Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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.


I Promise You a Rose Garden

June 4, 2010

The woman who lived in our house before us loved roses and planted eight of them on our property. Every day when my husband comes home from work, he picks one and brings it to me.

Adam’s a plant guy, and he has spent the past two weeks potting succulents, the only plants our cat won’t eat. He’s not big on flowers and last night I found out why.

“Look at those poppies on the table,” he said, pointing to the orange poppies he recently picked from a ditch here in town. “They look so happy. They don’t even know that they are dying.”

I’ve always kind of felt that way about roses. They are so Miss Havisham.

Even growing up in Pennsylvania’s Red Rose City, I always knew that their beauty was lost on me.

But not here!

The roses in our neighborhood here in Salem are heavy with blossoms at this point — droopy heads bending over to reach the grass. But all across the micro-hood we call home, roses are doing their languid burlesque.

My neighbor has a red rose growing on her front wall, the Ingrid Bergman rose, that has blooms larger than my baby’s head. We have roses woven through the fence in our back patio that bloom and rebloom for several weeks each summer — sure puts those ideas about temporality to shame. And now I’ve discovered this rose, which reminds me of an 1980s dress one might wear while roller skating, at the Portland International Rose Test Garden.

Even if you don’t love roses. Even if you think that the scent of a rose reminds you of the toilette of an 115-year-old woman. Even if No rose has ever smelled as sweet. It is almost impossible not to be happy when you’re surrounded by these gently unfolding pink ladies.

Take Your Husband to Work Day

October 24, 2009

superman-no1I have this theory that one of the best ways to build mutual admiration for the day-to-day slog within a marriage is to enact a Take Your Spouse to Work Day.

For my own husband, I have always feared that this might be a boring prospect indeed. Who wants to sit at home looking over his wife’s shoulder as she hammers on her keyboard and bangs her head against the wall until it bleeds?

There really is no glamor to the writing life.

But now that I’m heading down to Eugene twice a week to teach magazine writing at the UO, I’ve got much more to offer: a nice drive through the Willamette Valley, a 1.5 hour class, and an afternoon of exploring Eugene.

Adam had a random day off of work recently, so I dragged him along.

Rule #1: Follow through. I felt such guilt at making my husband sit through my own class — all we were doing was watching student presentations on magazine markets — that I gave him a bye and let him sit outside reading A Canticle for Leibowitz. Massive fail on my part, since I might have been able to impress him with my ability to wrangle a classroom discussion and mold young minds.

Rule #2: Create conflict. Every single person we encountered in the journalism department seemed there to help me the day I took my husband to work. They were like these bright, shiny, smiling diamond people dropped from heaven. Come to think of it, they usually are…

Rule #3: Make it a normal day. If your goal is to show your spouse how difficult your job is, by all means do not set up a day of fun in Eugene for TYHTWD. We spent the afternoon poking around the new special exhibition Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero, currently on view at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. For nerdy comic book collectors and fan boys, it might be a disappointment — it’s more of an intro to the art of the comic than an exploration of the form — but it does feature a few prize pieces, including the first-ever serialized American comic book and Superman No. 1.  One section of the exhibition is given over to a few very telling and very famous panels of the Batman strip, in which the Dark Knight, in a confrontation with the Joker, realizes how similar they actually are.

Take Your Husband to Work DayVerdict: I got pwned. Or, I pwned myself. We had too much fun to make it seem like work. If he were a little 8-year-old rug rat, and I was trying to instill the values of playful work in his young mind so that he would gain some insight into mom’s life while also internalizing that Protestant work ethic, I might have given myself a gold star.

As it is, I’m pretty sure my husband thinks I just goof off all day at the computer and do stand-up for undergrads.  And that I’m no Wonder Woman…

Dungeness Crabs: Angry!

September 15, 2009


When you’re new in town, it helps to latch on to a really great family that knows the area, explores it often, and is kind enough to drag you along. We’ve got that in Jan and Chris and their two kids, who are living this kind of bucolic southern Salem life at a suburban location just out of town.

(Read: They keep chickens legally).

