Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Are Here

Every year for the past forever, I've had a list of New Year's resolutions. It generally centered around self-improvement (be a better mom and wife, work out more, be more positive, etc.), but the main focus was always this: GET AN AGENT. Every time I failed to meet my goal, I repeated this mantra: "onward and upward." I developed a thing for arrows, because they symbolized forward momentum. I never let myself dwell too much on the here and now, because I believed something better was just around the corner.

So it's a little weird to be heading into 2015 with a nice big check mark next to my number one goal.

Of course, now I have a new goal: to sell my novel. But considering I haven't even started my revisions, it's a little premature to worry about that. And sure, I have something kind of big on the horizon (moving to Peru), but this year, I really, really want to focus on what I already have instead of worrying about what I don't. I would like to spend more time being grateful and less time trying to change things. I do not want to waste energy comparing myself to others. I want to keep this in mind:

I hope you guys will remind me of this every now and then (like when I go on submission to publishers in the next few months, or when I have to leave my very comfortable home and move with two kids to another continent). Thanks for being there for me this year and following along on this journey. I hope you all find yourselves exactly where you need to be in 2015. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: On Dream Agents

Since the craziness of Pitch Wars has died down, I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned that's worth sharing. I wanted to do a post about what to consider when you get an offer, but my Pitch Wars friend Rosalyn shared this amazing post which covers it better than I can.

One thing I've noticed that gets mentioned a lot in the Facebook Pitch Wars mentees group I'm a part of are "dream agents." If you're a writer, you've probably heard the term before. You probably even have one (or several). I know I did. There have been a few over the years: agents that I had decided would be the perfect person to not only represent my novel but also be a wonderful mentor, advocate, and (if I'm being honest) friend. Each of these dream agents was a female roughly my age who lived in or near New York, had a strong web-presence, and just seemed like someone I'd get along with in real life. I envisioned going up to NY for lunch together after she sold my novel. I was convinced (usually by something they said in an email to me - all of these dream agents had requested novels of mine over the years) that this person was the right fit for me. She just needed to come to her senses and realize it, already.

Then, one fateful day, one of these dream agents opened up her inbox for queries wherein a quick (and personalized) response was guaranteed. Several agents do this from time to time, even if they are usually a no-response-means-no kind of agent, or if they normally use a form rejection. This particular agent had requested two of my previous novels and both times invited me to send her my next project. So I did! I couldn't wait for that personalized request to come rolling my way.

Only it wasn't a request. It was a rejection. A pretty brutal one. A single line saying she despised one of the comps I'd used. No reference to my other novels. I'm pretty sure she stopped reading at that line (which was unfortunate because it was one of the first lines of my query). I'd gotten pretty used to rejection by that point, but this one stung. How could my dream agent fail to see that we were perfect for each other?

And that's when I realized, she wasn't my dream agent. Clearly we were not meant to be. I'd heard other wiser, more experienced writers say that there was no such thing as a dream agent. I'd heard many agents say that writers need to get over the idea. The best agent, these writers and agents said, was the agent who loved your book and wanted to work with you. And you wouldn't know who that agent was until they came along and offered to represent your novel.

And until that moment, I had believed all these wiser and more experienced people were wrong. It was actually kind of freeing to learn the truth. From then on, my search parameters changed to reputable agents who were looking for the kind of book I was writing. Period. I no longer had a specific agent in mind. That was the beauty of Pitch Wars - a bunch of agents I probably wouldn't have even considered (not because they weren't good agents - they were all fabulous! - but because they didn't necessarily fit my "dream agent" vision) saw my pitch and requested. This included male agents, agents who weren't in New York, agents who were older or younger, agents I didn't even know about, and big-shot agents I never thought would be interested in little old me. My very first offer came from an agent who didn't fit ANY of my previous dream agent criteria. Another offer came from someone who met ALL the criteria. Both agents were amazing. But the third agent ended up being the best fit.

So here's where I'd like to offer up some advice of my own: your dream agent isn't just the agent who loves your novel and wants to work with you (as anyone who has had multiple offers can tell you). The right agent is the one who loves your novel, wants to work with you, and is someone YOU click with. One person's dream agent (heck, even your own) might just not be right, for many different reasons. And that's okay.

