Travel Feed

How to Visit Seattle Like a Native Even If You're a Newcomer

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On a recent trip to Seattle, I asked my husband to ask me a question, any question. This is a good way to keep things interesting in a long relationship, as you learn something new every time, even if you've been together for years and think you've heard each other's stories already. He asked, "Of all your journalistic articles, which one do you think is your best?" Funny thing, I didn't even have to think about it. 

It's been almost a decade now since I wrote for the new media web site Crosscut. A for-profit startup back then, the skeleton crew of publishers and editors had high ambition that we were going to save journalism. Of course, that was a tall order during a time of massive newsroom layoffs, many papers across the country swallowed up by larger entities or simply folding. But Crosscut is a thriving non-profit now, and I moved on to writing games and books.

During those heady years of '07 to '09, I served as deputy editor and wrote more than 60 articles for Crosscut. Two of them stand out as my best, or at least my favorite, as it's hard to be objective about one's own writing. They're both travel pieces, which surprises me, as I'm not particularly well-traveled, although I've certainly lived in a lot of places. Both express a joy for local travel in and around Seattle. I share them with you now to help inspire your own travel to the Emerald City, my beloved home for a decade. Both excursions are still do-able today; Agua Verde is alive and well, as is Kalaloch, though I suspect they've since swanked the place up. 

 A newcomer goes kayaking

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Six years in the Northwest and I’d never set butt in a kayak. Not that this should be that surprising. I know people who’ve been here for 20 years and haven’t so much as touched a kayak’s plastic skin. A friend of mine in her 30s who’s lived here all her life hasn’t been on a floating vessel of any kind except for the bridges and ferries.

But I used to edit Fishermen’s News, a gig that gave me access to 100-year-old halibut schooners and 100-foot ocean trawlers. I live in Ballard, where one sees intrepid kayakers come through the locks on a regular basis. There was no excuse.

On the kind of freakishly warm, sunny day in late September that makes Seattleites feel as if they’re getting away with something illicit, the hub and I went down to Agua Verde Paddle Club to brave the waters of Portage Bay.

| Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too.

At the check-in counter, they make you sign a release form. There’s nothing like a release form to up the anxiety meter. Not that I was feeling anxious. OK, a little. The kayaks are small and sit atop the surface of the water, and the ships passing by are very large in comparison. Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too. My kayaking experience thus far in 36 years of existence was limited to the waters off Miami, which were warm as a bath, and a basin in the Florida Keys where the water was actually hot. This Puget Sound water is so cold, I can’t stand to be in it further up than my knees, during the hottest part of the summer — you know, that one week in August when you partially break a sweat.

To say that I had a healthy regard for the realities of the situation would be euphemistically accurate. To say that I had a perhaps paranoiac fear of the water wouldn’t be inaccurate...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

It's stormy, and the Pacific coast beckons

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Seventy-three miles long but just a few miles wide, the ocean beaches of Olympic National Park in Washington have been — miraculously — left wild. There are no fried fish stands, no motels; no one beckons you to parasail or buy a hot dog. You are not to drive your car along the beach as is done with scandalous complacency just 20 miles or so to the south. To get to most of Olympic’s beaches, you must be willing to work, to walk in sturdy shoes for some time, and to climb a bluff or two, perhaps pulling yourself along by the fixed ropes provided for your safety. You must pay attention to the changing tides, as the beach may be for hundreds of feet decidedly walkable when you wake up in the morning, the sand seeming to stretch with flat, mirror-like grace to the far retreating surf, only to, by afternoon, disappear under the swirl and toss of water against the base of a bluff. The beach is there, and then it’s not.

| The beach is there, and then it’s not.

Visitors flock to Olympic National Park in ever increasing numbers — visitation grew 10 percent this past year over last – but a trip during off-season is a good way to avoid crowds and experience the beach in its wildest state. The hub and I stayed at Kalaloch Lodge over a three-day weekend in late fall, when the lodge had ample vacancy, and we nearly had the beach to ourselves, especially after sunset.

The Quinault word “kalaloch” means “a good place to land,” and that utilitarian mindset still characterizes it. Kalaloch Lodge is no high-end resort; nor is it a gem in the national park lodge tradition. Disabuse yourself of any vision that includes a massage, stone fireplace, 300-thread-count sheets, or complimentary cotton robe. The accommodations are old-school and basic. Not rustic – you’ll find showers, alarm clocks, and coffee makers in most rooms. But you won’t find a TV, phone, or wi-fi. The furnishings and decor are several decades out of date, and that’s not such a bad thing...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

I hope your travels are full of wonder and discovery. Happy Memorial Day!

All photos by me, with the driftwood image appearing previously on Crosscut. Want to read more of my articles for Crosscut? Visit the author page.


Rave Reviews, an Interview, and More in the Boxed Set Blog Tour!

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The Dreamslippers Series Boxed Set + Bonus Story released in February. With this release, I decided to focus on an online, or "virtual" tour, since the boxed set is only available on ebook. I'm also happily slammed with game-writing projects this year and already had a commitment to speak at the Associated Writing Programs conference in D.C. around the date of the launch.

This time we included a giveaway, and 83 people signed up to win copies of all three novels in paperback, ebook, and audiobook, as well as the boxed set. Congrats to the winners!

The tour had three components: reviews, an interview, and spotlights.

