Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Packing tips

A request from a friend: How to pack efficiently for a long trip/ lots of different occasions?

I have a few tricks:

1) Only pack multi-purpose items. Shoes are my hardest thing: What woman can pack just two pairs of shoes for three weddings, five countries, sight-seeing, beaches, and hiking? Not me. But I can do it with four pairs: One pair of silver wedges to go with everything very dressy (weddings), one pair of athletic sandals for sight-seeing, one pair of sneakers for hiking and biking and those days when I just need support, and one pair of silver flip-flops for the beach or casual days/nights. Despite my large feet, all these shoes pack almost-flat. I could have done without the flip-flops, but they take up such little room, I put them in.

Then I make sure all my clothes can mix and match together. Some special pieces, like a bridesmaid dress, won't be remixed, but I can wear it at different events since the weddings are with mostly different people; I can wear it for a semi-formal party, for example.

2). Yes, roll. I do roll things up in my suitcase. It makes them smaller, less wrinkle-prone, and easier to squeeze in so I can see my options without unpacking the whole darn suitcase. (Although the shoes are in a layer underneath against the ribs of the suitcase, so I do need to poke around a bit.)

See that? Formal dresses roll, too!

3). Only pack pieces that are easy to wash. Everything that goes in the suitcase (except the bridesmaid dress) can be washed at a laundromat, and most of it in the sink. Maybe TMI, but I have a few pairs of amazing underwear from Ex Officio means that I only have to pack 1 pair for every 2 or 3 days I am away. (They wash out in the sink with travel packs of detergent or soap or shampoo, if you're desperate, and they air dry within an hour in most climates.)

4). Choose outerwear that can be dressed up or down. I have an amazing little travel raincoat with trenchcoat styling that packs up tiny, but I can't find a comparable one anywhere online. However, something like this Missoula Jacket from Athleta.com or this packable raincoat from TravelSmith would fit the bill.

5). Bring a tiny travel umbrella. Just in case! It fits in a small space but will keep you dry. It also doubles as a sunshade.

6). Carry one purse that will work for everything. I have a chicobag that fits in my daily purse so I can have bonus carrying capacity if I need it (book for the beach, picnic goodies, etc), but I found a fun yet utilitarian purse that I won't feel ridiculous taking to a club, a wedding, or a museum. It fits my sunglasses, my hat, my wallet, my phone, my camera, sunscreen, and a notebook or small guidebook. (For the more formal weddings, I probably will just have my suit-wearing husband carry my necessities.) My one-and-only purse had to be cross-body, with a zip top, an interior zip pocket for my wallet, and enought organizing pockets inside. Maybe my fashion sense is just wacky enough, but just bringing one purse sure simplifies!

7). Find a suitcase that works for you. I love my Samsonite carryon that I got years ago. One side has mesh zip closure where you're supposed to put the garment bag, but I love lining up my fancier things in there in rolled layers instead and zipping it up until I need them.

For a four-week trip, I packed: 3 casual cotton sundresses, 4 tops (short sleeve or sleeveless), 1 lightweight tunic/ coverup, 1 maxidress, 3 tank tops, 4 pairs of shoes, 3 formal dresses (for 3 weddings, 3 rehearsal dinners, and a wedding party), two flowy scarves that can be used as wraps or sarongs as well as a pop of color to tie an outfit together, 3 bras, 5 pairs of underwear, 1 nightshirt (which can work as a dress or beach coverup in a pinch), 1 pair of workout shorts, 4 pairs of compression socks (medical necessity), 1 cardigan, 1 teeny tiny rain trench, 1 pair of washable linen pants, 1 khaki short skirt, and 1 rollable big sunhat.

But don't ask me how many books we packed... I may be efficient with clothing, but I do always have several books as well as an ereader!

What are your tips for packing?

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'm in the Seattle Times!

