Monday, July 29, 2013

Mommy Mondays: No Money, No Ticket

For a little while there (like four months, maybe), I thought Three was actually going to be easier than Two. Jack seemed to be capable of reason, and that felt like one step closer to rational. Clearly, I was just one step closer to stupid.

I'm not going to go into where we're at with potty training. After one momentary success (and oh how I gloried in that success - the blog post was already writing itself in my mind's laptop), it's been a downhill slide toward failure, and I now find myself in a frazzled, exhausted heap at the bottom. So yeah, we're not gonna go there right now, mmmkay?

But in between the constant battles surrounding the porcelain throne, there have been all kinds of other battles with Jack. This kid should be a lawyer. Not when he grows up. Like, now. He can argue anything. Who needs reason or rationalization when you can simply stick the words "I think" or "maybe" in front of whatever you feel like saying? Here are some examples (I know you guys love the examples):

Me: "Jack, it's time for bed."
Jack: "I think it's not time for bed."

Me: "Jack, we need to wash our hands."
Jack: "Maybe we are not need to wash our hands."

And he says these things with this hideously obnoxious rising inflection in the middle - "Maybe I DON'T want to poop on the potty." "I think we are NOT having peas for dinner." You get the idea.

He whines. Constantly. He refuses to do things just for the sake of being contrary. When we tried to cut his hair yesterday, he threw a fit so epic all three of us were having a tantrum by the end. As John said, Jack couldn't have screamed louder or longer if we were cutting off a limb. Come to think of it, cutting off my OWN arm and beating myself with it would have been a more pleasant way to spend a Sunday.

Despite the fact that Jack seems to hate us most of the time, his whole tune changes when the poor nanny shows up in the morning. Suddenly all he wants to do is spend every waking hour with Mommy. I was trying to take a shower before work today when Jack marched into the bathroom, insisting that maybe he doesn't like Katya. I told him that wasn't nice and he needed to go out and say hello. You know what I got for my troubles?

"No money, no ticket!" And a door slammed in my face.

What the what?! Who is this demon, and what has he done with my baby?

Don't let that innocent face fool you. The devil horns only come out when you let your guard down.

Right now, Jack is clinging to my arm like a baby koala, all soft and squidgy and adorable. But I'm not letting it get to me. There's a lemon cake baking in the oven, and this child wants a slice. Can Jack reason? Absolutely. This three year old knows exactly what he's doing.

And that, my friends, is the scariest part of all.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Life at a Small Post

Today on Most Eligible Family I blog a little about what it's like to be at a small Foreign Service post versus a great big one. Now I'm off to get my second tick-borne encephalitis vaccine. I know, I know, my life is AWESOME. Happy Friday all!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: White Horse by Alex Adams

I've been reading a lot lately. Too much, some might say. I don't have a library or a bookstore at my disposal, and it takes several weeks to get stuff from Amazon. So I buy books on my Kindle. Frequently. I tell myself I'm supporting my fellow writers (and I am). But until I start making money off my own writing, it's really just a luxury. One I am extremely grateful for.

A week or so ago my mom recommended a book called White Horse. At first I thought it was about horses. We are a horse family, so this would make sense. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a post-apocalyptic suspense novel, sort of The Road for women, but more commercial than literary. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since my mom is a huge Stephen King fan and no stranger to post-apocalpytic fiction, but she also reads a lot of obscure women's fiction that the members of her book club must work hard to scrounge up, so I wasn't expecting this. (I thought the different covers were interesting - here are three of them.)

I only wish she had suggested it to me BEFORE I went on vacation, because White Horse is a perfect vacation novel, the kind of book you always wish you had on a ten-hour flight. Not the kind of book you want to read before bed at night, because it's nearly impossible to put down. So consider yourself warned. Unless you like being banished from the bedroom by your husband, who can't handle the glow of the Kindle at 1 a.m. Hmph.

Here's the synopsis from Amazon:

The world has ended, but her journey has just begun.

Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the president of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species. When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption. Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are defined not by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices.
White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places.

I have been living in Siberia, but it doesn't seem like this book has gotten a lot of buzz. It only has 68 reviews on Amazon. But the critics had good things to say about it (just in case you won't take my word for it).