Reviews

While not all book bloggers assign star ratings to the books they review, several on this tour did, with three coming in with 5-star reviews. The first one, for Framed and Burning, book two in the series, came from Anteria Writes:

Each character sees their dreamslipping ability as something different. Mitch could care less, Cat sees it as a curse that gets people killed, and Grace sees and uses it as a gift. Cat is the great-niece of Mitch, granddaughter to Grace. She is, of course, the youngest and least experienced using the dreamslipping and has had the worst experience with her gift, blaming it for the death of her childhood sweetheart. Mitch and Grace are siblings. They’ve each made their way in life, using their talents, natural and supernatural. And those talents have brought good and bad things to each of them.

Along with success we find jealousy, loathing, contempt….Mitch has the idea that there is plenty of room in the world for all art. But humans are inherently competitive and greedy. So they try to take down Mitch in his prime, but he wins out, becoming a coveted artist. Thus, begins the journey to find an accidental killer.

The story is woven perfectly to tell each person’s story in that person’s personality. We have the seriousness in Cat’s narratives, the eccentricity and grounding in Grace’s, and the disjointed, emotional feel of Mitch.

The nominations and awards this book has received were well-deserved.

The second 5-star review came from The Book Adventures of Emily, which has hosted the series in the past:

Cat in the Flock is super awesome! There is so much mystery and suspense! I've posted spotlights of this series, and it always piqued my interest. The dreamslippers are so amazing; I can't describe how much they fascinate me. Cat McCormick is such a great main character. She isn't cliche or confusing; she gets straight to the point, and I love following her on this road of mystery. The overall writing style of Cat in the Flock is super straight forward and enjoyable! I can really see the care and effort Ms. Brunette put into this book, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Another reviewer, Book Fidelity, praised the book for the portrayal of recent college grad Cat McCormick as well:

Through some fantastic storytelling, we are plunged into this world of dreams and curiosity. Cat is wonderful and real in that she makes mistakes, but keeps moving forward. Also, the idea of detective work including psychic abilities is just plain awesome. I definitely recommend this book (and series) for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Brigs, and Karen Marie Moning. 

The blogger at Rosepoint Publishing gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and acknowledged, "Guessing whodunit isn’t so difficult. It’s how the protagonist gets us there, the maturity of her dreamslipping powers, and the peripheral characters that adds to an overall enjoyable read."

The most exciting 5-star review came from J Bronder Reviews, who has now posted on all three books in the series. The blogger writes, "This is a great series and one that I strongly recommend. I loved all three books and can’t wait to see what happens next."

Interview

I was happy to meet a new book blogger on this tour in Reeca's Pieces. The name of her blog made me smile, and I shared this anecdote with her: Back in grad school when I was studying for my MFA in fiction, I used to write short "flash" fiction pieces that would appear in between the longer stories in my short story collection. My classmates called these "Lisa's Pieces."

Reeca asked great questions about the inspiration for the series, which is not one thing but many. Here's the first: 

I read a lot of supernatural and psychic mysteries and interviewed four of Seattle’s top writers in the genre for Seattle Woman magazine. I was also a huge fan of the TV series Medium; I loved how psychic visions came to the protagonist in her dreams. I’ve always been an active dreamer and for many years suffered from PTSD-related nightmares, so dreams have held great significance for me.

Read the rest of the interview on Reeca's blog.

Spotlights

Three bloggers posted spotlights for the tour, including the link to the giveaway. A shout-out to The Paperback Princess; Books, Dreams, Life; and again, J Bronder Reviews.

A huge thank you to Sage's Blog Tours for hosting and to the book bloggers who give generously of their time, effort, and opinion to tell their readers about the books they love.

Buy links and details for the Boxed Set + Bonus Story are here. If you've read every book in the series, please take the time to review the boxed set online. I could really use the reviews to get the boxed set in front of more readers. Thank you!

Also, for those of you who are fans of the series, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. If I continue to write the series, what would you like to see? Tell me if there's a particular character you're most interested in, any questions you have, and so on. If you've read the bonus story in the boxed set, I'd be interested in knowing if you'd like to read a whole novel devoted to Amazing Grace's early years.


What's the Motive? Lily Iona Mackenzie

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Readers of my Dreamslippers Series will undoubtedly recognize kindred spirits of Amazing Grace in Fling! Author Lily Iona Mackenzie talks about the real-life inspiration for her eccentric characters in today's What's the Motive post.

Lily Iona Mackenzie:

I began writing Fling! because I was curious about my mother’s mother, someone I had never met. Early in the 20th century, my grandfather, a former schoolmaster in Scotland’s highlands, immigrated to Calgary, Canada, hoping to find a better life there for himself and his family. Meanwhile, WWI broke out. A passenger ship was torpedoed, preventing his wife and five kids from joining him for seven years. When they did, my grandmother couldn’t adjust to the brutal winters or to her husband’s behavior. 

After being in Calgary for a year, my grandmother moved out, refusing to put up with my grandfather’s verbal and physical abuse. She found work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family. Soon, she and her boss became lovers, and he took her to Mexico City with him. When he returned, she didn’t. Some time later, my grandfather received a letter from a Mexican priest that she had died there.

Though I never met my grandmother, she was a strong, ghostly presence throughout my childhood. Who was this woman whose genes I shared? How had she found the courage in the early ‘20s to flee a difficult situation? And what did she do during those years in Mexico City? What motivated her to leave her kids and travel to Mexico, a country very different from what she had experienced in largely protestant Canada and Scotland? And what effect did her behavior have on those left behind, in particular her daughter and granddaughter?

These were the questions that sent me off on my quest to uncover this mysterious woman. I wanted to recreate what life might have been like for her once she left Canada. That impulse brought in a number of other characters that inhabit the novel. So while 90-year-old Bubbles and 57-year-old Feather are the main focus initially, very loosely based on my mother and myself, it’s Heather, my imagined grandmother, who is at the novel’s heart. 