Query widely, query smartly, be open-minded, and follow your heart. And you just might find an agent who is even better than you dreamed they'd be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mommy Mondays: What We Know

I've barely had time to blog lately, but I thought I'd share a little something from Jack. Apparently his class is learning about dinosaurs, and his teachers like to post a little "What We Know Already" sign when they start on a new subject. Jack's are usually weird. Real weird.

Just in case it's too small to read (and also because the typo in there is killing me): "A long time ago, a bunny was burned by a dragon. And then a dinosaur said, "Don't do that," so the dragon set all the dinosaurs on fire, and that's why they're extinct."

So, what do we know this week? That mommy has done a cracker-jack job of teaching Jack about the world of dinosaurs! This is why I will not be home schooling my children. (Although apparently I've done a great job on the dragon front. Go me!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Schooled

Jack got accepted into Kindergarten in Lima! You can read about it here. I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Made It (To Base Camp)!

I have thought about writing this blog post for the past...well, however long I've had this blog. Let's just call it "a long time." I have read countless other "I got an agent!" posts over the years, and they always left me with mixed emotions: happiness for my friends' success, hope that maybe one day I'd have a similar announcement, and - I'll be honest - envy. As encouraging as it was to know that this dream could some day be a reality, I couldn't help wondering when it was going to be my turn. How many years would I have to wait? How many books would I have to write? How many rejections would I have to get?

As it turns out:
10 years
8 novels
Countless rejections (countless because I refuse to go back and add them up - that's an exercise for another time. Or never.)

I can't tell you how many tears have been shed, how many times I told myself I couldn't go on. I started to wonder if it was EVER going to happen. (Although I guess deep down I always believed it would. Otherwise I wouldn't have continued to torture myself.)

So, how did I FINALLY get an agent?

Most of you know I participated in Pitch Wars this year, a writing contest hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake. As luck would have it, my entry was chosen by the Queen B herself,  Jessie Humphries, and by some miracle I still don't understand, twelve agents ended up requesting pages. Two additional agents asked for the manuscript behind the scenes. And less than a week after the contest, I got THE CALL.

This is what I was doing earlier in the day. It was probably the best day ever.
Photo by Sanderson Images

Yes, I got a call out of the blue. No email to warn me or anything. And it was the best phone call of my life. The agent who offered representation was so over-the-top enthusiastic and amazing, I couldn't believe he was talking about MY book! I may have cried. I may have screamed as soon as I got off the phone. I may have leapt into John's arms in a very dramatic fashion. I kind of always wondered if, after all the rejections that led me here, I'd still be excited if I ever did get the call.

Suffice it to say, I was.

After the first agent offered, I sent emails to all the other agents with my manuscript to let them know (I promise this is protocol - my mom and John were terrified the agent was going to rescind his offer if I kept him waiting). Over the course of the week, I ended up with a lot of kind rejections, and those still stung. But I also got another offer from another fabulous agent. Meanwhile, because she's awesome, Jessie referred me to an agent at her agency, Greenhouse Literary. John Cusick is one of those agents I never thought I'd even have a shot with. But as it turns out, John was a Russian lit major and he'd been looking for a Russia novel. To my surprise, he read mine in one day. I was so excited I may have forgotten to eat on several occasions (don't worry, I made up for lost calories in champagne and cake). When he offered, I knew I had a really difficult decision on my hand, but I also knew I couldn't really go wrong - all three agents were fantastic.

In the end, it came down to a few things. First, John is one of the top agents in my genre. He's also exceptionally nice and down to earth, and he has a stellar reputation. Everyone I spoke to about him loves him. He understood my novel and my characters, and he's fully supportive of the vision I have for my career. Greenhouse Literary is a leading children's agency, and both Jessie and a mentor from a past contest, Dannie Morin, are clients. I took that as a very, very good sign. Emailing the other two agents to let them know of my decision was awful. But I have no regrets whatsoever. I'm over-the-moon excited to start working with John.

