As I was finishing up my latest book,Mission: Stand Down, I started to go back to an idea that I had come up with after having my first child. I now had a second child, and she was spitting up all the time. My idea was to make a burp cloth that would fit over your hand, so that it would stay put when you were burping a squirmy baby. It also occurred to me that I wanted to try to have it manufactured solely in the U.S.
This was definitely a new world for me – I’ve been active in the online world selling products before, but I have never ventured into having a product manufactured. I soon found out how difficult this is. I didn’t want to lean on China – though that probably would have been much easier.
It took months and months, but I finally had a batch of my very own invention – the BurpMitt! Truly Made in the U.S.A. It is made of a super-absorbent, organic fabric – environmentally friendly and safe for everyone. Turns out it also has other great uses – from polishing cars to dusting countertops – it’s quite useful – and it’s available on Amazon!
What does a former CIA officer do once she’s no longer a CIA officer and has a family of her own? She writes multiple CIA-inspired books, invents a baby product, goes crazy with a music album (followed by releasing singles), builds an app and writes children’s picture books, of course!
BurpMitt® products consist of super-absorbent, organic cotton products for baby and home. Mommy’s Gone Mad! is a comical music album for small children and parents of small children. The children’s album led to working on some more adult music singles. Cooking in the CIA is an app with recipes learned from years of entertaining and world travel.
If you would like to purchase a BurpMitt® product, you can find them on Amazon.
I’ve been trying to think of ways I could help someone during this time…. Then it dawned on me that I have taken dozens, if not hundreds, of classes online over the years. I’ve compiled a list of resources for online learning – from resources for teachers and parents to use with homeschooling, to adult-themed subjects – from great sources.
Futurelearn.com – This is a great place to find free classes on just about anything you can imagine. They offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop. They have hundreds of partners from around the world. These include many of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, such as the British Council, the British Library, the British Museum, and the National Film and Television School. They also work with a range of internationally renowned organizations – from professional bodies such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), to businesses like the BBC and Marks & Spencer, to the UK Government. I have taken everything from a class on Infant CPR given by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to World War 1: A History in 100 Stories, to one I’m currently taking on Rome.
Edx.org – Free college classes. I have taken everything from Harvard classes titled China’s Political and Intellectual Foundations and Buddhism and Its Scriptures to a class on The Spain of Don Quixote given by the University of Madrid, to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas given by the University of Iceland. They have just about anything you can imagine from some of the best schools in the world.
Udemy.com – They have a wide range of classes in subjects ranging from game development to mobile apps to IT certification, to marketing and business. They have Python, ethical hacking, you name it. These have a small price usually, but I see lots of sales going at all times.
*** Update: Udemy.com now has a free resource center. FREE classes!
NASA/Kennedy Space Center – Initially it was announced by some media outlets that they would be having Facebook Live events, but it appears they have been canceled for now. You can still access their online learning links though.
Free education resources from the Nordic countries: Here you have 40+ remote learning solutions from Estonia, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden that you are welcome to use. For kids, preschool as well as K – 12, great resources to include ones for other languages, from all over the world. Don’t let the 99math throw you off – there are resources from ALPA Kids – a mobile application where children can learn colors, numbers, the alphabet by playing with examples of their own culture and local nature, to the Future Astronauts Program – a 12-week program with activities connected to life skills of astronauts. Consists of inspirational Space material and easy-to-introduce activities to support STEM learning. Teachers have curated NASA materials that are relevant and interesting for young children, to Finland Math and it’s digital exercise platform Eduten Playground – an excellent resource for remote teaching and learning. It’s the most popular math learning tool among Finnish teachers, and one reason is that it is very easy to assign exercises for the students, and set and track goals, to resources specifically for teachers’ management of students – I could go on and on this one has so many different resources – all the way through higher education.
Pat Flynn – Smart Passive Income: Online business toolkit. Mr. Flynn is a master of passive income. He offers all sorts of training, lots of it free, on how to successfully work from home, how to create passive income streams that really make money, and more. Ever wondered how to set up and make money with affiliate links? This guy is a master at it.
Graduate School USA (used to be Grad School USDA): Long ago, I took classes on HTML through Grad School USDA. Now, it looks like it is more geared toward the federal workforce, specifically management and human resources. And it looks like they cost a bit to take. But still might be a valuable resource for someone.
Tonya Leigh of French Kiss Life: Ms. Leigh runs a lifestyle brand and global movement called French Kiss Life. She teaches people how to manage their own minds and bring joie de vivre into their daily lives. She does blog posts, podcasts and YouTube videos.
My Life Suckers: A comical YouTube channel and blog run by a mom who used to be a Senior Editor for Nickelodeon’s parenting website for 6 years where she wrote about snot and ear infections. They have put together a great blog post full of resources. Resources ranging from Khan Academy: Excellent free tutorials for all ages in math, science, computing, humanities and more. They have courses from preschool math all the way to AP Calculus to Hike Find Draw: A hiker takes you along with him as he photographs what he finds. He then chooses a photograph and teaches his audience how to sketch what he has found on his hike, there are so many different options.
As we get closer to the 5th year since my first book, Single in the CIA was published, I thought I would take a few minutes to say a BIG Thank You to all of you for your support and to celebrate some of the accomplishments from these past 5 years. I couldn’t have done it without all of you.
And then there is American Greatness. I was honored, and quite intimidated, to be accepted as a contributor for them – as they have some incredible writers. I currently have one piece for them: American Parent.