When I started out, I planned to write a lyrical family saga. But Feather, an aging hippie, and her fun-loving mother Bubbles soon took over the narrative and brought their own distinctive humor with them, with plenty of hilarious moments as members of this family reunite in Mexico. 

Feather and Bubbles’ journey begins when Bubbles receives mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

But they also make unexpected discoveries in Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist. Feather gains a sense of who her mother really was. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known, ancient rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. She doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in her. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams, one of the things I discovered from writing this novel.

For me, Fling! turned out to be a meditation on mothers, daughters, and art. It suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what all the characters discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does. And I’m hoping that my actual grandmother partook of it, too.

Review Fling! on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow Lily Iona Mackenzie on Facebook or through her blog.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie has published poetry, short fiction, and essays in over 150 Canadian and American publications. Her poetry collection All This was published in October 2011. Her novel Fling! was published in July 2015. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy, will be released in 2018.


An Interview with Award-Winning Author Qui Xiaolong

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Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter. 

Qui and I are old colleagues and friends. I served as a beta reader for his first novel before that was even a thing, and the two of us worked together teaching English at St. Louis Community College. During me recent trip to St. Louis, he told me about his interesting indie project, a poetry collection written in the voice of Inspector Chen, a character he's developed over the course of a multi-book series. Chen trained in poetry, and it informs his thoughts and is a compelling aspect of the series. But this is the first time the poems have been gathered into a collection.

Lisa: Poetry has been an integral part of your Inspector Chen series since the beginning. Why fuse these seemingly disparate genres—poetry and crime—into one?

Qui: To begin with, I love poetry, and I cannot but have my Inspector Chen love it, too. In an age with few people reading poetry, it's just my way of smuggling poetry into crime fiction. But it's also more than that; in classical Chinese novels, there're more poems than in my Inspector Chen novels, usually with a poem at the beginning of a chapter, and another at the end of it, and more with a new character being introduced. And I think it is justified for varying lyrical intensity in the narration--like the use of blank verse in a Shakespearean play, so it sort of carries on the Chinese tradition. But more importantly, at least so for myself, I want Inspector Chen to observe not only from a cop's perspective, but from a poet's as well. The two sometimes come into conflict, which may also make the character more complicated. 

Lisa: That’s really fascinating; I didn’t realize Chinese novels integrate the poetic form so much. And yes, I enjoy the two sides of Chen’s brain, poet and inspector. Together they lead him to a sort of third way of doing things that seems to be a negotiation between the two. There’s a lush, philosophical quality to his thoughts that make his perspective such a pleasure. I’m curious: What have readers said about this unique poetry/mystery mashup? I know we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. your foreign readers. Are those abroad more receptive to reading poetry with their plots? 

Qui: I believe it’s something worth trying for a writer to write in the genre, but at the same time, to push the limit of it—if that’s what you call the unique poetry/mystery mashup. From what feedback I’ve gotten from my readers, I think they like it. Yes, we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. readers elsewhere. For instance, Poems of Inspector Chen have been translated and published by my Italian and French publishers, and during my tour in France in October, one of the most rewarding experiences there was the discussion with 300 high school students in Lyon about that poetry collection, which they studied in class. But I want to add, readers here are also so enthusiastic about the poetry. During a recent conference sponsored by the Ahmanson family in L.A., for instance, the host offered the poetry collection to everybody attending the conference. A very large audience indeed. It’s just her way of supporting poetry and Inspector Chen, which I understand and appreciate. 

Lisa: With your background in literary poetry and fiction, what drew you to the detective genre in the first place?

Inspector Chen poems

Qui: I've always loved crime fiction. But the way I started writing in the genre was accidental. In the mid-nineties, I went back to China for a visit after staying in the States for seven or eight years. I was so impressed by the changes taking place there that I wanted to try my hand on a novel about the society in transition, but I had not written fiction before, so I had a hard time putting things together. Then the knowledge of the crime fiction genre came to my rescue, so to speak. I reshuffled the contents, and used the genre as a ready-made framework for what I wanted to say. In fact, when I submitted the manuscript for Death of a Red Heroine to my publisher, I was not even that sure it was a real crime novel. But my publisher liked it and wanted me to expand it into a series. So here I am, with book number ten of the Inspector Chen series coming out in French in September. But because of the accidental entry, you may still notice the sociological traces in all these books. 

Lisa: Wonderful—that explains so much. It’s interesting to hear you say your original plan was to write about society in transition. You weave this into the plots well, or rather, you deftly use plot as a vehicle for immersing your reader in that transitional society fully. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the series. How has that waxed and waned over the course of the series? You say now with ten there are still traces…

Qui: With so much happening in contemporary Chinese society, I’m capable of putting each Inspector Chen investigation in a specific social, political, cultural backdrop, in which the crime and the investigation are directly or indirectly commenting on it, and also commented on by the society in transition. For instances, Death of a Red Heroine against the backdrop of the split personality imposed on individuals living under an authoritarian regime, Red Mandarin Dress against that of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake against that of China’s ecological crisis, Enigma of China against that of governmental cyber control, and Shanghai Redemption against that of uncontrollable corruption under the one-party system… And with so much still happening there, Inspector Chen has a long way to go with a sociological perspective. After Becoming Inspector Chen, the manuscript I’m working on also has such a background focus on the lack of an independent legal system in China.  

Lisa: Let’s talk about your latest book, a collection of Inspector Chen’s poetry in one volume. It’s a brilliant, yet curious choice. Are there other models for what you’ve done, taking a fictional character and making him the “author” of a book of poetry? What made you decide to do this now?

