Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Gifts for Bookworms

I'm a big fan of books (duh) and anything with books ON it. You might recall that fabulous Hermes wallpaper I posted about a while ago. I have an awesome J. Crew cardigan with books on it. And these socks from Modcloth are so freaking adorable I may have to have them.

This painting from ContemporaryEarthArt would be a great stand-in until I finally get those floor-to-ceiling bookshelves I've always dreamed of...

And how beautiful is this necklace from PaperMemoirs?

I find this children's tee shirt from funkycottonshirts particularly amusing...

And this one from BookFiend perfect for moi...

This tote from theboldbanana may not have a book on it, but it's ideal for carrying them!

And finally, I'm in love with this Kindle cover from chicklitdesigns.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas the next time you need to buy a gift for a reader or a writer. Or (why not?!) for yourself!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Raising the Stakes

I just finished the third amazing fantasy/paranormal YA novel in a row (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Scorpio Races, Before I Fall), and it got me thinking: what do all these novels, which are all completely different from each other (we're talking chimeras and guardian angels, flesh-eating water horses, and a girl reliving the last day of her life over and over), have in common?

Well, for one thing, they're all completely engrossing. They all kept me up at night and were finished within a week (which is fast for me these days). And despite their differences, the reason they were so unputdownable is because, in addition to the beautiful world building and unique voices in all three books, the stakes were impossibly high. I think that's what I love so much about fantasy and paranormal: you can have life and death stakes that don't seem forced. You can put your characters in situations that simply aren't possible in the real world. It isn't hard to build tension when your character is facing losing her home, her family, and possibly her life in one fell swoop (The Scorpio Races), or when your character's eternal soul is at stake (or she thinks it is - Before I Fall).

Rose Leslie, my pick for Puck in the film version of The Scorpio Races.
Of course, building tension WELL and sustaining it throughout a novel requires a great deal of skill no matter what your plot is. That's something I learned with my last novel, which has life and death stakes but still wasn't exciting enough in the first couple of drafts. And one of the things that upped the tension was adding more of the paranormal elements. I think this is all part of why I don't enjoy contemporary YA nearly as much. I don't want to read about lives as average as mine. I read (and write) to escape reality and experience something new. All three of these novels inspire me to be a better writer, to up the tension in my own novels, and to be brave enough to try something no one has tried before.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Memorial Day

This weekend has been extra special for me, because my husband (who most of you probably know was a Marine up until a few months ago) decided to forgo a training weekend in California to spend time with Jack and me. It seems particularly poignant that it's Memorial Day weekend. John and I were very lucky that he served for ten years and stayed safe (ejection not withstanding), but I am so grateful to those servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. I found the following quote particularly poignant and moving.

These heroes are dead.  They died for liberty - they died for us.  They are at rest.  They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines.  They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest.  Earth may run red with other wars - they are at peace.  In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.  I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead:  cheers for the living; tears for the dead.  ~Robert G. Ingersoll

I hope all of our military friends have a wonderful, well-deserved weekend with their families.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: What I'll Miss

Please visit Most Eligible Family for today's post. I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Alex Clare's "Too Close" and PB&K Oatmeal

There are two things I love today. First, Alex Clare's song, "Too Close," is awesome and you should check it out if you're not familiar with it.

I'm sure the acoustic version of this song is still amazing, but I LOVE the dubstep beat. I've never heard another song like it. Plus there's a samurai sword fight in the video, and really, you can never go wrong with samurais.

Second is my recent oatmeal discovery, which I'm dubbing PB&K Oatmeal (peanut butter and Kimmy, since she inspired this). Here's what you need:

1/2 cup of Quaker Quick oats
1 cup water
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp cherry jam
1 dollop of heavy cream (optional, but why wouldn't you?)

Cook the oats according to directions (the recipe above is for one serving; one cup of oats serves two, although Jack usually eats his share AND some of mine). Once you've got your oatmeal in your bowl, stir in the spoonful of peanut butter and jelly, then top with the heavy cream. Voila! A delicious, healthy(ish) breakfast that will keep you full for hours. You could probably use any kind of jam, but Jackie loves to pick out the cherries. You don't need any additional sweetener. And according to John, it's better to eat fat with sugar because it cuts the glycemic index (or something). So pour on the heavy cream and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: I'm Back! And Why I Really Need An Editor

Hello everyone! I wasn't planning on taking a week off from blogging, but these things happen. Especially when four of the five days of your family vacation are spent strapped into a moving vehicle (two five-hour flights and two five-hour drives. Ugh). The day in between was spent catching up with family and enjoying beautiful Oregon.

