Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

A little reminder that you don't have to wait for January 1st to make a resolution...

Sort of perfect for a writer, don't you think? Happy New Year everyone.  See you in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Vacation: Part One

It's hard to believe our time here in the US is already half over. I'm still reeling from our harrowing trek across the globe, wherein Jack slept a total of 1.5 hours during the course of our 10 hour flight from Frankfurt to Denver. (There was also a brief 30 minute nap during our first layover. Yippee!)

Since arriving in Billings, we've been a busy group, sleeping far less than I would have liked, thanks in part to Jack's terrible cough that kept us up the first few nights of the trip. It's gotten better, fortunately, and sleeping in the same room with him hasn't been as terrible as I thought it would be. For the record, his little blow-up mattress from The Shrunks has worked out great, especially considering this was our first stint with a big boy bed. I highly recommend it to other traveling families out there.

Reunited with my twinny!

Because we're us, a family gathering is never without its moments of humiliation, stress, and utter terror. The highlight for me was on Christmas Eve when Jack tripped on a carpet and sliced his eyelid open on a metal bar stool. John and his mom had just arrived from the airport when all of this transpired, so I can only imagine what Patti thought when she opened the door to find Jack shrieking in pain, me nearly passed out in an armchair (the moment I saw the blood seeping out of his wound I naturally concluded that Jack was permanently blind in his left eye. At least he would have had his grandpa to show him the ropes of one-eyed living), and everyone else arguing about whether or not it was worth the struggle to get ice on Jack's eyeball.

We conned Jack into this photo by telling him Santa was outside. Photo by Sarah Joseph, the Liar.

Fortunately, Jack's eye is fine, I recovered from my swoon with a glass of orange juice, and there were plenty more mini-crises to replace the memory of that one. Christmas day was awesome, however. Jack is obsessed with his train set. Too bad I can't get it back to Russia, because I'm an idiot and didn't check the oversize baggage cost to a foreign country (we could buy two more train sets for the price of getting this one home; sadly, we still wouldn't be able to get them to Russia). John's current solution involves sawing this one in half and "taping it back together" when we get home. For some reason, I'm a little skeptical about all of this... We also had an epic sledding adventure that nearly culminated in the decapitation of my mother-in-law. I'm happy to say everyone managed to retain their heads.

Grampoopa sporting his new Russian headgear.

We've also taken two awesome mini-trips since we got here. Sarah and I drove two hours to Bozeman on Thursday with several goals: to sit in on a National Geographic writer reading and recording his article for the iPhone app (just one of the many cool parts of Sarah's job), to visit with our college friend Jaime, and to see The Hobbit, the one film I resolved to see on the big screen (without Russian dubbing, thanks). Sadly, the movie was sold out, but in the end we got to spend the entire afternoon with Jaime, catching up and reminiscing about old times (Jaime was with me the second time I hung out with John, at a Halloween party in Davis where Sarah, Jaime, and I went as Charlie's Angels). The whole day was perfect, even if I spent the entire two hours driving home terrified I was going to be attacked by another suicidal deer.

Sarah, Jaime, Mara, aka Charlie's Angels. You can totally see it, right?

Yesterday we took a day trip out to Cody, Wyoming, where my dad is going to be working in a few months. Sarah and I got to explore the town a bit and meet just a few of the many characters I suspect are living in Cody. My parents should fit in perfectly there! Then we all screamed at my dad on the drive home, because his driving is terrifying and it's way easier to complain than drive ourselves.

Which brings us to today. John and my dad are going skiing, my mom is clearing out the pantry since they leave tomorrow to drive back to Washington, Sarah and I are currently arguing about who gets to use the Internet (It's just like old times! Hey, at least it's not dial-up anymore), and Jack is, well, being Jack.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But there is good news that comes out of all this, at least if you live in Washington D.C. and actually kind of like me. John and I have decided to change our itinerary, so now instead of spending three more days in Montana and another two in Frankfurt, we're going to be in D.C. from Wednesday night to Sunday night! (Lauren, I envision you screaming with joy right now - I expect you to tell me that's what happened regardless.) I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday!

