Friday, June 26, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: The Food Post (Part I)

A quick post about some of the delicious food here in Lima is up over on Most Eligible Family. We're heading out of town tomorrow for our first Peruvian vacation! Happy Friday all!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Everyday

I think one of the hardest things about moving to a new place is adjusting to a new everyday routine. Right now, without a car, we're "trapped," as John put it. That may sound a little dramatic, but some days it really feels like it's true. Jack isn't in school, Will is more mobile every hour it seems (and we remain baby gate-less, even though two different carpenters have come to measure our stairs), and we are going on one month of the same few toys and books. The things that are easy at "home" - running errands, getting groceries, going to a cafe - are so much harder in a new place.

For example: two weeks ago, I spent hours of my life chasing the fastest, most tenacious ants I've ever seen around our kitchen, until a kindly gentleman from the embassy showed up with Raid. Because the truth is, I didn't have the energy to put both kids (one with a car seat, one sadly without, since I can't take both) and a stroller into a cab (where I inevitably have to dig around for several minutes to find all the seat belts), attempt to navigate in Spanish, search high and low in a store I don't know, call another cab, reload, and come home, just to deal with some damn ants.

Fortunately, a week and a half ago, we hired our empleada, Celia. She is amazing with the kids, is a fabulous cook, cleans the house from top to bottom, runs to the store if I need her to, and translates for me when I'm desperate. And now that I have someone I can leave the kids with for a couple hours here and there, I was able to go out twice last week by myself! (After several weeks of not having a moment to myself, this is a big deal.) Cabbing here is never fun, but it's a hell of a lot easier alone than doing it with two kids in tow.

One of the things I struggle with most is that this area of Lima isn't walkable. But today Celia (who I'm pretty sure was as bored as I am) suggested we go for a walk, so we braved the sidewalk-less streets and made our way to a little park near our house. It's just a series of winding dirt paths, but it's a quiet place where people go to walk their dogs and sit in the shade.


Parque Jerusalem (or "the Jewish park" as Jackie calls it).

Behind the park is a street full of little markets and shops. We stopped for cookies at a bakery and Celia bought three massive plantains and a bag full of green beans for less than 3 soles (about a dollar).

"Stop taking pictures already!"

Jack is not impressed by the purple corn.

It was nice to feel like we're in a neighborhood, rather than just a series of walls and gates, with only the rooftops of our neighbors' houses visible.

Walls and dirt mountains don't make for the best view.
But bright flowers and happy kids help.

And cookies! Don't forget the cookies!
I know that once we have our car, Jack is in school, and I get into a writing routine, things will be a lot more comfortable. I miss my friends, but I'm grateful for Facebook and Skype (even if John thinks I spend way too much time on my phone), and we have our first trip planned for next weekend! I'm excited to get out and see something beyond Lima.

Starting over is never easy, but I know how fortunate we are to be here. I really want to make the most of our time in Peru, because even though it doesn't always feel like it, two years of everydays will go by in the blink of an eye.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: Lima: First Impressions

I FINALLY got around to blogging! I talk a little about our first impressions of our new home, Lima, Peru, over at Most Eligible Family.

I'm hoping to get back to a regular blogging schedule in the next couple of weeks. I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A couple of months ago, when I was in the throes of revision misery, some Pitch Wars friends mentioned they were commissioning artists to illustrate scenes from their novels. I'm a very visual person and loved the idea of seeing my work brought to life, plus I thought it would be a good distraction while I waited to hear back from my agent.

My main character is half-Japanese-American and loves manga, so I knew I wanted a manga feel to my picture. I scoured DeviantArt until I found an artist whose work I loved who also took commissions. Then I described one of the opening scenes of my novel and let her go to work. I finally got the piece the other day, and I think it looks pretty fabulous!


If anyone is looking for a new way to get inspired by their work, I totally recommend doing something like this! It really was a great distraction, and I plan to feature the piece on my author blog some day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Three Weeks Until Moving Day

(Reposting this from Most Eligible Family, because it's Foreign Service and normal-life related, I think. Also, I've had so little time to blog lately! I have some decisions to make about blogging in the future, but I can say for certain I won't be doing much in the next three weeks while I finish up this round of revisions and prepare for our move!)

