Thursday, October 23, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Chasing Paper

I have long wondered about removable wallpaper. For people who move a lot, a la me, it seems like a great solution to boring walls. But does it work? Does it cost a fortune? And can it possibly be cute?

I've seen some okay-looking stuff in the past, but I stumbled across Chasing Paper the other day and my interest is definitely piqued. One panel costs $30, which isn't cheap, but I figure you could do a focal or partial wall in a kid's room and make a big impact. It's got to be less work than painting and re-painting! And these are by far the cutest patterns I've seen yet.

This paper would be sooo cute in Jack's wilderness-themed room.

And the stars would go with Will's celestial bedding. Love!

And of course the bookshelves are for me.

And finally, I am obsessed with the antlers

There are adorable bikes, some really fun botanicals, and a few geometric prints I could totally see in my sister's apartment. What do you think? Would you give removable wallpaper a shot?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: LEGO On-The-Go

I shared this post on my FS blog because I think the project is great for families who travel, but some of my mom friends might enjoy it too! If you have a little traveler who loves LEGO, please stop by and check it out.

I've declared tonight Pizza and Wizard of Oz night in our house because Jack is obsessed with tornados after the warning on Wednesday (how weird was that?) and also because I don't feel like cooking. I hope everyone has a wonderful fall weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Llamas!

I haven't done one of my "compilation of cute things I want" posts in a while, so I thought it was about time I share my latest obsession. Just as pre-Russia I was all about the onion domes, these days I'm getting in the mood for Peru with items featuring my favorite fluffy South American quadrupeds (okay, okay, alpacas and chinchillas are up there, too).

For some reason, Modcloth has a plethora of llama items, but these two in particular caught my eye:

Who doesn't need a llama scarf, I ask you? Or a llama pendant, like this one from UnforgettableJules?

Nice Things has the CUTEST llama stuff, like these bags:

Plus this llama dress. I'd wear this whole outfit:

Even J. Crew loves llamas (and really, whats not to love?):

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: What I Love (And Hate) About Revising

So Pitch Wars is in three weeks, and I've been revising my butt off ever since I got editorial notes from my fabulous mentor, Jessie Humphries (Jessie's second novel comes out on October 28, so everyone go congratulate her! And if you live near Vegas, she's having an amazing launch party on the 18th - I wish I could go!). Jessie's notes were great - she loved the novel overall but had a few complaints/suggestions that I kind of already knew I needed to work on. This was the kick in the pants that finally convinced me to make those changes.

I'm not gonna lie, it was rough these past couple weeks. Jack is only in school from 9-1, and with all the Jewish holidays in the fall he's been home A LOT. Plus I've got Will 24/7, John working full-time, and there was that trip to Disney World in the middle of it all. Fortunately John gave me at least an hour every evening last week to work, and I devoted all of Monday (like 8 hours) to finishing. And I'm happy to say, it's done! Well, at least for now. Hopefully Jessie likes the changes and I don't have too much more to do before the deadline on November 1.

A few novels back, I hated revising. In fact, the first few novels I wrote were probably shelved prematurely because I didn't really know how to revise. Then I joined Peggy Eddleman's revision group back in 2011 (!) and learned to embrace the process. After that, I've spent at least six months revising every novel I write. Considering it usually takes two or three months to write the first draft, that's a lot of time spent revising. But now I kind of love seeing my novels improve and develop during the process. I rely on notes from my betas and beloved CP, plus taking some time away from the novel and re-reading it usually brings a lot into focus. And now I have my wonderful writer's group, Pronouns Matter, to give me even more insight. I love that we all write different genres - the feedback is so helpful.

What don't I love about revising? Well, it's time consuming, for one thing. You don't get that same first-draft high where you're just getting all your ideas down on paper. I did a round of revisions for an agent this summer that focused on the writing itself, but most of Jessie's changes were plot-related. And changing one plot thread can have repercussions throughout the manuscript you might not even realize at first.

But despite the tedious nature of the whole thing, I'm happy with how this revision turned out, and I know my manuscript is better for it. Here's hoping all the hard work pays off!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Disney Do's and Don'ts

Last weekend we took our first family trip to Disney World! I originally planned the trip around my first post-baby race (I ran the Marine Corps Marathon when Jack was 10 months, but I knew I'd never have enough time to train for a marathon with two kids and no husband for most of the summer). My bestie Lauren is a huge Disney fan and does many of the Disney races, so I asked her which was her favorite. She immediately said the Tower of Terror Ten-Miler was the best, so way back in February when I was still pregnant with Will, I signed up with Lauren and Sarah. 

