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...thoughts on writing, film, food, and impossibly good-looking dogs. Possibly other things too. It's my blog. I make up the rules.

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    Taking a brief break from the Project Runway Coverage on the blog today! I've long wanted to start a blog series featuring authors and the books they evangelize most. I'm delighted that my friend and writerly compatriot Rachel MacMillian is kicking it off today with a little novel called The Blue Castle. 

    When I was a teenager, my ultra-cool Aunt Annette gave me a copy of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.  Any book gift (especially an unexpected one, without occasion or holiday) was a huge treat and I felt elated but badly-- as she pulled it from the shelf and placed it in my hand--- that her collection would have its spine-sized hole in it.

    She bid me not to worry. She said something to the effect of it being a book that needs to be shared and given away.  She bought copies to give away. She shared it. She appropriated its voice and took ownership of its message and sent it out into the world, speaking for herself.

    So it is with me and the Blue Castle.  

    I spend a lot of time peddling the Blue Castle.

    Talking about it, building its tribe.

    It is a story...and experience… I will never tire of conversing about.  No matter how many times I read it ( which is sometimes monthly, weekly, daily…depending on my mood and whatever little tragedies are pervading my life), it always offers something new.

    The Blue Castle is meant to be cherished:

    When I worked as a bookseller in University, a woman told me that she and her husband used to read the Blue Castle to each other all of the time and go woodland adventures a la Barney and Valancy. When her husband passed, she buried their favourite, torn copy with him.

    The Blue Castle is meant to be shared:

    I take copies on trips and leave them.   A Viennese train station has one. A small tavern in rural Austria. I left one in Zurich, Switzerland. On a bench in Brighton. There’s a copy in Scotland.  I leave it, like a bread crumb trail, hoping it will find the right reader at the right moment in the same way that it found me.

    The Blue Castle reader remembers its first profound effect:

    I was 18. I was a minister’s daughter riddled with debilitating anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder on the brink of life beyond my small town. University applications. The end of my high school era. The feeling that I should grow up and discover who I was.  I was horrified of how people saw me and if they saw me in a less than positive light . I did what was expected, always aware that eyes were always on me.  My greatest retreat, my moments of exhale, were borne in the moments I wrote and read, my giddy romantic nature and imagination overtaking a world I didn’t feel I belonged in.

    Then, like the best book friends, Valancy crashed into me. She extended a lithe, white hand and pulled me into her world. Fortunately, a literal and figurative world I knew well, living very near where the Blue Castle takes place and having spent all my summers in Muskoka. Here was the most delectably real type of kindred spirit.

    I read her story, promptly turned back to the beginning and read it again.  I stayed up all night. The next day, after my shift at the clothing store I worked in part-time through my high school years, I retreated into her world again.  I couldn’t taste another book for weeks. I tucked the crazy, blue, awfully-covered Bantam paperback in my coat pocket and took it everywhere. I slept with it under my pillow, I gave it to my best friends to solidify kinship and I let it seep into my psyche.  Fear is the only Original Sin.   Appearances can go hang. Valancy was speaking to me.  Speaking for me. I used her to project everything I was feeling inside. Every doubt that trapped me in that small town cage with those eyes on me, my heart niggling with the belief that I was failing to live up to a high expectation I had created for myself.

    Valancy was my spokesperson. She cared not what people thought! She flew her edgy sarcastic flag. She was herself and she found love and happiness not in spite  of it; but because of it.

    And so, The Blue Castle whittled into my ultra-romantic nature and expounded itself into an ideal.   This, this, this, was what I wanted to find! A romance borne of adventure and laughter, friendship and the Montgomery trope of preternatural kinship.   To experience the elegant kind of oneness, to sit and speak love in all of the languages of the world.

    Into the Blue Castle’s reading one can implant every doubt, weakness, moment of failure.  Every reader can own their strange romantic wistful moments, their crazy medieval-tinged dreams of castles and turrets, the secret senses of humour they hide from their world, the film that keeps them from seeing the world as it actually is.

    The Blue Castle,thus, is an experience and an ideology.  It is meant to be passed around, loved, coddled and cherished.  Several of my friends can attest to the moment they were Blue Castle-ized.  When they read it, finished it and fell madly, crazily, head-over-heels in love with it.

    If you haven’t plunged in, give yourself airily away and throw caution to the wind.  It is a fairytale. A slice of emancipation. A philosophy and a world unto itself.

    And once you read it, friend, you are given immediate access to the most deliciously exclusive club: wherein all the readers of the book before you still half-smile at its secret and feel their hearts beat to its Cinderella-fringed romance.

    Rachel McMillan lives in Toronto and spends a lot of time casting Barney Snaith in the film version of the Blue Castle she hopes will be a reality someday.   When she’s not talking about the Blue Castle or writing about it at Breakpoint
    Femnista, or Booklust, she pens spirited historical fiction, works in educational publishing, and spends too much time on social media.  Find her on Twitter and at her blog, (named for….well…you know what ) A Fair Substitute for Heaven.

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    Hey, everybody! Allison Pittman here with a confession: I watched this episode backwards, tuning in to see the runway show, and then watching the entire episode later. And, I must say, the jaded English teacher in me was ready to cry bull-schnauzer at their stories of Love as represented in their garments. 

    Hillary here: bull-schnauzer is my new favorite term, and I am grateful for Allison bringing it into my life. 

    Maybe I’ve just been subjected to far to many bad, bad student papers--thousands of words dedicated to analyzing every scrap of marlin in The Old Man and the Sea. But, after hearing their narratives while the work was in progress, I saw it. The heartache, the longing, the desire for long-lasting security and happiness. Except for Kate, who continues to be vapid and annoying. Luckily, though, she has life-long support at home, just in case her whole Project Runway relationship doesn’t work out.’s Nina! I loves me some NIna Garcia, and as an additional boost to my ego, Dmitry reaffirms my affections with this quotable: You know who doesn’t love Nina? People who suck.
    Does Alyssa love Nina? You decide.


    Oh my goodness, I was so relieved to see Nina and her Faces. Also: if I were to indulge in an Animal Print of Ambiguous Species, I wouldn’t do it near Nina. Also, I hope Nina puts this picture on her mantle.

    So, having fully embraced the idea--that our fashion choices can speak our Love vocabulary, let me just say: I am wearing a brown corduroy skirt, the grooves in the fabric representing the many (OK, not many…) relationships, all leading in a straight path to my hubby. Brown tights with a tiny-diamond pattern, representing a the little jewels of blessings in my life, and brown, sturdy boots, because my love life is stable right now. A blue shirt, because Mikey’s eyes are blue, and I love him, and a scarf with sparkles, because every love story ends in sparkles.’ve caught me in my loungewear this afternoon, but here we go: I’m wearing heather grey sweatpants, which represent the fact that while we met in - and have returned to - the grey state of Oregon, our love is fleecy and warm. My v-necked tee is the color of a sunset, which reminds me of our sunset walks along the Columbia river when we lived in Washington. And my navy and white marled knit sweatshirt, with its moto-inspired cut and snap-closures, is a cozy (yet stylish) metaphor for our travels and how we always return to each other.


    But enough about us. What about them?
    Gunnar is coping with a recent break-up, thus his dress is chaotic.
    Ben has a love tattoo to remind him that he will fall in love again.
    Dmitry is “as single as it gets,” but he’s ready for the special person in his life. His dress is choices and roads, with a big exciting ruffle to represent a big, exciting future!

    Now Zanna’s here, to bridge that gap between Nina and Love.
    To Gunnar:  blah, blah, fashion forward.
    To Ben: How about a confusing network of shiny straps?
    To Sonjia: Looking a bit Mother of the Bride.
    To Helen: “Someone’s in love!” Awkward.
    To Kate: “Oh! Kate’s pregnant.” Awkward x 10. (or, as Michelle puts it: The Golden Girls). Remember that episode when Blanche thought she was pregnant? And it ended up being menopause? Good times.

    But all of these vapid consultation/conversations come to a halt with Justin, who didn’t think he was capable of love, who didn’t want to be a burden. But he has found love. So he painted his fingers and created a print that spells “I love you.” Zanna listens with tears in her eyes, and if you didn’t get a little choked up, I dub thee Gunnar.

    ily print.jpg

    Sorry, I guess that makes me Gunnar. I liked the print well enough, though - it reminded me of Anthony Ryan’s ink blot collection.

    Jay: Been together for 10 years, thus symmetry.
    Fabio: Non-monogamous commitment. Thus, solid pastel and patterns. So, ok.

    That section was...awkward.

    Samantha: her relationship roughly as boring as her dress. With sparkle. (see?)

    Zanna warns everyone to be vulnerable, advice Dmitry will probably ignore. Unless he wants to admit to being cheap. But he is anything but cheap.

    Sonjia challenges Kate to make a “sexellent” dress. Always good advice, and opens her eyes to the “bondage-y” appeal of Dmitry’s dress. So, like, a shade-and-a-half of grey.

    Fitting, make-up, hair...messy high pony-tails. Modern Gothic. A shoe! A clutch! A husband! (oh, Benjamin…)

    So, last week we had Ariel Winter, who plays Alex on Modern Family as a guest judge. The week before that, the “ladies” from The Jersey Shore. This week, they finally got their act together. Somebody must have said, “Hey, aren’t we, like, a fashion show?” Because, rather than bringing in, say, Hayley Orrantia from ABC’s The Goldbergs (who is probably a very nice person), the producers came through. Like a watchful parent checking in on the babysitter, we have Nina Garcia. And, to show that the judged will some day judge, Project Runway winner Seth Aaron. Finally, with a nod to keeping fashion fresh and relatable, Danielle Bernstein--fashion blogger. (My son is in the room with me as I write this re-cap. “Is that what you are, mom? A fashion blogger?” No, no, son. I am not.)

    For a while, Seth Aaron was recapping the show on the Marie Claire website, and either he stopped because he’s a wee bit too ADD for consistency, or Marie Claire didn’t care for how hilariously unfiltered he was - either way, it was great while it lasted.

    Also: we are recapping a fashion show. On a blog. So...we’re kinda fashion bloggers now.

    Yay! I meant No, purely in the sense that I’m in no way in the place to blog about my own fashion. If you want to instagram my day-to-day outfits, just go to the JCPenney website. Clearance Page.

    Hey, if Georgina can judge and send this down the runway (never mind that yeti she was wearing the other week), I think we’re both in the clear.

    Also, side note--how awesome would it be to have Dmitry as a judge some season? Imagine the quips!

    I’d be in heaven. He’s my favorite of the Silk Chiffonzies. What I really want - if we’re taking a stroll down Wishful Thinking Lane - is for the producers to come up with a thin reason for Elena to pop in.


    The Runway:


    Dmitry’s “Ferrari” of a dress will win him a spot in the top 3.

    Dmitry’s was one of my favorites - a well-edited use of vinyl.

    I loved it, too. I always appreciate a dress that can show skin tastefully.


    As will Sonjia’s fun little number. I couldn't get a decent shot of it in motion, but it’s a super cute dress.

    I think Sonjia’s got a gift for making fabrics work for her, rather than the other way around.


    Benjamin, who will need this handkerchief skirt when he lands in the bottom. It’s a Disco moment.

    Don’t hate me, but I liked it coming down the runway. I liked the gold - wish he’d chosen a different contrast fabric and edited down the straps in the back.


    Jay made a dress.

    It was fine?



    Fabio...according to Michelle, “Every girl wants to be her.” Which is cool, since Fabio is in an open relationship… Also evidenced by all the cut-outs in the dress. Open back, open waist, open neck. I kid, though. I really liked this dress. I’d like it more without the story, though. He’s safe.

    I actually really liked the dress, but the story made me cringe for Fabio. That won’t end well.

    I liked the dress, too. I almost always like his stuff, even though he himself doesn’t do much for me.

