Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parents of Preemies Day

Proud Parent of a Preemie
May 4th is Parents of Preemies Day and in support of the day and the families and friends who have or know a preemie, I'm sharing my story today. Visit Parents of Preemies to learn more and see how you can participate!

My Preemie Story

I was clueless with my first pregnancy despite having read numerous pregnancy books. Living in France, a nation full of hypochondriacs, I didn't take my sage-femme (midwife) seriously when, at 6 months, she informed me my baby's head was down in the birthing position and that I needed to take it easy or risk a premature birth. I chalked it up to a nation of slackers who were looking for an excuse to take it easy. I couldn't have been more wrong (and judgmental, sheesh)!

At 35 weeks and 2 days, my water broke as I was getting ready for work. Well, actually, I wasn't 100% sure my water broke but my husband insisted we swing by the hospital to get it checked out. I ended up being admitted to Labor and Delivery and had my baby 18 long hours later. For someone that wanted to come early, my baby sure managed to take his time coming out.

Leonardo was born on 8/8/2012 at 7.5 lbs. Huge for a preemie!

Parents of Preemies Day: Our Story

He spent 11 days in the NICU, for the following reasons:
  • Respiratory issues, requiring a breathing tube for two days. Now, at 20 months old, he still has asthma but it's mild and manageable with just one treatment per day.
  • Jaundice, which is common among preemies and is easily treatable by donning a Batman eye mask and being exposed to a special light for two days.
  • Ironically, not gaining enough weight. He was so chubby he got tired quickly when eating and had to resort to a feeding tube to finish his meals. We couldn't leave the hospital until he could eat full meals for two days straight without the feeding tube.
  • To err on the side of caution, our hospital preferred to not let a baby out of the NICU until they reach what would have been 37 gestational weeks (to take them officially out of the premature zone).
While 11 days felt long to us, it was a great chance to ease into the whole parenting thing. We learned how to give him baths and change his diaper, skills I'd known from years of caregiving but felt scared to do for my own baby, particularly with lots of wires and tubes all over the place.

Looking back, those 11 days were nothing. We were very lucky, especially compared to some of the other families we met during Leo's hospital stay. But no matter what your situation, it's important to YOU and it feels like the biggest deal of your life.

Focus on the Lighter Side

My best remedy is comedy. If you can't see the lighter side, it quickly becomes too heavy. Here's an excerpt from my book, Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, where I talk about seeing my son for the first time in the NICU:

Thirty Quarter Pounders. 3,750 M&M's. $150 in quarters. What do these have in common (besides the fact that I want them all right now)?

They weigh 7.5 pounds, same as my six-week premature baby.

Preemies come in many sizes, but they're usually not that big. In fact, only 40% of all babies born weigh 7.5 lbs or more. So when we went to see Leonardo Quentin Lesage for the first time in the NICU, Mika and I were shocked.

Surrounded by miniature babies hooked up to respirators and feeding tubes, my ginormous baby looked out of place. Though he was still hooked up to respirators and feeding tubes. Since he was born early, his lungs needed just a little help getting enough oxygen. And since he was born huge, the poor guy wore himself out every time he ate, making it hard to get enough food to sustain his big body. The feeding tube ensured he got his fill in case he fell asleep during a meal.

"We call him The Boss," the nurse said, as she proceeded to explain the machines to us and demonstrate how we could safely hold our son with all those wires attached to him.

"You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to murder," I said to Mika in my best Marlon Brando.

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," Mika countered.

"I am the boss, the Godfather," I said before catching the nurse's eye.

"If you're done, you can hold him now," the nurse said. "And if he wakes up you can try to nurse him." She was nice about it but I could tell she thought we weren't taking the situation seriously.

If I took it seriously, I would probably burst into tears. True, my baby boy was big and relatively healthy, but he was hooked up to an insane number of machines, and I had trouble following her explanations (in French, of course) after 18 hours of labor the previous day and four hours of restless sleep. A few quotes from the Godfather were the only thing keeping me from a full-on breakdown.

Holding my sweet little baby was an amazing feeling. I ran my fingers through his full head of dark hair (still a bit greasy from the delivery, adding to his tough-guy Mafia look) and over his olive skin. Against my pale skin and blond hair, this baby totally didn't look like mine. He looked exactly like his handsome daddy.

Postive Encouragment

I'm currently pregnant with Baby #2, due any day now. At 25 gestational weeks, I went into preterm labor and was subsequently put on bed rest. Scared of repeating what happened with Leo, I took my sage-femme and doctor's advice very seriously and stayed glued to my couch for 11+ weeks. Now that we're past 37 weeks, I'm allowed to walk around, but I'm so out of shape from being immobile for so long! It's been tough but totally worth it. If our baby was born a preemie, we'd be equipped to deal with it. But I wanted to know I'd done everything I could to avoid it.