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Only three more weeks until we leave DC (we'll be in Miami for a couple of days for consultations and then it's off to Lima). I am not ready. Not physically or mentally. There is always so much to do before a move, and it seems like it all has to happen at the last minute. I have to go through everything we own and start culling, because we are short on weight limits somehow. And even though I've gotten good at letting go of material possessions (I'm ruthless these days, because in this lifestyle you have to be), I have a particularly hard time parting with the kids' stuff. I wanted to take Will's crib and dresser with me, but it doesn't look like we'll have the weight, so I have to sell them. Jack's loft bed also has to go. I think part of it is that this house has really been perfect for us this past year, and I don't want to leave it.

On the bright side, we got our housing assignment and it looks great. A big, modern house with a lot of space (and four bedrooms, so I will be expecting lots of visitors!). It also looks like a death-trap for small children, so I'm interested to see how GSO is going to "baby proof" it. We're talking a fountain out front, an outdoor staircase in the back, a deck with open rails on the second floor, all hardwood or tile floors, etc. But I will say that it looks modern and spacious, and I feel very fortunate to have gotten it.

Moving is probably my least favorite thing in the world, so it's fabulous that I married a man who drags me all around it. It's actually the logistics of moving that bother me - I enjoy the change (although maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word; it's more that I like what happens to me when I'm forced to change). Anyone who has done a military or government move knows that just because someone else is doing the packing and moving for you, there's nothing easy about it. This isn't some across-town move where all your possessions get packed up and relocated. First there's the aforementioned culling due to weight limits. Then there's the separating of household effects (HHE), unaccompanied air baggage (UAB), and items for storage. On moving day (or days) you've got to watch the movers like a hawk to make sure everything goes to the right place. And I have heard some horror stories about moving: trash being wrapped up and sent halfway around the world; teeny tiny items being wrapped in ridiculous amounts of paper to drive the weight up; the usual broken items and things being shipped to the wrong place, etc.

But fortunately, John and I already had what I'm pretty sure will be the worst move of our lives (unless of course the ship with our crap on it sinks, which also happens). You see, way back when, a month before our wedding, the Marine Corps moved us from Texas to San Diego. And somewhere on the way, the truck was caught in high winds and jackknifed, spreading all of our belongings across the desert. When what was salvaged from the accident arrived at our house, we were horrified. Our brand new washer and dryer, John's road bike, a television, a computer, and a bunch of other expensive stuff was destroyed. Other things, like a headboard, a desk, and a box spring, were never found. And then there was my plastic bin full of bras and underwear. When I opened up the drawers I was met not with silk and lace but dirt and rocks. To this day I wonder what became of my underthings; I have a vision of a Texas longhorn with a bra dangling from its horns. When all was said and done, we got $7,000 dollars of the $20,000 or so in damages and loss. I'm not sure that we learned anything from it, but it sure makes all our other moves look pretty darn tolerable.

Over the next three weeks, I hope I can stay somewhat organized and sane. But one way or another, we'll be on our way to Lima very, very soon!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Five Things I Learned at the Iceland Writers Retreat

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may recall a post back in August, when John surprised me with the best tenth anniversary gift a girl could dream of: a four day writers retreat in Iceland with Barbara Kingsolver headlining. After months of anticipation and logistical preparation, I finally went last week, and it was even better than I'd imagined.

I could probably write an entire series of posts about how amazing Barbara Kingsolver was, how every time she opened her mouth something funny, kind, or brilliant tumbled out, and how none of it was rehearsed - it's just who she is. One of the things that appealed to me about this retreat was that it wasn't a typical conference setting, where people are more focused on networking and attracting an agent's attention than learning. And I loved the idea of spending time outside the workshops with the authors, who were invited to all the same meals and excursions as the participants. But I never imagined I'd get to spend nearly two hours talking to Barbara between workshops, or eat breakfast at the same table as her almost every day, or stand next to her at the top of a waterfall. I was so surprised by her accessibility and generosity, and her complete lack of of pretense. Is there anything better than finding out that one of your very favorite authors is also one of the nicest people you've ever met?

At any rate, I could gush about Barbara Kingsolver forever, but I won't. Here, in no particular order, are some of the pieces of wisdom I gleaned from the authors during the Iceland Writers Retreat. Erica and Eliza, the founders of the retreat, have really created something special. If you have the opportunity to go, I can't recommend it enough.