    There’s an ease to his designs. It’s like what Stella McCartney’s clothes would look like if they were flattering.


    Kate. I echo NIna’s question: What’s with the appendage?

    Oof, and Kate trying to explain that she was aiming for “edgy.” Edgy does not mean half-hearted and unfinished.


    “Cheeky!” There was the “wow” factor Zanna requested. Pity, Justin won’t be able to tell the judges the story behind the print, because he’s just safe. He’s just-in. To me, that’s an injustice. An injustin, I tell ya.

    I wasn’t sure that the print read well from the runway, as much as I liked the idea behind it. Also: underwear.


    Michelle: Despite a beautifully constructed, romantic dress, she’s safe, too. I like this dress, but all those belts might turn me into a little Michelin Man.

    I quite liked the dress, but agree the belts could be tricky.

    Question: Did she actually make the belts? Or are those something she bought at Mood? Surely they’re not from the accessory wall.

    I’m thinking she bought the fastenings at Mood and the rest is trim - grosgrain ribbon or something. I love how she edged the sleeves in black, too. Really love those sleeves.


    Gunnar’s look landed him, appropriately, in the bottom.


    I honestly think they meant to put Samantha’s dress in the bottom, but were so overcome with ennui, they forgot. Then, when looking over their notes, they were, like, Hey, did someone wear yellow? bleh

    It’s yellow. It happened. I like Samantha but “notable” hasn’t been her strong suit so far, with the exception of last week’s sequin dress.


    And, Helen. Again, I somehow didn’t get a shot of the whole dress, but the real story is this neckline, which is beautiful.

    The neckline was super pretty, with the floral design at the top. The judges were talking about how “new” it was, but we’ve seen similar lines in Zac Posen’s last few collections.

    The judges listen to the stories, and the judges are visibly trying to stay alert during Kate’s sad ocean tale. Her rambling, truly, from here to eternity. Unfortunately, it earns the NIna Garcia declaration of doom. The dress is, in a word, “Sad. Especially standing next to the Ferari.” Know who else is sad? Kate, because her dress is sending her home. Where her pre-school hubby is waiting to comfort her. I’ll bet you a Zales pendant one of them was a paste-eater.

    I’m sure you’re right. For me, the winning moment was Nina and Isaac arguing, and Nina having NONE of his counter-arguments. Isaac found himself handled and it made for delightful television.

    The winner? Not the Ferrari, but the Frown--turned upside-down for Helen into victory! Like Isaac said, “No matter what happened in those past relationships, at least you got a good dress out of it.” So, listen up, you newly-jilted. Put down that Haagen Dazs, delete his number, and get out your shears. Resist the urge to sneak over to his place and use them to shred the shirt he was wearing on your first date. Instead, make yourself a fabulous dress. With sparkles.

    Confession: this might have been my favorite episode so far! Join us next time to find out if Justin has a break-out moment, if Sonjia picks another terrific fabric, or if Dmitry says something catty and delightful.

    Also! Debra Messing is guest judging next week! Here's hoping she wears a scarf.

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    'Allo Designers!

    This week's installment takes us across the pond...but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We open with Alyssa introducing the Promotional Challenge of the Week, inspired by Paddington Bear.

    I kinda loved how Michelle called out "Paddington Bear!" She's a clever one at getting camera time.

    It's possible Paddington won't be terrible - it's got a cast full of Currently Popular British/Australian Talent. But the actual movie is neither here nor there for the purposes of today's work.

    Allison here - I was kind of hoping there’d be a twist, like a hat to inspire the coat.

    That would have been clever! 
    Helen - she of the scissor tattoo - squeals at the sight of Paddington, confessing that she has a collection of Paddington back home. Books? Bears? Either way, it's charming and hilarious at the same time.

    Another look at Alyssa's dress. If you stare long enough, you can see a 3D monkey.

    Eeeek! You totally can! Now it can never be unseen. Honestly, though, I wish I could go back in time, find Alyssa and just tell her to sit down and put her feet up. She always sounds so breathless!

    Anyway, Paddington Challenge = London! The designers are over the moon.

    And over the ocean with rolling suitcases, ultimately arriving at Paddington Station.

    Zanna meets them there to explain the challenge. I'm becoming increasingly irritated with her and her useless critiques.

    Zanna introduces Sarah Ferguson, who explains that Paddington = coat, so this is an outerwear challenge. This is received with enthusiasm and excellent facial expressions.

    I love this so much.

    I love the graciousness they all had for Sarah Ferguson. Because I was sort of thinking she might have made this up to get a free coat.

    Poor Sarah, she's had a rough few years. I'm pretty sure she was paid for the appearance. I really think the studio's marketing team came footed the bill for quite a lot of this.

    The designers are given cameras and sketchbooks to use on a double-decker tourist bus. Did Paddington's Studio shell out for all of this? Because the whole production seemed better-padded than usual. Anywho, the selfies commenced with enthusiasm.

    Gunnar was particularly adorable in his sight-seeing. He mentions how he's never been outside of the country, and how all of this is pretty awesome for a first time out. He's not wrong.

    Benjamin spends a lot of time crowing about how he lived in London for ten years, how he's returned to the city to win, how it's all Meant to Be.

    Also known as the prediction of doom. Nothing’s more dangerous than confidence on PR.

    That is so true. The bus drives past where he used to work - and it's now a demolished hole in the ground. Hint: this is a foreshadowing of Things to Come.

    Really, from the demo'd building it just gets worse for Benjamin, who prances around with a deep sense of entitlement.

    Sonjia spied a bolt of grey wool from the window and immediately snagged it. But Benjamin decides that that wool is the only thing he could possibly use for his design, so he hounds her not-so-subtly and more than a little passive-aggressively. When she buys the wool and he has to use a plaid, he is displeased.

    I tried three times to get you a clear shot of This Face. It was not to be.

    But he tries to rally. This shot on the sofa reminded me of this scene from Pride & Prejudice. The designers take tea with the Duchess of York, and it's all very adorable and English. Sarah shares that her mother said "Everything is better with a cup of tea and a biscuit," and she's not wrong.

    The designers return to the workroom, where Dmitry works feverishly, complaining bitterly about his crinkled neoprene and fretting over the sewing machine.

    Zanna comes in and is mostly useless, per usual. How she tells everyone, with a straight face, that their garments much be finished to perfection - it's beyond me.

    "It has to be impeccable," Zanna tells Michelle unconstructively.
    "Yes, yes," Michelle answers.
    "You know that," Zanna says in a severe lowered voice.
    "I do," Michelle replies, her words full of subtext. No really, I do know how to finish a garment and you're annoying me and trying to intimidate me and it won't work.

    When Danny saw this ensemble, he was horrified. I feel a certain pride that when he watches, he knows to anticipate something eccentric and unflattering on Alyssa. (I can, on occasion, converse intelligently about crane picks and other heavy transport topics, so it's a fair trade)

    The judges: Isaac Mizrahi, greeting the designers with a cheerio.

    Noted PR fan Debra Messing, former scarf victim, upcoming The Mysteries of Laura star.

    I love Debra Messing so much! The Starter Wife was such a great show. Laura? Not so much.

    And lauded British model Karen Elson. Alyssa gives no explanation for the whereabouts of Georgina Chapman. Has she left us forever? If so, it's STUPID for her last appearance to have been shared with Jersey Show cast members. I mean, I can understand the trauma, but is that the note you want to go out on? Do you want to give them that satisfaction?

    But, really, would you go back after sharing a screen with Jersey Shore kids? I thought it was sad that Sarah Ferguson didn’t get to come judge, since she’s the one who will be wearing the coat. Shouldn’t she get a say? Or is it all, Just take what we give you, Fergie. You don’t like it? Have a biscuit.

    Anyway: The runway:

    (disclaimer: I don’t even own a coat, so my input will be silly and minimal. Siminal.)

    Dmitry's coat, with its net overlay. It's an interesting effect, though it doesn't evoke buildings for me as much as craggy mountains.

    It did not look comfortable to all.
    And, did they have to create what the models wore under the coat? Or did they just tell them to wear black...

    I think they just told the models to wear black. I would have enjoyed being party to that conversation, though. 

    Here's Benjamin. It was fine.

    I wasn't a fan of the vinyl pockets, especially because I don't think my phone would fit into them securely, much less my phone and my car keys.

    Yeah, those don’t look functional at all. Plus, there’d be no element of surprise when you take it out for the first time in, like, October, and find a forgotten $5.

    Forgotten outwear money = best.

    Sonjia's cocoon coat wasn't for me, but the wool really was lovely, and it looked especially cozy from the back.

    Loved that one! That, I would buy and maybe even wear on the one cold day we have here.
    Sometimes I'm astounded how much design goes into Jay's work and how little of an impact it makes. He's not learned to edit, as yet. I believe Helen when she says his pieces are well constructed, but they're often so cluttered that it becomes the sartorial version of white noise.

    This had a bit of an 80’s vibe for me. Like Lisa Bonet would wear it on A Different World.

    Gunnar's coat looked a.) like Chanel, and b.) as though it might fall apart. And no, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.

    Yep. Odd.

    Samantha's design didn't translate well off the page, but did look cozy.

    This is where I don’t know coats. Is this long enough to be a coat? Because it seemed more jacket-like to me.

    Eh, cropped peacoats were a thing, but I really do like the length, myself.

    I rather liked the color-blocking on Helen's coat.

    I liked that it had color, period. That was fun!

    Fabio's coat didn't photograph well at all. There was a lot going on, but my phone couldn't capture it.

    Here's one shot of the plaid that turned out lighter -

    Michelle's didn't photograph well either, but it was cool fabric. The styling...wasn't my thing. But the violently pink eye shadow did help the coat read young and not matronly.

    I wasn't a fan of Justin's coat at all. It looked unfinished and unflattering...

    And also cold.

    Dispite my dislike of it, Justin manage to snag a spot in the top three, along with Fabio and Dmitry.

    He was on a booty-roll...
    Once the scarf bit came off, we saw the neck and I hate it even more. It just looks sloppy and haphazard, despite the attempt at tailoring. The judges called it flattering - I cackled when Debra said she liked the scarf. The shoulder alone looks terrible.

    I mean, no. If it had a lapel of any kind, and didn't leave her hiney open to the elements, I might feel differently. Or not. I don't like the plaid. I think it looks bad over her torso.

    Jay landed in the bottom with coat. Where Justin had no lapels, Jay had all of the lapels.

    The judges gushed over Dmitry's coat. Isaac was mesmerized by the netting over neoprene. Alyssa nearly wept as she told him that she needed new words in order to communicate just how much she appreciated him and his designs.

    He wasn't the least bit smug about it.  

    He probably spent the rest of the evening designing new words.

    Sam landed in the bathrobe with her oversided moto-jacket. And while I love a good moto-jacket and I love a cozy collar, I had to agree that the fabric wasn't working for her. It read bathrobe. I mean, it was cool fabric, but maybe better suited to a pencil skirt.

    The judges also gushed over Fabio's coat, calling it new and original because apparently they've never seen a coat dress before. The pleats were lovely, but it wasn't a wow. Maybe the color worked against him, at least for TV viewers? Wool does absorb the light quite a lot.

    The judges find Benjamin's coat too junior, and they don't love the pockets. I appreciate the idea with the vinyl - maybe if he'd placed it over the pockets, collar, and cuffs?

    The pockets. They stare.

    The results:

    Fabio wins, and his coat will be worn by Sarah Ferguson. He's over the moon, and it really is a lovely coat - the pleats were very nice.

    And Benjamin, is sent home in a sad twist of irony. Honestly, I would have sent Gunnar's coat home first, but I'm really not entirely sure what the judges are looking for exactly.

    I was very surprised that Benjamin went home. Of the bottoms, I would have sent Samantha home.

    Out of all of them, I would have sent Gunnar home.  But - nothing kills a PR career like confidence, so there you go.