A more cynical person would suggest that you befriend people with a boat. Or a vacation house. Or access to water sport equipment. But since I’m not that person, I’ll simply say that I hope I have the chance to give back to them someday — or at least give back in a similar way to some down-on-their-luck boatless younger couple.

This isn’t the first time they’ve invited us out to the coast, by the way. It is simply the most godly time that it’s happened. Until now, Chris has been leaving for the Pacific as early as 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday to dig for clams or go tuna fishing.

Uh uh. Sorry. Not going to make it.

But we can do leaving at 8 a.m. So we joined the family last weekend on theirDungeness crabbing trip to Siletz Bay on the Oregon Coast, bringing along little more than two shellfish licenses picked up at Fred Meyer for $6.50 and one half hour a piece (don’t be so shellfish! Get your license!), a German chocolate brownie dish, two bananas, some books, and sweatshirts.

Lesson 1: Never bring a banana on a boat. We had never heard this old wives’ tale before.

By the time we got to Siletz, Chris and Jan had already laid out six Dungeness crab pots at locations throughout the bay and had taken to hand-fishing to pass the time.

Now, I’m an old hand at crabbing from my days growing up vacationing at Fenwick Island, DE. We used to hand-line fish Maryland blue crabs with chicken necks and eel heads off the back of our dock on the Delaware Bay. Nothing pleases me more than the angry tug of a tiny crab that appears to be far larger than his breathren when still swimming below murky bay waters.

But my new “condition” has made boat-walking a precarious task, so I set back as the kids (husband) pulled in too-small crab after too-small crab, hanging  for their dear lives onto the back legs of a festering chicken.


Lesson #2: Use a crab pot.

After about an hour we tired of playing around and circled back to pick up the first of the seven crab pots.  Now, I have to say that Dungeness crabs are the ugly older sisters of the Maryland blue. But what they lack in sheer beauty and grace, they make up in pure, unmitigated anger.

Adam or Chris would pull up the pot, open them and dump the teeming crabs onto the floor of the boat, where they would writhe in waterless fury as everyone (except for me, I’d fall over at this point) would grab them, measure them, throw out the too-small crabs and the females, and dunk the keepers in the boat’s hull.

Lesson #3: You go to the Oregon Coast to get crab, not to get crabs.

Some pots gave mightily, some did not. But after a few hours of circling back to retrieve pots, refilling the festering chicken bait, pulling crab, and weeding out the keepers, we had amassed 41 Dungeness crabs. That number is, incidentally, less than the 12 per person which we are legally allowed to haul in.


Later that night, we joined the family again at their home in south Salem, where Jan and Chris had been faithfully steaming the crab while we showered at home. They like to eat the crab cold, with cole slaw and French bread. I like to eat it with crab juice running down the side of my arm and my husband squirting his crab juice in my eye.

I’m guessing I ate four crab and Adam ate eleven.

Still, there was too much. So Jan and Chris packed up some for us to take home, which we picked and cleaned with some guests who were passing through and did up last night a la Chris Czarnecki at the Joel Palmer House.


With a cream sauce and Truffle oil over pasta, Dungeness crab is rich enough to put you out of commission for the rest of the night. It’s a pleasurable food coma.

Puffy Potentate at the Chinese Garden

August 31, 2009


Come one, come all! To bask in the infinite wisdom, power and beauty of your transplanted puffy potentate writer, who never seems to get enough to eat and who prefers her men large and her trees in miniature!  As she reigns supreme over an empty room in the Hall of Brocade Clouds of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden!

We’ve walked and we’ve driven around this tiny walled city in the center of Stumptown many times but have been waiting for the right time to enter and test its ability to transport us to another place. We got that chance last weekend with our long-term visitors, one of them a horticulturalist who has worked in public gardens around the country.

Chinatowns can be sad affairs. In places residents have fled to other, cheaper parts of the city, they have left little more than trinket shops, dim sum diners and moldering Chinese gates towering over  Starbucks — not much to show for the immigrant cultures that once dominated (see Washington, D.C.).

