Friday, July 30, 2010

On top of Mt. Airy

You know a neighborhood is amazing when there's a bookcase in the middle of the sidewalk.

There's no place like home. We're going to be on the road for a while, so I thought I'd walk around the neighborhood taking pictures so that when I mention something about my home in the future, you'll all have an exciting visual to reference. Also it's crazy nice out and I didn't feel like doing any real work.

I live in Mt. Airy, which is a neighborhood in Philadelphia. It's about twenty minutes outside of the center of Philadelphia, and was the first place in North America to grow cauliflower. It was also a good place to flee to in 1793 during the Yellow Fever. We're very proud.

Every morning Mark heads into Center City on the train. This is the Mt. Airy Station.

Cynthia and Greg from Walk A Crooked Mile Books, nonchalantly reading a book together that happens to be the book that I wrote. They had no idea that I was taking this picture. Because I am super-sneaky.

In what was once the Stationmaster's quarters of the Mt. Airy Station there is a used bookstore called Walk A Crooked Mile Books. In addition to being a fantastic bookstore, Walk A Crooked Mile is the gathering point in our neighborhood for summer concerts, yard sales, and people who need to take a train. It is also an excellent place to find great reads, provided that you love used bookstores, which I do. And it's the best kind of used bookstore--in addition to having stacks and stacks of books in little hidden rooms that you can get wonderfully lost in, Cynthia and Greg will offer you a free cup of coffee or tea or even cocoa just for browsing. And if you specify some sort of wacko obscure tea that you'd like, they'll probably have it.

View of the store from the stairs up to the second floor.

View of the store from another part of the store with more books.

Door to the bathroom.

They're not kidding about the bathroom. There's a toilet behind the curtain.

I love a place that's jam-packed with books. It makes me happy.

This is the main commercial drag of Mt. Airy--there are little pockets of stores and restaurants elsewhere, but this is where the possibility of traffic exists.

There were once trolleys that would take riders from Mt. Airy as far as South Philly, but now we use buses. It takes a little over an hour.

One of the best pubs in Philadelphia. I would have gone inside to take pictures, but apparently they're not open at ten in the morning. I'll just have to go back.

Earth, Bread & Brewery. They don't have pizza. They have flatbread with stuff on it. I know, it sounds annoying, but the food is really good. Especially the Seed flatbread. Order that.

Creshiem Cottage, the oldest building in Mt. Airy.

The Sedgwick Theater.

Our local Wawa.

I didn't know what a Wawa was before I moved to Philly in 1999, and when I first walked in, I thought it was pretty much just like a 7-11. NO, I was told, IT'S SO MUCH MORE. It's a 24-hour convenience store/deli where everything is inexpensive and good. Nothing is amazing (what do you want, it's open 24 hours and cheap) but everything is solidly good. Whenever we go out of Wawa range, we feel lost and sad, and whenever we see a Wawa again, we know we're close to home. I just looked for a map of where all the Wawas are and found this website--

Wawa 2010

So I know that my love for Wawa isn't totally insane. Or at least that I'm not alone in my totally insane love for Wawa. And Wawa loves us back.

Moving off the main drag, some examples of Mt. Airy architecture. Most of the homes around here were built somewhere between 1890 and 1940--our house was built in 1925 (and rehabbed two years before we moved in, thank goodness, because we have actual closets). A lot of the homes are made with Wissahickon schist, this gray, sparkly rock that was quarried not far from here. We have rowhomes and twins and single homes. It's a fun place to walk because every house is a little different.

Pretty, right?

People here are really into their gardens. I'm a little suspicious of sunflowers (there's a reason, I'll save it for a rainy day) but I'm always impressed by what Mt. Airyans can do with a small front yard.

Some rowhomes.

Some twins.

I'm pretty convinced that gnomes live in this one.

One of my favorite weird little quirky stories about Mt. Airy has to do with this row of houses on Allens Lane. At one point there was a frontage tax on new homes built on this road. In order to minimize it, or avoid it entirely, the Spite Houses were built.

The front of the Spite Houses.

A path leading to the backs of the Spite Houses.

The backs of the Spite Houses. Aren't they neat?

There's more to see, but I'll save it for another beautiful day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Is there any other word in the English language that has two Ws with only one consonant between them? That, in and of itself seems awkward. And so will this transition...