The whole fandamily (minus my dad). It was my grandpa's 90th birthday!

My uncle's front yard. The unicorn got away before I could take a pic.

Jack and Grampa.

My uncle lives up the street from a draft horse breeding ranch! Ahhh!
Anywho, this is supposed to be a Writing Wednesday, so I'll just say one last thing. My grandpa is THE oldest Trader Joe's employee! Isn't that cool? I should get free groceries or something, right?

So, why do I really need an editor? Because I have too many ideas right now, and I don't know which way to go. If I had an editor (or an agent!), I could get a professional opinion before I head down what could possibly be the wrong path - again! See, there's the mystery novel that I'm thinking of rewriting as YA, and then there's the Russian book, and of course there are the next two books in the Friday trilogy, and I have another idea for a sci-fi/dystopian that I'd really love to explore too. But are any of them worth pursuing? I don't know! I have all these ideas and not a clue what to do with them.

And that, my friends, is why I really need an editor. Of course, I suppose it could be worse. I could have NO ideas, and then I'd really be screwed. And the good news is that after a tortuous five-hour flight home, my trip ended on a high note. No, not the ear-piercing shrieks Jack let out during the descent, but two requests from agents. Which is *almost* as good as seeing Jack with his great grandpa. But not quite.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Prom Update

I forgot to post the "prom" pictures we took last weekend! Sarah and I attempted to recreate the original:

And as you can see, we were far from successful.

But we sure had fun trying!

Writing Wednesdays: The Trouble With Genres

The trouble with genres is...well, it's just so darn hard to stick to one! With the first novel I tried to query, I knew the book was chick lit, but I certainly didn't want to call it that (this was just as chick lit was starting to be declared dead by publishers - I have seriously bad timing with these things). So I called it commercial women's fiction. But then I was told that there is no such thing as commercial women's fiction - if there's a female protagonist, it's women's fiction. Obviously there's "upmarket" or "literary" or "mystery" or "romance," but my novel didn't really fall into any of those categories. I gave up on that novel pretty quickly and moved on to what I thought would be straight-up women's fiction. Somehow I ended up writing a mystery, albeit one with a commercial voice, and I found myself back in the same place. Several agents said they loved the book, but they didn't know how to sell it. Dammit if I wasn't right back where I started.

I thought for Friday I was set with genre: you've got anything "undead," it's Paranormal, right? But lately, I've been thinking it could definitely be called Urban Fantasy too (or as my friend Erin suggested, "Rural Fantasy" since it's set in Montana). At the moment, I kind of like the idea of avoiding the Paranormal label, because agents seem to be sick of it. For many people, Paranormal automatically means vampires, werewolves, angels, demons or witches, and my book doesn't contain any of those things. I thought that by making up my own mythology, I could avoid the Paranormal curse, but that may not be the case. For my next few queries, I'm going to try going with Urban Fantasy and see if it makes any difference. It's sort of sad that the industry is so hung up on labels, but it's just the nature of the beast, unfortunately.

I also sort of decided some time between last night and this morning that I want to rewrite my last book as YA, since it's contemporary (AND a mystery, of course, but not fantastical at all) and that seems easier to sell at this point in time. Knowing me, I'll miss the boat, AGAIN. But since I can't put all my focus into the Russian book just yet, it seems like something worth trying. At least I know that book will be Urban Fantasy.

You know, one with elements of folklore, horror, romance, and mystery...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Meaning of Mother's Day

Yesterday, as you know, was Mother's Day. I hope yours was fabulous. Mine was lovely - it started with a card and a carefully rehearsed "Happy Mommy's Day" from Jack, then moved on to brunch at the Four Seasons, and ended with a nice trip to the park as a family. John conceded that the brunch may have been as much a gift for him as it was for me, but it was nice to have the time together, and the fact that he planned ahead enough to secure a babysitter scored him bonus points. Of course, brunch was insanely overpriced (John did his best to make up for it by eating his weight in crab legs, but I couldn't help being horrified every time I saw a family of five walk to their table, knowing most of those kids would probably eat some french toast and a few strips of bacon), John had studying to do for most of the afternoon, and the day culminated in the world's longest tantrum involving the potty seat we purchased for Jackie (more on that later). Only three Mother's Days in, I can't help but wonder if the phrase "it's the thought that counts" may have been coined specifically for the one day a year solely devoted to mothers.