    What did you think of the episode? Who would you have sent home? And do you think we'll ever see hide, hair, or fringe of Georgina ever again?

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    A few weeks ago, Melissa Tagg and I decided to celebrate our love of Christmas and movies by putting together a blog event combining the two! The idea grew until it became what you're about to read - twelve authors talking about their favorite movies, split into two blogs, and giving away a total of twelve books.

    This week, we'll hear from Allison Pittman, Becky Wade, Katherine Reay, Kristin Billerbeck, Kristy Cambron, and Melissa Tagg!

    Remember the Night with Allison Pittman

    My favorite Christmas movie is a classic—one that not a lot of people have seen. Remember the Night, 1940, stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in a story that’s experienced different incarnations. Stanwyck is a petty thief, arrested on Christmas Eve, and remanded into the custody of the District Attorney until her case can be heard after the holiday. From there, we follow the two on a road trip to his idyllic hometown for a family-centered celebration. Along the way, we get a glimpse into her past, and we understand her choices. This film, though, makes the brave choice of allowing us to understand, but not forgive. Not yet. MacMurray’s character struggles with his attraction, fighting  it with every hooded look, restrained touch, every stoic turn of phrase.
    Remember the Night is a film that brings both of its characters to a true moment of crisis. A choice that will challenge what they know to be true and good in the world. What sets this film apart from other Christmas offerings is the fact that you, too, will have to make the same choice. And if you’re like me, the first time you watch it, you’ll be surprised at the direction of your own heart.

    In 1989, this movie suited my goofy teenage sense of humor to a T. I remember laughing all the way through it. In those days, I related to the kids in the movie, but nowadays I relate to Chevy Chase's character. I'm the one who feels the desire and pressure to provide a 'perfect' and 'memorable' Christmas for my family. I'm the one whose efforts often bomb. 

    It's easy to long for a picture perfect Christmas, isn't it? In trying to achieve it, I'm sometimes tempted to exhaust myself because I want to do it all and I want it all to be wonderful. And in the busy-ness, I can miss the Christ of Christmas.

    This year, I'm trying to do less and concentrate on Him more. He's the one who never disappoints. Our expectations can never, never, never measure up to the greatness of His reality. I wish you all a Christmas filled with His peace. God bless! 

    I get three movies! The Santa Clause (1994), The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006). Okay, I love these movies. They showcase Tim Allen at his best. I love his Santa’s reluctance then sold-out enthusiasm for the job – and even the delightful mayhem that develops in the 3rd movie as he questions the cost of his unique vocation. 

    As for the kids – they’re all delightful. Charlie warms your heart in the 1st movie and his little sister, Lucy, is an absolute charmer in the 2nd and 3rd. And the scenery! I want to live at this North Pole. It’s one of the best visual depictions of this magical place that we all secretly hope (know) exists. Curl up, grab some popcorn and cocoa and enjoy!

    It's a tradition at my house to have the 24-hours of "A Christmas Story" running in the ba`ckground as we prepare for Christmas dinner. There are so many memorable parts of that movie that have worked their way into our household vocabulary and my dad is a huge "Jean Shepherd" fan. My dad grew up in the same time frame, and just loves to tell us how true everything in the story is and appreciates the nostalgia. It's a tale that brings my family together and isn't that what the holidays are all about? To appreciate what God has given us? The Ultimate Gift?

    Meet Me in St. Louis with Kristy Cambron

    I love so many Christmas movies, that it's difficult to choose a favorite. But as a huge classic movie fan, nostalgia is going to win me over every time. The top spot on my favorites list would have to be claimed by Meet me in St. Louisstarring the stunning Judy Garland. The song is iconic. The story is warm and the characters unforgettable. And for this writer gal? It will always remind me of drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace, watching this film with my family while Christmas snow blanketed the world outside our window.
    I like to think I’m a pretty nice and even-keeled person, but once a friend told me he thought It’s a Wonderful Life was *gasp* “boring.” I had to work really hard to convince myself not to a) stick my tongue out at him and b) chuck our years of friendship out the window after that one snide comment. 

    This should tell you how much I love — nay, adore — the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. It is nostalgic and sentimental and tear-jerking, all things a good holiday movie should be. But it’s also poignant. The moment when Jimmy Stewart finds Zuzu’s petals in his pocket and realizes his mouth’s bleeding…it’s jubilant perfection. When he runs through town yelling, “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls…Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” my heart is celebrating along with him. 

    Plus, Donna Reed is from Iowa. And that’s happy.

    All For a Sister ~ Meant to Be Mine ~ Lizzy & Jane
    What a Girl Needs ~The Butterfly and the Violin ~ Here to Stay

    Each of today's authors are contributing a book to the giveaway! And as much fun as giveaways are, you know what's also fun? Supporting authors! Each one of the books would make great reading for a Christmas getaway or an ideal Christmas gift. And for the next six, check in next week with Melissa Tagg!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    Allison here: This week’s challenge starts off with deception. The designers are told they will select their own fabric and event. THAT IS A LIE. They will not select, they will have to roll the dice. Ah, chance. You are a fickle mistress.

    (oh, and by the might notice the silhouette of my little Elf in some of the screen shots. He watches everything I do…)

    Fabio is first to roll because he was last week’s challenge winner. Fabio gets Denim Masquerade Ball.

    Sonjia:  Brocade bachelorette party – perfect for the oft-mentioned “engaged” facebook relationship status of the affianced Sonjia.

    Samantha:  Brocade! Awards Ceremony-- (interrupted by Melissa explaining Brocade)

    Michelle:  Lace! Gallery Opening

    Justin:  Silk! Gallery Opening

    Helen:  Brocade! Award Ceremony – unofficial fashion face-off with Samantha

    Gunnar: Brocade! Masquerade Ball

    Jay: Denim! Sunday Brunch (with Gunnar commentary that he’s going to Texas)

    Dmitry Velvet! (he’d rather shoot himself) Gallery opening.

    Hillary here: I thought the dice idea was actually a lot of fun, though I wish they’d done something other other than “masquerade ball.”

    Off to Mood!

    Sonjia feels like she’s making that dress for herself, because she is engaged. She is a bachelorette. She will have a bachelorette party.

    Fabio says, “when you think of denim you think of cowboys and construction workers.” An entire village of people.

    I’m just saying, when I think of denim I think “PANTS.”

    Michelle chooses four really ugly laces. In her own words: “Holy s*$t Grandma!” But, also to paraphrase, it’s a little bit lacy, little bit racy. Which, coincidentally, perfectly describes my grandma.

    Here, we see Sonjia’s nails in an homage to last week’s challenge. Cute!

    In the Work Room! I’m thinking the producers must have put a bug in their ears to up the drama, mama, because little tiffs popped up all over.

    Michelle brings up Brocade-gate - specifically, one of the designers is not using the correct fabric. And that one designer is Sonjia. And the fabric is (not) brocade. She mutters her suspicions to Jay and Justin, and finally summons Dmitry (she calls him Dima!) who declares that said pink fabric is not, indeed, brocade, but a “Queelted Seelk Something…” I couldn’t catch the last word, but I have decided I could listen to a recording of Dmitry reciting different types of fabric.

    a.) I loved that Michelle called him “Dima” and b.) it’s quilted silk faille. Which...quilted does not equal damask - and we know this, since Michelle explained to the camera earlier what exactly damask is. Sonjia is usually so good with picking fabrics, but I found both of her picks to be duds.

    The controversy brings out the snitty-snot in Sonjia, prompting her to tell the camera to tell them all to mind their own business. Finally, Fabio confronts her and we get a quick “Anything you brocade, I brocade better” back-and-forth between Fabio and Sonjia. Fabio eventually will win her over, but the truly important lesson here is that Sonjia is wearing a man’s shirt as a wrap-around skirt. If they ever have a Walk of Shame challenge, my money’s on Sonjia.


    Anyhoo, Zanna walks in to remind everybody that their work needs to be (a)flawless (b)impeccable (c)finished perfectly. There were a few fun moments that came from her visit, though. We get the “twist” that the winning look will be featured by post-baby Alyssa in Marie Claire magazine. This prompted a “Whaaaaaat?” from Michelle. Exactly what we all are thinking.

    No. Joke. However, I often give Zanna a hard time, but this week she was almost helpful. She questions Fabio’s fabric (valid), Jay’s dress (valid), and complements Michelle’s look. So...Zanna gets a pass this week. Mostly.

    We also learn that Helen is a gambling aficionado, due to the superb teachings of her godmother in the art of Russian Roulette. Thank God the woman is “really good” at it. Zanna says, “We don’t want to play Russian Roulette with this dress.” I’m thinking Dmitry might have joined in for a game when he rolled velvet.

    I loved how Michelle explained to Helen the difference between Roulette and Russian Roulette - “I’m tired,” Helen said in her defense.

    At model fittings, Helen tells Jay his look reads a little more “club” than “brunch.” So, he is going to Texas. Gunnar breaks the tension with, “Maybe she forgot to say Country Club.” I literally lol’ed at that.

    Helen tried to backpedal with “She looks very fashion-forward for Sunday Brunch.” Jay does not respond well.  I think they’re all tired and crabby.

    Hair, Make-up. Get your face on.

    Models get their dresses on…Dmitry’s model is instructed not to sit.

    I think Dmitry was concerned about the velvet crushing. a valid concern with velvet.

    Michelle says, when she thinks of masquerades she thinks of masks and sex with strangers and fun. Which is awesome, because now I have my essay prompt for when I teach Romeo and Juliet to my 9th grade students next spring.

    Ha - Danny had a “wait, what??” moment when she said that. I hope it’s inspiring for your students.

    The Runway! The Judges!! Georgina and Isaac and…

    CFDA Winner Michael Bastian. By the end of the episode, I want him to have a permanent seat at the runway. Or even his own show. He is adorable and delightful and wise. And his voice is like velvet.

    Also, he wasn’t stupid. That counts for a lot. But also - GEORGINA IS BACK!! She finally returned from the spa she escaped to after the Jersey Shore Incident. She looks very exfoliated.
    Sonjia’s dress, which might have made Alyssa regret her participation in the “twist.” Because if that’s what she’s going to have to wear post-baby, well, let’s just say it’s a terrifying prospect.

    Gunnar’s dress…What I really like is this shot of Michael Bastian looking at Gunnar’s dress.


    Helen’s dress..going to the award show to win all of the awards. I really, really hated this dress. The close-ups made it look unfinished, and I didn’t see anything original in its design.


    Dmitry’s look got about as much screen time as a jump suit deserves. It was beautiful, though…like liquid. Best velvet, ever. I am so glad he didn’t head out to Vegas with Helen’s godmother when he rolled the dice.

    Jay’s “Fancy Sunday Brunch”  is this week’s installment of Jay made a dress…

    So unflattering. The bust is all over the place, it’s almost backless, and way too short for brunch.

    Helen was not wrong.

    Justin’s dress. I might have him out of order, but it was such a blah moment, I totally left him out, so I’m sticking him here. I mean, it’s a pretty dress? But -

    ...But, this is totally not where I would have gone silk (And Michael agrees with me! We are kindred spirits!). You could have done this dress in wool crepe. Silk moves and drapes so beautifully, and this design is so stiff and over-structured that the fabric becomes forgettable.

    Samantha’s pantsuit for the VMA’s. And if Alyssa’s judging based on ease of post-baby breastfeeding, well, we have a clear winner.

    Fabio’s true to the challenge. Looks like something that would be beautiful for a masquerade.

    This outfit? With the pink dress and the lavender gloves? This only works if you’re going as Miss Piggy.


    Michelle’s dress is gorgeous, light-catching lace. Which will never be able to be worn with a nursing bra. Just sayin’.

    But there is, at least, a form of bustal support (yes, bustal. I may have just made that up.) This was hands-down my favorite - the colors, textures, and shapes worked for me, and worked for the event she was designing for.



