Sunday, February 22, 2009

Disneyland Dos and Don'ts

So I've been promising details on our Disneyland Trip O' Fun for the last couple of weeks, and since I am trying to turn over a new blogging leaf, I now present to you: 'The Dos and Don'ts of Disneyland" by the Despains.

1. DO invest in, or borrow, a portable DVD player if you decide to make the 10 hour drive. So, so, so worth it. It made this car trip a total breeze compared to the Jackson Hole Debacle of '07 (Remind me to tell you all about THAT trip sometime.)

2. DON'T go on Peter Pan as your very first ride with young children. And when you go on rides that are in the dark, DO make sure that your kids take off their sunglasses--especially if they are afraid of the dark. KidA was so freaked out by the Peter Pan ride, he refused to go an anything else for the next hour--even Dumbo.

3. DO consider the fact that Disney loves to scare kids. Almost every ride in the park has a "scary" part to it--usually involving a moment when the ride goes completely pitch black. If your kids are very afraid of the dark, DO buy them something that glows in the dark, or lights up, so they will still have fun. We bought the boys mini lightsaber keychains that also provided entertainment for all involved while we waited in line.

4. DO go early to the park, and if you have any opportunity to get Magic Morning or Morning Madness passes (these allow you into parts of Disneyland or Toon Town an hour early), DO get them. You'll go on more rides in the first two hours than the whole rest of day. We did the kids' favorite rides 4 to 5 times in a row each morning with absolutely no wait. (Note: we also went at the end of January, so this perfect off-season timing also contributed to how short the lines were.)

5. If you have a gluten allergy, DO visit City Hall in Mainstreet USA (it's right in the first part of the park) and get a list of all the gluten-free foods you can eat in the park. I was actually surprised by how easy it was to stick to my allergy-dictated diet while we were there. We ate breakfast each morning in our hotel, brought our owns snacks (and, yes, you can bring your own snacks into the park, contrary to any notice that says you can't--you just can't pack in a cooler), and ate lunch and dinner at places in the park that had gluten free options for me.

6. DON'T expect the quality of your food to be the same as the price. Before we went to Disneyland, we kept hearing about how bad the food was there. It really isn't all that bad (or all that great), as long as you don't expect the price to reflect the quality. If you expect an $8.00 burger to only taste like a $2.00 burger, you won't be all that disappointed.

7. If you are walking through Downtown Disney, searching for a certain restaurant, when you ask multiple people for directions, DON'T forget to ask HOW FAR away the restaurant is. We ended up walking around in circles for an hour (without strollers for the kids), and by the time we found the restaurant, it wasn't even open. We ended up doubling back and eating at The Storyteller's Cafe instead. By the time we got there, the backs of my knees had been rubbed raw by the hem of my shorts.

8. If you have food allergies and don't mind dropping $30.00 for an adult plate of food, visit The Sotryteller's Cafe at the Grand Disneyland Hotel. I told the server about my allergies and she brought the chef right out to my table. We discussed my needs, and he came up with a menu for me. It was a bit pricey, but after a long, long walk, and a couple of days of eating burgers and gluten-free cereal bars, it was worth the money to eat a well-cooked steak and gluten-free pasta with pomodoro sauce.

9. DON'T take young children to the Honey I Shrunk the Audience show. Trust me, just don't do it. We only lasted 5 minutes before we ran out of there with two screaming children.

10. DO go to the Aladdin show in California Adventure. We hit this one afternoon just when it was getting hot outside. It was so nice to SIT for an hour in AIR CONDITIONING, and watch a fun show that the kids totally loved.

11. DO take your young kids (especially boys) on the Buzz Lightyear ride, and the Gadget Coaster. KidA rode Buzz Lightyear at least 16 times over the three days, and we rode the Gadget Coaster at least 8 times. Another favorite ride was the Toy Story one in California Adventure. We didn't discover this one until the end of our last day, and we all wished that we could have gone on it over and over again.