So, why the title of this post? A few weeks ago, when I was whining to John (my husband, John, just to clarify) AGAIN about how all I wanted in life was to get an agent, he told me to remember that the main focus was to get my novel published. Well, yes, dear husband, that is true. But as he surely knows by now - and some of you may know to a lesser extent - it's virtually impossible to get published by a major publisher without a literary agent. And my goal has always been to go the traditional publishing route. I explained to John that he had basically just told me I should be focusing on Everest when all I wanted was to make it to freaking Base Camp.

Therefore (if you'll bare with this metaphor a little longer), if getting published is my Everest, then I have officially made it to Base Camp! There is no guarantee that my book will get published. Sadly, a lot of writers get literary agents and their novels never sell. But just as you are never going to climb Everest without first making it to Base Camp, I was never going to get my novel published without an agent. Yes, I still have a lot of work ahead of me. But I can also look back and see how far I've come. I get to rest here at camp for a little while (and by "rest" I mean revise) and then we'll make the push for the summit.

Okay, metaphor concluded.

I have a few more things I'd like to say, but this post is getting long and I may have lost you all at "Everest." So I'll save my tips and lessons learned for a future post, and simply finish by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has listened to me whine, read my novels, critiqued my writing, followed this blog, and generally supported me throughout this journey. I hope to make you all proud by selling this novel some day soon! In the meantime, feel free to eat a slice of cake in my honor. You've earned it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Liebster Award: 10 Questions Blog Hop

One of my Pitch Wars peeps nominated me for this blog hop, and it's a perfect distraction to get my mind off of some things right now! Thanks, Rosalyn!

1. What most inspired your current WIP?
Moving to Russia was the inspiration for my novel. I find Russian folklore fascinating!

2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?

I mostly need to have my children elsewhere to write. Other than that, I've gotten pretty good at getting into the zone when I have the opportunity.

3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?

I prefer a busy but not-too-noisy cafe and something yummy to eat and drink. It doesn't matter the time of day, as long as there are no children present!

4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them?

This is a tough one... Probably Stephen King, because he seems like such a nice guy and I'm in awe of his ability to write amazing book after amazing book. 

5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?

10, probably. The bad guy likes to tear people's souls out of their bodies, and that's definitely not a good thing.

6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place?

I had so much fun writing in Bath, England last year. I think I'd get lazy in a tropical place and distracted in a large city I've never been to before. Bath had the cutest little cafes and gardens and there's not THAT much to do. Plus, Jane Austen. 

7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?

My book was originally called something different, but my mentor from Pitch Wars insisted I come up with something better, and I'm so glad she did. I stewed on it for weeks, but when I finally put a couple of the words on my list together - WINTER (the novel takes place during the Russian winter and has a lot of references to the cold and ice) and SOUL (see #5) - and ran it by some of my reader and writer friends, everyone loved it and I knew I'd finally hit the nail on the head. Phew!

8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?

Ha! Anyone? Since this is my fantasy, let's go with Peter Jackson.

9. What advice would you give to another writer?

Never give up! It's all about persistence (and obviously a certain amount of talent, and luck!). 

10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be?

I would NEVER do something like that. But since you asked... Laini Tayor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so brilliant, I would kill to have her talent.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Eight-Legged Freaks

When Jack was little(r), I sometimes wondered if he'd ever have an imaginary friend. In these ponderings, I pictured a friendly monster, maybe, or a puppy. I never in a million years would have guessed that a family of tarantulas would be living in our house. And yet...

Meet the Tarantula family. From left to right, the daddy, Pinecone, baby Popcorn, and the grande dame herself, Butternut. This lovely trio has been an integral part of our life for months now. In fact, they're so important Jack decided to include them in his school portrait of our family. I'm particularly fond of the quote his teachers inserted in the caption: "I don't look like my parents. I look like my tarantulas."


It should be noted that I hate spiders. I hate all insects, but the more legs, the more I detest them (Google "house centipede" if you like a good scare). Jack seems to take particular joy in putting to paper the most hideous creations he can pluck from his overactive imagination.

The hair is a new touch. But the teeth are what really does it for me.