    Safe—Samantha, Jay, Dmitry

    The critique is all over the place. Praise and criticism bouncing around equally. Isaac dubs Michelle to be a “Dirty Little Wink.” Thus she is given the name for her final collection.

    High Scores: Helen, Sonjia, and Michelle. Frankly, I was shocked to learn Helen’s look was in the top. And, we learn that the word, “Vegas” isn’t necessarily a word of praise.

    I felt bad for Helen - Zanna encouraged that front slit and it totally backfired.

    Low Scores: Justin, Gunnar, and Fabio. As Gunnar said, “The judges were in no mood for a masquerade.”

    They really dinged Fabio for the pink un-denim denim. It made me think about Kini and his gorgeous waxed denim pieces, and how he would have done something really interesting and architectural with that kind of challenge. And those lavender glove sleeve things? Really, really bad in close-up.

    Also - how did Jay not wind up with the bottom?? Did they all blink at the same time when his dress came down the runway?

    The debate might take a while, so Alyssa is offered the opportunity to pee. Which explains why, no matter how liquidly beautiful it was, Dmitry’s jumpsuit was not going to win. 

    Oh my gosh, the pee conversation. I suspect everybody figured it was going to be edited out - and yet!

    This episode had the wittiest, most entertaining of discussion. Fabio’s dress is “aggressively awful,” and Gunnar’s is “clueless” and an “insult to every bird and butterfly out there.” Michael asks what happens when the decision is this difficult, and Isaac hints at a slap-fest. Which might explain why Georgina was absent for the episodes following the guest visit from the Jersey girls.

    Michael rightly points out that there is nothing new about Sonjia’s dress, that it looks like about every Vegas cocktail waitress on the strip.

    Winner—Sonjia. Which means she might want to say “thank you” to those who steered her into using the correct fabric.

    Loser—Gunnar. Alyssa waddles herself out of her chair to give him a hug. Next week, I want to see the process it takes to get her into that chair.
    Readers - what did you think of the episode? Who do you think should have won? Who do you think should have been sent home? When do you think Alyssa will consent to wear Sojia's cocktail dress?

    Also - the Twelve Films of Christmas event is still going on! Don't miss reading about Allison's favorite Christmas film here on this blog, and mine on Melissa Tagg's, and then enter the contests to win books!

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  • 12/29/14--17:24: Briefly, Merrily...

  • Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! Regularly scheduled blogging will resume next week - this week Danny is off for the holidays and I'm joining him. It's been a very busy holiday season with a flurry of food, family, and travel, so we're taking a few days to rest up before jumping back into the fray.

    In the meantime, I'm pleased to announce that Contest Entrant Tracey Culley has won the 12 Films of Christmas Book Giveaway! Many thanks to everyone for participating, so delighted by the huge response.

    Love and blessings!

    ~ Hillary

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    Okay, let's do this! *claps hands together*

    I'll be honest - I'm starting to lose my patience with All Stars. And it's not the designers - there's a lot of talent. But angels above - the judges. What I enjoy about Standard Issue Project Runway is that I don't doubt the taste or good sense of all of the judges all of the time. I might disagree with Ye Olde CFDA winning Michael Kors occasionally, or take issue with Zac Posen's championing of something I hate, or like something more than Fashion Editor Nina Garcia, or doubt that Heidi Klum really would wear something so nutty, even though she proclaims to love it on the runway, but usually it's kind of a two-outta-three sort of equation.

    And then there's the fact that in recent seasons the judges have taken to actually examining the clothes close up - looking at the finishing so they can appreciate the craftsmanship - or lack thereof.

    But All Stars judging feels like a perfunctory farce (and not just because of the jacket Isaac Mizrahi wore, though it didn't help). Georgina Chapman is...don't get me started on the levelofwhack that is Marchesa. And Alyssa Milano's fashion sense is none. All of this adds up to a lot of talented designers showing their creations to judges who might as well be choosing winners out of the button bag half of the time.

    But, you know. that's just how I feel. How do you feel?

    Totally with you, Hillary. Button bag and all. A frustration I’d add is this--I just feel like there should be higher standards, more challenging challenges. More that would answer to the real world of design, not just jumping through hoops from week-to-week. What about on-going brand or collection building? That way designs could be judged not only on did you meet the challenge, but did you meet the challenge with something that also is cohesive with that thing you met the challenge with last week.

    Let's chat briefly about the last episode, in which Alyssa wore a lace sweatshirt with a leather skirt.

    I swear she found that in the attic in a trunk of Who’s the Boss? wardrobe pieces. Awful.

    This was the "real people" installment, this time featuring online dating couples embarking on a first date. So - menswear! This caused Michelle to have a stress and sickness-induced meltdown, but she carried on. It was fine.

    Fabio made this nautical-priest-yacht outfit that the judges found fascinating and somehow sexy, and I thought looked like student work for a Star Trek Resortwear assignment.

    This girl, I would like to note, told us that she admired the style of Kim Kardashian during this era of Kanye. I would like to have a sit-down conversation with her (actually - both of them. Kim could benefit from this) about dressing for your body type, but alas.

    Jay made this jacket, which will only appeal to gentlemen of alternative persuasion. Actually, that's not true. I'm sure here are women looking for a Pink Lady jacket who'd be perfectly happy with this. Jay's solution to tone down the jacket was grey sleeves, which, whatever.

    And I think it would be perfectly at home in the aforementioned WtB? trunk.

    Fabio and his priestly yacht ensemble won.

    The judges were not impressed by this look. They were unmoved by Justin's "Could have been Banana Republic" ensemble (their words, not mine) and Helen's blue shirtdress of unflattering profile.

    But nothing was bad enough, in the end, for anyone to go home, so everyone stuck around for a Celebrating Life and Michelle's Birthday Brunch.

    For some reason (i.e. very specific instructions from the producers), the designers go outside and "happen" upon this USA today issue featuring a pre-pregnancy Alyssa Milano "making a splash," as one does.


    So the designers go to a rooftop pool (as directed by the producers) where they find Alyssa (not in swimwear) and the travel editor for USA Today. Do note the stuff in the pool. We'll get to that.

    Also, the editor looks rather like Willie Garson's younger brother.

    Sonjia and Michelle pay rapt attention the challenge is explained: at the bottom of the pool is swimwear fabric. The designers will each design a.) a swimsuit and b.) a resort look.

    The retrieving of the swimwear fabric is performed by this handy collection of pool boys, who yes, do remove their shirts and outer-shorts to reveal the Speedos within, to the delight of all.

    Close up of the fabric -

    Close up of the Speedos….wait, what?

    I'm just saying, getting a Safe for Work shot of a guy swimming for fabric is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. Also? I miss the Summer Olympics.

    The swimmers present the fabric to the designers for their approval, and may wind up diving for more if they want something else.

    I wasn't terribly impressed with the prints, but we'll see more of them later.

    After the swimmers are allowed to depart and dry off, the designers sketch and head to Mood, with $150 to complete their two looks.

    Zanna arrives at the workroom with the USA Today style editor, know, I don't remember. Maybe Allison can fill me in. Something about how if they win, it'll wind up in USA Today and they get a vacation. I think that's right.

    Yes--their design will appear on a newspaper strewn from end to end of hotel hallways across America.

    Michelle makes this face about it.

    Everybody sets to work. Michelle has made swimwear before, so she's practically crowing about how she's got the super good elastic that everybody should want, and if she has extra - which she's not going to be specific about - she might maybe share it. Maybe.

    The looks come together, and eventually everyone is as runway ready as possible, considering the time constraints.

    Fashion Photographer and America's Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker is this week's guest judge, and I'm in favor of this because he knows things. Isaac, Georgina, and Alyssa are also in attendance. Isaac is wearing a terrible jacket (we'll get to that).

    Such a crush on Nigel Barker. I was a hardcore ANTM viewer for years.

    We can add him to the list of "guest judges who should stay forever."

    Justin's look comes down the runway, and it moves nicely.

    I'm not over the moon about it, but it's nice.

    The there's an edit to a miraculous moment in which the swimwear beneath is revealed - this happens with most of the models and it's a teeny bit odd, but so's the whole show.

    Here's Michelle's dress - which is not great.

    But the judges like her graphic one-piece.

    I was obsessed with this suit. That little bit at the bottom of neckline was just a beautiful detail.

    Agree - and so cool that it was simply the elastic that she’d used throughout!

    Here's Sonjia's lace and denim ensemble, of which I am not a fan.

    I'm indifferent to the swimwear.

    Here's Jay's - beige and floaty. That's your takeaway.

    It’s this week’s edition of Jaymadeadress.

    His swimsuit is pretty junior, and the cameraman had a hard time getting it without it being a shot of BREASTAGE. Honestly - getting a screen capture was tricky because the cuts were so fast (this one actually came from the end
    Here's Helen's look, which was essentially Lace Pajamas with Interior Swimwear:

    And Fabio's who was sophisticated and black and white on the outside -

    And a Brazilian party underneath. I didn't get a shot of the front, but you're not missing anything. Trust.

    Also, that bikini bottom is not great, as it seems determined to make an ascension north.

    Sam's jumpsuit - which she had a hard time with in the workroom when she sewed the top on funny - isn't terrible, but it's not great either, especially with the open sides.
    However, her Baywatch-inspired swimsuit is a HOT MESS.


    I'm cringing.

    As is Isaac.

    At this point, Dmitry's is a breath of asymmetrical fresh air.

    I don't even hate the swimsuit, which is saying something because I'm not a fan of camo. But can't you see this in a catalog somewhere?

    I liked it, but it doesn’t really say “resort” to me. That might be because I’ve never been to an actual resort, but this didn’t have a cool, casual air to me.

    As the judges deliberate, Michelle's manic-pixie-dreamgirl energy will not be contained. In a truly What-The-Flipper moment, she flits around the room reminding everyone who the judges loved and hated, though it does serve to remind us that the judging isn't terribly well-considered, and might as well come from the Runway Fairies.

    I think, too, she’s reinforcing the fact that nobody got a clear idea of where they stood with bothgarments. Everything was as divided as the cheeks on Sam’s model.

    And that, I think, is partly what was so weird to me about these pieces - they didn’t read together at all - Fabio’s in particular (I hated that fabric).
    I think we're going to blame exhaustion for that one. Or it's a deliberate commentary on the judging. Everybody's amused, so that's something. Dmitry's almost smiling.

    HERE is that jacket I was telling you about. It looks like he got it at REI, on clearance, and it's biggest selling point is that awful snap in the center that also hangs fishing line and holds the thing when it folds into a disc.

    Anyway, the judges love Justin's, have mixed feelings about Sonjia's mixed-textile look, love Dmitry's, love Michelle's swimsuit the best but hate her dress, don't say much about Jay's, Helen's, or Fabio's, and christen Sam's swimsuit with the term "moose knuckle."

    Ooooooh!!! Moose knuckle. I thought they said Goose knuckle. Well, that makes much more sense.

    Anywhoodle, Justin wins. He is both happy and featured in USA Today...some time ago.

    Sam goes home, which is not the wrong move. As much as I harp on the judges, her swimsuit was really, truly terrible. I wish her well.

    What did you guys think of the episode? Who would you pick to be judges? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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    Hillary here: Allison's heading up this week's recap, with far more wit and clarity than I could manage after this particular episode. Meanwhile, I'm off in a corner playing the blues on my snarfblat, adding commentary as necessary.

    Allison: The contestants arrive at the Long Island Aquarium, home to over 5,000 species of marine life , including two of Alyssa’s friends, penguins Kevin and Pam Clearly, they need to engage more creative people in their penguin-naming department. Tuxy and Roxanne? Waddles and Petunia? 

    Now, excuse me for just a minute while I study the Rorshach Design that is Alyssa’s dress while she talks.

    I have retreated to my happy place rather than contemplate Alyssa’s dress; instead, I’m having Parks and Recreation thoughts and thinking how CUTE it would be if the penguins got married.