12. When driving home from California to Utah, and you're passing through Saint George and your entire family is asleep and you don't want to wake them by stopping for gas, so you decide to push on through to Cedar City, (because, hey, like there won't be another gas station between those two points that you can stop at just in case)--DON'T do it. STOP FOR GAS IN SAINT GEORGE. You will be shocked by the lack of gas stations between there and Cedar City. (Side note: I was the one who was guilty of this bad decision, not hubby who would have been much more sensible.)

13. DO promise your kids that you will go back to Disneyland when you sell your next book. It's totally worth it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Confession is . . .I'm a blog slacker

Since acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovery, I am confessing this painful, and obvious, transgression . . .I have been slacking on my blog. So sorry. So sorry.

And now that I have acknowledged the problem and apologized, I believe the next step is restitution. (At least, I think it is. It's not like I've ever actually been through one of those ten step programs . . .Does anyone know if they have an "I Heart Taylor Kitsch Anonymous" around here? I think I may have a problem . . .Oh wait, did I just type that out-loud . . .crappity, crap, crap crap . . .)

ANYWAY, I am making a vow of restitution to my 1 follower, and the rest of the people who might read this: I hereby promise to blog at least once a week from now on. My goal is twice, but I'm not sure if I can promise that at this point. But I will try.

And this post doesn't count for this week, so tune in soon for another installment. . .

Friday, February 6, 2009

Best Writing Tip Ever

The vast majority of aspiring writers in the Children and Young Adult field are women. And no, I'm not just making a sexist assumption. I'm gleaning this statistic from many years of attending writing for young readers conferences where there are like 390 other women, and like 10 guys (at most). So it is only inevitable that one particular question crops up in every Q&A session with every published female author speaking at every conference: How do you find time to write with young kids in the house?

Some of those authors being questioned don't have kids, so they don't quite understand the question (but they usually try to sympathize). Some have a few suggestions, but the majority just shake their heads and say, "Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that out myself." (FYI, I once heard Stephenie Meyers give that same answer--but that was before her hubby quit his job to take on full-time daddy duties.)

But for those of my readers who are trying to figure out the great conundrum of how to write for kids while trying not to kill your own during the process, here are the top 7 tips for writing moms that I've heard from published authors over the years--and, of course, my own indispensable commentary on each:

7. Just set up camp in the middle of the living room and let your kids climb all over you.

Yeah, some days end up looking like this at my house . . .but lets face it, that only works for about 10 minutes until KidA attempts to body-slam my laptop.

6. Wake up early in the morning to write before the kids get up.

Dude, I already get up at 6:00 am to exercise with my sister five days a week. If I woke up any earlier than that, I wouldn't even know my own name, let alone my characters' motivations.

However, when faced with a deadline, I have been known to get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to get started on revisions--but this doesn't technically count as "waking up early" because more likely than not, I haven't actually gone to sleep yet because I've been thinking about my revisions all night long.

(WARNING: If you do decide to go with the get up early route, be very, very, quiet and turn on as few lights as possible. The worst thing that could happen is that you accidentally wake up your kids--who will promptly demand breakfast. So not only will your attempts at writing be fruitless, you will also have an extra couple of hours of "kid time" added to your already long day.)

5. Write in the evening after your kids go to bed.

I used to be extremely opposed to this idea because "alone time" with hubby is very precious to me. However, last year hubby and I purchased "his and hers" laptops so we can still snuggle up on the couch and spend time together while being productive. Hubby teaches online college courses, and I write or work on my blog etc.. However, if we work longer than an hour or two in the evening, our Tivo starts to get very impatient. Man, that little box can cuss.

Note: Again, when faced with a deadline, I have been known to stay up into the wee hours of the night, then go to bed, only to get up a couple of hours later to get back to work.

