Come hear me speak at the Terroir Writing Festival

February 28, 2014

I’m going to be speaking for the first time ever about how to write travel articles for magazines and newspapers at this year’s Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, OR. Registration for the festival is now open.

My talk is called “Will Work For Fun” and takes place in the afternoon from 2:00-3:00 p.m.

I’m going to walk you through the process of turning your travels into ideas worthy of publication in the travel sections of regional and national magazines and papers across the country.

What am I going to be talking about? Well, apart from imparting my ONE TRUE SECRET OF TRAVEL WRITING, my talk will include information that will motivate you and tricks of the trade like:

  • Why to include travel writing into your bag of writerly talents
  • How to find the best and most reader-friendly travel ideas
  • How to turn your idea into a two-word pitch
  • How to find the best market for your work
  • How to write a pitch to an editor
  • How to be the travel writer every editor loves

I only have an hour, so I won’t be able to include some of the nuts-and-bolts issues of travel writing, like tax forms and tracking expenses, but I’ll be at the conference all day and am happy to talk to anyone about any aspect of travel writing.

Some of my talk will be based on the experience I gained as writer of the longtime column Desperately Seeking Salem, which started out as a blog about life in Oregon’s capital and morphed into a travel column on the front page of the Life section of the Statesman-Journal. I’ll also talk about my work with Sunset magazine, AAA’s VIA, Portland Monthly and others.

Bring your questions, your experiences and your implacable Wanderlust!

Hope to see you there! And if you can’t be there and have a specific question I might be able to answer, please write to me in the comments section here.


September 24, 2013

Hello all,

I’m no longer living in Salem (sadface) but am still writing about the city. If you want to follow my new adventures in Oregon wine country, visit me at my new blog, Pioneer Perfume.

Keep searching,


The Dude abides in Salem

August 8, 2010

The dude sitting next to me gets it.

He has watched The Big Lebowski 15-20 times already (his estimation) and is talking along with the movie, shouting out at the right parts, anticipating our audience cues, loving every minute of the first-ever live, interactive Big Lebowski movie spectacle.

I’m the gutter ball.  Taking a cult classic and experiencing it interactively can be fun, but for me, it’s a little awkward, since I have only seen this movie in snippets while it was playing at parties about ten years ago.

I can’t say I didn’t get the memo. When we arrived at High Street Cinema, we were handed a bag, a ticket with a rug on the back (stolen in the movie), and a handful of goodies and props to use at strategic points of the film.

  • Mustaches – to wear during any Sam Elliott scene
  • Badges – to wear when a police officer is in the shot
  • Sunglasses – to wear whenever the Dude is wearing them
  • A Rug Ticket – to hold up during the rug theft scene.
  • Bowling score cards – to hide behind and peek over during the Over the Line scene
  • Pretzels – to eat during the bar scene (yum! not enough!)
  • Bell – to ring when Walter throws the ringers from the car
  • Beaver picture – to throw into the air when Maude talks about movies
  • Leaf – to flick and dance with during the performance art scene
  • Larry’s homework – to shake during the Larry’s Living Room scene
  • Candy – to eat whenever

In all, a brilliant and inspired adventure. But I am always just a little behind —  a leaf late, a bowling score card short.

This, I think, is the challenge of taking something that is already out there in the culture (rabid fanboy obsession with The Big Lebowski) and taking it to the next step (mashing it up a la Rocky Horror Picture Show). There will always be curious people like me who go to a movie to watch a movie. The real experience starts when you have retained the kind of muscle memory necessary to interact with the film.

Throughout the movie, Culture Shock Community Project, who put on the event, had a crew of live actors performing the movie in the aisles and below the screen. I invite Ryan Rogers to explain in the comments section here how it is possible to find someone in Salem who:

1). looks like the Dude
2). has the Dude’s entire wardrobe

Word on the street is that this is just the first showing — and the first adaptation of an interactive film — to be launched in Salem. Next on the docket? The Princess Bride, which I have seen 20+ times and which I am actually in wuv with.

Wuv, twue wuv, fowever and ever…

Gotta start drop-kicking those R.O.U.S’s.

Don’t let the Salem Cinema fall on hard times

August 3, 2010

Here is a must-read open letter recently sent by Salem Cinema owner Loretta Miles to the members of her e-list. I had heard from a friend that there were problems brewing there and was sad to see them confirmed in today’s inbox.

I hope that more people in Salem will take notice and spend some money watching great films in addition to paying for cheap burgers.