1) "Bad memoirs come out of youth; Good novels come out of middle age."
Adam Gopnik is hilarious. I didn't take his workshops but I got to speak to him a little and heard him read on our first night. His essay on learning to drive had me laughing out loud. One of the things Adam said he loved about the retreat was that it wasn't filled with a bunch of young people who want to write memoirs and have zero life experience. The retreat was geared more toward people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond, many who have never completed a book. It's such a good reminder that the majority of writers don't "make it" in their twenties.

2) "Find the internal contradiction."
One of my favorite workshops was "Character Development" by Allison Pick. Allison told us that internal contradiction is what makes characters interesting. Considering my agent had just mentioned that my main character's arc was feeling a little flat, this was the perfect advice. No one wants to read about a character who doesn't have anything to learn, or who doesn't grow or change throughout the course of the novel. Point taken.

3) "Revision is where art happens."
I think this may be one of the writing lessons it's taken me longest to learn. When I first started writing, I had no idea how much revision it took to get a book from first draft to published novel. I got my second edit letter the first night of the retreat, and I can assure you that I'm becoming very familiar with revision. If I'd known when I started out that even bestselling authors like Barbara Kingsolver spend months revising their work, I don't think I would have given up on some of my earlier projects so easily.

4) "Make a promise to the reader in the first chapter."
When I told Barbara that my agent wants me to rewrite my first chapter, the first thing she did was ask me why. I told her he thought it gave too much away, which she agreed was a problem. Then she gave me this little gem of advice. She mentioned in her workshop that the best books are the ones where you say, "I knew that was going to happen!" even though you didn't really know for sure. I plan on looking back at some of her first chapters and trying to determine the promise.

5) "Always do the scariest thing."
The last morning of the retreat, the authors participated in a round-table discussion and answered questions from the audience. Several of the authors explained that they know they're on to something when an idea terrifies them. Ruth Reichl was referring to writing when she told us to "always do the scariest thing," but over the past few years I've come to find it applies to all aspects of life. It certainly served me well last week. These types of "camp" situations terrify me, and it would be very easy to hide behind my social anxiety, but I would have missed out on so much if I had, including a long conversation with my writing hero.

I learned a lot more during the retreat, but these were some of the things that stuck with me. And now it's time for me to take some of that brilliant advice and go back into my revision cave. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Second Wedding

About six months ago, Jack mentioned that he wanted to marry me when he grows up. I thought it was adorable and nearly smacked John when he started to explain that it wasn't logistically (never mind ethically) feasible. Every now and then Jack would bring it up, and I happily went along with the scheme. One of my favorite things about being a boy-mom is how Jack thinks of me as a princess. I know the day will come when he wants nothing to do with me, so I'm soaking it all up while I can.

I was not, however, prepared to marry Jack NOW. I always figured he'd outgrow it before it became a reality. But as we were driving home from school last Thursday, Jack informed me that we would be getting married that evening. I tried to dissuade him by explaining I didn't have a white dress - "You can wear your pretty black dress, Mommy" - or that we needed time to prepare a special meal - "We can have strawberries and dumpalings, Mommy" - but he stood firm. He made me a paper crown when we got home and was very excited to fill Daddy in on the news.

To which Daddy replied, "It's illegal to have more than one husband in this country."

Jack looked up at me with enormous, tear-filled blue eyes and said, "But that means I can't marry Mommy."

And then I killed John.

Actually, I said, "Ignore Daddy. I always do." And we proceeded to make wedding preparations.

Fortunately, I was able to convince Jack that Saturday at Aunt Shasha's house would be better. I was already planning to spend the night at Sarah's house on Friday night, so we agreed I could wear one of her dresses. "I'll wear my belt," Jack informed me. (He's convinced that belt=fancy.) He also insisted I wear a tiara, so I dug up a little party crown from a couple New Years Eves ago. Shasha showed Jack a few dress options and he chose the fancy, long dress (which is actually Sarah's prom dress - it's nice to know I haven't grown in seventeen years, and that Sarah never gets rid of anything). With the addition of some vintage beaded flowers, we were ready to begin the ceremony.



"So, uh, what do we do?" I asked Jack.

"First we have the vestibal."

"Right, the vestibal. And what exactly does that entail?"

"A dance party. And cheers-ing."