If you currently have a preemie or are in a situation where you suspect you might have one (preterm labor, multiples, high-risk pregnancy) I send you my most positive thoughts and best wishes! And maybe one of these quotes will help get you through the next few days, weeks, or months (feel free to share):

Preemie Positivity: Patience is how you act while you're waiting Preemie Positivity: Keep Calm and Stay on the Couch Preemie Positivity: It's a Count-Up not a Countdown!

Are you a parent of a preemie, or know someone who is? Share your story in the comments!

Vicki Lesage, Author

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

France Book Tours Giveaway Winners

Congrats to Constance M. for winning Confessions of a Paris Party Girl in France Book Tours' First Anniversary Giveaway and to Toni B. for winning a copy during our Twitter party. And thanks to everyone who entered - we had 1700+ entries!

France Book Tours: 12 Books to Giveaway

If you missed the giveaway (or, sniff, didn't win) here are all the books that were included, in case you'd like to pick up a copy of your own:

Historical Fiction

Spirit of Lost Angels
Spirit of Lost Angels
Wolfsangel
Wolfsangel
Becoming Josephine
Becoming Josephine
Unravelled
Unravelled
Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
The Ambitious
Madame Bonaparte

Mystery

The Paris Lawyer
The Paris Lawyer
The Mona Lisa Speaks
The Mona Lisa Speaks

Fiction

I see London, I see France
I See London
I See France
Paris, Rue des Martyrs
Paris, Rue
Des Martyrs

Romance

The Paris Game
The Paris Game
Moonlight & Love Songs
Moonlight & Love Songs
City of Jasmine
City of Jasmine
Promise of Provence
The Promise of Provence

Nonfiction - Memoir

Confessions of a Paris Party Girl
Confessions of a Paris Party Girl

Lastly, because I'm feeling generous, I'm giving away a free ecopy (mobi, epub, or pdf) of my book to the first person who comments on the post (besides you, Mom). Happy Tuesday!

Vicki Lesage, Author

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Living in Paris has its joys, but tiny, antiquated apartments are not one of them. At least not if you are a family of four! In this series, I'm sharing my tips on how to survive, room by room, if you live in a tiny apartment.

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Tips for a Tiny Apartment: The Kitchen

Prioritize Your Appliances


On the counter: Only items you use everyday or are a pain to take out/put away. Examples: the beloved coffee pot, toaster (who wants to wait for it to cool and then transfer crumbs all over the place each time?).

In easy-to-reach cabinets: Items you use occasionally - not often enough to justify the counter space but if you put it too far out of reach you'll never use it and might as well just get rid of it. Examples: mixer, crockpot, waffle-maker, pumpkin bread pans.

Hidden away: Items you can't bear to get rid of but you will use once or twice a year. Stash them in under-the-stove storage, upper cabinets, or another room so they don't clutter your kitchen. Examples: Deep-fryer (even though I want to use it every night, I shouldn't, plus that thing makes the world's biggest mess each time), turkey roasting pan.

Sell/Donate: If you haven't used it since "Lost" ended (sniff, I miss you, Desmond), sell it or donate it. You were totally going to be the bad-ass bread-maker on your block but it just... never happened. That's OK! But it's not OK to keep this crap around your kitchen.

In a tiny kitchen, streamline as much as possible - appliances, color scheme, counter space, etc.

Keep It Clean


A dirty kitchen looks 50% smaller. I majored in math in college so you can trust me on that stat. Here are the areas that will have the biggest impact:
  • Wipe the counters and stove every day, either with a wash cloth (that you wash frequently), disposable cleaning wipes, or some eco/green/wonderful product you found on another blog. I don't care, just wipe that stuff up! Also, anything in your kitchen that's white (cabinets, coffee pot, fridge) should be wiped down nearly every day. Down with smudgy fingerprints!
  • Replace hand towels as soon as they get dingy, dirty, or crispy.
  • Do your dishes right away. If you always do this, then it's never really that big of a job.