As the race got closer and we realized John couldn't take time off during training, I started to freak out. How were we going to do Disney World between Friday night and Sunday night? My only point of reference was Disneyland, which I grew up near and visited frequently. But I knew Disney World was a different ballgame. We couldn't just drive an hour and spend the day there. Fortunately I had Lauren as my Disney spirit guide, because it turns out DW is complicated! Magic Bands, Magical Express, Fast Pass... I'd never heard of any of these things. And frankly some of it wasn't all that magical. But for the most part, we had a fabulous weekend, thanks to careful planning, Lauren, and a little luck. Here are my Disney Do's and Don'ts (to be taken with a grain of salt, as always!).

First, the Don'ts:

1) DON'T start your journey in the evening. All that careful planning I did? Down the drain when our flight was delayed nearly four hours. We should have arrived around 8 pm. Instead it was almost midnight. The worst of it was John took a separate flight out of Reagan while Sarah and the kids and I flew out of Dulles. Since John couldn't get off work early, we figured it would be best if we got a head start so the kids wouldn't be exhausted. Guess who got there two hours before we did? Ugh. We drove an hour, paid to park at the airport, and spent FOUR HOURS in the worst terminal (Dunkin and Subway - those were our food options) with a bunch of other families all waiting to get to DW while John literally went from door to gate in 20 minutes, spent an hour at the airport, and only had himself and a single carry-on to worry about. FML.

Hey, at least no one vomited on this trip.

2) DON'T stay off Disney property if you can help it. Don't get me wrong - the Port Orleans Riverside was beautiful and our room was actually quite spacious for $200 a night. There was even a little Murphy bed for Jack to sleep on (which was great except for the fact that he fell out of it. Twice. I learned my lesson and used some rolled up towels as bolsters the second night and things went much better.). But it took at least 45 minutes to get to the park, which was 45 minutes I really didn't want to waste. Lauren's friend Megan put it bluntly (and correctly): nothing is quick at Disney World. Sigh.

Wandering. Slowly.

3) DON'T get a late start. We couldn't really help it our first morning. We were all exhausted and breakfast took a while, plus we had to trade in our military passes for actual tickets. That was a serious process. So, if you can do it, get to the park by 9. Even getting there at 11 we got on a bunch of rides quickly, which was great. But if we'd been on time? It would have been even better.

DON'T expect to eat healthy at DW either. At least John found this paleo-friendly treat.

4) DON'T take a two-year-old to DW. I learned this by watching countless toddler meltdowns over the weekend. Jack was the perfect age for a first trip to DW, but anywhere between a year and four years looks like a recipe for disaster. I guess Jack won't be going again until Will is four!

DO buy matching shirts! It's so fun!
5) DON'T expect to do everything in two days. I think four days would have been perfect. Two days was enough for the Magic Kingdom, fortunately. We didn't get on everything, but we did enough. And frankly I couldn't have handled two more days. See DON'T #6.

Jack on his first roller coaster ever!

6) DON'T try to run ten miles after no sleep and walking around DW all damn day. Okay, so the race was a blast. Lauren is the most fun to run with and her energy carried me through an 11 pm race start, ten miles, a massive post-race ice cream sundae, and a ride on probably my favorite roller coaster ever: the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. But getting to bed at 3 am when you have to get up at 7 with an infant and then spend the entire day at DW again? I'm not sure I'll ever recover.

Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat. Fabulous tutus by Lauren's mom, Jan.

My tail may have been the best part.

7) DON'T expect too much from your kids. DW is amazing. It really is the most magical place. But I'm not sure I still view it as the happiest. There is so much to see and do, so many expectations, so much walking. At the end of the trip, I tried to get Jack to tell me his favorite things about DW. All he could focus on was getting home to play Legos and how his neck hurt from one of the rides. I know he had a good time. But was it The Best Trip Ever? I guess time will tell on that one.

Jack recovering from whiplash with Donald.

And now for the Do's (Yes, I did do a few things right!):

1) DO go in October. We got soooo lucky with weather! It was a little hot and humid the first day, but not too bad. And Sunday was beautiful. It was actually chilly after the race! I honestly can't imagine going in summer.

Ahhhh, perfect!

2) DO get military passes if at all feasible. We spent $177 on a four-day park-hopper ticket. Sadly we only got to use two days, but they're good for six months (I doubt we'll make it back, but you never know) and they were still cheaper than regular admission for two days. You can buy up to six tickets with a single military ID, so Sarah was able to take advantage of the price too. 

Riding the elephants.