When I first saw my book on an actual bookstore actually on sale (instead of me putting my advanced copy on different shelves around the house and pretending that it was in a bookstore) (WHAT? IT'S EXCITING) I freaked out and took a picture and cried and maybe stared down a little kid for not immediately rushing to buy it.

The book hits the shelves! Taken at the Borders in the King of Prussia Mall. I know, there's a mall named after the monarch of a country that no longer exists. Wacky.

After I downloaded the picture and sent it to my agent (I believe the subject title of the email was "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!" or something like that) he said, "Did you offer to sign any?"

What? How weird would that be? Hi, I wrote this, and I demand you let me deface these books. How would they know that I was really the author? Maybe I'm just some lunatic with a Sharpie. But Dan told me that it's common practice, and a good thing to do--people like to buy books that are signed by the author. So from this point on, I could not go into a bookstore without offering to sign copies of my book.

Now I'm not a shy person by any stretch of the imagination.

Evidence of my complete lack of shyness. And my ability to entertain myself.

But it's weird to offer up your signature to complete strangers. It seems really egotistical, very Look At Me, and not in an awesome Look At My Awesome Dance Moves sort of way.

So I've developed this really awkward routine when going into a bookstore (like I did today in the Barnes & Noble in Huntington Station, NY).

Me: (standing at the Customer Service desk, holding a copy of my book, looking down and shuffling my feet) Hi.

Vikki (I looked at her name-tag): Can I help you?

Me: So this is weird, but I wrote this book.

Vikki: Great!

Me: So, um, do you want me to sign a couple of copies? I have a pen.

Vikki: Okay, great.

Me: I totally wouldn't be offering to do this if I hadn't written the book.

Vikki: Um...okay. Let me get the Signed By the Author stickers.

Me: (signing books) So...BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH (I launch into some sort of story about nothing in particular, like "
Is there any other word in the English language besides 'awkward' that has two Ws with only one consonant between them?" because I am just not a very cool person who is comfortable with just signing a couple of books and moseying on out like that's a totally normal part of my day)

Vikki: (nervous laughter)

Me: BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH. (Now there is a line of people who actually need customer service behind me and I am done with signing the five books and I CAN'T STOP MY TALKING FACE)

Vikki: Well, thanks, and good luck with your book.

Me: (as I'm walking away) BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH (until Vikki is out of earshot, usually when I leave the building)

So, an open note to all future bookstore employees who have to deal with me. I'm really, really, really sorry. I'm just nervous.

Also, a note to my stepsister Jessi: I am so, so sorry for setting off the house alarm this morning and waking you up after you warned me about it. Also so, so, so sorry for locking you out of the house. Today on the houseguest scale I rank somewhere between entire hair-metal band and poo-flinging monkey.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Magical Megabus Tour

I know I'm not old. 32 is not old. 32 is like four 8-year-olds, or two 16-year-olds. Or even if 32 is like one 32-year-old, it's still not that old, and yet I feel kind of old right now because I'm blogging from a bus hurtling up the New Jersey Turnpike and it's completely blowing my mind. I'M FROM THE FUTURE. Look, I even took a picture of myself. I TOOK A PICTURE OF MYSELF WITH MY COMPUTER AND NOW I'M POSTING IT ON MY BLOG THAT I'M WRITING WHILE SITTING ON A BUS. IN NEW JERSEY.

Eight 4-year-olds

Sorry about all the caps lock action, I'm just a little freaked out by the advances in technology. I still remember when the newest development in travel communications was the Magnadoodle.
My brother and I used to sit in the back of the car writing messages to other motorists, like "Hi!" or "My brother is a doody!" And now I can just send an email from a moving bus in New Jersey to his cell phone in Texas. It just wobbles my brain.


Remember Jason?

I swear I'm not spending more time playing on Photoshop than I am working on the next book. I swear!

Because Jason gets the job done, I'm going up to my ancestral land of Long Island tonight. Why? You'll find out soon enough.

Making fun of my dad is one of my favorite things to do (along with my newfound joy of Photoshopping Jason's face to the Kraken's body). Don't get me wrong--my dad is great. He's smart and generous and hard-working and all that, but he's got too much free time and a billion different hobbies. Some of them are totally normal:

Playing soccer.


Listening to NPR.

Learning new languages.

And some of them are a little weird:

Finding an overgrown plot of land, taking the machete out of his car, and hacking a path in order to find wild berries that he'll later make into preserves.