Trash vs. Recycle


We all know it's good to recycle but that doesn't mean everyone does it. Here's what I do:

    In a tiny kitchen, use a tiny trash can to save space!
    My trash can is a little shy -
    he didn't know he'd be on the blog
    (that's why he's hiding in the corner).
  • I have a super tiny trash can and empty it every other day. I reuse shopping bags for the liners (it's a game to see how long I can go before I have to buy trash bags - I'm going on 5+ years!) and only toss items that can't be recyled. This ensures that my trash can is never overflowing, which is unsightly and smelly (duh).
  • I recycle everything else and use a much larger bin which I hide under the sink. Since stuff you recyle isn't smelly, you can let this bad boy really fill up before having to empty it. This way, the trash can that's out in the open (which is convenient but ugly) never gets out of control, and your recycle is hidden. Plus you save the planet.
  • Be sure to check your area's recycling rules but in Paris it's insane what you can toss in the recycle bin. I mean, obviously your usual paper, bottles, and packaging. But you can even put hair dryers and metal scraps. And I can't tell you how many hair dryers and metal scraps I get rid of in a week (ok, zero, but it's still good to know I have the option).

Rein in Those Groceries


For my family of 3, which includes a 20-month-old human vacuum cleaner and a 6'4" husband, I'm surprised by how little we actually eat in a week. Don't load up your pantry and fridge with all sorts of crap that will go bad before you use it.

In a tiny kitchen, only store what you need for the week in your pantry, plus a few staples.

  • Keep a few staples on hand so you're not tempted to eat out: rice, pasta, eggs, etc.
  • Buy what you need for the week and then make sure you actually eat it that week. I like to organize my fridge where, from top to bottom, I have the stuff that needs to go next (top), needs to go sometime this week (middle shelves), to staples (bottom). Check your fridge out a few times throughout the week and rotate as necessary. Same with your pantry - don't let near-empty packages get pushed to the back to die a slow death (and take up unnecessary space).
  • Don't go overboard on sale items. Three boxes of rice for the price of one? OK, you'll find room in the pantry but you better plan on eating rice for the next few weeks. Meat on sale? Freeze it (cutting off nasty bits first and sealing individual portions in bags so they're at-the-ready).

Minimal Color Palette


Our landlord won't let us paint the walls so I'm breaking my own rule here but not by choice. Who knew that mustard tile matched banana walls? (It doesn't.) If I were to have full control, I would paint the walls white and then the tiles wouldn't be so offensive. Since I can't do that, I did the next best thing:
  • Bought all-white appliances to match (until my microwave caught on fire, then I could only find a gray microwave to replace it - thank you, Paris, for your wide selection).
  • White stove/oven, refrigerator, rug and towels.
  • White dish drainer and coffee pot. Wait a minute, those aren't white! I know. But these items are surprisingly expensive in Paris (like $150 for simple coffee pot and $25 for a dish drainer) so we're sticking with what we got for our wedding. Sue me.

I could go on, but I need to head over to Pinterest and dream about a bigger kitchen. Hope these tips help fellow tiny-apartment dwellers.

Check out the rest of the series:
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Kitchen
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Bathroom
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Bedroom
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Closet
Tiny Apartment Tips: The Living Room

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at Amazon.com.

Vicki Lesage, Author

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship With David Sedaris

I've been in love with David Sedaris' writing ever since Me Talk Pretty One Day. He's sarcastic and borders on bitter, except he's just so right about everything you have to agree with him. The fact that he's a fellow American living in France makes us comrades in arms, or whatever the saying is. Misery loves company?

My Love-Hate Relationship with David Sedaris

However, on the off-chance David Sedaris remembers meeting me, I'm pretty sure he hates me.

About five years ago, he did a reading at the American Library of Paris. Also about five years ago, I was still quite the party girl, as I hadn't yet met my younger-but-more-mature husband. I'd imbibed quite a bit of wine before the reading, just enough to put me in the "obnoxious girl in the audience who thinks she's really funny" category.

Mr. Sedaris finished the reading and told a story about how in order to keep the attention of the younger audiences at his readings, he offered free condoms. Then he asked if anyone had any questions. My hand shot up. He ignored me. People asked really boring questions and tested my patience.

"I just love you, Mr. Sedaris! One time you signed a book for me and drew a butterfly. It's so beautiful. Do you like butterflies?" a dowdy woman asked.

Can we say LAME? This chick was talking to one of the wittiest men alive and THAT was her question? I could have slapped her.

He answered politely, then asked if anyone else had any questions. A few people did. He answered everyone's questions but mine, until I was the only fool left with my hand up. Seeing he still had 5 minutes to fill, he reluctantly called on me.

"Yes, to the girl with the wine lips who is desperate to ask what she's sure is a great question."

Oh crap. Way to take the wind out of my sails. I went for it anyway. "When are you handing out the condoms?" I asked. Because I have the maturity of a teenage boy when I've had too much to drink (or... pretty much always).

"Honey, you are WAY too old to be considered part of my younger audience."