That’s obviously happened in Portland, too, but the multi-million-dollar classical garden built there in 2000 is a knockout, a Gesamtkunstwerk in miniature, a tribute to Chinese culture structured as an urban oasis where one can see piercing pagodas jut up against the industrial cityscape outside and the blue sky above.

I’ve always harbored a not-so-secret fascination with Asian cultures. For years I wanted to be Chinese when I grew up (you know, you can be anything!), but that obsession has tempered more into a longing to live in a culture where everything around me is hand-crafted and infinitely beautiful.

You can get that at the Chinese Garden. Take away the gagillions of tourists, cameras, running kids and obnoxious fanny-packers, and I imagine you can find some peace there too.

You can’t really turn Chinese by going there, but you sure can play for a day.

Travelers in Salem: A go-to guide

August 21, 2009


Problem: 1. Different kinds of visitors coming to Salem or through Salem at various times of the year, and with a vast range of interests and obsessions.

Problem 2: Writing for audience as a professional writer has made me unwilling to offer the same Salem run-through to every visitor.

Solution: A visit to Travel Salem’s new High Street location, where I picked up four-inch stack of travel guides and promotional material from vineyards, gardens, restaurants, shopping areas, historic sites and parks.

Yes, if ever there were doubt that the staycation is something that can be had pleasurably in and around Salem, then the materials offered at Travel Salem’s new digs should pretty much put those doubts to rest.

I finally made it there today after a long lunch with my friend Jan and her kids at the Original Pancake house (pretty tasty, but they should really check out’s feature video: BACON! You’re doing it all wrong!). It’s a pretty sexy little information stand, a major improvement over the temporary location at the Mission Mill Museum.

We’ve had quite a few visitors to Salem over the past few months, but none of them fall into the categories put forth by the Travel Salem folks — culture seeker, adventurer, gourmand, naturalist, relaxer.

So here’s what I’m going to do. With each new visitor, I’ll put together a little itinerary of must-see activities based on their personalities and foibles and post them here.

The first group featured will be Jeff and Foy, Adam’s twin brother and his wife who just returned from their two-year stint in the Peace Corps in a tiny village in Panama. Needless to say, I imagine that they will be the most chill and undemanding guests we will ever have the pleasure to host.

No hot water for 26 months will do that to you.

She’s a trained horticulturalist and do-it-your-selfer who didn’t wear a pair of pants until she was in college. He’s an illustrator with a knack for blunt criticism and a stomach that knows no borders.

They will be here for two and a half weeks! Check back in to see if I weather this hostess challenge with aplomb and grace.

The Holy Grail already found in Oregon

August 19, 2009


If there is a book that one should absolutely not read while pregnant, chances are good that I have it stashed in my library rotation.

Deformed children?


Lost pregnancies?


Doom and gloom?

Most definitely, check.

Give me your destructive narratives your poorly protaganists, your no-win scenarios and I will be drawn to it like dry rot to your front porch. And though every pregnancy book I have read warns strongly against surrounding yourself with books that might bring you down (you’re depressing your baby, too!) I keep picking them up and holding them to my chest and snuggling with them before discovering the scenes and moments that make it oh so clear that this is not a book I should be reading at this moment in my life.

Indeed, my pregnancy canon is looking a little too much like Law & Order: SVU.

The worst book of all? Portland writer Brian Doyle‘s The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wide World.

Yes, if you really want to make yourself feel bad about all that you are giving up by having kids, I suggest you read  Mr. Doyle’s frilly, funny, delightfully comprehensive book about the year he spent at Lange Estate Vineyards in the Red Hills.

Doyle’s style can take a little getting used to. After Thomas Mann and James Frey, he’s the world’s biggest fan of the run-on sentence (Check out that subtitle to his book! Even if the marketers are the ones who make up the titles, it is clearly inspired by his prose).

Also, his personality is all over the page. If you don’t go for cheeky writers who don’t take themselves too seriously (and like to see them interacting with serious people), it can grate a bit.

But by a few chapters in, I rather enjoyed sitting at the table with someone so clearly unafraid to take himself out of a story. And what a story it is.

Winemakers! Originally from Iowa! In Oregon! Making the best wine in the world! And doing it that oh-so-Oregonian way of complete commitment to craft without the rubbings of pretension.