Inspecting Persian rugs--he likes to flip them over and count the amount of stitches and rub them between his fingers and then utter some weird guttural sounds that he swears are the names of the regions where the rugs originated.

Peppering his speech with words from other languages and becoming sorely disappointed when I can't understand what he's talking about, and then saying them louder in hopes that volume will improve my multi-national linguistic skills.

Making homemade wine.

My dad asked me to make him a wine label. "Fine," I said, "what's the name of your wine?" He had no answer. Every month or so he'd say, "Where's my label?" and I'd say, "What's it called?" "WHERE'S MY LABLE?" "NAME THE WINE AND I'LL MAKE YOU A LABEL!" This continued for about a year until finally one day he blurted out, "IGNATOW JUICE!" So now he makes wine that sounds like it's main ingredient is a bunch of squozen relatives.

Unfortunately Papa Ignatow and my stepmother, Gail, are away on vacation, but he called from Canada to let me know that Of course you can stay at the house, just warn your stepsister, etc, and after a couple of minutes of talking about how polite Canadians are--

"I was shooing away a mosquito and someone waved at me! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?"

he mentioned that I should probably stay away from the homemade Shiraz. "We think it might be toxic."

Nice! So back on the road I go. This time I'm relying on public transportation so that I can get work done while I travel. This book-writin' is time-consuming.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dioramas! Pregnant ladies! Forestry! Antiques! An Enormous Octopus!

Something I'm learning from keeping this travel blog--if I don't update the blog in a timely manner, a bunch of wacky photos pile up. And so, without further ado--

Here's a statement that I hope doesn't come back to bite me in the tushie: Mark and I are very punctual. It's true. We do not like being late for things. As a result, we tend to give ourselves plenty of time to get to where we need to be, which is why we found ourselves in Albany with with three hours to kill before we had to be in Troy for Tiffany's baby shower. So we went to the New York State Museum. In addition to being informative, it was free, and air-conditioned.

Did you know that sturgeon used to be referred to as "Albany Meat"? We did not. Other things that we learned:
In the winter, mastodons roam Upstate New York.

In turn of the century Manhattan, vegetables weren't purchased. They were won in staring contests.

It is very difficult for a moose to sneak up on me.

There is a historical precedent for subway riders in New York City to be cranky.

Sitting in an old-timey subway car is just as much fun as sitting in a modern subway car!

On to Tiffany's baby shower! I was too busy catching up with old friends to take any pictures. This, apparently, was not the case with my old roommate Bethany.

Little baby boy, behold your mommy.

A long, long, long, very long time ago my dad attended the State University of New York School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. I've never been there, so it was really cool to see the campus when we went to visit our friends Emily and Sung.

Hooray for Environmental Science and Forestry!

Emily, an excellent citizen.

Atticus, perhaps not such an excellent citizen.

First Barnes & Noble event ever! For me.

After visiting with friends in Binghamton, we headed home to Philly. But not before we stopped in Scranton, PA!

Some of you might know Scranton as the city where "The Office" takes place and Joe Biden was born. But now we know it as the city where "The Office" takes place and Joe Biden was born and ALSO the home to Olde Good Things. If you look at the website, it looks like a fancy antique store. If you go to the national warehouse in Scranton,
an amazing universe of crazy architectural remnants and inexplicable furniture bits.

We have a vague idea as to what this is, but it's more fun to make stuff up. You try!

This was one of the easier places to walk through.

We were a little overwhelmed.

We were completely overwhelmed. One day we'll go back with a plan and a truck. With our energy depleted by too much staring at awesome stuff, we went to Cooper's, a seafood restaurant that was featured in "The Office". The crab cake sandwich was delicious.

Mark in front of Cooper's.

Tali and some sort of sasquatch mid-confrontation in the parking lot at Cooper's.

And then we came back to Philly. Tilda missed us so much that she tried to claw Mark's hand off when he made the mistake of trying to put her down.
It's good to be home.



