Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Top 5 Books to Buy Your Children This Holiday Season

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Chances are, your kids’ Christmas/holiday gift lists consist of toys and technology (iPads seem to be one of the biggest hits), but what about putting a relatively cheap, simple, and thoughtful gift under the tree that your children can cherish their entire lives? Giving books as presents will help your kids to see books as fun rather than as associated with boring schoolwork, and the stories they fall in love with at young ages can turn them into lifelong readers. The trick to all of this is just picking the right book! Here are my top 5 favorite children’s books that will make wonderful stocking stuffers this season!

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. This children’s book is for younger readers (it features illustrations, but is broken up into chapters), and it made the American Library Association’s list of Notable Books for 2015! The short description is as follows: “In four delightful chapters, Beekle, an imaginary friend, undergoes an emotional journey looking for his human. Vibrant illustrations add to the fun.” Definitely a fun story that will stick with your children throughout their lives…and it’s a fun one to read together with your kids as well.

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Beautiful Moon…A Child’s Prayer, by Tanya Bolden. This is a great one for the holiday season when you’re trying to teach your kids about gratitude and helping others. It follows the prayers of a boy thinking about the homeless, the hungry, those at war, and his family in a beautiful, touching way that is still accessible to children. It is another on the American Library Association’s List of Notable Books for 2015, and I’d say it’s placement is well earned!

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The Boys Book of Survival (How to Survive Anything, Anywhere), by Guy Campbell. This one is a sillier book for a bit older children, ages 8-12. The Amazon summary says, “Lost in the desert? Stuck in quicksand? Confronted by a man-eating tiger? Trapped at a school dance? Fear not, brave reader! With this essential survival guide, you’ll find a way to get yourself out of every imaginable predicament, whether it’s an avalanche or a zombie invasion!” It’s a fun, easy read that kids don’t have to devour all at once—the perfect gift for guys and girls looking for a fun, mostly practical, and interesting read.

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The Chocolate Touch, by Margot Apple. This book is a spin-off of the classic King Midas and the Golden Touch story, but features a greedy chocolate lover who might end up finally tiring of his favorite food. It’s silly, it’s cute, and it’s a fun read. Plus, I’m always a fan of spin-off books—let’s keep those old classic tales alive!

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And of course, I can’t help but recommend the Night Buddies series! These books are easy enough reads that any child can find themselves getting sucked into the stories, but feature a broad enough vocabulary and interesting slang that will help them become better readers. I always incorporate a theme of friendship and teamwork into each book, which make them great reads for the holiday season!

Night Buddies Go Sky High

Were you ever given a book as a gift? Let me know in the comments!

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Top Obstacles Children’s Authors Face, and How to Get Past Them

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Hi All! Before I get into this week’s blog post, I do have an announcement to make.

Coming up on December 5th, I will be holding a reading and signing at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro at 11 a.m.

I am so excited for this event. Holding readings where I can listen to kids’ reactions, see their smiles, and meet people who have shown an interest in my stories is one of the most rewarding experiences a children’s author can have. However, children’s authors (and all authors, at that) face a number of obstacles every day that make these rewarding experiences all the sweeter. Here are a few typical obstacles children’s authors face, and my tips on how to make the most of those difficulties.

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The number of children’s books on the shelves. How do we get our books to stand out among not only all the new children’s books coming out every day, but also among all the old classics (Roald Dahl books, Junie B. Jones, etc.)? Parents will often want to read their children the same books they loved as children, and they’ll pick up other, newer books as other parents recommend them.

So how do you make this obstacle work for you? Promote your books among parenting websites, among the parents in your town, among mommy and daddy bloggers—anyway you can think of to reach parents with your books, this is how you will get your book to stand out. Word of mouth is the best promotion tool there is!

Finding an original story to tell. Children’s books tend to want to promote good, moral values to children. But how many books can be written about being kind, sharing, finding self-assurance, being a good friend…the list goes on and on. The types of characters that interest children tend to be limited as well, with countless stories featuring princesses, and dragons, and animals, and magicians or wizards.

