Saturday, November 28

My deep dark fashion secret

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am going to reveal my deepest, darkest secret where fashion is concerned.

I loathe clothes shopping.

There, I said it. I know many women and girls love shopping for clothes. They love trying on a billion things and scouting for bargains. They love the rush of a great sale when the blouse they've been eyeing is suddenly half off. And I used to be one of them. Really, I did.

I'm not sure when this change happened. But now, I buy nearly all of my clothes online. I only shop in stores if I absolutely have to. Part of it, I think, is that I have a very unusually shaped figure. Nothing that's currently in style looks good on me, and I'm that weird not-quite-petite-not-quite-average height so nearly everything is either too short or needs to be hemmed. If I'm going to tack on $10-20 for each piece of clothing to be hemmed so I don't look like I'm wearing my husband's castoffs, I'd better like it. Which, sadly, is a rare occurrence.

There are pros and cons to ordering online. The pros are, most obviously, convenience. And with so many online retailers offering free shipping this fall, it's a no-brainer. Especially if you can return it to a local store's catalog dept instead of paying for return shipping.

The cons are many, however. Colors often don't look the same on screen/in catalog as they do in real life, sizes can vary widely, and sometimes things are tucked or twisted on the models so they don't actually look the way they do in real life.

Sometimes it's worth it, and sometimes it's not. I placed one order this year for tall boots, skirts and sweaters for book signings. Since most of my wardrobe consists of yoga pants and polar fleece, upgrading my wardrobe is a priority. This particular order was probably a dozen items, of which I hoped I might get lucky and find three that worked. Imagine my surprise when I kept every single one! It was like winning the shopping lottery, I tell you. I even did a little dance, I was so giddy.

And then there was another order I placed. I ordered the same pants in the same size in two colors. One fit perfectly around the waist but was an inch too long and the other gaped around the waist but was the perfect length. If I could've combined the best features of these supposedly identical pants, they would've been perfect. And they were almost 40% off! So... I ended up deciding to order those pants again, but order a couple of each figuring that surely I would find a keeper in each color that way. I also ordered them in a third color because they're perfect wardrobe builder trousers (and I often order basics that fit me in several colors because it's so hard to find good basics that work on me).

Anywho... 7 pairs later, I managed to find two pairs that were mildly close to fitting properly. Not even a great fit, just an okay fit. The other five varied in length and waist size regardless that they were the exact same pant, exact same size, just in different colors. Crazy.

So that's my deep dark fashion secret. Even though fashion plays a role in my books, I secretly detest having to do the shopping thing in a real store. What about you? Do you like clothes shopping or are you an online shopper extraordinaire?


Tuesday, November 24

The style gene passed me by!!

This week we're talking about fashion and style, and I'm going to off load and admit to everyone that I have no sense of style!!!

My mother, is obsessed with bags and shoes. My daughter.... obsessed with bags, shoes, clothes and makeup. To give you an example, she recently begged me to give her my brown boots (the only pair I possess), yet she has, to my knowledge 8 pairs of boots at least half of them varying shades of brown.

So, what happened to me???? I have a pair of shoes and wear them until they fall to pieces. Ditto with clothes. And as for make-up, I've been doing it in the same way since I was a teen (much to my daughter's annoyance). The thing is, I hate shopping and find buying new clothes a chore. I don't see the point in buying lots of different make-up when what I use suits me fine. And why would I want to put my feet through the torture of wearing heels, when flats are much more comfortable?

What about you? Are you a style icon.... or more like me?

Saturday, November 21

Foodie Fixation

I have a new guilty pleasure: foodie shows.

Actually, not that new; it started years ago with the original Japanese show Iron Chef. I couldn't resist the comic campiness of Chairman Kaga's dramatics (like when he'd whip back the cloth to reveal the show's theme ingredient... "Kyo no tema wa..." fish innards!)

Now there are so many addicting food shows. Some of my personal favorites-

Competition shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Ultimate Cake Off

Food appreciation shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (This is actually a family obsession. We will actually seek out the diners featured on this show when we are traveling - and have rarely been disappointed.)

Travel foodie shows like No Reservations and Man vs. Food

The MG series I'm working on right now features a bit of the latter - the mom is a foodie on a travel show. I'm not really sure if I became more interested in these shows because of her character or if I created her character because of my interest in these shows...

How about you? Do you watch any food shows? What are your favorites?