As a kid, Mother's Day for my mom meant breakfast in bed (I recall a tray and a bowl of cheerios...) and my dad taking us to the store to pick out gifts for our poor mom, who had more animal statuettes and bad jewelry than she knew what to do with. In her defense, she held onto my choice of a ceramic cat with a canary feather in its mouth far longer than I would have. I'm sure there were flowers and a card from my dad, and probably some homemade cards from the three of us, but that was the extent of it. After all, women are most often the planners in the household. We buy the presents and organize the parties. On a day where it's up to everyone else to recognize her, there's a good chance reality is going to fall short of what mom truly deserves for all her hard work.

I was getting my hair done the other day and I made the mistake of asking my hair dresser, who is efficient and reasonably priced but kind of a dirtbag, what he was doing for his wife for Mother's Day.

"The thing is, my wife and I are married, but..."

At this point I started having palpitations, thinking he was going to tell me they were separated.

..."she's my wife, not my mother. Why would I do anything for her on Mother's Day?"

That was sort of the end of that conversation. I mean, what could I say, really? And as disgusted as I was at first, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe I had it all wrong - that maybe husbands shouldn't be expected to do anything for their wives for Mother's Day. Maybe we should all be focusing on our moms more. (Or maybe someone needs to declare an official Wife's Day so there's no more confusion, hmmm?)

Of course, John and I live across the country from our moms, and Jack is two (he did come home from preschool with a red heart-shaped box containing a puff of pink tissue containing a bunch of dirt, which I wasn't prepared for and therefore spilled all over the carpet - I assume there was a seed in there somewhere?). And how would we show our mothers how much they mean to us, even if they did live closer? At brunch, the two tables next to ours consisted of middle-aged men, presumably single, and their elderly mothers. They hardly spoke at all (the sons were up getting food most of the time, leaving the poor mothers alone to break my heart with their plates full of mini desserts that they barely touched - although the woman next to me was really living it up with her two cappuccinos). Does a yearly brunch make Mom feel any more appreciated for everything she does on a daily basis? At $100 a person, maybe, but I doubt it.

The truth is, just like any other holiday devoted to recognizing someone, there's only so much you can say and do in a single day. It's the other 364 days a year that really prove what someone means to us (and don't worry, honey - you do an amazing job of making me feel loved and appreciated year-round). I hope my mom knows how much she means to me, even if I may not always be around to show her. It wasn't until I became a mom myself that I could fully appreciate everything she sacrificed for us (and I don't think I'll ever understand how she managed to raise triplets AND maintain her sanity - well, most of it, anyway). Sorry about all the lousy presents, Mom. And just in case it isn't the thought that counts, I'm making it official here and now: I love you so much. Thank you for everything.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Felt Projects

Many of you are my Facebook friends, which means many of you know all about my little crafting hobby, mainly involving cheap ol' felt, the kind you find at Michael's for a dollar a sheet. It all started when I was on complete bed rest from weeks 32-36 of my pregnancy, with nothing whatsoever to keep me busy besides a lot of bad day-time television (I'd just finished my last novel and was waiting for my readers, and my thirty-hour-a-week job only took up about five). I'd been looking for a mobile for Jack's room, but the only ones I liked cost about $75 on Etsy. So, I decided to make one of my own. Fortunately, I had a bunch of felt leftover from my onesie-making baby shower.

The mobile that started it all...
 After that, I still had about three weeks to kill, so I started making little ornaments.

Jack's original Jack A. Lope ornament

Marley, John's cousin's dog

Minky, Sarah's dog (bearded dogs appear to be a theme...)

A random squirrel for Sarah

Then I started beading things...

Ring pillow for Shauna
And then I moved on to Kindle cases.

Then there were my matryoshka keychains...

And finally, this week, simple gift card covers that many of you seemed to like. Since they are the easiest thing ever to make, I wanted to share them with you, so you can make your own!