So how do you overcome this challenge? My biggest piece of advice is to focus on your characters. Maybe on the outside your story could seem like just another stereotypical, archetypal story, but if you put in the time to flesh-out your characters, your story will be original. Just like no two people are exactly the same, no two characters, if written well enough to seem like real people, will be the same either.

Balancing writing and a day job. Writing children’s books will not make you a living. Yes, I know there are exceptions (JK Rowling certainly made more than enough money to live on with Harry Potter), but don’t expect to be the exception. Most children’s book authors also need a day job in order to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. And it’s hard to come home from a day job and get back to that book that may or may not stand out and may or may not be original enough of a story to tell, but they have to do it anyway if they ever hope to put a book out to struggle in this world.

Overcoming this challenge is simple—choose writing. Choose to put in the effort. Sit down every day. Give your hands to your day job, but give your soul to your writing. You might not make money, you might not be the next massive success, but you will be able to fulfill your calling to be a children’s author, and hopefully touch a few readers’ lives.

No obstacle in the world should stop you from doing what you feel called to do. And no obstacle in the world will stop me from writing Night Buddies books.

What obstacles have you encountered as an author, or in following whatever passion you have? Have you found a way of coping with those obstacles? Let me know in the comments!

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Tips to Make Traveling with Kids a Breeze This Holiday Season

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It’s November! Changing leaves, Starbucks red cups, and with every passing day a step closer to the holidays, which for parents with young children brings up one terrifying image—spending hours on a plane or in the car with screaming, unhappy children on the way to visit family. But traveling with children doesn’t have to be the nightmare we all know it can be. Here are some of my tips to make your holiday travels go smoothly and leave your children with smiles on their faces!

Plan ahead to avoid rushing. Traveling can be stressful enough traveling with adults when you’re running to catch your flight or train, but including children in that mess makes it all the worse. When you leave plenty of time for your travels, your kids can enjoy stopping and checking things out in the airport, there is plenty of time for bathroom breaks or just “I’ve been in this car too long” breaks, and eliminates unnecessary stress.

Play observation games. When you make traveling, especially on longer trips, seem like a game rather than a pain, your child will be less prone to having a meltdown. Give them a camera and ask them to take pictures of all the animals they see, their favorite cloud, or a different road signs along the way. Play “I Spy” or other road trip games to keep them entertained and focused on the trip.

Plan for their comfort. Pay attention to what the weather will be, and pack anything they might need to be comfortable. Let them wear sweats or shorts (depending on the weather) so they won’t feel as fidget-y from discomfort. Basically, set all those minimalism thoughts aside, and just pack everything. But don’t let your children over-pack their own suitcases. Nothing is worse than the complaints of a child carrying a suitcase or backpack too heavy for them—and ultimately you’ll end up being the one carrying the extra weight.

Avoid sugar. It’s just not a good idea to placate an unhappy, tired child with candy from the gas station or airport kiosk. They will have too much energy to sit still, and their crash isn’t going to be fun for anyone.

These tips worked well for me over my son’s youth, and traveling became one of our favorite things to do together!

Do you have any travel tips of your own? Have you ever tried using one of these? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Thank you to everyone who participated in my Goodreads giveaway of Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare! Winners were chosen today, and your books will be coming to you shortly!

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How Much TV Should Our Kids Be Watching?

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This is a question I know has come up again and again within groups of parents, education systems, and in my own life as a father trying to raise a son who knew the pleasure of reading in a world ruled by television screens. No household is without a TV, no school doesn’t have one in their classrooms, and it’s known that we can’t stop ourselves or our children from spending time in front of it, but how much is too much? Where is the line between watching a healthy, even educational, amount of television, and becoming addicted and attached to our nightly programming?

According to an article on kidshealth.org, “Most kids plug into the world of television long before they enter school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day. Kids under age 6watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.”

