cleaning up. We said goodbye to half of the crew who had to return to work and started putting the house back together. But, the fun wasn’t over yet. Our host wanted to take us on a tour of the lake in his boat. I’ve never been on a boat in a lake before, so it was a first for me.

I loved it.

Rainclouds showed up halfway through and had us absolutely soaked, but it was still a blast. Our host showed us all the properties and farmhouses, pointed out the crops of coffee, and even drove (?) us past the campfire spot where we had filmed the night before (we could still smell the smoke).

It was the perfect finish to our epic filming adventure.

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Points for cheesy narration, eh? 😉

That’s a wrap!

Self-Publishing

 

I’m tackling Curiouser Editing’s Pre-Publishing Checklist, but in no particular order. Join me in my scattered-brainness.

DOMAIN NAME

First on my list was getting a proper domain name. It’s something I tried to do for months, but there was always something in the way. But last week it happened! 😀

PRICE QUOTING

I actually contacted Curiouser Editing and asked for a price quote for the tasks I would like help on: the book cover, interior design and formatting, and light editing. They asked for a copy of my manuscript in order to give me a quote, so now I have to run that by my dad (because he’s king on the protecting/copy-writing frontier and I know he wants to make sure my work is ultra-protected before sending it out to anybody).

BETA READERS

Another concept that Curiouser Editing talks about in their checklist is having beta readers. These are people that will read your book, give you feedback, point out errors, and even serve as unofficial editors. Curiouser Editing recommends getting 20-30 of them. I’m considering Wattpad as my medium of getting those readers, because it’s a free site and the readers are there for the picking!

I’m spending the next few days with my siblings on location of their first real music video (eeeeeep!) so this week is going to be somewhat lacking in the progress frontier. But as soon as I get back, I’m going to post about the book’s translation because I think I may have had a breakthrough!

P.S. I’ll post about our filming adventure too.

In the meantime, enjoy my chickadees

Self-Publishing

 

I just stumbled upon this website called Curiouser Editing. (A curious title that I have no idea how to pronounce, curiously.) They’re a team that help with book development, editing, consulting, and self-publishing services.

On their blog, they’re offering a FREE Pre-Publishing Checklist PDF for authors. (Score! If you’re an aspiring author, I highly recommend checking it out.) I immediately subscribed and downloaded the ebook, and BOY, am I in for a ride.

This is going to be one of the hardest things I ever do, I can already tell. 

Just check out the table of contents for the ebook:

  1. Pre-Pre-Publishing Checklist
  2. Prepare a Promo Kit
  3. Copyright & Such
  4. Choose an Editor
  5. Find Your Target Audience
  6. Set Up Social Media
  7. Set Up an Email List
  8. Pre-Marketing Part One
  9. Research Self-Publishing Platforms
  10. Rock Your Book Cover
  11. Choose Your Publishing Platform
  12. Format Your Book
  13. Pre-Marketing Part Two
  14. Publish on Amazon
  15. Set Up Amazon Author Central Page
  16. Publish on Createspace
  17. Throw a Launch Party
  18. Promote Your Book
  19. Market Your Book
  20. One Last Thing
  21. Curiouser Editing’s Favorite Publishing Resources
  22. Notes

Ahhhhhhh.

There’s so much that goes into this process. It’s somewhat bewildering and quite overwhelming but I plan on blogging the heck out of it along the way, so… there is that 🙂

Join me for the ride, will ya?

In my next post, I’ll blog about the first things I’m going to tackle on the list and how I’m going to go about doing them. See you then!