Qui: For myself, it’s not exactly a curious choice. I don’t think I had any models in mind while compiling the collection, but I benefitted from the “mask” theory elaborated by Yeats. According to him, a poet could speak behind the mask of a character. And I found the experience truly liberating, for I could suddenly write about things familiar, relevant to the inspector, but not necessarily to me. It’s also experimental in exploration of the reversible interrelationship among the creating and the created in the process of fiction writing. 

Lisa: I’m also intrigued by your decision to self-publish this book of poetry. What has been your experience so far, as someone whose work has always been traditionally published—first with SoHo Press and now with St. Martin’s—stepping out into the wilds of publishing on your own?

Qui: The Poems of Inspector Chen was published traditionally in France and Italy. But I’m quite  aware of today’s difficult poetry market. For me, it’s a labor of love, but not necessarily so for every publisher, which I understand. About a year ago, I happened to talk to a friend about it, and he helped the project greatly with his expertise in the field of self-publishing. It’s really to his credit that the poetry collection came out here like that.    

Check out Qui Xiaolong's web site for book links and more.

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A Hotel for Geeks, Complete with Joystick Sink!

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Last week my husband and I took a short trip to Walla Walla and stayed in a hotel room that at first felt to me like stepping into an airplane in the 1960s. The furniture is built-in, curved, and modular. Case in point: The microwave is behind this abstract cupboard (above pic). Then I realized this is a safety feature: Everything is attached to everything else, so even if you wanted to steal the beside-the-bed lights, you couldn't, as they are built into the cabinets.

But THEN I realized the hotel was actually designed with nerds in mind. Behold, the sink handle is a joystick!

Joystick

Also, this is definitely a Lego toilet.

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 That is all. Oh, if you're planning a trip to W2, and this looks fun to you, the hotel is the Courtyard Marriott. We went because the man had a business meeting, so we got the government rate, but I suspect it's pretty pricey otherwise. On that note, is it becoming impossible to travel now? I mean, who can afford a couple hundred a night for a hotel? I don't know what I'd do without Airbnb.

 

 


A Moth and Mortality: Flying Back from St. Louis on the Day of the Massacre

Jun 14, 2016

It seemed to rest there, on the windowsill.

This Sunday I flew back to Seattle from St. Louis, MO. About half way into my return flight, so two hours in, a moth fluttered up out of nowhere and beat its wings against my window glass, then came to rest on the sill. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was strange, watching a moth try to get out--where there was no getting out at all. 

I was still reeling from the breaking news about Orlando. 

Just two days before, someone close to me told me he believes that homosexuality is wrong, that Jesus said it is a sin for a man to lie down with a man. When I lived in St. Louis twenty years ago, I was a progressive student activist, and a fighter by nature. My intellect had been forged by the rigors of a Jesuit education, I knew what was what, I was out to save the world, and I'd acquired a silver tongue for debate. Back then, I would have Taken. Him. Down. And I have--over the years, we've had some shut-outs, let me tell you.

But these days I'm more interested in being happy than I am in being right. In our limited time during my visit, I didn't want to spend it arguing about politics. I try to approach such differences with patience and expansiveness. I knew I wasn't likely to change his mind, so I told him I couldn't disagree more but that I respected his right to his beliefs, as long as he didn't violate any laws. I thought it was interesting that he said that if he were a baker he would gladly bake a cake for a gay wedding, as that's business, but that he believes homosexuality is a choice, and the wrong one.

It's hard when someone you love seems to judge others for their love.

I couldn't help but think of our conversation when I read the first reports about Orlando. But on my own social forums, I was speechless. My silver tongue had no words. Then a good friend posted to his Facebook page something beautiful and sad and just right:

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A few nights before that conversation about whether or not homosexuality is wrong, I'd had this strange experience while driving around St. Louis late at night. Like a panic or anxiety attack, I felt a sharp pain in my chest, and my hands went damp. These symptoms coincided with a very clear realization: That I would one day cease to exist. Now it could have been triggered by the heady experience of being back in a part of the country where I practically grew up, having lived there from junior high up through high school, college, and for six years of adulthood. I kept comparing everything to twenty years ago--the city itself, which has changed dramatically, my family members, my friends. I've changed a lot, too, and not just in my penchant for debate. But it wasn't just that. I felt the unfairness of mortality. While I have no regrets about the choices I've made, I think like most people I've spent too much of my life in anguish over being hurt, or angry at those who've done me wrong, or worrying that I'm not good enough or skinny enough or I'm not this or that. There is so much I want to do, and I don't want to waste any more time in a comparathon or with people who don't return back the energy I spend on them or in berating myself for failings, whether real or imagined. Because it could all be gone, the time I have left to do the things I need to do. Like Ernest says, in the flash of a disco ball.

Today I read through some of the bios of the Orlando victims, looked at pictures they'd posted to Facebook and elsewhere. They were all so young, so beautiful. Did they know it? Did they feel it? They stare at the camera, some of them, as if to say, Do you see me?

I assumed the moth was just resting there on the windowsill of my plane, and I looked forward to seeing it flit outside with all of us when we exited. I'd even considered ways of helping it find the front door. But then I saw that it was listing unnaturally, off to the side. Its antennae quivered, then stopped. When it died, it lost its hold on the sill--and fell.

My husband tells me that when the police stepped into the club, there was a cacophony of ring tones coming from the cell phones of the dead. All those loved ones on the other line. Are you there? Are you OK? Please tell me you're OK. Please. I love you.