Naturally, the tarantulas live in a subterranean cavern below our house. Along with dragon-sized spiders, there are skeletons, bats, and worms. It's like someone came along, asked me what I would least like my child to talk about, and then planted a slimy little seed into his head. Where are the unicorns and kittens, I ask you? Why spiders?! My only hope is that when we relocate to Lima in six months, the Tarantulas choose to stay put. Especially because, according to Jack, Popcorn is about to get a little brother...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Pitch Wars Blog Hop: Why I Wrote My Pitch Wars Novel

Some of my fellow Pitch Wars mentees are participating in a blog hop about why we wrote our Pitch Wars novels. Here's my story!

As some of you may remember, I got the idea for Needle's Eye, which is now called WINTERSOUL, before we moved to Russia in 2012. I was freaking out about the move, a lot, and I decided that maybe I'd be a little less freaked out if I learned some cool things about Russian culture. Naturally I started looking into Russian folklore and fairytales, and when I came across the story of Kaschey the Deathless, I was fascinated. I'd never heard it before, but I thought Kaschey would make an excellent villain.

The protagonist, Akira, popped into my head out of nowhere. I'm still not sure why I decided she should be half Japanese-American and half Russian, or why she'd be into kenjutsu. Some characters just write themselves I guess. But I put the novel aside for quite a while after we moved to Russia, when I realized I didn't really know it well enough to do the setting justice. I didn't finish Wintersoul until March (Baby Will's impending arrival made for an excellent deadline), and I've been revising on and off since then. I guess the bottom line is, I wrote this novel to make the mental transition to living on the edge of Siberia a little easier. And it actually worked.

My dream now is to write a novel inspired by every country we live in. So I'm super excited to research Peruvian folklore and culture when we get there and come up with a really cool twist. I have learned my lesson, however: I won't be starting the next book until I've lived in Peru for a little while. At least incorporating Spanish into a novel will be a lot easier than Russian!

Head to some of my fellow Pitch Wars mentees' blogs to find out why they wrote their Pitch Wars novels:

Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Release Day for Jessie Humphries' Resisting Ruby Rose!

My awesome Pitch Wars mentor, Jessie Humphries, is releasing her second book in the Ruby Rose Series, Resisting Ruby Rose, today! For anyone interested in checking it out, here's the cover and description. Looks amazing, right? Congratulations, Jessie!

Still reeling from the heartbreaking events that unfolded on Grissom Island, Ruby Rose is trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s gone from a vigilante in killer shoes to a stone-cold killer. Everyone from her therapist to her smoking-hot boyfriend keeps trying to convince her that she hasn’t crossed over to the dark side, but Ruby isn’t so sure. It doesn’t help that her nemesis, Detective “Mastermind” Martinez, is still out there, waiting for another chance to take her down.
When an alleged CIA agent named Skryker shows up and asks for a meeting, Ruby figures it just means more questions about her case. But he has information of an entirely different nature and a job offer: join an elite force of young assassins, including Skryker’s right-hand guy, Quinn Donovan. Quinn is distractingly charming, handsome—and deadly. Ruby resists becoming a killer again, but as she becomes more ensnared in a web of deceit, no one around her is safe.

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!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: до свидания, Россия

Today on Most Eligible Family, I say an official farewell to Russia! My sights are now firmly set on Lima (assuming I survive until then). I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Things We All Need to Stop Teaching Our Kids

I realize the title of this post may sound quite serious, but I assure you this isn't a post about sharing or breastfeeding or moms wearing bathing suits in public. It's about the obnoxious things kids say and then pass on to another kid, all at the expense of my sanity. I've been pretty lucky on this front, I guess, since Jack's social interaction has been fairly limited. But last week after swim camp, he came back with a few, shall we say, bad habits, things I know he didn't pick up from me (I already blame myself for plenty of other annoying and inappropriate things Jack says). Here, in no particular order, are some of the phrases I wish we could all agree to banish from preschooler vocabulary forever:

1) It's not fair!