“Adams’ fantasy is brilliant!  It’s McCarthy’s The Road on hope steroids.  Adams’ narrative is the prose of the world’s destruction, beautiful yet horrible.  Her amazing characters are full of both hope and hopelessness in the face of death—and worse.  This is what apocalyptic fiction will aspire to be from now on.”
(RT Book Reviews)

“Adams has an excellent sense of timing, delivering gasp-inducing moments that punctuate her nightmare with verve. But it’s Zoe’s clear-eyed sense of self-preservation that will keep readers waiting for Adams’ follow-up.”
(Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Written with such skill and confidence that it sits easily in the pantheon of post-apocalyptic thrillers alongside the likes of Justin Cronin and Stephen King. . .The first installment in a bold new trilogy, White Horse is the perfect start to a series that promises to both terrify and thrill.”

“Kept me up way too late at night, avidly racing to the thrilling end.”
(Kaye George, Suspense Magazine)

“Alex Adams' debut, White Horse, is the first in a brilliant trilogy which will no doubt be ranked among the great fantasy novels.”
(The Huffington Post Blog)

I agree with some reviewers that Adams over-writes at times, and some of her one-liners were a little too snappy and obvious. Regardless, I couldn't stop reading this novel. And as an aspiring author, I know that's what it takes to sell a book, even if the prose isn't perfect.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mommy Mondays: The Best Laid Plans

A couple of weeks ago I got a great opportunity to actually organize an activity for the members of the Consulate, something I should theoretically do all the time, but given our resources, can't. Bill, an American managing a local golf course, wanted to invite us all out for a free golf clinic. I hate golf. I hate all sports that involve hand-eye coordination and are therefore out to publicly humiliate me. In all honesty, I'd never even played golf, but if miniature golf was any indication, it wasn't gonna be pretty. But here was a chance to plan something, and by golly, I was going to make it happen no matter the cost to my own pride.

The weather forecast for Saturday was sunny with a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon. We were supposed to golf from 11-12 and eat lunch afterward, so the 75 degree forecast for the first half of the day was a good omen. And yet somehow, at 9 am, it started pouring rain. Like cats and dogs pouring. It hardly ever rains that hard here, and certainly not at 9 am, but there it was. Pouring rain. "It will pass," I told myself, and dressed Jack in his golfing finest (chinos, a polo shirt, and a little train sweater vest I got him in London). I threw something together for myself, my only regret so far that day that I hadn't purchased Jack a little golf cap with an oversized pom-pom.

But as the rain continued to fall, I started to have serious doubts about our outing. We couldn't very well golf in the pouring rain. Then again, what were the odds I would get every Consulate employee to agree to this kind of thing on another weekend in the next month? Not good, considering how often we all take leave, so we plowed on, with Jack's new fave, "Hogway to Hell," on repeat while I tried not to worry myself into a migraine.

When we arrived at the "gate" of the golf course after a drive akin to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (which is standard when driving with John in Russia, only this one had the added fun of a torrential downpour), a man in a suit standing in front of a portable building that looked like a dumpster told us we weren't on the list, and this Bill person we were talking about didn't exist. Twenty minutes later we established with this guard (who didn't give a rat's ass about our diplomatic license plates) that "Bill" was actually "Beeeel." And we were let into the golf course.

At this point two good things happened, pretty much the only good things that happened the entire day: it stopped raining, and we got to ride in a golf cart. For about three minutes, Jack was happy. And then, the moment Jack was told he could not run onto the driving range and knock down all the neat little golf ball pyramids, he decided he hated golf. Not only did he hate golf, but no one else was allowed to like it either. For the next hour or so, John did his best to get some golf practice in while I tried to keep Jack from a) screaming b) getting knocked out by a golf club c) running away. On the plus side, John's swing did improve. My sanity, however, did not (and I think we all know it was touch and go to begin with).

Afterward we sat down for lunch, which would have been lovely had it not taken literally an hour to get our food (Jack's french fries came after 45 minutes, so that was something). By now I was a frazzled, frizzy, embarrassed mess, not so much because of my coworkers - who have now spent enough time with Jack to know what an obstinate little turd a challenge he can be - but because of "Beeeel," who was being so generous with his time when I couldn't even speak for three seconds without Jack's screams interrupting the conversation ("People don't like golf! I want to be afraid!").