Starbucks' gift card holders for Jack's teachers
All you need are a few pieces of craft felt, some embroidery floss, and anything you want to decorate with (in this case, some old sequins I have from who-knows-where). The secret to most of these crafts is the blanket stitch used on the seams. I learned how to do it from Alice Merlino, aka futuregirl. This post shows you how to do the blanket stitch so clearly that there's no point in me trying to reinvent the wheel. It just takes practice and a steady hand (I seem to have a bizarrely keen eye for spacing the stitching; awesome hidden talent, I know). Even if you don't cut your felt particularly neatly, this stitch will clean up your edges beautifully. Embroidery floss is really cheap and comes in tons of great colors. I love working with it. I glued the sequins on with fabric glue and voila! Simple, fun to make, and definitely jazzes up the presentation of a boring gift card. You could even make yourself a credit card holder this way.

If anyone has any requests, now's the time! Although I suppose I'll have LOTS of crafting time in Russia... Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Oh Those High School Dances Blog Hop

Okay, I've never done a blog hop before, but some of my friends are participating in this one, hosted by Kelley Lynn at Between the Bookends, and I thought it was so cute I had to join in!

Plus, my sister just posted a prom photo of us on Facebook and it's the only one I have, so the timing was good.

That's me on the right, being lame.
Basically, prom was the ONLY dance ever I went to with a date. I didn't go to a single dance during my sophomore or junior years because the freshman year dances were so traumatic. I never had a date, was too shy to dance, and one of my worst memories was dancing with this super nerdy sophomore to "I'll Make Love to You." Ewwww. I was so grossed out the whole time. Blargh.

Prom was actually pretty fun. I asked a guy I'd had a huge crush on for several months, then lost interest in when he called me one night to ask for my best friend's number so he could take her to the winter formal. I was devastated. But I got over it, and we were still friends, so I asked him to prom and he said yes. My sister went with one of my brother's best friends, and my brother went with his girlfriend, and we all took a limo together, which was really cute. Prom itself was okay - my date tried to kiss me at one point, on the dance floor, and I was so mortified I kind of ignored him the rest of the night. I never told him it was because I'd never kissed anyone before and didn't really want my first kiss to be in front of the entire school. (And I was also still bitter about the whole best friend. So may be not ENTIRELY over it). I danced with a few people, mostly hung out with my sister and brother (we're triplets, in case you didn't catch that), and for the first time in my entire life actually felt kind of pretty. Plus, I was super excited because we got invited to a party after - and I NEVER got invited to parties in high school. We dropped my poor drunk date off on the way home and that was that.

So that was my prom experience, folks! I can't believe it was fourteen years ago. Ironically, I'm going to a fake prom this weekend. And I promise, the photos will be just as lame.

Writing Wednesdays: Remembering Wild Things

Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday at the age of 83. There are dozens of tributes to him popping up online, but I wanted to take a moment to remember him as well. Where the Wild Things Are is one of my favorite children's books, one that I came to appreciate more as an adult than as a child. I still have my childhood copy, and it now sits on Jack's book shelf. When I was pregnant with Jack, the image of a little boy in a wolf suit was one of the things that made me truly excited for a son.

I know I won't be able to do Mr. Sendak any justice by trying to explain what makes Where the Wild Things Are so special, but I think this quote - one of my all-time favorites - says it all.

"Please don't go. We'll eat you up. We love you so."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Potty Training - Now, or Later

Lately, the big topic of conversation amongst my mommy friends seems to be potty training. Our kids are mostly between the ages of two and three, when potty training usually takes place. For some, it seems to be as easy as spending a day on the pot with a movie and M&Ms. For others, it looks more like a long, drawn-out, somewhat painful process. I can't even say it's an age thing. I've heard girls are easier to potty train (and I like that theory, since it means if I have trouble with Jack I have something to blame it on), and there is the adage, "Start potty training at 2, and your kid will be potty trained by 3; start at 3, and they'll be potty trained at 3," but I'm not sure if there's one right technique or age. I think that potty training, like with most things kid-related, totally depends on the kid.

For the record, I have not even begun to attempt potty training with Jack. I don't even have a potty for him. He occasionally talks about "pooping on the potty," but as soon as we approach the toilet he changes his mind. He tells me after he poops, but never before, and he is not in the least bothered by a dirty diaper. To me, these are signs he's not ready. My concern is that he's going to decide to be ready in, say, late August, right when we move to Russia. If I potty train him before then, he might relapse after the move, but if I wait until we get to Russia, he might be so anxious from all the other changes in his life that he won't want to give up his diaper. Then there's the added fun of dealing with spur-of-the-moment pee breaks in sub-freezing temperatures. I can't imagine trying to peel off eight layers of clothing when Jack suddenly decides he has to go, NOW!