This one makes me absolutely insane. From the way Jack uses it, I can tell he has no clue what "fair" means. Like I offer to take him to the park if he cleans up his toys and he whines, "It's not fair!" You know what's not fair, kid? That there are hundreds of over-priced, brightly-colored plastic pieces strewn carelessly across the floor and I have to BRIBE you to clean up your mess. No middle class kid in America who isn't being abused in some way really has a right to claim that anything in their life is "unfair." Where does this one come from, anyway? Who started this? What makes a four-year-old think he has any right to claim injustice when he is being fed, clothed, and sheltered by loving parents? Every time I hear it an 80-year-old man's voice pipes up in my brain: "Shut your trap, whippersnapper. Life ain't fair."

2) I'm telling on you!

Jack picked this one up at camp from some little girl named Zoe. If I ever meet Zoe in a dark alley, she better run as fast as her pre-K legs can carry her. I can still hear the way kids in elementary school used to say this when I was little: "Ooooooh, I'm tellin' on yoooouuuuu!" Uuuuuggghhhhhh. Look, I get it - we all want our kids to tell a grown-up if something bad has happened. But can't we just teach children to say, "I think we could resolve this in a more productive manner if a grown-up were involved"? Or at the very least, just walk away and get a teacher without the whole I'm-telling-on-you thing? The 80-year-old man is back, and this time he's saying, "No one likes a tattletale!"

3) Anything related to butts.

We have managed to avoid potty humor in our house up until now, but someone at camp must have given Jack the impression that this kind of talk is funny, because now any time someone says "poop" or "butt," he laughs. A fake, obnoxious, little boy laugh that drives me crazy. It's times like these that I realize how unequipped I feel to raise boys. Give me a PMSing 13-year-old girl any day. At least I can relate to that! Potty humor? I don't get it. (But the 80-year-old man in my brain is giggling. Apparently he appreciates this kind of thing.)

Look, my kid is no angel, and I'm nowhere near a perfect parent. I'm sure Jack has taught other kids some annoying things, and I'm sure The LEGO Movie is responsible for half of those. But if you'll teach your kid to stop saying "I'm telling on you," I promise I'll do my best to abolish the words "hippy-dippy baloney" from Jack's lexicon.

After all, it's only fair.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: ¿Cómo Se Dice?

Today on Most Eligible Family, I send out a cry for help - I need to learn Spanish! I also forgot to mention last week's post about Peruvian food. Please stop by if you get a chance. Oh, and happy Friday! Only one week until John leaves Russia for good!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Life Lessons I Learned at Camp

When I was a kid, I went to several different camps, both of the "day camp" and "sleep away" variety. Maybe it's a testament to how pleasant my home life was, but while most of the other children seemed to take pleasure in field trips and camp food, the time spent outdoors and lack of adult supervision, I had a different take on the whole camp thing. In fact, I hated it.

I can remember three specific camps I attended: YMCA camp, which was probably a couple of weeks in the summer (similar to what Jack just spent the past two weeks doing); Foxfield riding camp, which was a two-week sleep away camp at the barn I rode at; and, worst of all, Sunny Skies, which we fondly referred to as Scummy Skies.

There's evil lurking behind those wonky eyes...

Perhaps I was foolish to think Jack's experience at swim camp would somehow be a positive one, but after the first three days, which all went, well, swimmingly, things got ugly. Every day he clung to me in tears, begging me not to leave him alone. Part of it was the fact that the five or six different camps the YMCA has all met in a gymnasium in the morning, where they sang the aforementioned "Boom Chicka Boom" and several other classics. Unfortunately, it was incredibly loud and echo-y in the gym, and Jack sometimes has an aversion to really loud noises. Then there was the fact that the counselors were never in the same place at the same time, so I couldn't find people he trusted to leave him with. He also hated certain aspects of the swimming (basically any aspect that didn't involve flopping around at will). His favorite part of the entire two-week experience seems to be a bus ride he took on the second day. (He just admitted this morning that he wasn't actually supposed to get on the bus. Whoops!)

While I greatly enjoyed my free time every day - I spent two or three hours in the mornings eating pastries, drinking coffee, and writing, then met up with friends for lunch or shopping in the afternoons - drop offs were so painful I wasn't entirely sure it was worth it. Now that camp is over I'm starting to rethink that, however...