Thursday, November 19

Me and Amelia Bedelia

So does anyone remember Amelia Bedelia? She was the housekeeper who managed to do everything wrong apart from her saving grace: she kicked butt when it came to making lemon meringue pies (moral of the story is that if you can make pie, then you can get ahead in the world!).

Anyway, I was always jealous of Amelia - not because of all the screw ups that she did, but because she had her thing. That one thing she could do better than anyone else. So, for many long years I've searched for my cooking thing but so far my only achievement is to find a meal that I burn less regularly than other meals (and I don't want to name it since we're having it tonight and I think my family has already suffered enough without me jinxing myself!!).

But, despite all of my crimes against food, I finally found my own inner Amelia Bedelia. Yup, that's right, I've got my thing.

Chocolate coconut brownies.

And I mean, I don't like to boast but I'm almost at the stage where I could make those suckers blindfolded and they would still turn out (but I won't of course because like I said before, I think my family have suffered enough). However, I can't tell you the relief I feel at now having one thing I can make, secure in the knowledge that it will turn out just like it should.

So what about everyone else? What's your cooking thing (and more importantly could a novice like me make it!!!!!!)

Wednesday, November 18

American Pie

(blog title courtesy of Don McClean_

So this week’s topic is food—something I love, look forward to, but also have a pretty bizarre relationship with, in that I’ll try anything once:

Pigeon pie in Morroco? Check!

Fried crickets in Santa Monica? Sure, why not!?

Lamb’s brain in Greece? Bring it on!

While, grilled octopus is one of my very favorite things in the world!

But faced with the prospect of fast food of any kind, all you can eat buffets, and/or cafeteria food—and I’d rather deal with the hunger pangs until I can locate something, er, else.

And apparently my aversion is so bad that a few years ago, a good friend and former fellow flight attendant, told me that back when we first met she was sure I had an eating disorder due to the fact that I pretty much survived six weeks of airline training on nothing but frozen yogurt (it was the only thing in the entire Delta cafeteria that I could bring myself to eat), but then later, when we shared an apartment in NYC and she saw me in action at a restaurant, she quickly changed her mind.

So what about YOU?

What food will you avoid at all costs?

PS- SHADOWLAND was released yesterday, and it's WalMart's "Read of the Month!!"

Friday, November 13

Travel: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!

My dad's family from waaaay back when is from West Virginia. I try to get there at least once a year--Dad's buried there now--and it's always a place full of ghosts and stories and new adventures, which is kind of an awesome combo. Here are some pics from my latest WVA visit this fall.

Walking "the farm," my great-grandfather's former residence (this is me by the tool shed).

Kayaking and reading a little Cassie Clare!

Dinner at my cousin Molly Moss's farmhouse is eaten under a photo of Robert E. Lee... here's Dave in the dining room with General Lee looking on:

Also in Molly's farmhouse is an old photo of my grandmother Carol and her brother Clem. I'm obsessed with these antique family photos. LOVE them:

There's a lot of land along the Potomac where my great-grandfather's farm sits. The house is falling down, but it's full of old letters and notes and magic. Maybe even ghosts. I love going to see it:

My friend Pete Kephart lives right near the old farm and is an amazing artist. He experiments with lots of styles, the latest of which is Fire Painting. How cool is this?! Learn more here. (And come to his show in NYC if you're around in December).

These are all to say that sometimes the best travel consists of a trip where you go back home to places from your family's past. Anyone else have somewhere as special as WVA is to me? I hope you do!

Thursday, November 5

If I ran the high school English department...

Last week, I returned to my own high school for the first time since I graduated. I didn't have a particular fondness for the place. In fact that is putting it lightly. I hated high school so much, I graduated a semester early just to get out of there. (Before I went, I recounted my own most memorable high school moments on my blog, so if you want, you can check those out here.) It was weird to be there again after almost 13 years. I remember the stairways and where the exits were located more than anything, more than the classrooms. I guess it just illustrates how I felt about high school, always planning my escape. Other stuff looked vaguely familiar, like it could have been the same or could have been different. I'm pretty sure the English Department was in a new place, but I could be wrong.