There’s no argument that those statistics reveal that there’s a large amount of TV watching in our children’s lives these days, but rather than determine a specific “healthy” or “unhealthy” amount of TV watching, I think it is our job as parents to rule what is playing on our children’s screens. Watching two hours of a PBS show, for instance, or a Disney show that you think is teaching your child wholesome life lessons such as learning to apologize or being thankful for what they have is probably less harmful than watching two hours of mindless entertainment.

It is also important to make sure you add other activities into your child’s life than television, and the amount of time they have to watch TV will dramatically decrease the more outside activities they have to do. Whether those activities involve playing a sport, taking music lessons, spending time outdoors, hanging out with friends, or reading books, all of them will help to make sure your child is getting a range of experiences off the screen, and becoming a healthier person for it—emotionally and physically.

When it comes down to it, television is not evil. It doesn’t need to be cut out of children’s lives. And if you as a parent approach television in a responsible way, your children will too.

How much time do you and your children spend in front of the TV? Do you have any suggestions to keep it from becoming the main source of entertainment in your house? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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My Journey from Single Father to Author

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I’m so excited to share with you this week an article I wrote for the Good Men Project! This was my first time writing for them, and I hope to have many more articles to share in the future. Let me know what you think of this one either in the comments, or over on the Good Men Project comments.

Looking forward to hearing from some of you guys. Enjoy!

Post originally appeared on goodmenproject.com here

When my son John was born, I didn’t expect to become a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids most of the time. I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a single homemaker was not something I ever envisioned.

But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered the greatest time of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-eight states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: little league football, basketball, and baseball, as well as boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved.

John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernards. Most of the memories I have of John’s youth are of our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always idyllic.

There was the time I arrived to pick him up at the movies when he was ten, and the theatre he had gone in was dark and deserted. He was nowhere to be found. When I finally got hold of security, we turned the lights on and found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and quite unaware of the panic he had caused.

There was the time when his kindergarten French teacher told me John probably had a learning disability because he was having trouble in her class. Now he speaks ten languages and has an M.A. from Edinburgh University with honors in Russian and German—and wouldn’t I love to tell all this to that teacher!

There were the six years of piano lessons that were like ripping out my fingernails just to get him to practice, until we finally threw in the towel.

There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are nothing compared to the good stuff.

Sitting side-by-side on cross-country trips, lots of sports honors, tons of academic awards, a year in Germany and learning German, but best of all, reading stories at night before John went to sleep. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author.

Night-Buddies-Go-Sky-HighIt was essential to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from Day One, so I stocked up on children’s stories, from Grimm, Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Roald Dahl, eventually to the likes of Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested that he ought to create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created.

Many nights John and I made up stories involving him and this bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until Crosley became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling the world, creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little guy I once looked after, and his goofy buddy Crosley, into a book series that I would be able to hold in my hands. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever had—I don’t want to forget a thing about it. And given the chance, I would do it all over again.

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“Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

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Recently I came across a TED Talk entitled, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” by Ken Robinson, and was immediately struck by the importance of his message. If you haven’t had a chance to see this talk yet—though it is the most viewed TED talk on at nearly 40 million views—here it is:

I have been an advocate for children’s creativity since starting this blog. After I discovered how important it was to my son’s education that he be able to read and imagine stories, it became clear to me that creativity is something that, as Robinson points out, “is as important in education as literacy.”

What I enjoyed most about this TED talk is his claim that all education systems across the world value certain components of education more than others: sciences and math first, humanities second, and arts third. Children are told to give up the things they love when they aren’t “practical” enough, or if their passions won’t land them a job. But with so many people educated in those highly employable skills, the demand for workers decreases, and people find that they’ve given up their creative sides and passions only to be left unemployed and dissatisfied.

I think the point of this talk wasn’t to shame schools, it was to show that some children and some people excel in areas outside of what schools encourage. Children who are highly intelligent individuals are told they are mediocre students, and won’t carry out the creative, brilliant things they are capable of after being given up on in the academic atmosphere they grew up in.

My only critique of this talk—though I realize these speakers are limited in time—is that he didn’t address what was to be done about this problem. Yes, creativity needs to be encouraged. Yes, schools only push one form of academia. But how do we fix this? With budget constrictions, and altogether limited resources, how do we allow students to learn everything? To explore their creativity, but still take those science and math courses? Should there be more charter schools aimed at students with “alternative” talents?