Oh, snap! No he di'int! Did the one, the great, the only David Sedaris call me OLD? I was 28 at the time. Way too old to be making an ass of myself at a public library but still. I suppose I got what I deserved but it's better than asking about butterflies.

Now, five years later, I got my revenge. His books and mine share the same category on Amazon - Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Essays. During a promotion I recently ran, my book shot up pretty high in the rankings - check out who was #4 (me!) and who was #9 (David Sedaris). BAM! Who's old NOW? (Answer: both of us. I mean, it HAS been five years.)

Vicki Lesage vs David Sedaris - book rankings in the Humor Essays category
Nanny, nanny, boo, boo, I sell more books than you do!

Of course, his book has already surpassed mine because he has an established reputation and my jump was temporary due to the promotion. But it still feels good.

Want to help me beat him again? Buy my book, or if you already have (thanks!) sign up to be notified about future releases!

Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at Amazon.com.

Vicki Lesage, Author

Monday, April 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Editing

*Clickety-clack-type-type* Done! Isn't it the greatest feeling when you've finished writing your book/blog post/autograph on a fan's t-shirt? All that hard work is behind you and now you can bask in the... Oh wait. Now you have to edit.

The editing process is different for everyone. It depends on your personal style, how thorough you were on your first draft, and how much persistence you have to read your work YET AGAIN. Ideally, for important pieces of work (i.e. an article or guest post), you'll have at least one other pair of eyeballs on it. For a published book, you'll want a few sets of eyes on it, preferably at least one professional.

Behind the Scenes: Book Editing

But before you get to that point, take it as far as you can yourself. That ensures that your work remains as close as possible to your tone and style, and, particularly in the cases where you're not paying someone else to review your work (unless hugs or beer count), you minimize the effort they have to put into it.

"Give me specifics, Vicki!" you're saying. OK, you've got it! Here's an inside look into my book editing process:

First Pass


I aim to write 3-5 pages per day, then re-read it every 20-30 pages. It's hard to switch back and forth between writing and editing so I don't like to do it too often, but I don't want to get too far away from what I've written before re-reading it.

On this pass, I do the following:

1. Fix any typos.

2. Fill in gaps and fix errors. For example, in one chapter of Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, I recount a doctor's appointment and by the end of the chapter, my husband is there with me, spouting out dialogue. But when I re-read it, I realized I hadn't specified that he'd gone to the appointment with me. Since my book is a memoir, he was right there in my memory so I didn't even notice that he wasn't there on the pages.

3. Check that I have the right level of description. In two of my books, I write about my life in Paris. Since I've been living here for 9 years, I can picture scenes and locations perfectly. But for my mainly American readers, they may not know what a Préfecture is or have a visual of a typical Parisian street. Sometimes just adding one sentence (e.g. "The wide tree-lined boulevard in front of my house was great for long walks, as long as you avoided the dog poop.") paints a picture of my neighborhood.

4. See if I can turn any narrative into dialogue. In my first draft, I just want to get my ideas out and since I'm writing about my own life, it ends up taking on a narrative tone. But converting some narrative to dialogue helps break up long sections and is easier for the reader to digest. It also allows my characters to be funny or slip in some description without my character going on and on herself.

Example:

First draft:
I ran into Chris and Dave, fellow expats, at the ball and we chatted over champagne. It was crazy just how small the world was!

Second draft:
"Hey there, stranger!"

I turned to see Chris and her husband, Dave. "Well, hello there! Fancy meeting you here," I said, kissing each of them on the cheek.

"We've actually run into a few other people as well. Reminds me just how small the English-speaking world in Paris is," Chris said.

"And how much we all like to drink!" Dave added. We all laughed.

"Well, we'll let you youngsters get on with it," Chris said. "Maybe we'll run into you later?"

The second version is more fun to read, provides a little characterization of Chris and Dave (they're married, they're older than me, they like to drink), and moves the scene along.

The easiest way to see if you need to convert narrative to dialogue is if you're talking about talking. Instead of "the doctor gave me the worst news possible" have the doctor actually SAY the bad news to you and show your reaction.

Second Pass


I run a search on a list of words that I know I overuse. It's tedious to search for each instance of each word, but it really pays off. Here are some of my common offenders:

just
"If he could just hurry up, we wouldn't be late."
"If he would hurry up, we wouldn't be late."

See? It reads just fine without "just."

think, feel
"I think it has to do with the French administration's desire to deforest the planet."
"Clearly, the French administration's sole goal is to deforest the planet."

It's your book! We know you think/feel it!

get, put, pull, take
"After the doors to the Préfecture open, you get in line and take your dossier out, naively thinking your turn is coming up soon."
"After the doors to the Préfecture open, you jump in line, whipping your dossier out of your bag with an enthusiasm that is totally uncalled for - your turn is hours from now."