Love it.

How unpretentious can they be,  you ask? Well, I’ve heard through the grapevine har har that quite a few of the main players at Lange haven’t even read the book (though they sell it in their tasting room).

And why would they, other than to get a great primer on pinot, a cultural history of the grape, an anthropological study of the winemaker’s persona, and captivating descriptions of vintages that they get to try every single day.

Man, I really need a drink.

I invite someone to take me out for a glass of Lange pinot in exactly 1.5 years.

Make that a bottle.

A Tale of Two Cities

July 31, 2009


It was the best of weekends, it was the worst of weekends, it was the age of frantic consumption, it was the age of parsimony, it was the epoch of bedazzlement, it was the epoch of befuddled dismay, it was the sojourn of inspiration, it was the sojourn of exhaustion.

And if I haven’t lost you already with my attempt to capture what it is like for me to wander around downtown Seattle for a few days, then think about this: I think I am slowing losing all ability to be a city person.

I can spend hours at Pike’s Market and another few geeking out on brands in Seattle’s downtown shopping district. I can confront myself with the shock of the new at the Seattle Art Museum in almost-empty galleries at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday night. I can walk on the waterfront and romp in the grass of Volunteer Park on a day so hot it seared my flesh. But at the end of the day, I would really rather be at home in my garden in Salem.

Also, I discovered that Seattle, despite being among the most tech-forward of American cities and having a Twitter presence to rival the Israeli Army, doesn’t respond as gleefully to Twitter-based requests for restaurant and tourist tips. I had more response to my shout outs in Park City, UT than I had there… On my personal travel-by-Twitter scale, it gets a 2/10.

So all in all, our trip Seattle last week for a professional conference and to visit our my brother-in-law Steven and his gal Jessica got me thinking about what got lost when I moved out of a big city (Munich, D.C.), and what might just be gained.

I could post a whole list here expounding the virtues and drawbacks of said cities, but to me, Seattle’s lingering after-effects are two:

1.) Nice haircuts – Working from home, and living in Salem, I kinda miss having to look sharp and move quickly. My pocketbook doesn’t look back fondly on my days as a short-haired upstart PR professional/book editor, but when I see a woman, early 30s, hair shaped like Brancusi himself had done the cutting, my heart gets a little sore. Being around attractive, upwardly mobile people who are in a hurry while I am on vacation tends to make me über-competitive. I saw one woman who looked so good I felt like I had to run home and crank out a screenplay. Is that odd? Perhaps it is not the haircuts themselves but the sense of teeming competition — all those people! And what are you doing with your life!?

2.) Hefty prices – We paid $3.75 a piece for two beautiful but utterly tasteless goat cheese and spinach brioches at a sexy little bakery called Sugar, just around the corner from Steven and Jessica’s apartments. Sadly, this was just one in a string of disappointing food experiences that were only assuaged by one great meal at Brouwer’s Cafe in Fremont.

By the way, the top image is of Adam giving a demonstration at Seattle’s Top Pot, known for their doughnuts, on how NOT to drink coffee. Sadly, I’m pregnant and off coffee for a while. I’m pretty sure that my affinity for Seattle will return post haste as soon as I am living on the stuff again myself.

Desperately Seeking Fulbright scholars!

July 13, 2009


So I have been charged with reinvigorating the Oregon Chapter of the Fulbright Association.

To celebrate, I am writing my first grant — basically an application to support all of the amazing activities we Oregonian Fulbrighters will participate in during the next year.

Don’t know Fulbright? It’s the alumni association of people who have participated in one of the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright Programs. Fulbright sponsors student grants, teaching grants, research grants, and a number of other programs to other countries. Launched in 1946 under the direction of Senator William Fulbright, its purpose is to create mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through an exchange of people, knowledge and skills.

Fulbright has been great to me. I’m not really a joiner, but this is one affiliation that I wear proudly on my sleeve. In 2001, I moved to Munich on a Fulbright grant to study Germany’s book industry — the history of book production, the current climate, and the culture of books. I extended my grant another year, studying at the University of Munich’s Book Studies program, visiting the Frankfurt and Leipzig book fairs, and conducting an analysis of the Munich Literaturhaus, a public-private partnership between publishers and the city.