4. Hire a mother's helper.

Ah, the mother's helper is a beautiful thing. . .and an expensive one. But sometimes, it's just plain worth the expense. This last summer, my teen-aged niece, KidW, decided she wanted to buy her own miniature Australian Shepherd, and I decided that I wanted to finally finish my novel. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. KidW came over three hours a day for three days a week during the summer, and now I have a two book deal with a fabulous publisher . . .and KidW has a spunky little fur ball who piddles on her mother's carpet. Nice.

If you can't afford a mother's helper, then consider a playgroup exchange. Once a week, KidA goes to a playgroup for a couple of hours--and I only have to host all those toddlers once every six weeks. My sister and I often trade afternoons of babysitting. When my kids are at her house, I get peace and quiet to work (or a chance to run errands without going insane) and when her kids are here, I still get a lot of work done because someone else is entertaining my children. Plus, my kids get the opportunity to be best friends with their cousins. How cool is that?

3. Sit on the toilet and write a page while your kids are in the bath. Or take a notebook to the park while your kids run around the playground.

I got this tip from the wonderful Martine Leavitt (National Book Award nominee) who wrote her first book while trying to support herself and her little kids after her husband left them. She said that between her kids and going back to work full-time, all she could do was write a page a day while her kids played in the tub. It didn't seem like much at the time, but after a year she had a 365 page novel.

2. Get over the guilt.

I find that one of the biggest things holding back potential writing moms isn't actually lack of time, it's guilt.

Somewhere, somehow, our generation of stay-at-home-moms got it drilled into our heads that we must spend every waking moment entertaining our children. We think we must be constantly on the go with our kids, or constantly at their beck and call for every want and desire. Even thinking about doing something for ourselves makes our insides shudder with guilt.

And why does the guilt seem even stronger for writers? Is it because we believe that our writing isn't a worthwhile enough endeavor?

About a year and a half ago, I had a wonderful conversation with an author named Randall Wright that changed the way I feel about my writing time. He was frustrated by hearing so many of his students say that they felt too guilty to write, and he decided to pose this question to me:

"If you were spending your time sewing coats for children in need, would you still feel guilty letting your kids play on their own for a couple of hours a day?"

I thought about it for a moment and said, "No . . .I guess I wouldn't."

Randall sighed and said, "Then why do you feel guilty spending your time creating something warm and wonderful for a child to wrap herself up in, and will possibly change her life?" He paused for a moment while our little group of writer mommies let that thought sink in, then he said, "I give you full permission to let your kids entertain themselves for a couple of hours a day so you can write without any guilt."

So I'm passing that along to all of you. Get over the guilt. Give yourself 2 hours a day of "me time." Make a playroom for your kids so you can get a little space from them while you work. Write while your baby/toddler naps. Let the laundry sit for another couple of hours. Your older kid's brain isn't going to melt if you let him watch 1 movie a day. You can teach your 5-year-old to get his own snack.

I write while KidA naps and KidZ watches a movie. If either ends before my 2 hours are up, the kids know that they are to play on their own in the playroom for awhile. They know where to find me if some dire need arises, and I mostly work in the family room so I still have tabs on everything that is going on.

Now I KNOW what you're thinking: "That's all fine and dandy, Bree. But how am supposed to actually get my kids to leave me alone during those 2 hours?"

Ah, little grasshopper, that is where the #1 best writing tip ever comes into play . . .

1. Tell your kids that you will take them to Disneyland when you sell your book!!!!!

I learned this fine tip from the very cute Wendy Toliver (whose second book, Miss Match, comes out today!!!) at an SCBWI conference last year. And seriously, it changed my writing life. Instead of my kids whining and wailing about my writing time, they started saying stuff like, "Hey, Mom, you should go work on your book so we can go to Disneyland."

Freaking Awesome.

When I announced to KidZ that I'd sold my book, all he wanted to know was, "Did they give you enough money so we can go to Disneyland?"

He's been giddy ever since.

And if you've been wondering why the blog has been so quiet lately . . .well, it's because we've been in Disneyland.

More Disney-fun posts coming soon--even a few tips on how to eat gluten free while you're there.