I went there to meet with two English classes. One was a combination American Lit/pre-journalism class, and another was the creative writing class. If you were to predict which students were more interested in talking to me, which would you guess? Well, I would have guessed the latter. I didn't take creative writing in high school (scheduling conflict during my senior semester), but if I had and I'd had the chance to meet a real writer, one that had survived... err graduated from my high school, I would have been so thrilled. But as it turned out, most of the kids in that class took it because they thought it would be "easy," a blow-off elective (OMG, writing is so not easy!!!). The kids in the pre-journalism class were honors students. They were excited and wanted to know all about me (they asked some questions that were a wee bit too personal and I really hope don't end up in the school newspaper article they are writing). The time in that class just flew by. The other dragged, awkwardly because the few kids that were interested couldn't keep things afloat.

In between the two classes, I got to eat lunch in the staff cafeteria with the teacher. That was pretty exciting because it was one place in my school I'd never been. I'd never even thought about there being a staff cafeteria because I'd never thought about teachers doing human things like eating. The teacher asked me what I remembered about my high school English experience, what books I read, what I liked, what I didn't, who I had as teachers.

My two most memorable English classes were the one I loved most and the one I hated most. The one I hated most was English lit, junior year. I always looked forward to my English classes and I knew this one would have Shakespeare so I was extra excited. But I hated it. The way the teacher analyzed things, told us what was right and wrong drove me crazy. And it was in the Hemingway room. Hemingway graduated from my high school and as I understand it, hated it and my hometown as much I did. That is the only thing I ever liked about Hemingway. I hated his writing style, thought his subject matter was boring and borderline misogynist and to sit in a room dedicated to him. *shudder*

The class I loved most was an elective, Humanities. We got more of a say in what we read. Different kinds of books were assigned like Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, which my teacher allowed me to write an essay comparing themes in it to those in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. This meant I got to write about a book I was passionate about and I got state my thoughts about it as opposed to being told how to interpret things.

The teacher whoI visited agreed with me that it was important to let teens interpret what they read and not tell them what is right or wrong, just ask them to back up their interpretation with textual evidence. She also agreed with me that the old canon (ie. the dead white guys) that they still teach in high school is... old. She says many teachers will argue that they are classics and have withstood the test of time, but she thinks the kids lackluster response proves differently.

Now I was kind of a freak who loved the classics. I adore Shakespeare (except when jerky teachers don't let me try my hand at interpreting it). As a girl whose love life was subject of the rumormill at the time I read The Scarlet Letter, I related to it. It's one of my favorite books. Loved the Great Gatsby as well. I hated Farewell To Arms and still do. I had to read Tom Sawyer and Catcher in the Rye again post-high school to really get them. I'm glad I didn't read Grapes of Wrath in high school because I'm sure it would have been ruined for me. And I think the people who hated some of the other classics might have gotten more from them in college. But still, the most excited I was about English class was when I got to read a book of my own choosing, a book I loved. And if the point of English class is to get teens reading and encourage them to enjoy reading, wouldn't it be better to bring in books they are interested in?

It was a huge compliment when the teacher I met with told me, "You know, I would love to teach your book in my American Lit class." But she had her doubts she could get that past the powers that be. Instead she is trying to propose an elective class featuring Chicago authors with the hopes that some of us can visit and meet the kids. Definitely a cool idea, but it will attract those honors kids who are already interested in reading.

If I could lord over the high school English classes in America, I'd turn the curriculum on it's head and say for every classic we read, we find at least one contemporary to read too, preferably something with a comparable theme to help the teens find their way into the classic. Two of the books I'd love to see on curriculum alongside those classics are Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Books that deal with real issues faced by teens and will raise awareness and create a real dialogue in the classroom.

What about you? Do you like the classics? What contemporary books would you add to the high school curriculum if you could?

Be True To Your School

It's timely that the topic at TFC this week is Schools, given that yesterday I did a book-signing at my favorite school: The Unquowa School, where I was a student - once upon a very long time ago - for nearly six years. Unquowa was the first place that it occurred to me that if I wanted something, dreamed of achieving something, and I was willing to put the necessary work in, I could realize my goals.

When I first began at Unquowa, I was in fourth grade and it was the middle of fall term. Compared to the other students I was behind in math and science, and a few other things as well, like music. I couldn't quite figure out what to do with the recorder I was given in music class and when I was given an audio quiz where I was supposed to identify what I was hearing, I'm fairly certain I did preposterous things like mistaking the harp for the bassoon.