Thanks, Twirl Cafe, for inviting the photographer from the Seattle Times during Storytime with Queen Anne Books. I read/sang "If You're Happy and You Know It" published by Barefoot Books, so I took off my shoes to really get in the mood. The great crowd of people little and big helped out by singing along and doing all the moves with me. My favorite was "tap your nose" (which turned into fleeting, sanctioned nose-picks for some-- my kind of kids).

Here's the link to the picture, since I'm posting from a device that won't let me capture photos--


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Putting Makeup on Dead People"

That title got your attention, right? Mine, too, but maybe not for the same reasons (unless you are my sister!) You see, our maternal grandfather owned and ran a funeral home, and our uncle now owns and runs it, so a book about a teenager who wants to be a mortician is right up my alley.

True tale:
Before my grandparents went out for a big night on the town while my mom was growing up, my grandmother would lie down on the kitchen table so my grandfather could apply her party makeup. He couldn't do it unless she was very still and prone (a.k.a. pretending to be dead). So I knew I had to read Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi from the title alone.

Here's why YOU have to read this book, too (whether your my sister or anyone else):

This is a hilarious, beautiful, meaningful coming of age story. The main character, Donna, lost her father several years ago. Her brother has been away at college, her mother doesn't understand her, and she feels invisible at school. During her senior year, she realizes that the only place she really feels comfortable, the only place she really connects with people, is at the local funeral home. So she approaches the owners and asks what it takes to be a mortician.

One of the brothers who runs the funeral home explains that the main qualification for the job is "loving the whole person." This really resonated with me. It's a perfect lesson for a teenage girl who is trying to learn to love herself, but it's also such a comforting thought to anyone who is grieving. You can interpret the whole person as the good and the bad, the living and the dead. It reminds me of a meaningful zen story Richard Farr told me about Buddhist appreciation: that when we love someone, we love them partly for their beautiful fragility, that when we love someone completely, we love who they are, who they were, and who they will (or will not) be, like appreciating the teacup as something crafted by someone, as a lovely object to hold, and as something which will break some day and no longer exist except in our memories. (Apologies to everyone for my mangling in the retelling.)

That went on a long tangent, but suffice to say that this book has it all: Donna's hilarious and honest voice, tender flashbacks, wacky relatives, pagan rituals, great friendships, and even sexy romances! It's a teen read, but I think it would also make a good summer read for adults.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer reading recommendations for middle schoolers

This week I had the great pleasure of speaking about some of my favorite books to try to help the middle school students at St. Anne School get even more excited about summer vacation. I know some of the students there-- and I know they are voracious readers. (Shout out to Max M. and Sam M., if you ever find this blog!) The challenge for me was to find a mix of books that would be pure pleasure, appropriate for really smart middle schoolers, sophisticated enough for the students but not horrifying to the parents.

To start off, I asked how many had read The Hunger Games. As I suspected, the majority raised their hands. So my first grouping of books was for readers who loved that series. They're dystopian books with plenty of action but also heart-pounding relationships.

Enclave by Anne Aguirre
Divergent by Veronica Roth
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Dark Life by Kat Falls

Then I said, "If you like all that and a side of fantasy..."
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Eon by Alison Goodman
Mistwood by Leah Cypess (especially if readers liked Graceling)
(bonus: all these books already have sequels published!)

Next, I asked who was traveling internationally over the summer. I suggested that one way to travel the world without needing a passport or having to pack was to pick up some realistic books about other cultures:

To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg (nine countries including Morocco, China, and Mali)
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (Afghanistan)
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay (London, the Philippines)

If, like me, you like a clever con:
Heist Society by Ally Carter (I tried to convince them that, despite the cover, it's fiendishly clever fun that boys-- especially ones who've seen Leverage-- would love, too. I don't know if I convinced...)

If you like historical fiction with loads of action (and some big, out-there twists):

And finally, a straight historical fiction novel that was so vivid I felt like I was near the front of the Crimean War with Florence Nightingale:
The Shadow of the Lamp by Suzanne Dunlap