I don’t have the answers. But I am certainly glad the question has been raised, and that people are paying attention. Creativity shaped the course of my life as an author and a father, and I think our world would benefit in many ways from encouraging more of it, so that people don’t “grow out of creativity” as Robinson put it, but rather continue to grow in their creativity for their entire lives.

What is your stance on this TED talk? Do you think schools are to blame for not encouraging the arts and humanities? Let me know in the comments!

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It’s Okay to Ask for Help as a Single Parent

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There’s this secret a lot of single parents hold inside of them. A secret they think sometimes they might be judged for, that society would look down on them for, that their children won’t forgive them for. It’s a secret I used to hold inside of me while I was raising my son, by myself for the most part. It’s a secret with consequences I am going to reveal as myths, right here, right now.

The secret is that sometimes as a single parent you just need help.

I don’t know at what point in time parenting started to be thought of as a one-man job. Moms parent, dads go to work; dads parent, moms go to work; if you’re a single parent, you somehow work and parent and figure out how to do that all on your own. But you chose to be a parent, which means you must be prepared to go at it by yourself, right?

Wrong. Why is it acceptable for you to have an assistant or intern at your job, but bringing in a babysitter or live-in nanny means you just aren’t parenting well enough? Society might be more accepting of this way of parenting now, but it still doesn’t erase the guilt I know many of us feel—the guilt that we aren’t giving our children our all, or that we are somehow failing by reaching a point where we have to ask for the help we know we need. That guilt is a tricky little sucker who carries the weight of “unworthy” on his shoulders and plants it in our brains.

I am unworthy of help because I volunteered to be a father. I am unworthy of help because I can work from home. I am unworthy of help because my child needs me to be there. These are all sentences I have told myself before. These are all sentences that hold no truth.

It is okay to accept help as a single parent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t there for your child, or that you aren’t parenting well enough. Sometimes it actually means you are parenting better, because with help, nothing slips through the cracks of your son’s or daughter’s childhood. They will always have the help and support they need, always have someone taking care of them, and not your half-attention when you’re trying to work and earn a living to support your family and raise them at the same time.

Throw away your guilt when you enlist family, friends, or professionals to help your raise your children. It takes a village to raise a person to be their absolute best, and you’re doing the best you can.

Have you ever felt the guilt of asking for help as a single parent? Share your story with me in the comments!

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My Journey as a Stay-at-Home Father

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When my son, John, was born, I didn’t embark to be a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids full-time, I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a full-time homemaker was not something I ever envisioned. But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered some of the greatest years of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again myself. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: football, basketball, baseball, boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved. John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernard’s. In most of the memories I have of John’s youth, I remember our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always so picturesque.

Me and my now grown son, John.

Me and my now grown son, John.

There was the time I forgot to pick him up from the movie theater when he was ten, and when I finally arrived the theater was pitch black and he was nowhere to be found. When I finally got ahold of security, we found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and unaware of the panic he struck in me. There was the time when his kindergarten teacher told me John must have a learning disability because he was having trouble with his French lessons, and I almost believed her. Now my son speaks ten languages and holds an M.A. from Edinburgh University—and wouldn’t I love to mail his degree over to that teacher. There were the six years of piano lessons that felt like ripping out fingernails just to get him to practice until we finally threw in the towel. There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are incomparable to the victories, both big and small. Getting him to sit at the piano for an hour without complaint, sitting side-by-side on a cross-country road trip, and best of all, reading books and creating stories together every night before John went to bed. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author. It was always very important to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from a very young age so I stocked up at the library every week with children’s stories, from Roald Dahl up to Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested to him that he should create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created. Every night John and I made up stories about him and his bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until that character became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling around the world creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little boy I once spent every day of my life looking after and our bedtime stories into a book that I would be able to keep forever. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever held, and given the choice I would always choose to do it all over again.