At the end of the day, it appears people had a good time ("people" meaning everyone but my family). We have been invited back, which has to be a positive sign, and I haven't been asked to step down from my job. I know I can't control the weather, and that it isn't up to me to ensure everyone has a good time even if I plan the outing. But I would at least like to maintain some semblance of control over my own child. To not receive dirty looks from the Russian couple that just stepped of a Ralph Lauren Polo ad. To for once feel like the person I used to be before I had a kid: neurotic as hell, but really good at hiding it in public.

For now, I'll probably continue to make plans that are destined to go awry. After all, changing my ways would be the sane thing to do, and really, who has the time? Especially when there's another trip to the golf course to plan...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Almost Famous (But Not Really)

Today I blog about that time I agreed to be on the news, for reasons I still haven't quite figured out. You can read the post here and see a fab picture of Michael Jackson and me. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: Thoughts on My Revision Retreat

Hello all! I'm back from my lovely week away in England. What was intended to be a writing retreat ended up being a revision retreat, since I finished the rough draft before I left (What can I say? I love me a good deadline.), but overall it was an excellent experience.

Of course, it wasn't REALLY a retreat. I didn't shut myself away in a room and work for a week straight. But I did get several really good chunks of uninterrupted revision time in. I almost wish I hadn't been finished with the rough draft, because I'm not nearly as productive as a reviser as I am a writer, and with revisions, it's pretty hard to quantify success. But having the time to really get myself into the right mindset every day was wonderful. Normally I'm just starting to get into the groove when something comes up (generally a wily three year old who would much rather Mommy play with his stuffed octopuses than write). I found the perfect little cafe in Bath and even wound up sitting next to another writer - only he is lucky enough to get to go there every day and work for a few hours. Imagine that.

I had a really great time with my friend Kim, who was there for her own job. I found this was the perfect mix for me, since I got to work during the day and socialize in the evenings. I took the weekend off to meander around London with Kim, and it was really nice to see the city through older and wiser eyes (I hadn't been back since I went to grad school there in 2001). The highlight was probably high tea in the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, although the fish and chips I ate were pretty darn tasty, and Kim and I took some really nice walks in the botanical gardens in Bath. We also saw Billy Elliot, which was a lot of fun.

As far as revisions went, they were somewhat different from my usual process. See, I've never written a novel that takes place in a fantasy world before, and I ended up having to create my own map to make sure my directions were consistent (they weren't, at all). Since I personally have no sense of direction, this was incredibly challenging, but I think I managed it in the end (by literally drawing a map on a piece of paper). I also had notes from my first two CPs, and that really helped a lot. Without them, I think I would have floundered the entire time. The good news is that my CPs didn't have a ton of changes for me to make and both really liked the novel, so I sent the book off to three more beta readers the other day, and now I'll be waiting on pins and needles for their feedback before tucking into another round of revisions. Sadly, this time I won't have the benefit of a cute cafe with a delightful Englishman to pour me a perfect latte, let alone all that uninterrupted writing time.

On the bright side, the wily three year old and his octopuses were very happy to have me back.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: The End of the Beginning

Drafting is my favorite part of writing, hands down. I love feeling compelled by the story, the hope that a first draft brings ("This will be the one!"), finding out about your characters as you go, and watching your outline fall beautifully into place (or not! That can be fun too). I just wrote "The End" for the seventh time and I have to say, I'm kind of sad that the rough draft is finished. Because now, for me, comes the hard part.

First there's the waiting to hear back from your critique partners, wondering if they're going to love it or hate it or at the very least have some helpful feedback. Then there's the revising, which I've gotten better at thanks to NaNoReviMo, but I still don't love. It's difficult for me to change a story once I've imagined it a certain way. Of course, it's also the thing I need the most help with, which is where those betas and CPs come in. Which requires more waiting as you revise and send, revise and send, hopefully improving with each round.

And then, of course, comes the really hard part. The querying. I've been at this long enough not to get my hopes up with every request or let my day be ruined by every rejection, but it's still a nail-biting, hair-pulling process. Everyone always says to distract yourself with another project while you query, but querying can be a full-time job sometimes. Especially if you get any revise and resubmits while you're at it. And I find it mentally difficult to move on when I'm in the thick of it. This year, however, I already have another project waiting in the wings that I'm hoping will keep me distracted. I also want to revise my last novel that I never really queried. So we'll see.

Either way, I'm gonna miss the writing. It is, after all, why we do this.