We're back in Philly! We went from Vermont to Albany to Troy to Syracuse to Binghamton to Scranton and now we're back. Sure we saw my college roommates and friends who used to live in Philly and other friends of Mark's from his college days, and yes, there was a book event, and we visited my dad's old college campus, and a restaurant in Scranton where part of an episode of "The Office" took place. All good, important things that have been photographed and are noteworthy, and I'll get to them, but for now, I want to talk about this guy--

Up close and personal with Atticus the Phanaticus

Atticus is my Phanatic. The Phanatic, for those who don't know, represents the World Series Championship Winning Philadelphia Phillies, and is simply the greatest team mascot in the history of ever. Don't believe me? Behold--

ENOUGH SAID. Mark and I are fans of both the team and the Phanatic, and he gave me the gift of my very own Phanatic--Atticus. Atticus was born in Citizen's Bank Stadium at the Build-A-Phanatic shop, where I picked him out from a pile of floppy Phanatics and then some nice lady attached him to a machine that shoved fluff up his butt. Then I picked out his heart, made a wish on it, and the nice lady shoved that up his butt and sewed him up. Now he's that little bit of home that we bring with us when we go on these roadtrips, so I thought I'd best explain the weird little green creature that will be showing up in a lot of our photos.

Some introductory Atticus snaps. He's given to climbing on public art.

Atticus in Bennington, VT

Atticus in Syracuse, NY

Atticus being even less appropriate in Syracuse, NY

More to come as Atticus travels with us. Tomorrow I'll post about the rest of our trip (and yes, there's a photo of a sasquatch attacking Tali) but for right now there's a Phillies game to watch and a very needy cat to attend to.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Northshire Books in Manchester Center, VT

On the sidewalk outside of Northshire Books

I always thought that the greatest thing about being a published author was that you could sit in your studio all day, wearing pajamas, doing what you love. Don't get me wrong, it's really great. Especially the pajama part. But there's so much more to being an author. I present my growing list of Perks I Didn't Know Came With Being a Published Author That Rule:

1. When people say, "What do you do?" you can reply, "I'm an author!" and then people say, "Oooh!" because being an author seems respectable, unlike when I used to have to say, "I'm an artist" which usually makes people thing that you're probably destitute and maybe a little delusional. I have yet to master the "I'm an author" answer without freaking out a little and hopping up and down, but I'll get there. Maybe.

2. When you go to conferences, people just give you free books. I had no idea that this would happen. It blew my mind. There would be a pile of books at a booth, and then someone would say, "Here, take one," and I would start to hyperventilate, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? REALLY? YOU'RE SERIOUSLY JUST GOING TO GIVE ME THIS BOOK? AND THIS TOTEBAG TO PUT IT IN???"

3. You get to visit the coolest bookstores. I never before knew that Northshire Bookstore existed (or that there was a place called Manchester Center in Vermont) but now that I've been there, I want to live there. It's one of these bookstores that seems normal-sized from the outside but just goes on for miles and miles on the inside. And it's not cavernous--every area seems designed for a reader to find their perfect book. So excited to go on the big roadtrip now to see more bookstores.

Still working on looking authorly

After the book event we headed to Bennington
, which was hugely exciting to me. Here is why: One of my favorite books in the world is Donna Tartt's The Secret History. If you haven't read it yet (and you're over the age of seventeen, which was how old I was when I read it the first time), carve out a weekend for yourself and just lose yourself in her amazing storytelling. I don't usually go all starry-eyed when I meet famous people (except for David Wiesner, David Wiesner, I'm so sorry that I freak out every time I meet you, but that's a subject for another blog post) but if I ever met Donna Tartt I think I might just go catatonic.


Just like Chicago is full of cows, and Philadelphia is full of Phanatics, Bennington is full of Mooses. Meese. Meeses.

Anyhoo, The Secret History takes place in Hamden College in Hamden, Vermont. This is not a real place. But Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont is a real place where Donna Tartt went to college. Mark drove us around the campus of the college while I yelped, "Look, look, there are the white clapboard dormitories with the green shutters that Richard loved so much! That was the beginning of his undoing! Look, there are paths going into the woods! That was the beginning of their undoing!! Omigawd, there's the music building! I don't remember it from the book but it's really neat looking and probably had some hand in their undoing!" Mark hasn't read The Secret History, and is a very patient and indulgent husband.

We also visited the Bennington Battle Monument, which is this enormous obelisk that is dedicated to the 1777 Battle of Bennington, which actually happened in nearby Walloomsac. Still, it's very large and impressive.

Very large and impressive monument

Mark and a sculptural representation of Brigadier General John Stark enjoy pointing.

Brigadier General John Stark was totally not messing around.

Tali enjoys the view.

Today we're heading to Troy, NY for Tiffany's baby shower, and tomorrow we'll be in the Barnes & Noble in Dewitt, outside of Syracuse. Farewell for now, Vermont, you pretty, pretty state.