    Then, I’ll try not to look at it from the back…


    You’ll notice, only one penguin appears on camera after this shot. After studying the distinctive pattern on the back of the dress, I wonder if we need to say a more formal good-bye to Kevin.
    Be at peace, Kevin.
    Whaaaat? Alyssa Milano the inspiration for Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid? Did I know this? I think I knew this. Anyway, it makes this experience of being part of her world all the more exquisite, as we dive into a challenge wherein the designers are asked to come up with a design inspired by one of the species from Under the Sea.

    I googled this. Apparently animator Glen Keane used photos of her Who’s the Boss? days when he was working on Ariel’s face. Actress Sherri Stoner came in for movement references, and Jodi Benson did the vocal work. So I think Alyssa’s “Ariel is based on MEEEEEE” statements are in fact a bit much. She was a part of it, but it wasn’t as if Disney rolled out the red carpet for her - she didn’t know about it until later.

    Sorry. I might just be bitter at Alyssa because she killed Kevin.

    Oh, and this is the Avant- Garde challenge. They have 2 days and $150, make that $250 if someone volunteers to sketch in the shark tank. Helen volunteers, and I’m soooo relieved, because maybe that means she’ll untuck her ponytail from her jacket (huge pet peeve of mine).

    I don’t get the hair in jacket thing, because ITCHY.
    So, off to sketch, where the designers find that beauty is better down where it’s wetter.
    Dmitry is immediately inspired by the sea horse. The shape and the scales, and the whole body made of geometrical scales with a very complicated patterns. Not unlike the man himself.
    Fabio goes genderless with the red bubble-tip anemone. A lovely little species that reproduces asexually. He wants his outfit to be the most conceptual piece on the runway. We’ll sea.

    Michelle’s heart is captured by the flamboyant cuttlefish. This doesn’t happen for me very often, but I found myself enchanted by Michelle’s sketch this week. Like, I thought the sketch itself looked whimsical and beautiful, especially with the third panel where the cuttlefish is looking right at you.
    Then it’s time to follow Helen into the tank, where the sharks have been warned that designers are friends, not food. (wrong movie, I know, but go with it) She concludes with a message saying, “Let’s go to Mood!” And they’re off!
    Sonjia is inspired by the red-bellied piranha, and will make a dress. Justin the yellow scroll coral, and will make a structured, grand dress. Jay’s fish is the lion fish—“very ethereal, and has tons of volume and weight to it”—so he will be making an asymmetrical jumpsuit. Just kidding. Jay will make a dress. He will also play with vinyl. He claims to never have played with vinyl before, but I have my doubts.
    To the work room! Those poor, unfortunate souls.
    Dmitry is engineering a pattern. Michelle is going flamboyant and wild (just like her cuttlefish). On day two, there’s a sweet moment between Michelle and Justin. She thinks he’s not finding the joy of Avant Garde—always an ominous feeling. Even more so than the fact that Helen’s dress looks like tripe. In a good way.
    Zanna, conceptual nail art from Laruen B. Beauty (and a chance to win $5K in couture nail product), model fittings.

    Helen sexes up her granny’s nightie-tripe dress by hacking it at the hem. Fabio points out that not only is Dmitry’s look not fashion forward, it’s a look our dancer created several times in
    Season 10.

    He totally did - to good effect - but the repetition cracked me up during the “judging.”

    Michelle worries that her dress looks like maternity wear. (Has she seen nothing Alyssa has been wearing all season?)

    I think Alyssa’s nutty maternity wear has infiltrated Michelle’s design sense.
    To the runway, where our guest judge is Nicole Scherzinger , who rose to fame singing with the Pussy Cat Dolls, dabbled in design, and whose new single “Run” is now available. “Run,” you know, that thing you do with those—what are they called—oh, yeah. Feet.

    I’ll present the Runway with little comment. I don’t feel qualified to say much, since in-season Kohl’s is about as fashion forward as I allow myself. I’ll say this, though…that my favorite look was the one deemed safe – Sonjia’s. Michelle was robbed, and the elimination was what Lady Hillary calls a “button-bag” decision.

    I had a phone conversation (because we’re old-fashioned) with Kara at L.A. Bullets and Sonjia’s was her favorite, too. I confessed that I couldn’t remember Sonjia’s. She totally got the “safe” edit, we didn’t see much of her.

    The top (ish)...


    “Kiss the Girl.”

    I thought Michelle's was the most avant-garde of all the looks.

    Jay: (with something that looks remarkably like what he did last week, no?)

    Mais oui.

    And, the winner! Finally! (not to be arrogant…)

    Dmitry! Who has apparently “come into his own” or something, which I guess means “experimenting less and going back to his roots.” Whatever, man.

    The bottom looks came down to Fabio and Justin. Might just be me, but I though both looks seemed...stringy? Unfinished? Not sure if that was just a matter of fabric, or time, or if it was an intentional style choice. Anyhoo, the maker of the hideous pink backwards tuxedo remained, and my Justin went home.


    Hillary--explain to me, please. Where this decision came from?

    The decision making - what’s the word - BURNS.

    The judges have been loving most of what Justin’s been putting out for weeks. Sure, they didn’t care for his outfit, but it wasn't a technique issue as much as an originality issue.

    Justin’s not my very favorite, but I didn’t feel he deserved to go home for this, and especially not with his previous body of celebrated work. Meanwhile, you’ve got Jay’s Celebration of Arbitrary Overdesign (I don’t know how he can be arbitrary and over-designed at the same time, but he does it. Maybe it’s his evil genius).

    So like I said, Justin wasn’t my favorite but I didn’t feel he deserved to go home as yet. I feel like somewhere Tim Gunn is getting very worked up about all of this.

    Readers: What did you think? Would you have used a Tim Gunn save for Justin? 

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    "I never really do anything extremely simple, because - why?" - Dmitry

    Confession: it's been pretty busy around here. Danny returned from an extended work trip in Canada over the weekend - SO delighted he's back. I'm working on galley edits for Reservations for Two, and had to pause to have a couple fillings replaced on Tuesday (which turned into "let's root canal those instead" - which is a tale of woe and painkillers for another day).

    Allison: Forgiven! I am in a blur of school and writing and the ridiculous amount of paperwork when a kid changes colleges mid-year. If only there were a pain killer for that!

    Anywho, PRAS, is giving me a bad case of the forehead slaps. This week's challenge exists mainly to help promote QVC's unfortunately named G.I.L.I. line, which simply makes me think of Gigli. The designers appear thrilled, and I'm curious how much of it is genuine excitement. I mean, QVC is not Saks. 

    It would be cool if they had, like, a challenge for high-end snuggies or something, though.

    That would be hilarious. I'd watch the heck out of that. Lisa Robertson of QVC announces the project while wearing a dress that turns out to be a part of the G.I.L.I line, and is also on clearance.

    They have a budget of $300 for their ready-to-wear separates looks and a fashion-forward look. The designers sketch in the workroom and skip off to Mood.

    Sonjia's thing is that she doesn't much sketch - she gets her ideas from her fabric. And while Helen rolls her eyes at it, Sonjia's technique is not far from the idea of figuring out what to make for dinner by seeing what's fresh at the market. It's great if you want to do a salad tossed with pomegranate seeds, but you might not be able to find pomegranates when you want them.

    After their "critique" the designers carry on. Fabio splatter-dyes his fabric. (can I just say...because I cannot wait until the end of the much I HATE what Fabio did with that fabric. That was, just--awful.)Jay's in a dither. Helen struggles with ready-to-wear. Dmitry is confident. Sonjia's not feeling one of her fabrics, but has a new idea during her confessional. Michelle is into sleeves.

    Alyssa, Isaac, Georgina, and Zanna ring he closing bell at the NASDAQ, while the designers watch and squeal from the street. They aren't even allowed inside the building - they have to be as far away as possible.

    Back at the workroom, the designers get more sewing in before the models show up. Dmitry did not leave seam-allowances! There's not a lot going on - I'm beginning to feel sleepy. My jaw feels achy. I'm considering my painkiller options.

    This week's guest judges include QVC diva Lisa Robertson and stylist/designer George Kotsiopoulos.  

    The judges love:

    Dmitry's neoprene and lace looks - blue for the separates and yellow for the "fashion-forward" look. They're deemed not particularly fashion-forward, but still very pretty. The yellow/black will never not read "fancy bee" to me. 

    Not crazy about the yellow, but I loved, loved that dress.

    Sonjia's grey eyelet/ cutout separates and yellow tube dress w/ grey jacket. The separates have strong mix and match options, with the panel split on the yellow dress. They do like how "fresh" her looks feel. I am personally unmoved by the yellow dress.

    Helen's fashion-forward LBD - well-structured and timeless. Kinda classic Helen.

    The judges are conflicted about:

    Helen's a-line skirt and swing top - a colorway only a model could pull off.

    Michelle's print separates/dress - maybe not easy to wear, but fun and romantic. The panel is split on the print.

    Both of Fabio's pastel looks - the dress reading young, and the separates too simple to stand out. Isaac finds them "slightly irrelevant." 

    Allison: Just, ugly. Rarely do clothes look just ugly--but that was like, K-Mart ugly. Like, my friend Pam and I used to walk to K-Mart (back in 1981), and everything Fabio made today looked just like what was on the racks back then. I swear, I could smell the blue-light ham sandwiches when I looked at those clothes. I might have owned that blue top.

    I think Fabio's stuff - I think Isaac is right. I think Fabio can exist too much in his own headspace sometimes for his work to feel necessary to others.

    The Judges Hate:

    Jay's shiny pant - "TAPER THEM!" - Alyssa insists.

    Jay's red dress - "the place it ends is unforgivable, darliIng, unforgiveable" - says Isaac. And truly, it's not great. The top maybe isn't bad, but the bottom is the fashion equivalent of a fade-out at the end of a power ballad.

    Results: Dmitry is second runner-up, with Lisa Robertson announcing Sonjia's win. QVC will produce one of the separates, though we don't know which.

    Michelle is safest of the lower scores, with Jay and Fabio in the bottom. Alyssa observes, rightly, that Jay pathologically overthinks his designs. Fabio is told that sometimes his designs tend toward self-centeredness.

    MIchelle’s design would have been better accessorized with a Virginia Slim.

    Jay is off, which is....overdue. I wish she could have shed Jay and kept Justin around a bit longer. 


    I think Justin could have nailed the Ready-to-Wear in a way that half of the group didn't.

    Before Fabio is allowed to exit, Isaac observes he's been in the bottom a lot. "Don't do it again. I mean it," he admonishes.

    Next week is Marchesa wedding-themed so - TULLE.

    What did you think? We're down to the final five - who are your picks for the finale show?

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    Allison: Hey, y’all--so, this week, totally my fault with the late re-cap from last week’s episode. I had a heavy night of TV watching, what with American Idol, Parenthood AND Project Runway. Oh, what a night of tears and sadness. Bittersweet smiles, remembering better times. And then, the sweet, perfect demise of a once-beloved character who had lived in this world just long enough. I mean, after Project Runway, I had to watch Parenthood just to cheer myself up. 

    Hillary here: it's not just Allison. I've been wrapping up last-minute book stuff, so forgot to get this one going.

    I have to admit, I watched this episode prologue-style. Meaning, I watched the runway, all the while staring--unblinking--at my screen, wondering what sad set of circumstance brought about this tragedie de tristesse. Then I clicked “info” and looked at the program description. Bridesmaid dresses. (cue screeching violins) If kitten heels are the boiled carrots of footwear, then bridesmaid dresses are its less-impacting turnip cousin.

    In defense of kitten heels: they’re nice for tall people and not as stressful on the knees. But I haven’t worn a pair in, like, ten years, so I might twist an ankle at this point.

    And, yes. I know, I know--every bride out there thinks her bridesmaid dresses were perfect. Beautiful--that they were worn to luncheons and banquets and prom-chaperoning-adventures.