Dear patrons, friends, movie lovers and fans of Salem Cinema;

Independent movie theaters, especially those like Salem Cinema specializing in art, foreign and independent film, are on the endangered species list. We do not have corporate money to see us through hard times and there is no fall back, other than to rely upon those who most appreciate our contributions to the communities that we enrich. We are a dying breed; Salem Cinema is not immune and, in fact, is currently at risk. The economic downturn could not have come at a more inopportune time than it did…as you recall, my beautiful new theater, built as much upon your wishes as my dreams, opened just 6 months after the great Wall Street collapse.

The film industry is down in general this summer, a time that film exhibitors like myself usually count on to see us through the slower months to come, and unfortunately once we lose that momentum it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain enough cash flow to cover our ever increasing cost of operation. The large chains compensate, in part, by continuing to raise prices. I, however, understand that the continuing sluggish economy has affected each and everyone of us and have not raised my prices in nearly 3 years. I have assumed that by showing you that I care about your pocket books that you, in turn, would continue to find value and worth in supporting Salem Cinema.

Unfortunately, this has not proven to be the case of late and it is with much sadness in my heart that I reach out to you, my loyal supporters, and ask that you step forward and become Salem Cinema’s guardians and emissaries. I am struggling. I know you love my theater, I know you appreciate my film selections but if Salem Cinema’s destiny is not to be the same as that of our once beloved Jackson’s Bookstore I need to see you more often.

Last Friday, after a conversation following the movie, one of my wonderful patrons posted the following on his blog. His loyalty not only brought tears to my eyes but made me realize that I could not have said it better myself. Please read what John, who now will always have a special place in my heart, had to say. I hope that you, too, will take this to heart and share it with others:

A Movie a Week: Expand Your World and Maintain Salem’s Best Cultural Feature

You already know that I love what I do. We both know you love movies and the magical escape they offer. Only with your contributions and support will I make through this crisis and be allowed to continue to enhance to your life one captivating movie moment after the next. I need you now more than ever.

Gratefully Yours,

Gaga for fava beans

July 27, 2010

Maybe you’ve heard of them.

Perchance you have made a joke about eating them with a nice Chianti and your victim’s liver.

But it is likely you’ve never come across them in your neighborhood grocery store in Salem — until last week, when you stopped by E.Z. Orchards for a  mixed berry shortcake the size of a 6-year-old’s head and happened upon them, hanging out conspicuously with the green beans and the potatoes.

They are fava beans and they are going to break you.

Favas are all about process. They are not the stuff of 30-minute meals — they are laborious, delicious, buttery little beasts that come wrapped in pods that look like Frankenstein’s fingers, all gnarly knuckles and spindly fingernails.

Buy enough of them and you could spend the better part of an afternoon shelling, blanching, shelling, cooking and eating.

Here is a great tutorial on how to handle your favas.

When you open the seed pod you will find as many as half a dozen, or as few as one, glorious alien seed sacks.

You will remove the seeds and blanch them in boiling water for a minute. Then you remove the meaty part of the seed from the alien-looking casing. Think of this as freeing all those little Neos from the Matrix.

My husband has likened the fava to the lima bean, but that does the fava a disservice. They are buttery kernels, slightly nutty, smooth like a good pinot. I sauteed these favas with half an onion and some fennel, added some fresh dill and half a cup of chicken stock. We ate them with couscous.

Is it worth all that time and effort?

I would just as easily ask you if it is worth it to wait for a wine to ripen. Or a novel to be written. Or a John Cage song to be performed.

I like seeing the hours pile up on the plate.

About that estate sale you missed today

July 25, 2010


Well, you missed it. You decided to take a bike ride, or go to the coast, or pick some blueberries. You missed the tiny placard at the bottom of a traffic sign on South Commercial, or you saw it and never imagined that treasures could be so modestly advertised. You drove on by. You missed out. On… the… chance… to…

Comb through the accumulation of a life!

We were late to this party ourselves. By the time we arrived at the estate sale of a former Willamette music professor, who had worked at the university for four decades, there wasn’t  much left — just enough to hint at what this sale might have looked like when it opened on Friday.

This man, who clearly had lifelong fascinations with art and objects and music, was a collector — pipes, rubbings, old Playboys, photography materials, carved wooden objects, tools, 50’s-era Christmas decorations (see above), antique toys and trains, costume jewelry, hats, phonographs, old LP’s,  music instruments — whew!