I think of the yogi's words in a video I've practiced to for twenty years. "Love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need." Let's do that now, let go of everything we don't need. That's a lot these days, but look at what we'll have left.


Guest Poet: Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific #FridayPoetry

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Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific

Today I'm thrilled to have a guest poet on the blog, Nancy Slavin, who indie-published her collection last year under the Bay City Books label. She's detailed her decision on this, including the costs to print the books herself, in the post "What You Love Has Value." It's a story that resonated with me since my own poetry publication is 100% a labor of love. Reading the exquisite poems in Oregon Pacific, I can't help but wonder at the voices we lose with so few opportunities for poets like Nancy. Working with traditional forms such as the sonnet, sestina, and ode, she calls to mind both the subtle and dramatic rhythms of the Northwest coast, a place where "the foghorn alone has discipline."

Here's a sample poem from the collection.

Fireweed 

– for Angela 

You are a new soul 

sprouted like a seedling 

that for eons wind has blown 

on white fluffy wings. 

Abandoned on earth 

bereft of your home, 

left only the hurt 

of blood-red rhizomes 

rooting in plots 

of industrial waste. 

You wonder if this lot 

is a perennial mistake. 

For the ache of your body 

stretched toward the sun 

with primroses budding 

positively burns. 

But all around, each hour, 

more are being captured. 

Bright pink flowers 

swell into capsules 

which, in spite of fear, 

by the light on which they feed 

open to the air 

millions of angelic seeds.

Oregon Pacific front cvr.no spine

You can purchase a print copy of Oregon Pacific through Nancy's Web site, and she will send you a signed book if you do.

Nancy and I met in an online writing community and have been each other's editing coaches for the past few months. I value her feedback on my early drafts and pitches. In addition to Oregon Pacific, she's also authored a novel, Moorings, which won the first place prize for the Nina Mae Kellogg Award for Graduate Fiction at Portland State University. She is an English teacher and violence prevention educator who lived on the Oregon coast for twenty-plus years.


I'm Speaking at U of Florida's Digital Worlds Institute

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I was invited to participate in this summit on digital entrepreneurship, which is pretty damn cool. That week I'll be a guest lecturer in a digital design class (I've done this once before, remotely), a speaker at the summit itself, and a judge of student work at the salon. Here are the summit details:

International Digital Entrepreneurship Association Summit (IDEAS)

Presented at the University of Florida Digital Worlds Institute’s Research, Education and Visualization Environment (REVE) - March 25th, 2016, 9:30AM-5:00PM

Come join us for an amazing day of exploration & innovation with premiere guest speakers from around the world.

IDEAS is an inspirational event offering a day of learning how to succeed in the digital media business landscape. This one-day summit promotes the confluence of traditional entrepreneurship and new technologies, with an emphasis on new business forms and the opportunities created by these technologies. Guest panelists — academic and real-world practitioners — will link theory and practice, in a dialogue with participants, as they share their innovative stories, techniques, and ideas that have established them as leaders in their respective fields and industries.

Event page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/973184246099902/
Contact info:  
marko@digitalworlds.ufl.edu

The event is free but RSVP’s are required: rsvp@digitalworlds.ufl.edu

Event schedule, March 25th:

  • 9:30AM to 10:00AM – Coffee and registration
  • 10:00AM to 10:50AM – Key note (Ofer Zinger)
  • 11:00AM to 11:50AM – Panel discussion 
  • 12:00PM to 12:50PM - Guest speaker presentation (Nestor Gil)
  • 1:00PM to 2:00PM – Lunch
  • 2:00PM to 2:50PM – Guest speaker presentation (Lisa Brunette)
  • 3:00PM to 3:50PM - Guest speaker presentation (D.A. Jackson)
  • 4:00PM to 4:50PM- Guest speaker presentation (Taqi Shaheen)

Guest Speakers:

Ofer Zinger, Entrepreneurship - Hands-On

Being an entrepreneur is exciting, however, extremely risky;  more than 90% of the startups fail.  As a serial entrepreneur in the digital space, Mr. Zinger will cover the common pitfalls as well as the shortcuts to startup success that are often missing from standard textbooks, using real life hands-on examples.

Ofer Zinger has founded several companies in the digital space such as TLV Media, Dynamic Yield, Cedato, Ilivid (Acquired), Bundlore (Acquired) and others. Consultative to the Israeli Intelligence (8200), IAF, Iron dome project, and various companies in homeland security and medical devices sectors. Ofer Zinger is currently the Chairman of Feature Forward, a programmatic video advertising platform.  (https://www.linkedin.com/in/oferzinger

Lisa Brunette, Crafting Games for a Mainstream Audience
The current market is flooded with mid-core games targeted toward a male audience aged 18-35, while the audiences outside that demographic remain underserved. Learn how to craft game stories for women, older players of all gender identifications, and children in this talk from a recognized expert in premium casual storytelling.

Lisa Brunette has story design and writing credits in hundreds of bestselling video games, including the Mystery Case Files, Mystery Trackers, and Dark Tales series for Big Fish and AAA games for Nintendo and Microsoft platforms. She is featured in Boy’s Toys, a documentary about women in games. She earned an MFA in Fiction from University of Miami, and she is the past recipient of the AWP Intro Journals Project Award, a grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, and the William Stafford Award. (www.catintheflock.com)

Nestor Armando Gil, Labor Under Alternative Economies
Social practice art takes as its starting point relationships and dialogue, two elements crucial to a successful entrepreneurial enterprise.  By producing research, commodities, and performances in a social context, Nestor Gil addresses memory as a series of negotiations that are personal, cultural, and political. 