    One of mine was worn to prom. Truth.

    But really, those five little frocks I saw going down the runway on last week’s episode? I’ve seen most of them. In, like, Dillard’s. Or even JCPenney. How bad were they? I would buy them. Wear them, like to a luncheon or a banquet, or when I have to chaperone the Spring Formal at my Private Christian School in May. (except not the backless ones. I’d get fired)


    So the episode opens up in Marchesa. But, to really appreciate where we are, you need to hear Dmitry say it. Marchesssssaaaaa.

    Here Georgina is released from her chair and introduces to Marchesa co-founder Keren Craig. (True story: I have so many friends named Karen, I actually spell one’s name keren just to avoid awkward wrong numbers.) Keren looks like--you know how on the old sit-coms like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, Jeannie and Samantha put on dark wigs to play their own “dark” cousin? (or sister, whatever) That’s what’s going on with Keren and Georgina. Like, they have to be filmed with a split screen.

    To the left: designers. To the right: (according to Michelle) Beautiful Sparkling Women. And Dana. Who is engaged to the “amazing” Peter. And who hasn’t decided on her bridesmaid dresses yet.

    So, the challenge is a dress that can be worn on other occasions. (see paragraph above) The prize - Blingy-bling dishes, diamonds, seats at the Marchesa fashion show. Oh, and everybody in the cast is invited to the runway wedding, officiated by Alyssa, who became ordained just for this.

    Moving on.

    I’ll spare many details from the process, save to say that Dmitry touches Michelle’s boobs, after which she eats yogurt and lies to his back saying the dress is “pretty,” while telling the camera she thinks it’s hideous. Do not turn the workroom into a den of lies, Michelle. Sonjia has drawn a blank and is just going to drape and drape and drape until something works out. Then she cries in her salad.

    I picture Dana crying into her salad someday, when she looks through her wedding album.

    Fabio has chosen to work with silk organza, because apparently he’s never seen an episode of this show.

    Helen’s cool.

    Zannah comes in with Edward Chapman, Marchesa CEO and Georgina’s brother. Hubba, am I right, ladies? He strolls through, helping with the mentoring. Their pearls of wisdom:
    “Simplicity always helps.” (Because Marchesa is ALL about the simplicity.)
    “You need to take it from business to bridesmaid.”
    “You have a very minimal taste level.”
    “You have the master draper’s brother right here…”

    The guest judge is Cat Deely. Who, I’m pretty sure is also Keren Craig.

    The whole episode is basically a celebration of English Cheekbones.

    The Runway! I’ll give you a quip from each designer as the models strutted the way only bridesmaids can…

    “it’s beautiful and it’s flawless, but the back is really boring.” -- Helen

    Helen: You used the matte and shiny?
    Fabio: Yep.

    “Oooh, yes, girrrl.” --Michelle

    I know you’re shocked, but Michelle’s was my favorite - even with the fit issues. At least it was interesting. I think it’s the blandness (with bonus uber-formality) that makes so many bridesmaid dresses unwearable.

    “I think if you put five bridemaids in this dresses, they’re going to look happy and beautiful.”

    “I feel like bridesmaids are always so covered up and boring. Like--show a little skin.” -- Sonjia

    How many weddings has she been to? Because there’s nothing like a bridesmaid’s dress to make a girl go looking for bra solutions. And Sonjia's dress is so...confused.

    The winning designer is Helen! Which, I don’t really get, because I think her dress looks the least bridesmaids-y of them all. Like, it skipped the wedding and went straight to the corporate dinner.

    Dmitry is safe.

    Michelle and Fabio are on the bottom, and Fabio goes home. And I’m totally OK with that. He gets on his knees to give Alyssa a kiss, which was sweet, though. Thus ends another...

    Oh--wait! It’s not over, there’s the wedding. The awkward, promotional wedding.

    Right, the “wedding.” As in “sure, we will pretend to get married on cable television but we’ll do the real thing with family, in a building with architectural detail, and do these lights make me look sweaty? Because I feel sweaty.”

    “Some say love is like fashion. It may have its ups and downs, but it never goes out of style.”
    Really? Who are the some that say that? I kinda want to punch them in the throat with a Marchesa diamond.

    Agreed. Go for it.

    What did you think, readers?

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  • 02/09/15--19:04: Notes on Jupiter Ascending

  • The good:

    1. It's better than Underworld: Awakenings, which was the measuring stick I armed myself with when we entered the theater.

    2. It looks great - the art direction, even when it's crazy, is top-notch, and there's some real imagination here. The best part of the movie is the bureaucratic wrangling necessary for Jupiter (Mila Kunis) to claim her inheritance. It's like Gringotts on steroids.

    3. Some of the costuming is really lovely (though some of the accessories look like they came from the formal section at Claire's).

    4. Channing Tatum is fully committed to his role as a genetically modified part-wolf mercenary. He's all in, bless him.

    Channing Tatum w/ ear prosthetics and guyliner

    5. Sean Bean. His character doesn't die, you guys! How great is that?

    6. The sweet peas outside of Sean Bean's home - a witty (rather than head-bashing) nod to the central theme.

    The not so great:

    1. The studio bumped the release date back to winter for re-editing, and while the film usually makes narrative sense, the second half in particular is a celebration of awkward editing.

    2. EXPOSITION. It's sci-fi, I know. There's a lot of universe building to accomplish, I get it. But so much of the dialogue is telling us, without any sleight-of-hand, how the universe works and who the characters are. Sean Bean, in particular, is "the guy who explains Caine the Wolf Hybrid," both to Jupiter and to Caine himself.

    3. Eddie Redmayne's...everything. Eddie's a great actor, but the "too evil to speak above a rasp" shtick felt like twenty flourishes too much. When he yelled, I laughed. I don't think that's the effect he was going for.

    The unintentionally funny:

    1. There's a freeze-frame scene in which Eddie Redmayne's character is analyzing how his plot could have been foiled, and the way that tableau is arranged is HILARIOUS. Expect memes.

    2. Sean Bean's "follow your heart" speech.

    3. Basically anything having to do with the "romance." (There is no chemistry between the leads. Nada. And the "romantic" dialogue is, um, not.)

    4. The creature costumes, particularly the bird-people and the elephant-esque ship navigator.

    5. Mila Kunis' black dinner dress, which looks concerningly like an homage to Natalie Portman's black dress in Star Wars Episode II.

    Because that's what you wear to dinner with your genetic son.

    The forehead slapping:

    1. Jupiter: for the central and titular character, she's given very little to do and no skills with which to accomplish her tasks. She doesn't ascend so much as drift upward. Channing Tatum has to rescue her a lot, twice to keep her from signing things. She cannot help herself. At one point she rattles off some tax code cleverly, which might have worked better if we'd seen her at least reading said tax code.

    I've written about active characters before: one of the key components of an active character is an element of the extraordinary. A superpower. Now, it doesn't have to be a literal superpower, but it does have to be a way for that character to be able to uniquely contribute.

    The Wachowskis give us nothing, aside from Jupiter's affinity with bees. The bees might have been enough if they'd been available in space, but alas. She has no special courage, wit, smarts, or skills to contribute. She's soft-hearted and naive, in a way that puts her (and the universe) in danger more often than not.

    2. Also, she's not allowed to kill. If you don't want any spoilers, skip past to the next bold text. In recent media, we've seen previously non-violent protagonists such as Sherlock (in the BBC take) and Superman (in Man of Steel) kill their antagonists for the greater good. The antagonists pose a real threat to their loved ones and the world as a whole, and rather than leave it to others (or an unfortunate meeting with gravity) to right the wrong, the protagonists kill the antagonists.

    But when Jupiter is faced with the opportunity to kill Balem Abraxas (Eddie Redmayne), he laughs and tells her she's just like his mother and won't be able to do it. So she shoots him in the foot instead, and runs away. However, she runs, and he chases, and it's another five minutes of action sequence. Eddie attacks her again, naturally, and she barely escapes while he falls to his death like a Disney villain. (She's saved by Channing Tatum, shortly after. Again.) Is it because she's female? Kristen Stewart managed to dispatch Charlize Theron's evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Katniss wouldn't have blinked. Heck, Trinity wouldn't have blinked. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against women being saved. But when it comes to the central plot, we need to see the protagonist defeat the antagonist herself, regardless of gender.

    3. All that said, the film's gender politics are concerning. The most chilling moment, for me, was the sequence at the fertility clinic. To have a scene with a woman preyed upon while on a hospital bed, under anesthesia, feet in stirrups, anticipating an already über-personal procedure such as egg extraction - it felt extremely tone-deaf. I've yet to see a movie in which a hero is attacked while undergoing a prostate exam, much less a sperm extraction.

    I understand that the idea behind the egg-harvesting was yet another repeat of the genetics motif, but it didn't need to come at that expense. Being female is complicated enough.

    Add the fact that title character, the one who's supposed to be ascending, has no skills and cannot actively contribute, and when she does try to do things, she must be saved from herself - we should be beyond this.

    And in the end - I'll let you see that for yourself. Let's just say that I have questions about the aforementioned ascension.

    Final Verdict: If you need a night out at the movies, you could do worse. Good on the Wachowksis for attempting something original and interesting, even if it didn't succeed. We had fun, I was glad we saw it.

    However, while the film technically passes the Bechtel test, I'm still troubled by the film's treatment of the female lead. When we've got theaters full of Mockingjays and ice queens, astronauts and code-breakers, a queen of the universe should feel more transcendent.

    What about you? What did you think about the movie? And if not, what films are you excited about instead?

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    So a funny thing happened...

    The original Reservations for Two cover used an image that the designers at WaterBrook love for a long time - it was in the running for book one, and when we went in a different for A Table by the Window, the team looped back to the first image for the second book.

    So time passed, I wrote Reservations, heavily editing Reservations, we're chugging away, the book is about to go to print...

    ...and then it comes down the information pipeline that the photographer (who is French) never signed the release for that image, and then stopped returning calls. Because...*insert French shrug here*.

    But I'm at peace with this. Why? Because a week before my baby went to print, the designer went and made this STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS new cover that I love even more than the first. Are ya ready?

    Reservations for Two Hillary Manton Lodge A Table by the Window

    In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. I want to step inside and read a book, paint a canvas, camp out forever in that cover (I'm sure there's room service). I want to take Danny and have a twirl on that cover, and then eat a croissant. With jam.

    Read more about the book and pre-ordering options (truly, if you love an author, pre-order her books), as well as the Reservations for Two Pinterest board here!

    What do you think? Where would you like to go this chilly Valentine's Day weekend? Leave a comment below!

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    Shiloh, snoozing against my computer.

    THE OSCARS ARE THIS WEEKEND. I'm not even remotely ready, and more than that, I don't think I'm going to be able to do my annual coverage. I haven't followed the guild awards, and while I've managed to put together the blog in previous years even while driving across the country, this year I have to make a difficult choice: blog about the Oscars or write the book I've been hired to write.

    I gotta go with option b. Which is deeply disappointing, I know, for the fifteen of you who enjoy the Oscar coverage (bless you, one and all). Rest assured I'll be live-tweeting through the Oscarcast, and rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy to win for Best Makeup. 

    Also coming up: wrap-ups of Project Runway All Stars (oy).  Feeling very behind on everything, mostly because I am. Last month I had a dental cleaning, which lead to having fillings replaced, which turned into two root canals, which lead to one crown, and another a week later when the non-crowned tooth began to crack. 

    Because I have the pain tolerance of a baby puppy (it's true), all but the cleaning were done under some form of sedation, with prescription painkillers in-between (not my favorite, but it was that or give myself facial frostbite with an ice-pack), and now that everything's FINE I feel rather like Rip Van Winkle, with an excessively long to-do list.