I picked up:

Chenille tablecloth
Gingham tablecloth
Wooden marble ramp
Carved tobacco pipe
Four fuzzy Christmas reindeer
Box of roughly 3,567 toothpicks
Halloween basket
Swiss Army knife
Bag of 14 rolls of ribbons

For just $38, I’m ready for the holidays.

Estate sales can be sad affairs. But not this one. This one was a celebration of the curatorial spirit! A grand explosion of a life accumulated in madeline tins, antique cuckoo clocks and a single pair of lederhosen (actually, add that to the list above)!

This is how people live — in a mess of items bought one-by-one over a century. You can’t get this aesthetic in a catlog.

How do you find out about good estate sales in Salem?

Lessons learned from blogging class, vol. 2

July 20, 2010

Every teacher will tell you that one of the boons of the profession is the vitality of the classroom.

You can have a real clunker of a class, with disinterested students and hours that feel like days, and then you can have a class that just bubbles with energy and enthusiasm.

The latter kind of class really sustains me. I leave them boiling over with might. (Then I go home and try to get to sleep when I really should have used that mojo to just keep working…)

I’ve had two of those mighty classes now at Clockworks Cafe, and that has everything to do with the excitement that people in this community have about blogging, whatever their current knowledge or abilities with the medium.

Our first free class there became an exercise in the limits pushed by the new journalism as we all struggled with the presence of one silent camera (thanks, David!).

This last one? Well, this one was all about what happens when you put your name behind what you say.

What does it mean to blog as a person and not as an anonymous entity?

One of the students in my class was interested in writing a blog to share her political views, since she had already accumulated quite a few readers of her opinions through the email list that she was serving. This student was intent on staying anonymous to protect herself from the evil whispers of her neighbors and her fellow Salemites.

My response? Don’t do it. If you can’t put your name behind what you say, then don’t say it in a forum that everybody in the world could possibly have access to (disregarding the digital divide).

I’ve paid the price for my comments in a very real way before. Months ago I made some snarky comments about the closing of the scrapbook store on Hawthorne Boulevard. I don’t hate scrapbooking per se, I just hate the idea that you have to buy a bunch of Leeza Gibbons junk to scrapbook. (For the record, I have three from my days living in Germany).

Then one day I was hanging out near the dessert case at Christo’s, holding my baby in a sling, when I was approached by a woman who pretty much told me off for being so mean.

“Those people lost their livelihood!” she said.

“It’s just an opinion,” I told her.

She was actually pretty nice about it. (Strangely, she thought she had read the comments in the local paper. That’s another lesson in blogging. If your site looks good, people might think you’re a legitimate news organization…).

But back to the idea of anonymity. What bothered me most about my student’s desire to go anonymous was her fear that her comments on her blog, if connected to her name, might affect her children and how they are received in Salem.

So my answer to her is this. If you want a blog to serve an audience of people who already know you and your opinion, sure, run an anonymous blog. But if you want a successful blog that engages people who don’t agree with you as well as the ones that do, readers who would likely refuse to have anything to do with text that might as well have been written by a random Internet troll (and this is most readers), then put your name where you mouth is.

And then be prepared to stick your foot in it.

The crazy ants in my Salem kitchen

July 17, 2010

A single ant can seem almost heroic.

There he is on the counter searching for food, lifting one hundred times his own body weight in – what?

Cupcake crumbs? Dried juice? Spilled honey? Maybe I left a few granules of sugar on the counter after serving guests coffee one evening and forgot to wipe down the surface.

But there he is.

Surely, we all can identify with a tiny ant going about his business, one working, walking stiff just trying to find his way.

I don’t always know what it is that I’ve neglected in the kitchen the night before, but I can tell you there is nothing heroic about waking up to an army of ants moving in a silent mirage like a Salvador Dali painting come alive. In fact, the word that springs to mind is always “teeming.”

And that’s when my skin begins to itch and I become an angel of the ant apocalypse, raining vengeance on them with a spray bottle of Clorox Green Clean. I leave them in a mass grave, crumpled, wet and destroyed.

My brother-in-law Jeff says the ants that share our kitchen here in Salem are similar to the “hormigas locas,” or “crazy ants,” that live in Panama. Crazy ants are travelers foraging far from their nests – our guess is that ours actually live under our herb garden about seven feet from the outside wall of our kitchen.  These crazies are highly adaptable and prefer moist environments. The more I learn about them, the more I have started to consider them just part of the fabric of living here in Salem.