Happy New Year from the nuthouse!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Going Home

Okay, I admit I've been a total slacker at blogging this week. Yesterday was our big holiday party at work, which I coordinated, so I was busy with that, and tomorrow we leave for the states! I can't believe I get to spend two whole weeks in the USA. It's going to be awesome (although I'm already dreading coming back). I can't wait to see my family, eat my favorite foods, and thaw. Slightly. Sort of wishing my parents' house wasn't in Montana right about now.

For the next couple weeks, I'm going to be working on revising my novel for the Pitch Wars alternates showcase. We get our first page and a 35-word pitch posted for the agents to see, the same as the winners, but there's no guarantee the agents will look at ours; plus we don't get mentors, which is a major advantage for obvious reasons. Aside from that, I'll be attempting to relax (not my strong suit) and catching up with Sarah, even though we talk every day anyway. Seriously, I can't wait to see my sister. It's worth the heinous flying schedule. I think.

This year, Jackie didn't get to meet "Santa," but he did get to meet Ded Moroz, aka Father Frost, aka Russian Santa. Actually, it was our IT guy, Carlos, dressed up as Russian Santa, which was pretty awesome.

Jack asked for a "hairplane" repeatedly because the kid in front of him got an airplane. Never mind that someone had just given him that little military truck on the floor for his birthday and he got a giant box of chocolate from Ded Moroz. In his defense, he was the only American kid there and Snegurochka, aka the Snow Maiden, aka Ded Moroz's granddaughter, performed for an hour and Jack (and I) had no idea what was going on. Still, we need to work on this kid's manners. Good thing Auntie Jennifer will be around to school him next week.

I'm not sure what my blogging schedule will be, but just in case, MERRY CHRISTMAS! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Lucky Ones

For weeks now, I've been planning on writing a blog post about Jack's third birthday, which is tomorrow, December 18th. As far as mommy posts go, this one was going to be a no-brainer. I was going to reminisce about the past year and how much our boy has grown and learned, and tell him all the things I hope for during his next year of life and beyond (starting with potty training and ending with things like a family of his own). But how can I write a post like that without thinking about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday? At the same time, how can I even attempt to write about it, when I can't possibly fathom what all of those families are going through right now?

Part of me wants to avoid it - it almost seems wrong to read the constant stream of articles and blog posts. But today when I went online, there they all were, front and center, heartbreaking and unavoidable. A list of the victims' names, twenty of them with a "6" or "7" next to them. I knew the children were all between the ages of 5 and 10, but there was something about seeing those single digit numbers next to each name. I was grateful that the pictures didn't load. I didn't want to see their faces.

Like all parents, I've been holding my child a little tighter these past few days, getting in extra snuggles despite Jack's protests, thanking the universe that my family is safe. Tomorrow, Jack will open his birthday presents and eat his homemade birthday cake. This weekend, he'll be adored by his grandparents and aunts and uncle, showered with praise and Christmas gifts, hugged and kissed by humans and dogs alike. He won't know how lucky he is; he'll take these things for granted, because he's three and the world revolves around him. Just as it should.

Earlier today, John and I were discussing how we could help the families of the victims. John felt like money wasn't enough, and of course it isn't. How could it possibly be? But there will be funerals to pay for, children of the adult victims who will need money for college, long-term therapy for the children who witnessed the attack. The fact that I don't have to worry about those things is easy to take for granted, especially during the holidays when my mind is focused on trivial things like flight connections and buying the right gifts. Now, it's hard not to think about all the gifts that will remain unopened this year in Newtown.