Oh, and I got to meet Jonathan Franzen. And Richard Powers. And Ian McEwan. And and and.

So I am more than happy to give back to an organization that has given me so much.

I am looking for area Fulbrighters — area being a wider concept encompassing Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, and their surrounding regions. If you know of anyone who has had a Fulbright, or who is going on one, or who is currently on one now — and they are from or in Oregon — please encourage them to contact me.

What we want here is a chance to communicate.

The Fairest of them All

July 12, 2009


I remember the first time someone ever called my husband and me a name so loaded, so antiquated, so unspecific that we could only respond based on our own biases.

We were hanging out with our friends Crystal and Cary, who are these unbelievable Midwestern hippies — the only real hippie friends we met while living in Iowa City. I had baked a cherry crumble, which we were eating with vanilla ice cream on a Saturday afternoon as the crowds milled towards Hawkeye Stadium for another football game we were surely not going to follow.

Crystal says: “Hey man, you guys are totally our hippie friends.”

“What? You’re our hippie friends. We’re not hippies.”

“Sure you are. You make your own yogurt and grow plants and are always recycling and eating all that hippie crunchy stuff. You guys are totally hippies.”

“No way, man, you’re the hippie. You’ve got the linguistic habits to prove it, man.”

And so, a misunderstanding, a challenge of sorts. No one really knows what a hippie is anymore. That’s why when I wrote my recent column on finding things to do at Salem until 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night and called Venti’s downtown our “go-to place for crunchy hippie food,” I received a little bit of flak from some people downtown who see hippie as a pejorative.

To be fair, I’ve been working on a better way to describe the food at Venti’s to massage the egos of these lovely Venti’s fans. I haven’t come up with anything to explain people who seem to have cut and pasted the best from a number of ethnic cultures to form new and exciting arrangements of hummus and peanut sauce (you get a kick in the pants if the word “fusion” just popped in your head).

But the real issue is the word “hippie.”

Maybe because I grew up on the East Coast, maybe because I have seen so many incarnations of hippies as to warrant the term almost meaningless — and certainly not the catch-all some seem to think it is — I’ve always kind of loved hippies.

We certainly saw our share of their modern incarnations at the Oregon Country Fair yesterday… and since hippies like to make stuff, I’ve selected a few images to show my fairest of the fair — the most interesting things I saw happening there.

Unlike some photographers there, who seemed more drawn to the “nudes” on display, I can’t say I felt compelled to capture the chaotic free-for-all pulsing through the woods at the fair. When things got really jammin’ at around 4:00 p.m., I was almost ready to leave. I can revel with the best of them, but I prefer not to be brushed by a stray breast or an… ahem… half-dressed unicorn.

A one-man stand of on-demand, hand-stitched Sewing Machine Designs:

The artist asked for a phrase of five words or less, which he would then interpret right before your eyes. I was seconds away from asking for “gas stove catching fire on bathrobe,” which actually happened to me last January, but then he was being kind of snooty and unresponsive and we decided to move on. I could have used a patch for that bathrobe, though.

Can anyone tell me what these are?

A puppet show about two bunny rabbits who go on a picnic:

Strange, carnival-esque Francophile revelers at the beginning of the fair:

More puppets: You are seeing a pattern. These are made by Portland’s Alchemystical Workshop.

Finally, things we ate at the fair:

1 potato and mushroom kanish
1 potato and garlic kanish
2 baklavas
1 cup of famous gumbo
2 ice cream sandwiches dipped in dark chocolate
1 homemade root beer float
1 avacado dreamboat stuffed with hummus, cheddar-jack and yogurt

Final verdict: Hippies like delicious food, making neat stuff that doesn’t always make sense, banging drums in circles, dancing like West Africans, whole grains, dressing up in fairy garb, forests, belly-dancing, natural childbirth, folk music, and puppets.

I won’t profess to being a hippie, but I still like them quite a bit, even —  as our pork dude at the Salem Saturday Market calls them — the “nudes.”