But the word on the street (okay, on NPR) is that these swarms are becoming increasingly more common across the United States.

The other, infinitely more troubling characteristic of these buggers is that they move in what entomologists would call a highly erratic fashion. At the moment you discover them, they scramble, exploding like fireworks in every direction.

In Panama, Jeff found, the way to cure the crazy was to accept a life lived in balance with the ants, which is the only real solution when your house is basically an unsealed wooden shack and your Peace Corps stints lasts only two years. But we live in a 1910s cottage in Northeast Salem, near the State Hospital, and we didn’t sign up to live in a group home.

So naturally we’ve done what everyone else has done – buying plastic white ant hotels, dribbling boric acid at the baseline of all the cabinets and at the all of the edges of our house.  These are temporary solutions that fail when these tiny travelers revisit, or as I often imagine, get smart.

Pesticides can only offer a short-term relief –real peace of mind comes from scrubbing down your surfaces and evolving into your own Mini-maid. This is no small task for someone like me, who once thought that doing the dishes after dinner spoiled the meal.

These ants have brought out the best in me.  Ant season may only come for part of the year, but now, I’m like a woman on fire who has her settings set to “hospital-grade clean.” It’s so sparkling in here that no one is eating off of our floor.

I still come across the occasional ant scouting for food. But he’d be crazy to stop here.

The most delicious thing I ever ate

July 12, 2010

Once upon a time there was a wonderful woman named Jan, whose Oregon family did loads of Oregon-y things, such as digging for clams on the Oregon Coast, trolling  for Dungeness crabs in Siletz Bay, and, occasionally, fishing for salmon in the waters that surround Portland.

Oregon was her bounty, and she shared it in turn with a bunch of schlubbs like us who went and had a baby and can’t find our way to the bottom of the diaper pail, let alone to a boat.

This Jan showed up on our doorstep one day and gifted us with a roughly three pound piece of salmon that she had just pulled from the waters five hours before.

I had never seen a piece of fish quite so beautiful. It glistened with the waters of the river, its skin firm and ruby red,its edges sliced pristinely into a chunk of hunka hunka burnin’ fish.

We like salmon very much in this house. We sometimes drip some soy sauce and a little peanut oil on the top, or slice some green leeks over it and poach it in some parchment.

But this salmon was different.

All this salmon asked for was a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a quick wrist flourish of ground pepper. I baked it until it was just cooked in the middle and cut two smaller pieces from it to serve for dinner.

It is not a stretch for me to say that this salmon was — by leaps and bounds — the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life. At one moment, as I flaked yet another forkful off of the fish, I felt as if I could feel its life blood coursing through its sinews.

Adam  explains it this way:

“You could distinguish between the myomeres and even sarcomeres. It tasted like it was still alive. It was the difference between eating a salad and eating a stew. That fish tasted like it was still pulsing.”

The salmon didn’t make it through the night. I had my serving, then Adam had his, then he had another, then he had another, then another until there was nothing left on the plate but a wrinkled, drying but still sparkling skin.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except for the salmon, of course.

Suck it, salmon, I don’t feel bad.

Make new FRIENDS at the Salem Saturday Market

July 3, 2010

There comes a time in many a young woman’s life when she decides that she had better start putting her money where her heart is. For me, that means, for one, finally donating some money to This American Life, which we did last month.

It also means becoming a friend of the Salem Saturday Market.

I’ve got two words for how this fateful event has come about:

Baby goats.

It turns out that one of the best ways to get to know the valley– and maybe get to see some baby goats in the process —  is by joining the Friends of Salem Saturday Market and accompanying them on one of their many field trips.

Picture it — no bus, no jerk in the seat behind you sticking gum in your hair, no tuna salad sandwich that goes bad on the journey — just your own family in a car meeting up with others to tour the facilities of a food producer in the Willamette Valley.

Say, one that makes goat cheese, such as Fairview Farm Dairy.

I need two hands at this point to count the number of people who have talked to me about the storied baby goats of Fairview. The achy green monster inside of me is long past slumbering on this one.

So last week, I sent my check in. Okay, it was only for 10 bucks, but I’m a member now and I’m not going to let another Sunday trip to a goat farm slip me by. A win for this cause is also a win for cuteness.

But really, isn’t it a shame that it took some baby goats to get me to join? I’m already addicted to $6 a carton XL eggs from Terra Vita (and the farm’s swarthy proprietor, Art).

I’ll say it again: Baby goats. Shout it out!