Nestor Armando Gil was born in Florida in 1971.  He received the Masters in Fine Art degree in 2009 from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His performances and visual work have been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally in Spain, and the United Kingdom.

D. A. Jackson, Making Something Out of Nothing:  Independent Filmmaking in the Digital Age
Award winning director D.A. Jackson discusses the ins and outs of film production in the 21st Century.  Topics covered will be, how to use available resources, budgeting, directing, writing scripts, producing, VFX, and distribution.

D.A. Jackson has been working in the film industry for the past 18 years.  During his career, he has worked as a director, stuntman, fight choreographer, actor, and producer.  He has directed commercials, music videos, television shows for SPIKE,  and won numerous awards  for his independent feature films and shorts . His passion for storytelling  and unique approach to filmmaking has led him to be an often requested speaker at colleges and film festivals.

Taqi Shaheen, Being Digital: The Chinese Way

Born in Pakistan, and currently lecturing in Shanghai, China, Taqi is uniquely positioned to present the complex system of entrepreneurship as it exists in Asia today. From art works, to information technology and video games, Asia has been a hotbed of production and innovation. 

Taqi Shaheen is a filmmaker, visual artist and art educator whose work crosses mediums and defies genre distinctions to fashion witty and curious observations of contemporary Asian cultures and their urban landscapes. He graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and uses hybrid digital video and film formats to research and construct non-fictional narratives collaborating with various visual artists, musicians and performers.) (http://www.taqishaheen.com/)

IDEAS is sponsored by UF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Warrington College of Business Administration, supported by the UF Division of Sponsored Research, presented by the UF Digital Worlds Institute, and organized by Prof. Marko Suvajdzic.

Prof. Suvajdzic is a diverse thinker with 17+ years of achievement in academia and the creative digital research and production space. Marko’s experience includes a wide range of digital startups and educational projects. He has lectured internationally at schools and conferences in: U.S.A., U.K., India, Serbia, Norway, and China.


My So-Called Freelance Life*, Week One: From Belly Dancing to Rosie the Riveter

View

The view from my home office is not exactly the ocean vista I always imagined. Think of it as 'American Gothic.'

On Friday, I said good-bye to my crew at the day job in Seattle and turned in all my equipment and official access cards. It had been five years, my longest stint at any one company. I shed a tear as I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time.

Or maybe not last time. I'll still have a contract relationship to work with Big Fish on games. Who knows what will happen with that as the industry continues to evolve?

I pretty much hit the ground running this first week of independence. I had a two-hour meeting on Monday with a new client and then an interview with a real 'Rosie the Riveter' that evening. Sara Bowles was a shipyard worker who got laid off during the big recession. A single mom, she went back to school, earned a degree in the energy conservation and now holds her dream job at Tacoma Power. It's one of many stories I've got on the docket for The Center of Excellence for Clean Energy.

After that, it was back up to Seattle on Tuesday to give a presentation on how marketing is all about storytelling.

My other two interviews this week? A tribal belly dance teacher, on the subject of female adornment, and her daughter, a Nia teacher, on the subject of dancing before, after, and during pregnancy. Nia, for those of you who don't know, is a joy-centered barefoot dance practice that incorporates martial arts and the healing aspects of yoga, Feldenkrais, and others, as well as established dance styles like jazz and modern. I've been practicing Nia myself since last spring and love it. And for the past month, I've been writing a weekly wellness newsletter for Embody Studio, where I dance. It's a fantastic community, and I really feel 'in the zone' on this new work.

I also submitted an application for a writing residency at Mineral School (wish me luck) and wrote articles about healthy ways to celebrate and how to cultivate a wellness practice that carries you throughout life's stages.

This all happened in the midst of continuing to battle a cough that's plagued me for weeks. And then I got some upsetting news, something personal I'm not ready to write about yet. I am focusing on the best possible outcome, though, and I have mobilized my support system.

Then, because life is a roller coaster, I found out this morning that my first novel has made me a #1 best-selling author. Read more about that here.

Next week I'm in D.C. for a book event, as well as to conduct some research for a secret project and meet up with a few old friends.

Week one of freelancing, no regrets yet! Thanks for caring.

*My So-Called Freelance Life is a book by my friend Michelle Goodman. I've reviewed it here and recommend it to anyone considering the life.


The indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop: My Miami Christmas Tree, and More!

ALL-ABOARD-with-medallion

The fine folks at indieBRAG asked me to write about my favorite Christmas carol for this blog hop, but the first carol that came to mind is one I can't stand: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Maybe it's the crassness of it that has always bothered me, even at an early age, or the cliché image of a grandmother as a doddering, wig-wearing, egg nog-guzzling dodo who gets herself killed by Santa. I mean, Grandma receives short shrift in this tale, while Grandpa, on the other hand, "we're all so proud of" for "taking this so well." The vague misognyny, the lyrics, the music, everything about the song makes me cringe.

So I used my intense dislike for it in fiction.

In Framed and Burning, 78-year-old renegade grandmother Amazing Grace shudders when her granddaughter cues up the song to play at a party. Grace uses the opportunity to check in with her erstwhile beau, Ernesto:

Grace despised the song, deep down in her bones. She hung back as the rest of the crowd laughed and began to carry on. Grace hooked her arm through Ernesto’s and squired him to the balcony.

“Horrid excuse for music,” Grace said, shaking her head.

“Yes, well, it is Americana at its worst.”

There was a pause as they gazed at the moon casting a beam of light on the waves far in the distance. Then Ernesto turned to Grace, swept his arms around her and said, “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said instinctively, though she realized she was only being polite. She’d been so wrapped up in the case that she hadn’t had time to miss him.