You give of yourself in your writing. You touch hearts. It’s a rare gift Shelly. — David Kamioner, Writer, Contributor and Author of Prisoner of the Chattering Class
No holds barred, precisely the commentary I’ve heard from others in similar situations. Thank you for who you are and being a role model for others to include our 14 year old daughter. Much appreciated. — Anonymous Reader
I will say it took courage to do what you did. Sort of like charging a machine gun nest. After the first step it’s too late to back out. — Frank Boccia, Author of The Crouching Beast
Thank you so much for being brave enough to show the world this view. You have done society a service with your pen! — Anonymous Reader
And, last but not least, Single in the CIA is being adapted for TV! That’s right – you may be seeing the book that began it all on your television screens!
As you can see, I have LOTS going on, and more to come. Who knows what the next 5 years has in store, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be big. I have fun coming up with new ideas and bringing my creations to life!
Again, I thank you all for the support. I hope everyone has a very happy holiday season. Here’s to FUN and laughter!
I recently posted a series of flashback excerpts from my first book, Single in the CIA. I’d like to think my writing has improved dramatically since writing that book. I now have seven published books under my belt (four are part of a short story series). As I’ve written each one, I feel my writing has become more creative. My writing now has evolved from the robotic style of CIA cable writing (also, for much of the time I was writing Single in the CIA I had a newborn sleeping on my lap). As much as I sometimes want to cringe when I read segments of Single in the CIA, I wouldn’t change the voice or what I said. I wanted it to be a sort of purging of memories, without much – if any – commentary about the events I described. I think I succeeded in my wish.
Four years later I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write for OpsLens Media Group. It’s a very different type of writing, but it has definitely helped me to improve further.
As this is my first experience as a news contributor, writing for OpsLens has been quite an eye-opener. I write a series called Underground California in which I highlight issues in the state and try to give a voice to those who do not have one. I try to paint a picture with my writing – to use my creativity to share experiences I’ve had and images I’ve seen.
The staff of contributors at OpsLens is comprised of former intelligence, law enforcement and military. They each offer print and video commentary through the lens of someone who has been there, done that. I truly have friends from all walks of life and I can say that most people who come from those lines of work tend to have fairly conservative views; “Conservative” meaning free-thinking, experience-based opinions. These people don’t get their news from memes on Facebook!
I’ve noticed something lately, and it seems to be getting worse. People seem to be offended and outraged by everything! I’ve seen it in just about every aspect of my life. These days I have been deleted, unfriended, blocked, unfollowed, called nasty names, trolled, misunderstood and just plain treated badly. And it’s not just on social media (I use the pop-in-pop-out strategy on social media as it is a necessary evil for me as a small businessperson). I have had family members, blood and otherwise, treat me with disrespect and misplaced anger. I have had old friends distance themselves from me and even call me a farm animal (huh?). It used to be we could discuss differing views and opinions and accept each other as independently thinking individuals. Now, most people can’t even bother to be civil.
A few weeks ago I made a positive, supportive comment on a fellow contributor’s article. Weeks later (did I mention I pop in and pop out?) I noticed he had responded, and not in a pleasant manner. It appeared that he was so mad at the world that he twisted my complimentary words into something to be mocked. He recently apologized for jumping to conclusions, but the lesson is still there.
And the list goes on. On another social media channel I was called a “bleached blonde hag”, “Russian bot” and told I was a “lonely and desperate” old lady by various trolls. The name-calling is rampant. On yet another channel I was contacted out of the blue after one of my articles was posted that happened to mention our president. The person decided that because I had mentioned my country’s president in a non-negative way (this reader is from another country) that he could not be connected with me on social media any more. Mind you, I don’t personally know these people, I just want them to buy my books and products. Just like everyone else, I am trying to make a living.
Oh – before I receive emails from well-meaning family members trying to give advice on how to handle these things – please, just realize I have an online persona and I do not take these things seriously. Most of my writing is done in a joking tone, playing to the fact that most people put me in the “dumb blonde” category.
Really who cares what I think? Who cares what anyone thinks? Does it really matter? It’s not all about you. Most people are only thinking about themselves and the worries they have from day to day.
Now, this is not to say that I am immune to getting sucked in to the social media rubbish – I am human. I remember back in 1995 when my best friend and I used to fire up that dial-up service, listening anxiously while a noise akin to a robot being strangled filled our ears. We would get into those chat rooms titled “hot-tub” and stir up some shit! But it was more along the lines of “I have big melons” and people knew how to laugh back then. It was fun, it was harmless.
I suppose you could say I was a troll. But a happy-go-lucky troll… With big melons.
As you know, I write books and stories based on my time in the Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA). What this means for me is a lot of time spent waiting. And waiting. Waiting for the Publication Review Board (PRB) to approve my manuscripts each time I write one and each time I make changes to one. You see, when you go to work for the CIA you sign a secrecy agreement, and that means that if I write anything for publication, they must review it prior to my exposing it to the world. This is to ensure it does not expose any classified information. Those black lines that you see in my books, called redactions, are segments of text that the PRB has deemed classified, or too sensitive for public exposure.
It was during a particularly long wait on the review of one of my books that I decided to move forward with a project that I had thought up after the birth of my first child. I had an idea for a baby product, but had put it aside thinking it would be too hard to create a physical product, or too expensive – actually, I’m not exactly sure why I put the idea aside, but now seemed like a good time to revive the idea. With a bit of inspiration in the form of a friend who created her own successfully selling product, I decided to give it a shot….
Want to see how it turned out?
To follow the process of manufacturing my own product, please follow the The BurpMitt™ Blog.