Replace boring verbs with more descriptive ones that show movement or feelings.

try, start, decide
"I tried to decide which pastry to order, but there were too many choices."
"Ogling the display case in the boulangerie, I was unable to make a decision."

In the wise words of Yoda, "There is no try, only do."

very
"The immigration video was very boring and it was all I could do to stay awake."
"The immigration video was soul-crushingly dull, making it near impossible to stay awake."

As our beloved professor in "Dead Poets Society" taught us:

"So avoid using the word 'very' because it's lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don't use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won't do in your essays."

I won't bore you with all 40+ words on my checklist but you get the idea. In looking at my examples, you can see that by running my list I'm not just replacing "get" with "jump" - I'm forcing myself to look at the whole sentence in a new light and see which additional changes could spice it up. In many cases, my edits actually make my sentences longer and that's fine. Editing isn't just about cutting things out, it's about improving your content to convey your thoughts in the best way possible. That may mean shortening, lengthening, describing more, or adding some "punch."

Third Pass


I print it out (sorry, forests of the world) and redline anything that isn't perfect. Thanks to a tip from "Your Novel: Day by Day" by Mary Anna Evans I edit in the following order:

1. Sentence. I scrutinize each sentence and see if there's a better way to say what I'm trying to say and if there's anything I can remove.

2. Paragraph. How does each sentence fit in the paragraph? Does it flow? Should I break out the paragraph? Is one sentence really just a repetition of another? Cut it out! No need to show off your writing skills by saying the same thing two different ways - show off your editing skills by deleting one of them.

3. Section. Does the section start and end on the right tone? Does it convey everything it needs to and nothing more?

4. Chapter. How does the chapter flow? Is it clear why each section is included? Anything to add/cut/move?

Every word/sentence/paragraph/section/chapter needs to contribute to the overall story. Does it match the theme? Could it be said better? If you remove it, do you miss it? Readers don't always notice tight writing but they definitely notice when it's not done right.

Fourth Pass


This is the hardest for me because I've already read the dang thing so many times. The goal is to read beginning to end as quickly as possible and as an actual reader would. It's best if you have an ereader so you don't have to print it out again, and it's really hard to do this sitting in front of your computer.

As you're reading, you're looking for overall readability and continuity. Does one chapter stick out to you as boring? Unnecessary? Repetitive? Do you have a bunch of action-packed chapters in a row and then a few that aren't as exciting? Should you change the order? Make the dull ones more interesting? Spread out the content? Only you know the answer, but you won't even know the problem until you can look at the book as a whole.

Try to read your book in a 2-5 day timespan so that you really get the overall feel. If you're a slow reader like me, that will be hard. But you can do it!

Want more? Subscribe to receive an email when I post a new article, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author

Friday, April 18, 2014

France Book Tours: Book Giveaway Bonanza

France Book Tours is celebrating its first anniversary! To thank the reader, authors, and bloggers who contributed to a year of success, France Book Tours is offering a mega giveaway from April 18-25! There are plenty of prizes for everyone, so spread the word! Entry form is at the bottom of the post, but first check out all the books available to win!

France Book Tours: 12 Books to Giveaway

Here are all the books available to win (click on each cover to learn more):

Historical Fiction

Spirit of Lost Angels
Spirit of Lost Angels
print + ecopy
Wolfsangel
Wolfsangel
print + ecopy
Becoming Josephine
Becoming Josephine
print for US/Canada only

Unravelled
Unravelled
print
Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
print for US/Canada only

Mystery

The Paris Lawyer
The Paris Lawyer
print for US/Canada only + ecopy
The Mona Lisa Speaks
The Mona Lisa Speaks
print for US/Canada only + ecopy

Fiction

I see London, I see France
I See London I See France
print for US/Canada only
Paris, Rue des Martyrs
Paris, Rue Des Martyrs
ecopy

Romance

The Paris Game
The Paris Game
ebook
Moonlight & Love Songs
Moonlight & Love Songs
ebook

City of Jasmine
City of Jasmine
signed print copy for US/Canada only
Promise of Provence
The Promise of Provence
ecopy

Nonfiction - Memoir

Confessions of a Paris Party Girl
Confessions of a Paris Party Girl
ecopy

Please note each book's format and availability. Winners will be chosen on April 26th.


Bonus: 4 extra books will be offered during our Twitter Party!

April 23 at 5pm Central Time
#franceBT

Spread the word!


Enter the giveaway:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, and don't forget to tell your friends - there are plenty of prizes for everyone!

Vicki Lesage, Author