    In other news: I read Lena Dunham's book for a book club, and was not a fan (reading it with jaw pain added insult to injury). I've started collecting potential titles for my own future memoir (don't worry - it won't be for another 30 years). My current favorite is "That Is a Very Bad Idea," but my sister's vote has gone to "For the Love of Joshua Harris, Please Stop," in reference to this article.

    So that's me. What would you name your memoir? How do you handle book club picks that you hate? Which film (nominated or not) would you gift with a Best Picture Award? And what strange places do your pets choose to fall asleep? Let's chat.

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  • 02/21/15--12:27: Catchy is as Catchy Does
  • So I shared this on my Facebook wall the other day, and the delightful Rachel McMillan has been complaining ever since that she's had the song stuck in her head.

    I mean...there are worse things, because it's a legitimately good song. But since she's suffering, you know, I'm offering up some likewise solid yet ear-worm-y songs -

    1. Let Me Be Your Star - the song that convinced us to watch Smash for entirely too long -

    2. Zou Bissou, Bissou - Mad Men brought this French nonsense song back into the collective consciousness, where it stayed for a month. 

    3. Defying Gravity - the ultimate singing-in-the-shower song.

    4. Gravity - on the same topic, one of my very favorite Eurovision songs - 

    5. Let it Go - You know this list is incomplete without this song.

    6. I Want You Back - as choreographed by Baby Groot.

    Those are the songs that came to my mind - which ones would you add?

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    Let’s talk writer’s block today.

    To really break down writer’s block, you’d need a book’s worth of space – because what we call writer’s block is kinda like Biblical references to leprosy – it’s a catch-all term for, rather than a skin disease, the problem of not being able to write effectively.

    But the tricky thing is that writer’s block has all kinds of causes and variations - none of which, I'm sorry to say, involve putting down a book and watching an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. I've written out the processes that help me to work out problem spots and keep going; they're geared for fiction, and based around an understanding of three act structure, but even if you're writing non-fiction you'll find some crossover. Let's get started!

    Step 1 – Admitting it is the first step
    Sometimes when you’re thinking “I’m not feeling the book today” that’s actually code in your head for “I don’t like it because it’s hard,” which is also code for “I’m stuck.” You can “not feel it” for days – or weeks, or months. Once you see it for what it is – block – you can move forward.

    Other times, if you're like me, you can wind up in a panic spiral. What started as "It's a problem" can turn into "I can't figure it out and I'll never have any ideas ever again." Which - no. Look at it this way - a block is your brain's way of telling you that your book is hitting a dead end. It's an alert system. So take a deep breath, trust your brain, and dig in.

    Step 2 – Commit to Finding a Solution

    Common wisdom thrown around among non-professional writers is to put your writing down when you’re stuck (a lot of people suggest washing dishes). Now, in some cases that’s not untrue. If you’ve been working at your computer for a long time, need to eat, need to sleep – yes, set your body and your brain chemistry up for success. Take a walk get a meal, and go to bed if it’s 2am.

    However, learning to work through writers’ block is one of the most important tools to have available if you’re writing, or hoping to write, professionally. It’s one thing to make your way through a project at a leisurely pace if you don’t have a deadline, but once you’re under contract you’ve got to make the best use of your time.

    And the other reason it’s good to push through is that writers’ block isn’t the result of your muse taking a nap. Instead, there are usually causes in the text that are totally fixable – so if you’ve carved out writing time, go ahead and make the most of it!

    Step 3 – Use Your Hands

    I’m an obnoxiously huge fan of journaling through writers’ block. When we write, we write primarily with some form of electronic device. You’re using a very specific neuropathway to perform the task of typing out your thoughts.

    But when you’re stuck, I strongly recommend switching things up. By the time you’ve gotten well and stuck, it’s time to give your brain something new to do. 

    Now, different techniques work for different writers, but whatever you use – whether it’s an idea cloud or a timeline or straight journaling, do it with paper and a pencil. The act of handwriting uses very different areas of your brain – so think of it as bringing in the reserves. (There’s some fascinating literature on the subject of handwriting – this articleis a good launch point.)

    Step 4 -  Identify the Cause

    Having spent a LOT of time working through my own blocks and helping writer friends with theirs, I’ve narrowed the main types down to three – scene blocks, character blocks, and story blocks. They each share similarities, but also have some different approaches for fixing.

    Scene Block: Stuck in a scene? Here are some questions to ask –

    What is the purpose of this scene? Does the scene need to open sooner? Does it need to end?

    Scene blocks are pretty easy to untangle – very easy if it’s simply a matter of getting out of the scene and starting the next one. But sometimes a scene doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and when that happens it’s wise to stop and pull out the notepaper. Using whatever method works best – a timeline, stream-of-consciousness journaling, consider what you need to accomplish with that scene with regards to the rest of the plot. 

    Consider the motivations of everyone involved – what do they want? Are they going to succeed, and if not, why? Often, simply getting out of the scene and looking at it objectively will help you solve problems and move forward.

    Character Block:Remember, plot and character go hand in hand. A problem character – or characters – can throw a wrench into a well-crafted plot.

    Character Block – Singular. Take out your journal and ask yourself these questions questions to – What does your character want? How did her motivations come to exist? Is she acting or reacting? Do her wants and motivations work with the story, or are they fighting against the plot? Sometimes the chemistry you need from a basic plotline can be undercut if your character just isn’t having it. We'll talk more about character chemistry below.

    Write out what your character wants – in the scene where you’re at, in that act, in the book as a whole. Journal out how that works with or against the plot, looking for areas that might be creating dissonance.

    Character Block – Ensemble. I like to think of books as being a series of chemical reactions. You want to have all of the elements in place to create a series of reactions, with major reactions propelling the story forward at key moments (such as the inciting event, turning points between acts, etc). In a character-driven novel, the characters are the ones creating or augmenting each reaction. So if motivations aren’t fleshed out, or if characters are avoiding chemical reactions by agreeing or avoiding each other, it’s going to give you grief.

    Story Block: This is kind of the big kahuna of writer’s block, and there are a couple ways that you might find yourself falling into it.

              Level 1 Story Block– No Synopsis. Look, I get the allure of the free form, organic, seat-of-the-pants writing. However, when you don’t know where you’re going it’s very easy to lose your way. A sturdy, detailed synopsis provides a great road map, and often that’s enough to keep you moving forward. If you're struggling with synopses, check out this post

    Level 2 Story Block– Synopsis with Thin Spots. However, you can work with a synopsis and still discover problems down the road. Sometimes it’s because of thin spots in the planning. If you journal through and find that you don’t have a lot of plans for how – or why – your protagonist winds up to the climax at act III, that’s an important piece to fill in.

    Level 3 Story Block – Research with Thin Spots.If you’re feeling especially at a loss, dig back into your source material. If you’re writing a book about the circus, for example, look for a new book or documentary that you can watch or skim. New information can help to provide inspiration for filling in the blanks.

    Step 5 – Take Action

    Sometimes you can journal or chart or draw or research your way around in circles and still not come up with what you need. If you’ve hit that point, it’s time to phone a friend. Get another collection of brain cells working alongside you. And if you can do it while walking, even better. Usually, I only really hit this point when a.) I’m so panicked that I’m forgetting to journal, or b.) when I’m in the synopsis stage. And even then, going back to the core questions about characters and motivations will do a lot.

    *  *  *  *

    Writing a book is hard. Pulling a plot out of your head, creating people to live in a fictional world – really, it’s hard. But it’s so important, I think, to remember that just as we write active characters, it’s important to be active writers. Don’t be satisfied with allowing the story to come to you passively – you can take an active role. You can do it!

    What do you think? What hands-on techniques work for you?

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    Some days, everything goes fine. Yesterday was not that day.

    I set out to bake the caramelized pear & buckwheat cake from Amber Rose's Love Bake Nourish cookbook. I've enjoyed several of the recipes in the book - she bakes the way I've learned I need to bake - with fruits, whole grains, nuts, and no white sugar. And considering that I had a.) four crazy ripe pears and b.) women coming over for knitting group, yesterday became baking day.

    Everything was going fine - I caramelized the pears in butter and maple syrup, and while the pears didn't brown the way the book though they might, the mixture smelled heavenly.

    Also: I was feeling rather on top of things, planning to blog about this cake. Best laid plans, and all that.

    Because after I beat the batter, it seemed...thick. Like borderline cookie dough thick. But I decided to roll with it, to trust the book, and carry one. I spread it across the bottom and laid the pears and melted butter over the top.

    I got the cake into the oven, and walked away.

    And then my brain clicked.

    The maple syrup. The 2/3 cup of maple syrup to sweeten the cake batter. Yes, it was still there, sitting next to the stand mixer. Yeah.

    Now, I've discovered a forgotten ingredient after putting things into an oven before. During a retreat with our church's high school girls, I realized I'd left the yogurt out of the chocolate cupcakes. We pulled them out and stirred about a tablespoon of yogurt into each cupcake - in the end they were moist and marbled.

    But this felt trickier. The pears were super delicate, being both super ripe and having been cooked over the stove. So I dumped the entire contents of the cake pan into the mixing bowl and added the maple syrup, breaking down the pears.

    I put it back into the oven, and waited.

    After adjusting the bake time and temperature a couple times, the cake was finally cooked through. It was ugly - flat and brown with a suspicious looking texture from the almond flour. But the taste was amazing - full of fruit and butter, with the protein and heartiness from the buckwheat and almond flours. 

    I decided to serve the cake on a cake plate with sifted powdered sugar over the top. Yes - I know that powdered sugar is white sugar, but powdered sugar is like glitter - it makes everything look prettier. It's as close to a magic wand as you'll get in a kitchen.

    So I got it ready and went upstairs to powder my nose before the company arrived.

    And came back downstairs to find this guy:

    Yeah, him. He was on the table. On the table, EATING THE PEAR CAKE.

    While he's loosely explored the idea of climbing the table before, this was the first time that he made the full journey and had a snack in the process. I'm still horrified.

    Within that short period of time, he cleaned up about half of the cake. And I had guests coming.

    So what did I do?

    I cut off the nibbled edges and cut the remainder into squares, sifting fresh sugar over the top. And yes, I did explain the fiasco to my guests, explaining that there was no pressure to partake. I served it with some white wine, and we carried on.

    (For those of you who may feel concerned about such things, Shiloh seems not to have suffered any ill effects from his cake binge.)

    So the moral of the story is that sometimes things don't go as planned, and sometimes things really don't go as planned. But if you carry on, you can share pear squares with friends - and that's a good thing.

    What about you? Have you ever had any moments in the kitchen where you've had to get inventive?

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    If you hate synopses, you know who you are. The word gives you the shudders. When you have to write one, you whinge about it on social media.

    I get it. I do. But there are two reasons why being able to write one easily will really benefit you.

    First - synopses are a reality of the publishing industry. If you're pitching a book to an agent, to an editor, they all want to see a synopsis. And with good reason, obviously - it's faster to read a synopsis than an entire book.

    And second, a synopsis is a very useful tool for getting from beginning to end. A lot can happen in 85,000-95,000 words, and it can be easy to lose your way. A synopsis is a road map, a planning tool to work out plot kinks before you're in 60,000 words and realize you've lost your way.

    Writing a synopsis can be difficult for many fiction writers. It's basically the opposite of writing a book. But if you break it down into three steps and shift you're writing perspective, it's very, very approachable.

    1. Make a timeline. I take a sheet of 11x17" paper and create a timeline with three-act structure in mind. It's okay for this to be messy, with thought bubbles connected to the timeline with long pencil marks.

    And do use a pencil, because this is a rough, rough stage.

    2. Make a bulleted list of plot points. This is simple - in a document, transcribe the plot points on the paper, filling in any blank spots. This is just a list. For your personal use, you could probably just stop here. But for a proposal synopsis, the next stop is to connect everything together.