Today I witnessed a horrific scene at the park. A little girl walked over to her mom, saying that her tummy hurt, so the mom asked if she had to poop. I'm pretty sure the little girl didn't know what was going on, but since we weren't near a toilet and the mom didn't have one handy, she handed the little girl a plastic bag and said, "Here. Poop in this." Jack was fascinated. I was horrified. The little girl crouched down behind a short wall and I quickly turned Jack away, but a few moments later I heard the mom say, "Good job," and then to her friend, "She didn't go." This is my worst nightmare. Popping a squat to pee behind a bush is one thing, but poop in a plastic bag? I think I'll stick with diapers for now, thanks.

I know a few of you have already potty trained your toddlers, so I'd love your advice in the comments. And please keep in mind that it's a ten-hour flight to Moscow!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: What to Bring

We've made some decisions on what to bring to Russia! Here's the post. And happy Friday!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Three Points Design, Inc.

On Sunday morning, we came upon a little art fair in Williamsburg. I'm not usually one for craft fairs - I always feel vaguely uncomfortable drifting past all the beaded necklaces and fuzzy scarves. But amidst the arts and crafts, you can occasionally find a real gem. This happened on Sunday, and I was so excited that I could actually afford the thing I really wanted!

Three Points Design's hand-carved wooden owls, whales, and feathers stood out from the sea of crap like a beacon of Etsy-worthy goodness. I loved all the owl statues and the giant carved mermaid, but what really caught my eye was a wooden owl head flanked by wings, about two-feet across. I just knew he'd be perfect above Jack's crib (a spot I've always been too paranoid to hang something, but I finally feel fairly confident that no freak earthquake is going to cause Jack to be smooshed during the night). I hemmed and hawed, walked away and came back, and finally committed. And oh, how I love him!

Jack loves him too! According to Jack, "Owl's name is Bird." The lovely lady who sold Bird to me said he's the first of his design, so he's extra special. And I love that he's going to travel all over the world with us.

If I had more room/money, I'd definitely invest in one of their gorgeous hand-carved feathers. Check out these other beautiful items available on their website:

If you're looking for unique, hand-made, affordable art, I highly recommend Three Points Design, Inc.!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Rejection Suggestion

Hey all. It's been a busy week, so there has been little going on on the writing front (although I HAVE been brainstorming for the Russia book and I'm still super excited; I can't wait till things calm down a little and I can actually write the darn thing - although with my Russian training starting in two weeks, that might not be until after the move. *Sigh*).

Querying, however, waits for no man. At least the response part, anyway. See, you might send off your query on a random Tuesday, excited to be getting another possibility out there in the universe. And then you might not think about it for a while, or at least try not to. And when Friday evening rolls around, you're REALLY not thinking about. It's Friday, people. It's time to forget about querying and get ready for the weekend!

Unfortunately, rejection is a wily creature. It's always out there, ready to pounce when you least expect it. And when *I* least expect it is Friday evening/the weekend. Those are generally my safety zones. A rejection on a Monday morning? Sure, I can handle it. Monday mornings suck anyway! But when you're waiting to see your best friend at the airport on a Friday evening, excited for the good times ahead, the last thing you want is a rejection popping up in your inbox. Ugh. The worst.

No, wait, I lie. The WORST is on Sunday morning, when you're exhausted from a miserable night's sleep in a strange hotel bed, and you're just trying to make yourself presentable so you can dive head-first into the chocolate chip pancakes you ordered at a little diner in Williamsburg. Not that this has happened to me, of course. I'm just sayin', hypothetically. It's the worst.

So here is my suggestion: I know agents are busy with their clients during the week, and evenings/weekends are probably the only time they have to get to the slush pile/querying queue. But if it's not too much of an inconvenience, could you please - pretty please with sugar on top - hold the rejections for Monday morning? Or even Saturday morning, so I have the Friday/Sunday buffer? Requests for material can come at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday or 3 p.m. on a Saturday or at high tide on a full moon during Ramadan for all I care. It's just rough starting and ending a weekend with a rejection.

Hypothetically, of course.