I'll stop there, since what happens next yields crucial, plot-spoiling information about the case Grace is working on. The point is that it was satisfying to juxtapose the schlocky grandma from the song next to my sharp, savvy Amazing Grace.

That whole Christmas scene was great fun to write for another reason as well. I lived in Miami for two years and celebrated two Christmases there. Holidays in the tropics can be strange for anyone from a Northern climate, as the typical trappings of merriment--snow, snowmen, sleighs, evergreen trees--can seem out of place amidst palm trees and sunshine. It's a quirkiness I've always enjoyed, probably because my earliest Christmas memories are of growing up in Arizona as a military brat. In the Chandler town square back in the Seventies, they used to erect a Christmas tree out of tumbleweeds spray-painted white. 

That experience informed my thinking on the matter of how to celebrate Christmas when one's locale is far from snow and evergreen trees. One of my favorite Christmas carols is Big Crosby's tribute to Christmas in Hawaii, "Mele Kalikimaka." I've also tried to be environmentally sensitive in my domestic practices, so I've rarely ever purchased a Christmas tree that would only be discarded at the end of the season. So my Miami tree for two years running was a potted hibiscus:

  Miami_tree

Christmas in Miami, 2000 or 2001.

The bright blooms of the hibiscus lent themselves to quirky pairings such as this:

Snowball_flower

In Framed and Burning, the Christmas tree becomes a way to memorialize the friend they've lost:

...Cat and Mick came home bearing a small, potted hibiscus tree. Its tangerine flowers resembled umbrellas that would unfurl in full bloom, a decadent pistil of pollen beckoning from its center.

“Let’s set it here, in the window,” Grace said, beaming at her two lovely family members.

Mick and Cat carried the hibiscus together and set it down delicately. They stared at the tree for a moment.

“I’ll go get the other swag out of the car,” Cat said.

“I’ve got some bling upstairs to add to this thing.” Mick winked at Grace and slipped out the door.

“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Grace said this to Rose, who was stroking one of the soft blooms.

“It smells like tropical Christmas.” Rose stuck her nose closer to the flower and inhaled.

Cat came in, her hands full of shopping bags, which she dropped onto her chaise lounge, now clear of paperwork related to the case. She reached into a bag and withdrew a box of retro bubble lights. Together, the three of them strung the lights onto the miniature tree. Once the lights had warmed, Cat, who said she had experience with these kinds of lights, tapped or inverted them to get them to bubble. Their effervescence made the room sparkle.

In came Mick with a canvas drop cloth he placed around the bottom of the tree as a skirt. He also brought down a box, which he offered to Grace. “Will homemade ornaments work for your solstice party, Miss Pris?”

“Oh, Mick.” Grace took the box and reached inside. He’d fashioned the most delightful ornaments out of bits and pieces from his studio: a few spines of an old Chinese fan tied together with red velvet ribbon; a garland of driftwood and shells; a vintage toy car hung with glittery string. The four of them decorated the tree together, marveling over Mick’s creations.

When they were done, they stood back to admire it, and Rose said, “We need a star.” She looked at Grace and smiled. “I know you’re not hot on the Jesus story, but that star of Bethlehem, it always makes me weepy to think about it, a beacon in the night.”

“I’m not against those aspects, per se,” said Grace. She thought about the church sermons of her childhood, the fire and brimstone and talk of sinning. “There’s a reason they’re always claiming it’s the greatest story ever told. I think it resonates with us to think of God as not just a man, but a small baby in a manger. He’s nothing but potential.”

“I think I have an idea for our star,” Rose announced. “Mick, come and help me.” The two of them left....

In the book, there's more here, but I'll cut right to the next Christmas tree scene. Readers of the novel know by this point in the story that Donnie, who died in a fire in Mick's studio, has been cremated, his ashes stored in an urn:

...Rose and Mick resurfaced, Rose holding something delicately between her hands. “I got to thinking about the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men, bringing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Well, we don’t have any of that, whatever it is, but we have something better.”

She moved her top hand to reveal a star crafted out of thick white paper stock backed by tracing paper. There were cutouts in the thick top layer of paper so that the lights from the tree would shine through the tracing paper, dotting the star with glints of light. It was a six-pointed star with beams emanating downward. She shook the star softly, and fine glistening grains of sand filled the beams of light like stardust.

“Did you use beach sand?” Grace asked. “It looks sugary, like it came from Bahia Honda.”

“No,” Rose said with a glowing smile and a wink at Mick. “That’s Donnie.”

Miami_tree_night

Miami tree at night.

Tomorrow's stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is Carrie Beckort, Literary Engineer. Check it out!


What I'm Reading: A Case of Two Cities

A Case of Two Cities (Inspector Chen Cao #4)A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently reconnected with Qui Xiaolong after stumbling upon this book in a seaside bookstore. He and I worked together in the English department at St. Louis Community College in the 1990s, and I served as a "BETA reader" for his first book, Death of a Red Heroine, before that became a thing to do. As with that book, I appreciate very much the meshing of poetry and mystery in this one, which is unique in the crime genre. While A Case of Two Cities isn't a plot-driven page-turner, that's not why you should read it anyway. China is a compelling character of its own, and Qui offers a vivid, insider's glimpse into the country's transitional struggles. Inspector Chen's abiding hope that his honor and persistence will prevail within a corrupt and highly political system makes him by turns both sympathetic and tragic, his character compelling. And most notably, Qui's writing is some of the finest in the genre. His masterful send-up of a classic T.S. Eliot poem left me breathless, and the meditative subtleties of the writing often made me pause to savor the lines.