At the end of the term, the headmaster, who was a very old-school headmaster, arranged to speak with me in an empty classroom. There, he explained that the grades I had received were not exactly stellar. They weren't completely abysmal - there were no Fs involved - but C seemed to be the common theme and there was at least one D there. I was sure I was about to get kicked out of the school, having never felt good enough to be there in the first place, but that wasn't what he had in mind. Very kindly he explained that I shouldn't feel bad about those grades, since my previous school had not given me the proper tools, and then more kindly still he set out to explain how if in the next semester I did X and I did Y and I did Z, that no, I couldn't achieve an A average for this school year - although, who, he wondered aloud, could say what I might achieve in future years? - but that it was possible to lift it all up to a solid B average.

So that's what I proceeded to do. I did X and I did Y and I did Z, and at the end of the year I made the Honor Roll for the first time, receing a white card with green lettering that said Second Honors. As time wore on, I would achieve First Honors, and eventually the coveted gold cards that read Headmaster's List. Those gold cards became a regular thing in my life.

It's not that there wasn't hard work involved, but someone had taken the time to draw me a road map to success and I was smart enough to take that road.

Unquowa was critical in instilling in me the desire for intellectual achievement, but in every other aspect as well it also encouraged the confidence that if I wanted a thing and was willing to put the work in, almost anything was possible.

In seventh grade I tried out for the girls' basketball team. Four-foot-eleven and athletically challenged, my skills earned me a place as last person on the team. Having spent most of the year on the bench, I resolved to get better. I knew there was nothing I could do about my lack of height, but I could learn to run faster and I could learn to develop a killer outside shot, which I achieved by getting my one-foot-taller older brother to train me every day over the summer. By the time I was in ninth grade, my last year at Unquowa, I was co-captain of the team.

Academics, athletics - it's all good, but there's got to be a social aspect to school life as well. At Unquowa, I never lacked for feeling socially connected to other people. It was there I discovered that people could be complex, that the same person - me - could be an A student and an athlete and a social butterfly and fashion conscious; that in fact there was no need to ever be pigeonholed into those narrow boxes that some schools tend to force people into. That refusal to be pigeonholed as one thing or another has served me well in life.

Academics, athletics, social stuff - what have I left out? Politics! When I started at Unquowa it had a five-day-a-week dress code involving uniforms. The school had been in existence since 1917 and girls had never worn pants but when I was in seventh grade we finally organized ourselves and brought our case to the Board of Governors, resulting in a modified dress code that allowed us to dress far more liberally on everything but Fridays and assembly days. It was the same pattern all over again: wanting a thing, creating a road map, and going for it.

Finally, were it not for Unquowa, I don't know as that I'd be a writer today. It was there, when I was 12 years old and in the eighth grade, than an English teacher was so impressed with one of my stories that he made the class listen to it three days running. It was there that for the first time it occurred to me that maybe I had stories to tell that other people would want to hear.

So that's my story of Unquowa love. There would be other schools in my life following my graduation from Unquowa in the bicentennial year of 1976, but none would inspire so much school love or have such a profound impact, although each would form me in some way. But that was just fine. I'd already been given the map I needed.


Be well. Don't forget to write.

Sunday, November 1

What Can and Can't be Worn to School

If you know me, you know I get really into Halloween. So I couldn't very well post the day after my favorite holiday without sharing a few photos. This is my family, minus the youngest who went as Spider Man. (My husband has his camera and I'm afraid I haven't downloaded his photo yet.) So, now that I have this out of my system, I will discuss this week's topic: School.

It seems like what people can and can't wear to school is always making news. Just the other day, there was an article about a junior high girl who got her nose pierced to honor her Sikh background. Since this piercing didn't adhere to the school's body piercing rule (meaning it was somewhere besides her ears), she was suspended. As you can imagine, it caused quite an uproar. The school and girl eventually compromised and she stuck a clear plastic stud in her nose.

Here's another story for you. Now, keep in mind that this is from my babysitters who go to our local junior high, and I have no idea why they'd make this up, but keep in mind I haven' t heard this from the school itself, so I'm going to leave names out in case there was some misinterpretation. I do, however, think this is probably a rule at other schools so I feel justified in mentinioning it here. This particular junior high doesn't allow "cross dressing" for Halloween. So, a boy cannot dress like a female cheerleader or an old lady or Madonna. A girl cannot dress like Michael Jackson or Santa or Peter Pan. Anyway, you get the idea.

On the other hand, our local elementary school allowed its students to wear masks for the Halloween parade portion of the school day.

I left out my opinion on purpose because I'm curious what you think of these particular school-issued rules: body piercing, opposite sex costumes for Halloween, and masks for Halloween.