Once we ascertained that he meant "festival," Shasha brought out her laptop and some glasses, and Jack chose that old wedding classic, Rihanna's "Only Girl in the World," for our dance party. We toasted with water. Jack promised to be a good husband, which entails helping with the cooking, taking care of Will, and going to bed at the same time as me. Then I asked Jack if we should maybe say that we love each other.

Jack put his nose against mine and said, "I love you more than anything, a thousand times."

That kid. I swear, he makes me crazy, but he can be the sweetest boy sometimes. I love watching him grow and change, seeing the way he interacts with the world around him and how curious he is about everything. I know he's only going to get more fun as he gets older, but I also know the day will come all too soon when I wish he still wanted to marry me.

I love you more than anything a thousand times, Jackie. And that's one thing I know will never change.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Things I Love Thursdays: Outlander

Some time during my teenage years, my mom tried to give me a copy of Outlander. She'd loved it and thought I might enjoy it too, which was a reasonable assumption given my love of reading and fantasy. But for whatever reason (Too much history? Not enough magic?), I never made it past the first fifty pages or so. It wasn't until the winter before last, when I was pregnant with Will and living in Montana with Jack and my mom, that I decided to give it another shot. I was immediately sucked into it and couldn't put it down. What can I say, I like history now, and the lack of magic is more than made up for by the presence of this fellow:



Jamie Fraser is completely swoon-worthy in the book, but really, my love for Outlander wasn't complete until I finally got my hands on the DVDs a few weeks ago. I watched the first four episodes at a nice, respectable one-a-night pace, until I couldn't take the suspense anymore and binge-watched the last four in a day and a half. The casting for the show is perfect, and having watched the "extras," which include a segment about the making of the costumes, I'm really impressed with how much trouble they took to make everything historically accurate.



On the one hand, I'm glad I waited until now to watch the show, since I have a much shorter wait for Season 2. But now I have to figure out how I'm going to get my hands on a copy in Peru. There's no way I can wait another year to continue the journey! In the meantime, I plan on reading the sequel to Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, post haste.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: Some Thoughts on EFM Employment

I finally blogged about something Foreign Service-y today! If you're curious about employment for family members, I link to a couple of interesting posts on the topic, along with my own two cents, over on Most Eligible Family. It's hard to believe we leave for Lima in ten weeks! Eeek!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: Surviving Revisions, and Jack's New Book

Hi all! I'm happy to say I have finally sent my revised manuscript back to my literary agent. It took six weeks and an average of 2-4 hours on week days, plus 5 or more hours on weekend days, and all I can hope right now is that I didn't somehow make my novel worse in the process.

Learning to revise has probably been my biggest challenge as a writer. It took a long time for me to fully grasp how crucial revision is to the writing process (drafting is the easy part!), and it is definitely a skill that develops over time. I think I might finally be getting the hang of it. Maybe.

And of course there was all the life stuff to deal with over these past six weeks, including the Cold From Hell that took down our entire family, strep throat (just me - that was fun), more car nonsense, and other crap I won't bore you with. But I do think my novel is much stronger thanks to these changes, and hopefully all my hard work will pay off!

In other news, Jack (who wasn't always a fan of Mommy disappearing in the afternoons to work, or locking herself in her bedroom on weekends) is now an author. He has penned a "chapter book" and a sequel, Marshmallow Joins and Marshmallow Joins 2. They are...how can I put this delicately? WEIRD. I still don't fully understand the title, although there are marshmallows in the book. He really wants me to share it with the world, but I'm not sure the world is quite ready for it.

Jack is a very serious writer (the pencil behind the ear was all his idea).

He has also asked me to be his literary agent, and he insisted we type the books up on the computer. When Auntie Shasha came over for brainstorming sessions (I owe Sarah a HUGE thanks for the amount of time she spent talking over plot changes with me), Jack liked to join us and ask our advice on Marshmallow Joins.

I love the fact that Jack wants to be a writer and is proud of what I'm doing. I've tried to find ways to make him feel included, like drawing a cover for my book (he really thinks it's going to be the cover; hopefully by the time the book is published he's over it) and reading "real" books at night time. So far we've read James and the Giant Peach and we're working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He's chosen The Wizard of Oz as our next book. As someone who was once terrified of being a mom to boys, I love that this is our thing. And while his prose may need some work, I see a real future for him in illustration.

A picture of the good witch and one of her marshmallows from Marshmallow Joins.

Jack's cover design for Wintersoul.