Still, as much as he "hated" camp, he did make some friends and maybe learned a thing or two about swimming: his report card revealed significant improvement in bubble blowing, although his floating still needs a lot of work. (His teacher also wrote, "Sometimes Jack doesn't always want to get in or participate, but when he does he is very enthusiastic." Why do I get the feeling I'll be seeing more of those types of comments in the future?).

He went from a 1 to a 4 in bubble blowing. Never has a parent been more proud.

But perhaps these kinds of experiences are important, as negative as they may be. Looking back, I can think of quite a few things I learned at camp, and I thought I'd share them with all of you. Maybe they'll bring back fond (or not so fond) memories of your own...

Life Lessons I Learned at Camp:
1) Bees sting. No matter how many times you get stung by a bee (seven), it still hurts like hell.
2) Boys are never too young to want to see naked girls.
3) Water parks are a great place to pick up stomach viruses.
4) Chlorine turns blonde hair green.
5) Getting pooped on by a flock of birds is NOT lucky.
6) Rattlesnakes will make even the toughest of boys cry like a baby.
7) Sandwiches do not make good beach food.
8) Long bus rides are better with friends.
9) Sunscreen is not optional.
10) Camp is more about Mommy's sanity than it is about you having fun.

So, to the a-hole counselor who told me to "flick it off" when I had a bee on my pants (bee sting #3), the boys who watched us change through the holes in the wooden fence by the pool, and that poor girl with the white-blonde hair which turned a fascinating shade of chartreuse, thank you for helping to shape my childhood, for better or worse.

And Mom - I finally understand why you happily shipped us off to camp every summer. Some day I may even forgive you.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Call the Midwife

When you have a baby and your husband is out of the country, you find yourself with a lot of long, lonely evenings. We have about five cable stations, so I've been scouring Netflix for something to watch. I'd seen "Call the Midwife" come up as a suggestion, but to be honest, the picture and description sounded kind of boring.

From Netflix: "This period drama set in impoverished East London in the 1950s follows a newly qualified midwife and her colleagues at a nursing convent."

Nurses on bikes. Woo. Hoo.

But then my sister said I should give it a shot, so I did. And guess what? It's great! The first two seasons are available on Netflix, and I'm sad to say I'm quickly running out of episodes. The nurses are adorable (Chummy, a large, relatively unattractive nurse with a heart of gold is my personal favorite), the nuns are nothing like you'd expect, and there are adorable babies galore! Personally, I'm wondering where I can get a giant pram and if it's still legal to leave your baby hanging out in one all day...

(Please note: Anyone in an emotionally compromised state - particularly pregnant women - will probably sob at least once in every episode.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mommy Mondays: My Summer "Vacation"

Today was Jack's first day of swim camp. I signed him up back in January, when I knew John would be gone for seven weeks and I'd be alone with two small kids all day, every day, with no help. At the time, two weeks of full-time camp sounded absolutely brilliant. I'd be able to get in some one-on-one time with Will, and Jack would learn to swim. But as the first day approached, I started to get nervous. Jack's never done anything like this before. Eight hours is a long day, especially for a kid who's barely been to preschool. How would he do? And how, for that matter, would I do?

Dropping Jack off was surprisingly difficult. I cherish my time away from my kids, because it's rare and I need that "me time" to feel like myself. Since last October, I've spent almost every single day with Jack, and adding Will to the equation has made it significantly harder to get time alone. Any time I do get to myself is usually limited to two or three hours anyway, so it's not like I have that much opportunity to miss them. But today was different. First of all, I left Jack in a somewhat chaotic situation. There are multiple camps at YMCA and everyone gets dropped off together. Jack, being fairly brave, seemed unfazed. The first thing he said to the woman checking him in was, "Do you have a diving board here?" As if Jack knows the first thing about diving, let alone swimming. But then he was led off by a girl whose name I didn't catch, looking terribly small in his backpack, and I started to worry. What if he didn't like swimming? What if he got lost in the shuffle? What if he started flapping his arms and roaring like a dragon and people thought he wasn't quite right in the head? I called out goodbye, and he turned back for a moment, shouted, "See you later, Alligator," and before I could respond with, "After a while, Crocodile," he was gone.