3) DO bring a friend (especially one who knows Disney like the back of her hand), grandparents, something. If John and I had been on our own with Jack and Will, we would have only been able to go on one or two rides together. Will did get to go on the Jungle Cruise and could have gone on a couple other smaller rides, like Small World, but for the most part he stayed in the stroller with an adult. Lauren, her amazing parents, and Sarah all watched Will for us so we were able to go on a few rides together with Jack. Score!

Post-Splash Mountain with Shasha.

My spirit guide and best friend. And my fat, fat baby.

4) DO get the proper stroller. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, we had a Snap n' Go and a jogger. Neither was going to do the job for DW. Jack rarely uses a stroller anymore, but I knew he wouldn't be able to handle walking all over DW for two days. So I found a good-as-new Sit n' Stand on Craigslist for $50. It was worth every penny.

5) DO take advantage of Fast Pass. What a marvel! The longest we waited for a ride was one hour, sans Fast Pass. With Fast Pass we waited twenty minutes tops. We had six hours at the park the first day and rode the Tea Cups, Barnstormer, Dumbo, the Little Mermaid, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the carousel. Day two was also six hours, and John and Jack rode Space Tours twice before we met them at the Magic Kingdom. We got on the Jungle Cruise, Tea Cups and the carousel again, Small World, Thunder Mountain, The Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and the Mine Train. All in all I'd say we did pretty well considering.

Everyone loves The Little Mermaid. Especially Lauren.

6) DO run a Disney race if you can. The race was so well supported, everyone was in costume, and the medal is fabulous. Just maybe consider taking it easy the day of the race if possible. And probably don't wear flip flops all day beforehand. And watch out for low-lying branches if you're wearing bunny ears.

My awesome medal. The elevator moves!

And it glows in the dark!

She was this peppy the entire 10 miles. That was the extent of my pep right there.
7) DO try to see everything through your child's eyes. I did my best to ignore the ceiling tiles on Small World and the fact that Ariel looked super weird; when I was a kid, Disney was REAL. There were fleeting moments where I had that feeling again, but for Jack's sake, I pretended it was all as real as I hope it was for him. I also tried not to think about money. Fortunately with the Magic Bands, which you can link to a credit card and tap on Mickey's ears, it's easier to pretend you didn't just spend $4 on a churro. 

That look right there? Priceless.
For us, this was possibly our last opportunity to visit a Disney park for quite a while. I wanted Jack to have the time of his life. I wanted John and I to cooperate and for everyone to feel satisfied at the end of the trip. I wanted to enjoy the race and for Sarah and Jack to get some awesome aunt-nephew bonding time. I wanted to avoid meltdowns as much as possible. And considering each kid cried once the entire weekend, I'd say we did pretty darn well. If you're planning your own Disney vacation, I hope these tips help a little! 

I  had to force Jack to get ears, but it was worth it for this picture!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Do You Believe In Magic?

Because Jack sure does! I was perusing his class wall the other day and once again confirmed that our child is a bit...different.

Dinosaurs, dragons, and wizards. Yeesh. I'll leave you with this little conversation from our drive up to New York the other day.

John: "If you could choose, where would you want Jack to go to college?"
Me: "Georgetown would be good I guess, but it depends on what he wants to be."
John: "Jack, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Jack: "A wizard."
Me: "Hogwarts it is!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Life With Boys

If you know me in real life or have been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I have always wanted daughters. I started saving my favorite toys and clothing for my future girls when I was about seven or eight years old. While my sister Sarah gravitated toward dolls with long hair and pretty dresses, I usually chose baby dolls, including a porcelain baby doll in a Christening gown that must have driven my father insane (we're Jewish). It was never a question that I would have a daughter. Even when I found out I was pregnant with Jack, I consoled myself with the fact that it was only my first, and Sarah wrote me the best baby shower card: "Remember: Shakespeare, Kipling, Tolkein, Twain - all boys." How could I not love a mini-John? The mini-me would come later.

When I heard the words "it's a boy" for the second time, I once again found myself reimagining my future. For the first few years of Jack's life, gender didn't seem that important. But starting around age three, when his interests became stereotypically "boy" (trains, pirates, superheroes), I had a much clearer vision of what a life filled with boys would look like. And frankly, I wasn't all that excited about it. I don't get many of the things Jack loves: building LEGO does nothing for me (and any satisfaction I get out of assembling a 500-piece set is completely obliterated the second Jack dismantles it); I've never cared where lava comes from; his obsession with tarantulas is basically my worst nightmare. A friend brought her daughter by the other night and I stared longingly at her ballerina Barbie while Jack pretended to ride his stuffed dragon. My own Barbies are stacked neatly in a plastic bin somewhere deep in a storage unit. One of these days I'll get around to donating them to Goodwill.