"We're so lucky," John said to me this morning. Just now, when I told him I was struggling with this blog post, he told me I didn't have to write anything. And I know that there are far more eloquent posts about this out there. But one day, when Jack is grown and has a family of his own, I hope he'll look back at this entry and know how loved he was, and understand a little of what the word "lucky" means to a parent.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Slighty Belated (Good-ish) News

I missed Writing Wednesday because we had company last night, and Thursday is quickly getting away from me! But I'm very happy to say that I was chosen by two mentors as alternates in Pitch Wars, which isn't exactly winning, but is still pretty cool. I didn't even realize one of the mentors had chosen me as an alternate because I didn't pitch to her (we could pick three of the 31 mentors to send our query and first 5 pages to), but then I realized my name was listed twice!

It's a little disappointing to know I got soooo close to being chosen, but I'm so grateful to have made it this far. And the lovely Brenda Drake, who organized the contest, is even setting up a little side contest for the alternates, so the agents will get to look at our stuff too if they want. Considering I haven't tested out the query for this book on too many people yet, I'm amazed it stood out from over 2,000 entries. Now I'm excited to polish my manuscript over the next month before the agent round. Here's the query for REINVENTING DOROTHY WEIL in case you're curious:

16-year-old Dorothy Weil knows there’s something worse than being seen as a loser: not being seen at all. Her social anxiety makes it nearly impossible to make friends, and even her parents barely seem to register her existence. Everyone’s so focused on her father’s career as a renowned anthropology professor they don’t even bother to ask her opinion when he decides to take a six-month sabbatical in London. But when Dorothy’s therapist suggests that she use the opportunity to reinvent herself, something inside of Dorothy clicks.
In London, Dorothy introduces herself as Kenzie, the name of the most popular girl in school back home. And somehow, pretending to be Kenzie allows Dorothy to become the person she’s always wanted to be: popular, funny, outgoing. Then Dorothy’s father decides to tutor a freshman at the university, Jonathon North, and it’s as if he can see right through Kenzie’s shiny exterior to the dull girl underneath. Even worse, Dorothy finds herself caring what Jonathon thinks of her. When Dorothy’s father discovers his daughter is caught in the middle of a violent protest, he sends Jonathon to rescue her. But when the tables turn and Dorothy ends up saving Jonathon, she unintentionally exposes her true self in the process.
As Dorothy’s feelings for Jonathon grow, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up her charade as Kenzie. Now she must choose between the good opinion of everyone she’s worked so hard to fool and the one opinion that really matters: her own.

Thanks so much to Monica and Cupid for picking me to be on your team! I can't wait to read all the awesome entries in the agent round!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Impossible Shot

Just now, as I was pondering what to blog about this Mommy Monday, Jack crawled into my lap and said, "I love you Mommy." (He's been saying this a lot lately, to my utter delight. Hey, he just said it again! This never gets old.) I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to post some adorable photos of my beautiful little boy and me? Yes, yes it WOULD be nice, I thought back to myself. So I went in search of said adorable photos.

I realized very quickly that photos of Jack and me are not easy to come by, and you know why? Because I take all the pictures in this family! And on the rare occasion I prod John into taking one, or he randomly decides to take one on his own, it comes out looking like this:

Or this:

Not ready
 Or this:

Blurry and unflattering

 Or this:

Just kidding :)

This shouldn't be difficult. We're not talking about a great white mid-kill. Or a snow leopard in its natural habitat. Or the freaking Loch Ness monster. It's a mom with her kid, for goodness' sake. We're both relatively photogenic-ish (despite what these photos have led you to believe). But somehow, this shot is as elusive to John as Moby was to Ahab. Perhaps it's just because he's not trying that hard. Maybe this post will reveal in terrible, glaring detail how bad the situation really is...

But I'm not holding my breath. For now you'll just have to take my word for it that Jack and I not only exist in the same eight square feet every now and then - he actually kind of loves me, too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Don't Drink the Water

John is home and it's Friday night, and I'm happy as a clam. Oh, and here's my latest Most Eligible Family post.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Things I Love Thursday: Society6 and Vintage Tea Party

I can't take credit for one of this week's Things I Love. If you're not already following Laini Taylor's blog (or reading her AMAZING books), high thee hence. She's the one who pointed me in the direction of Society6, which is basically a way to get tees and sweatshirts and pillowcases (!) screenprinted with all kinds of awesome images. I think this one is my fave, but then, I only looked through about twenty of the hundreds of pictures.