 

 

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It’s Book Festival Season! Come Meet Me.

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Hi All! Today I want to share with you the news that I will be attending two events in North Carolina next month in September. I haven’t done an event for some time now, and I am very much looking forward to sharing the news of Night Buddies Go Sky High’s release, and meeting as many readers as possible!

The first event I will be attending is the Bookmarks Books and Authors Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from September 10-12. This is a very exciting event for children’s authors especially, and there will be a lot of fun activities for kids to enjoy! The program for this year’s festival describes the event as follows:

“Bookmarks is the Triad’s literary resource for connecting readers with authors. The Winston-Salem based nonprofit produces the Carolinas’ largest annual Festival of Books and Authors, an Authors in Schools program, and a series of Author Talks presenting bestselling and award-winning writers. In 2015, Bookmarks created a Summer Reading Program to encourage K-12 students across North Carolina to respond to books through written, visual, or video responses.”

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This festival heavily promotes the idea of getting more kids to fall in love with reading, which is exactly the vision I had when I came up with the “Boys Who Read,” campaign. Encouraging a young generation of boys (and girls) to fall in love with books instead of only focusing on their iPads and video games is something I, and Bookmarks, believe will empower and strengthen them. The festival is completely free to attend (though some discussion panels require tickets, visit their website for more details) and will be an excellent opportunity for authors and readers to connect!

And if you weren’t already convinced to attend, David Baldacci is giving the opening keynote. Needless to say, this festival is going to be huge.

I am also going to be attending #SIBA15 in Raleigh, North Carolina from September 18-20! This is a tradeshow for southern independent booksellers to meet authors, and hopefully discover new, fresh books! The schedule of events for the weekend can be found here.

I can’t wait to get out there and meet other authors, booksellers, and readers this coming month. Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter/Facebook if you are planning on making it out!

 

 

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Why You Need Rituals in Your Writing Life

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“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” –Mike Murdock

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When I was a younger man, I was against forming routines. I lived spontaneously, I took each day as it came at me with no expectations, and I thought routine would be the end of my creativity. If inspiration hit in the middle of the night, I would write like a maniac from 1 a.m. to sunrise. If I didn’t have anything to write about for days at a time, then I wouldn’t dwell on it.

But then inspiration was coming to me less and less frequently. I was writing once a week, maybe, then once a month, then not at all. I had no pattern to my creative life, and I was becoming weaker as a writer and as a thinker. I didn’t have ideas for stories, I didn’t have the tools to write them down when they did come, and when I embarked on longer projects, they never got finished.

It was about this time that I heard some career-changing advice: you are only as strong as the rituals you establish for yourself.

As I looked into it, I realized that many, if not most, of the biggest names in the literary world had writing rituals. Sarah Dessen writes from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every single day, whether inspiration strikes or not. E.B. White always wrote in his brightly lit living room, and refused to listen to music during his writing hours. Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. every day, writes for six hours, and then spends the rest of the day exercising and reading to stay sharp and focused for this early mornings. The list goes on and on.

(For a list of 12 writers’ daily routines, look at this blog post by James Clear: http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers)

Forming a ritual allows you to get in the same mindset day after day, and your brain begins to realize that inspiration should hit in these specific settings. It was only when I decided to write consistently every day, at the same time each day, in the same room each day that I was able to write the Night Buddies books to completion. It doesn’t matter if your ritual means snacking on hot cheetos in the nearest coffee shop, if it means waking up before your children and your spouse so they won’t distract you, if it means you only write solidly for one hours every night—having those rituals will help you get words on the page. This is our only, singularly most important goal as writers. We have to get words on the page.

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a new puppy to learn to come to you on command. You can hope for it, and maybe accidentally a few times it will happen. But if you don’t train for it to happen consistently every single time when called, then eventually it will never happen at all. Train your brain to be inspired every single day, train your mind to only be able to focus on writing when it is time to write, and you’ll soon see all those stories you’ve been mulling over in your mind become real, tangible, written down stories on the page.

Do you have any writing rituals? Let me know what they are in the comments!

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