I feel wildly outnumbered sometimes, even though Will is only four months old. As a friend said the other day over coffee (she has THREE boys): there are just so many penises. The thought of sharing a house with John and two teenage boys is mildly horrifying. People tell me I should be grateful I'll never have to deal with a PMSing girl, but the thing is, I understand PMS. Greasy, sweaty, pimply teenage boys, on the other hand, terrify me as much now as they did when I was a teenager myself. I find myself buying T-shirts adorned with cartoon characters and detachable capes, a haze of pink tulle always just within my peripheral vision. But I've banned myself from the girls section of Target. I know it will only conjure images of the daughter-I'll-never-have. Or worse, I'll buy something and squirrel it away for the daughter-that-could-be.

But lately, when the boys are all upstairs getting ready for bed and I hear John's deep chuckle mingled with Jack's contagious cackle and Will's giggle-in-training, I feel indescribably blessed (and believe me, I'm not the kind of person who says "blessed").  I know I'll never get to braid my daughter's hair, but Jack is remarkably gentle when he tries to give me a ponytail. I feel a stab of envy when friends take their daughters to Disneyland to meet the princesses of my childhood, but I never imagined that I would get to be the princess ("Prettier than Elsa," according to Jack). And recently, when I went through the box of things I'd been saving for my daughter, I discovered that most of the items were stained or yellowed with age. The future I had so firmly in my mind, the one whose loss I spent weeks mourning last winter, was never really meant to be.

I'm still getting used to the idea that I won't take my daughter wedding dress shopping one day; I will NEVER be a soccer mom if John's and my hand-eye coordination is any indication. I dread the question I've already been asked many times: "Are you going to try again for a girl?" (I half-jokingly answer that I've "tried" twice and look where that's gotten me - it clearly wasn't meant to be.) But mostly, I'm trying to remind myself that the future never looks exactly how we think it will.

Sometimes, if we're lucky, it's even better.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Did I Mention the Food?

I realize I've spent a lot of time blogging about FS stuff lately - I promise to get back to Mommy Mondays just as soon as something blog-worthy happens. (Jack's performance today at John's promotion ceremony might just make for a good post, once I've moved on from furious to amused.) In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

PS - Did you know Peru has the best food in Latin America?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Russia On My Mind

I've been thinking a lot about Russia this week.  Hop on over to Most Eligible Family to read about it, if you like. Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: The B Team

Some of you may be wondering what's been going on with that whole writing thing lately, since I haven't blogged about it in ages. The truth is, I haven't blogged about writing because there hasn't been much to report. That's not to say I haven't been diligently working behind the scenes for the past year or so. I have, a lot. But despite all my hard work, progress has been slow. I finished my Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy set in Russia, Needle's Eye, back in March, and I've spent the past few months revising when I can. I've entered a few contests and had some mild success in terms of agent requests, but nothing major (obviously). So when I entered Pitch Wars--a contest where 60-something mentors (agented or published authors or editors) choose one manuscript each to work on for two months before a big agent showcase in November--a few weeks ago, my expectations were low. (There were something like 1200 applicants this year.)

I've entered Pitch Wars with three different manuscripts over the past three years, and even though two mentors chose me as their alternate the first year, and I received requests for more pages from all four of the mentors I subbed to last year, nothing came of it. This year I took a chance and submitted to a blogger I've admired over the years, from way back when she was in the query trenches like me, to the release of her novel, Killing Ruby Rose, which came out a few months ago and has done extremely well. Jessie Humphries is one of the most down-to-earth, friendly, and funny writers I know, and even though I wasn't sure she'd like my novel, I decided to go with my gut. And I'm so glad I did!

Jessie chose me as her mentee this year, which means she'll be reading my entire novel and providing me feedback before the agents take a gander in November. I actually dreamed that Jessie chose me last week (she couldn't tell me she'd chosen me, but she told me "not to worry about it" and winked at me - which is kind of weird because Jessie lives in Las Vegas, so I'm not sure how we were hanging out, but anyway...) but I never thought my dream would literally come true! I found out I made it in last night at midnight, so I had to whisper-squeal and hop around quietly since both kids were sleeping.

Jessie's alternate, Jocelyn Rish, and I are officially part of Team B-Words (Jessie's blog is called "The B Word," which stands for Book Writer, Blog Stalker, Baby Maker, and, if you ask me, BRILLIANT! And beautiful too. I have serious hair envy when it comes to Jessie...) and I couldn't be happier with my team. Thank you, Jessie, for taking a chance on me, and Jocelyn, I'm so excited to be teammates! Go Team B-Words!