I also randomly stumbled upon the adorable Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree. I don't need to see anything beyond the cover to know it's fabulous:

But you can go to the equally squee-worthy Foxtail and Fern to see some images from the inside if you need more convincing. If you're planning a tea party, or even if you just love 1950s retro chic, check it out. Angel's company, Vintage Patisserie, is also totally adorbs. Angel is just the inspiration I need for one of my novels, which I have just decided to make YA instead of Women's Fiction (yes, yes, Sarah, I know you suggested this months ago). Think a vintage mint-green trailer, an old diner, and "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Knowing Your Audience

I sometimes wonder if I have what it takes to write for teenagers. Not because I don't remember what it was like to be one, or because I don't like teenagers, but because I'm not sure how well I really know my audience.

I like to think of myself as being relatively "with it" (although I have a sinking suspicion that using terms like "with it" doesn't exactly up my cool factor. "Cool factor" probably doesn't help either.). I listen to popular music, dress decently, and am very in touch with who I was as a teenager (I remember some things from high school better than I remember what I ate for lunch yesterday). But over the past couple of weeks, when I had the opportunity to work with teenagers on two separate occasions, I felt like I was back in high school myself, and it was not a pleasant feeling.

Last week I led a book club discussion of The Outsiders. I went into things fairly hopeful. I write for teens, I told myself. Half the novels I read are written for teenagers. I got this. Falling on my ass on the way there didn't help my confidence, but I managed to pull myself together. I was there fifteen minutes early; plenty of time to catch my breath, take off my eighteen layers of clothing, and steel myself for the next hour. But when I walked in and headed for the table where I would set my purse, I had the odd sensation I was being watched. I looked up to find seven pairs of unblinking teenage eyes trained on me.

A second later, I dropped my gloves on the ground. Two minutes later, there went my hat. I was sweating profusely. I was a walking disaster.

But I plowed steadily onward, because if there's one thing I do know, it's that teens, like hyenas, can smell fear.

Maybe it was because these teens were Russian and didn't understand me. Maybe I'm just not nearly as interesting as I'd like to believe I am. Or maybe these kids were all just sullen and self-absorbed (I know I was guilty of being both of those things as a teenager. I can see you nodding, Mom). Whatever the explanation, I spent the next hour prying words out of these kids like a dentist pulling teeth without anesthesia. You would have thought the girls in the back row were being tortured by the looks on their faces. I tried to be funny and relatable. I showed clips of the 80s-fabulous movie version of the book. I told witty anecdotes. I gesticulated, because gesticulation always helps!

Then a button went flying off the sleeve of my Target dress, and I'm pretty sure that's when I lost any scrap of credibility I had left.

I finished the discussion and walked home defeated. Who was I kidding? I didn't "get" teenagers when I was one myself. I assigned them their essays, which I promised to read and critique, because at this point I just wanted these darn kids to learn something. A week later, a whopping six essays came in out of the dozen or so kids in the class. I read. I hacked and slashed with the little red "track changes" line. I told them what they'd done well and what they needed to work on. I edited my butt off, because that's what I do.

Yesterday, I received a single reply. "Thak you for all!" it said. Today, I'm clinging to that sentence - misspellings, bad grammar, and all - like a hard-won compliment from a high school crush. Maybe this student was just trying to kiss my ass, but the email reminded me of something.

I'm not trying to reach every teenager out there with my writing. I'm trying to reach anyone I can. And if I manage to succeed in that, maybe I do know my audience after all. Thak you, indeed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: After Shock

I forgot to post this on Friday, but here's my most recent Most Eligible Family post (in which the bloom is off the rose). Hope everyone had/is having a great weekend.