I walked back to the car with Will and saw Jack being escorted through the parking lot to where all the campers were gathering, big and small. Jack stood on the outskirts of the circle while the counselors led the campers in a round of "Boom Chicka Boom" (on a side note, how is that still around? I used to do that at camp nearly three decades ago!). For a while Jack just watched, but I could tell from his body language that he was getting frustrated. He was leaning forward and waving his arms like a mad chicken, something he does when he's angry or excited. A counselor walked over to him, took him to another part of the circle, and walked away. I probably would have sat there all day watching him like a stalker if someone hadn't been waiting for my parking spot.

Look how small he is!

I almost cried as I drove away, but I managed to suck the tears back in and head off to the grocery store. The day loomed ahead of me, long and free. What would I do with eight whole hours to myself?

As it turns out, everything I normally do. I shopped, Skyped with John, worked out, had lunch, showered, did laundry, caught up on email, attempted to write, prepped for dinner, and in between all that took care of Will (I guess I'd forgotten that you aren't exactly "free" when you have an infant. Whoops.).

My new writing buddy.

At 5:00 I went back to get Jack. I was afraid he'd be bedraggled or upset, but he was surprisingly alert and happy. Apparently everything went fine (aside from the fact that a kid in a yellow shirt was mean to him, his lunch got mixed up with someone else's, and his flip-flops and sunscreen are missing. Oh, and he didn't pee for eight hours.).

I learned a few things today. First, that Jack is going to be just fine at camp for the next two weeks. Second, that I won't be nearly as productive without his company as I'd hoped. And third, that I'd better label every single thing I send him to camp with, down to his juice box (some other kid's High C ended up in Jack's lunch bag, although he assures me he got his Honest Kids lemonade).

As for Jack? Swimming went great and he learned the words to "Boom Chicka Boom." I think tomorrow's going to be even better.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mommy Mondays: The New Normal

I am a creature of habit. I like routines and schedules. I love lists and plans. I can roll with the punches pretty well when things go awry, but the idea of things going awry stresses me out. John likes to call me a catastrophizer. I believe I inherited this from my mother. Thanks, Mom.

After Baby Will was born, my routine was obviously thrown out the window along with the notion of sleep. Newborns don't have schedules, unfortunately, and when you add a move into the mix? Forget about it. But now that he's 8 weeks old, I figured it was time to get some kind of order into my life. John returned to Russia a little over a week ago, and while I may be ready to kill myself every evening around, say, 7:00 pm, I find it slightly easier to stay organized since I have one less person to take into account. One of my main goals was to start working out again. I even purchased a crappy but functional treadmill from Craigslist before John left.

And then life happened. On the day John was leaving I got my second nasty cold since Will was born (my immune system sucks these days). I also got mastitis. If you've had it before, you know how awful it is. The best way to treat it is to stay in bed and nurse frequently. This doesn't work so well when you have to drive your husband to the airport an hour away, you've got an appointment to buy a stroller off of someone, and you have no one to take care of your four-year-old. Enter antibiotics. I'm sure my immune system will be even more pathetic now.

So today I finally got on the treadmill. And you know what I discovered? I'm completely, woefully out of shape. Granted, I haven't worked out in nearly a year, but my days of running twenty miles a week seem far out of reach. After Jack was born I signed up for a marathon. I knew that was unrealistic this time, so I signed up for a fun ten-miler instead. But with just over three months to train for it and no help with the two kids, I'm actually a little worried. I keep waiting for things to return to normal - my writing, my blogging, my exercising, my sleep, my poor stretched-out abdominals - and I'm realizing that "normal" no longer exists. My life will never be what it was before, at least not until the kids are in school full time. And by then I'm afraid it will be far too late for my abs.

This week I've decided to come up with a new definition of normal. My plans and goals have to shift with my priorities. No more working out six days a week. I'll take three. No more blogging four days a week. I'll settle for once. I knew I wouldn't have time to write after the baby was born, but I think it's reasonable to send out a few queries every week for the book I finished right before he was born. I'll take short cuts wherever I can get them (I'm buying a dust pan specifically for the clean up of Legos, for example). And I'll try to remind myself every day that the only person who cares if I wear makeup or make my me.