    3. Write the synopsis. Stay with me on this one.

              Tip 1. Tell, don't Show. For instance, if you're writing a book you'd say -

    "Penelope held the potted rosebush in the crook of her arm, stroking a soft bloom with her fingertips. Her heart squeezed. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The house had been in the family for generations. It had survived war, flood, and a pernicious case of mold.

    But it couldn't survive her brother's financial decisions. After three hundred years, the legacy ended with a bad investment made by Bernie Seymour-Weston.

    The furniture had sold, the artwork too. All she had left of the house was a cutting from her great-grandmother's rosebush."

    And in a synopsis, you'd say -

    "After her brother loses the family estate, Penelope has nothing but a rosebush to her name."

              Tip 2: Lean into the verbs and keep the sentences simple. Protagonist does this, later protagonist goes there. Protagonist feels hurt, protagonist decides to become a garden consultant. A week later, Protagonist travels to Upper Winbaugh to an estate willing to hire her - and so on.

              Tip 3: Look at is as a series of actions and reactions. In the Writer's Block blog, I talk about how a book is a series of chemical reactions. So look at the synopsis as a way to write out the actions and the subsequent reactions.

              Tip 4: Don't overthink it. If there's ever a time to not self-edit, it's synopsis writing. Take a deep breath and dive in, relaxing into the style.

              Tip 5: Practice. When I was pitching the Two Blue Doors series, I had 25 or so versions of the proposal - that's how many times I wrote and rewrote and pitched and re-pitched the concept. And after that? Tossing out a synopsis feels much more natural. So even if it still feels tricky, keep at it. It's the writing equivalent of riding a bike.

    Those are my tips. What do you think? What synopsis tips work for you?

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    Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! I am a part of Team Pink, and this is Stop #14. The Hunt begins at Noon Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 34 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!

    If you're just joining us, there are two loops—pink and purple—and they begin at Lisa Bergren's site and Robin Hatcher's site for stop #1 for either stream. If you complete either the pink loop or purple loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete both loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and all 34 autographed books.

    Please be sure to keep track of the clues at the bottom of every post in the loop and the favorite number mentioned. You'll need those clues to enter for the loop prize and every number mentioned in order to enter for the grand prize.

    (Also, please don't use Internet Explorer to navigate through the loops. Some web sites won't show up using IE. Chrome or Firefox are recommended.)

    Hillary here - welcome to stop #14, Pink Loop, of the Great Scavenger Hunt of 2015! If you're just popping in, do start at stop #1 for the full dish. 

    I'm delighted to be hosting my friend here today, the delightful Katie Ganshert. Katie writes with great sensitivity and lyricism on a number of topics, infertility included. Read on to find out how her own journey inspired her latest release, The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing April 21st. 

    In the world of novel-writing, authors can usually be lumped into one of two groups—character-first and plot-first. The names are self-explanatory. A character-first writer starts with a character and builds the plot accordingly. A plot-first writer starts with a plot, and then creates characters to carry it out.

    I don’t fit into either mold.

    My novels don’t begin with a character or a plot. They almost always begin with a scene. They’ll come to me at random times. While I’m driving in the car or taking a shower or lying in bed or sitting in church. The scene will play out—so real and vivid and enticing that I need to write it. And once I’ve written it, I need to find a story to go with it.

    For my upcoming novel—The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing in a few short days—it all began with a parking lot and my irritation with an Expectant Mother sign. As a woman who has walked the path of infertility, those signs can feel like a punch to the gut. In the midst of my inward musings, the scene that would birth this novel took shape.

    Here’s a snippet:

    I wasn’t sure at what point the air inside Toys R Us grew too thick to breathe. Mandy’s words had brought in a high tide of what-ifs. What if we were never chosen? What if we went through the same thing Mandy’s cousin’s church friend went through? What if Ben and I were doomed to forever be in this place we’d found ourselves in, with no hope of getting out? I tried my hardest to shut the questions off.

    God had a plan…

    It was something I believed once, a long time ago. But now?

    My hand settled over the flatness of my stomach, even as I attempted to keep the memories away. But they were stubborn, intrusive things, dredging up handfuls of doubt I was so sick of holding. Once upon a time, I naively thought God would bless Ben and me for doing life His way. Yet there I sat in the driver’s seat, a bag of baby items resting in my lap, with nothing but aching arms and an empty house.

    A ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and reflected off a parking sign straight ahead of me: For Expectant Mothers.

    My composure snapped.

    Without warning, without forethought, I shifted into drive and hit the gas, a wild scream tearing up my throat. My car lurched forward and rammed into the metal post. The sign remained standing. Its resiliency blistered all reason. I threw my car into reverse, backed up, and ran into it again, flooring the gas until a loud crunch rent the air.

    I blinked several times with the steering wheel gripped in my hands. Then I rose up in my seat. A stork carrying a bundled baby was taking a nosedive toward the cement.

    The Art of Losing Yourself Book Blurb:

    Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.

    Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

    Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

    The Scavenger Hunt Skinny:
    Thanks for stopping by on the hunt! Before you go, make sure you write down the clues.

    Secret Word: your
    Secret Number: 7, because Danny and I married on 7/7/07 (Yeah, we were one of those). 
    Next Stop: Katie's hosting Stop #15! Click here to continue. And if you're turned around, a complete list of the stops with links will be on Robin Hatcher's website.

    Before You Go:

    You can find ordering information for The Art of Losing Yourself here, as well as the first chapter.

    Reflections on my own journey with infertility can be found here and here.

    Also, you can enter to win a copy of my latest - and not yet released - title, Reservations for Two below. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the rest of the Scavenger Hunt!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    It's been such a wonderful release day! Reservations for Two is officially out in the world (see purchasing options here).  I got to swing by a nearby Barnes & Nobel location (our closest bookstore) and see copies on the shelf! So wonderful.

    It's been a busy few few days - yesterday I appeared on our local morning television show, AM Northwest, and did a short cooking demo.

    I'll post more fully about that experience tomorrow, but until then you can see the clip of me cooking and putting-together-sentence-doing here.

    But back to Reservations for Two - it's officially out and about in the world, and to celebrate, I'm sharing the Home-style Tiramisu that Juliette enjoys during a visit to family in Tuscany.

    ~ Home-style Tiramisu ~

    Tiramisu, translated “pick-me-up,” is very popular throughout Italy. It’s quick and easy to assemble, and easy to make for a dinner party. It utilizes the Italian tradition of making a “cake” by soaking something crisp in a full-flavored liquid. In this version, Italian savoiardi cookies or crisp ladyfingers are dipped quickly in brewed coffee and layered with a simple custard.

    The standard Italian version uses very fresh, un-cooked eggs for the custard. Because the eggs are raw, just take the same precautions you'd take when buying or preparing sushi - organic eggs are recommended; farm-fresh eggs are ideal if you can get your hands on them. The filling also relies on creamy mascarpone cheese, the Italian take on cream cheese. Look for it near the ricotta in well-stocked grocery stores.

    2 ½ cups mascarpone
    6 very fresh eggs
    20–22 savoiardi or crisp ladyfinger cookies
    1 ½ cups brewed coffee or espresso
    1/2 cup sugar
    ½ ounce shaved dark chocolate (optional)
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder

    Wash the eggs with soap and water before cracking. Separate egg whites into one mixing bowl and yolks into another.

    Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add most of the sugar and beat until egg whites are glossy, about another fifteen to thirty seconds.

    Beat egg yolks until pale and creamy. Add mascarpone and remaining sugar and beat until well incor-porated. Grate dark chocolate over mascarpone mixture, if using.

    Fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture, folding gently until fully incorporated.

    Pour coffee into a shallow bowl. Set out a 9x9 or equivalent-sized baking dish to assemble the cake. (Note: if you double the recipe, a 9x13 works great).

    Dip the unsugared half of the cookies into the coffee and then place them snugly against each other until the bottom is covered, about ten or eleven cookies. If necessary, break cookies in half to fit.

    Spread half of the custard mixture over the cookies, and repeat with a second layer of coffee-dipped cookies, followed by the last of the custard.

    Cover and refrigerate for 1–2 hours. One hour leaves the cookies a little structured still, while two hours gives a fully softened cookie. Sift cocoa powder over the top.

    Keep cake chilled.

    Serves 4–6.

    (Note: when I made this yesterday, I made it with jumbo-sized eggs. And while they were delicious, it turned into a bit of a space issue -

    But never fear! If you wind up with extra cream, simply set it aside and enjoy it with some fresh fruit. And if you have jumbo-eggs in your fridge, consider decreasing it to just five eggs.)

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    Quite a lot of work can go into six minutes of TV.

    I heard from my publicist on March 4th that I'd gotten a slot on AM Northwest, which is the local Portland morning show, aired on the ABC affiliate station. "That's going to be rough for you," Danny said when I told him about it. "You're going to have to be up early."

    My publicist and I went back and forth discussing recipes - because I had a six-minute slot, I decided to play it safe and make the cherry crostini that first debuted on this blog. The one complication? No fresh cherries. I prayed for weeks that the grocery stores would have some early cherries in stock, flown in from somewhere in Argentina.

    Last summer's crostini
    A few days before the appearance, I discovered that in addition to making the crostini during the show, I would also be presenting two other recipes from the book as finished projects.

    Which meant having two more recipes prepped -  I made the frittata and cornbread the night before to make sure they were as fresh as possible.

    Which wound up meaning that I was up until after midnight.

    And I got up at 5:15 - the last thing I wanted was to be late, and we had a drive across town during rush hour ahead of us. My mom had arrived the night before, and the three of us packed up all of the food and equipment.

    I was the first guest to arrive, which worked out great because I had the greenroom to myself. Not knowing what else to do, I started plating the food and getting things ready - I had no idea when I'd go on, so I wanted to be prepared. I plated up the frittata and peach cornbread in the makeup room and then moved it to the coffee table.

    ...Which the first guest, actor Peter Coyote saw. Not that I had any clue who he was, he was just the guy who walked in and said, "That looks good, is that for us?"

    Dear Reader, I chased him away. I didn't care who he might be - I wasn't about to have a "Oh, the girls got thirsty backstage"Miss Congeniality water glasses moment.

    Shortly after, one of the backstage assistants took me back to where they stored the kitchen counter - it was on casters, so I could set everything up and it would be rolled to the set when they were ready for my demo. Once I was ready, with my thawed frozen cherries (Argentina had nothing for me) all nice and drained with paper towels, I sat back down on the couch with Danny and my mom and waited.

    What's great about the greenroom for a local morning TV show is that you're hanging out with everybody else who's presenting - and it's an eclectic bunch. I didn't see Peter after the food incident, but there were extra-glossy cast members from the Portland Opera's production of Show Boat, and Donald Olson, who's the author of The Pacific Northwest Garden Tourand an all-around delight.

    There was chatting to be had, but not unlike a horror film, people left to go on set and did not return. Soon enough, it was my turn to go and be fitted for a sound pack (which handily clipped into the back of my belt) and have a microphone clipped to my cardigan (which would be moved, for reasons I can only imagine, were Lina Lamont-ish).

    I attempted to turn on the oven, but whether it turned on or not remains a mystery. And after getting into position - we were on!

    It's a blur. And I haven't quiiiiiite been able to get myself to watch the clip for myself, but you can watch it all happen here.

    So no, the bread wasn't toasted. But I SWEAR TO YOU that if you make them at home, the bread will be ready for you by the time you throw the rest of the ingredients together (unless you're pitting cherries - and then by all means pit the cherries first).

    But overall, it was a lot of fun, - I had this moment about half way through, where I thought, "hey, this does not suck. It's going okay. It's all going to be fine." And I'd love to do it again when the third book releases.

    Peach Cornbread

    So that's the full story! What was the most fun was getting to chat with the crew members and production staff. Everyone was super nice, and one gal came and found me after to ask about details for the peach cornbread, so that she could make it for the station's potluck. Stuff like that makes me happy.

    What about you? In what ways have you been challenged and discovered what you're capable of doing? 

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