View all my reviews


Introducing the First Winner of a "Granny" - the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40!

 

Karen Musser Nortman
Karen Musser Nortman, Winner of the First-Ever Granny Award

We often obsess over youthful achievement in our society, but I think it's more important to recognize what a person accomplishes over the long haul. Not everyone has the opportunity to publish in their twenties, for example, and some choose motherhood first or the responsibilities of working and paying off student loans before they feel they can follow their dreams. This is especially true for women, who even today more often have to make the choice to put their creative endeavors on the back burner. 

To recognize outstanding women over 40, I've created the Granny Grace Award.

My first "Granny" recipient is fellow mystery writer Karen Musser Nortman. She's the author of a clever series of campground mysteries that deliver murder and mayhem along with helpful camping tips. The Frannie Shoemaker series is at Book No. 4 and counting, and Nortman received an indieBRAG medallion for all four. Book No. 2, The Blue Coyote, was a finalist in the Chanticleer 2013 CLUE awards.

I reviewed Book No. 1, Bats and Bones, here. It's a must-read for anyone who loves to camp, especially if you're interested in "glamping," or glamor camping. For those of us who enjoy learning new skills best when they're wrapped around a compelling story line, this is the perfect book. And mystery fiends will enjoy the well-crafted whodunit. 

Frannie Shoemaker is a great heroine. Neither detective nor cop, she nonetheless has a mind for motive and can't help being drawn into solving whatever case presents itself to her on the hiking trail.

And Karen hasn't stopped there: Her recent endeavor is a time-travel novel.

 

Timetraveltrailer
Images courtesy of Karen Musser Nortman

The most amazing thing about Karen is that she launched this--her third career--entirely as an indie. Her craft, quality, and professionalism as a self-published author stand out as best-in-the-business and no doubt come from a lifetime of experience.

Her first career was as a social studies teacher, a job she held for 22 years. She says this is the hardest thing she's ever done. "I am by nature more introvert than extrovert, and those first years were a real challenge. I was very lucky that my first class was an outstanding group and not out for blood. Writing a book by contrast was a walk in the park."

For another 18 years, she was a test developer. The two of us first struck up a conversation, as a matter of fact, over a case Granny Grace pursues in Cat in the Flock, when she investigates a fraudulent ACT test. (Thankfully, my research passed Karen's muster.) But retiring from test development didn't mark the end of Karen's working life. "I knew I couldn't be done yet, because in fourth grade, I had decided to be a writer," she says.

Her lifelong dream to be a writer hitched up with her passion for camping, and a series was born. She explains:

A love of mysteries combined with our avocation of camping provided the inspiration for the Franny Shoemaker campground mysteries. My husband Butch and I originally tent camped when our children were young and switched to a travel trailer a few years back when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure.

Karen has been especially pleased with how her books have reached a wider audience. She got a note from someone in Australia who heard about her books in an Australian campground, and she's built a network of friends around the U.S., fellow campers who sought her out after reading her books. She says, "One is always pleased, of course, to have friends and family read one's books, but it is uniquely gratifying to hear from complete strangers." 

What's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to Karen? Her family. "Even though our children went though lots of teenaged and twenty-something turmoil, they are all now caring, responsible adults and have given us eight delightful grandchildren, four of whom are also adults," she says. "I am especially proud that they are all active volunteers in various causes."

Congratulations to Karen Musser Nortman, and happy trails to all her readers.

 

 


Guest Blogger: Location, location, location

AboutChris2

by Dr. Chris Michaels

LB: Today on the blog I have Dr. Chris Michaels, an inspiring author, speaker, and executive coach. I asked him to write about relocation in order to achieve one's life purpose. Some people might say you're just running away from your problems when you move to another place, but on the other hand, doing so can be an enormous step toward positive change. The question is an important one for me, as the main character in my novel Cat in the Flock relocates to Seattle from St. Louis in order to apprentice with her grandmother as a dreamslipper and private investigator, but then her first case, ironically, takes her back to St. Louis.

Here's what Chris has to say.

Who doesn’t want an adventure? 

Today a lot of millennials are turning their backs on traditional jobs and traveling the world instead of settling for a more conventional life. Shows like HGTV run non-stop marathons featuring families looking to purchase homes in far-off, magical lands. Last week I attended the World Domination Summit with author Chris Guillebeau. He wrote the book The Art of Non-Conformity, which chronicles his 10-year quest to visit every country in the world.  Chris’ book has motivated millions to pursue their dreams of adventure.

This need for mobility, freedom, and adventure isn’t really new. Historically, Americans have always been a bit restless. And we have always felt like the grass is greener on the other side… 

But sometimes, the grass really is greener somewhere else. 

I grew up in a small, rural town where conformity was the norm. There wasn’t a lot of room or acceptance for boys like me. I knew from a very young age that if I didn’t get out of that town my life might be in danger.

Time has changed some things. (Although in many parts of America we still have a long way to go.) But the truth is if I stayed in that small town I would have never met my partner Aubrey. We’ve been together for 19 years. And he has supported me and helped make me the man I am today. If I stayed in that small town, I would have never started the Center of Spiritual Living in Kansas City. I would have never met the people within that community that have given me endless inspiration to carry on and do meaningful work in the world.

Some people think who they marry or what career they choose is the most important decision in their life, but I think where you choose to live is of equal importance. If you love to surf, you’re probably not going to be very happy living in Iowa. If you want to be a famous actor, living in Montana is not going to help you achieve your dreams.

Over the years, I have done many personal and professional development programs. Location is often a topic that comes up for people as they consider how to live a life of purpose and meaning.  As people start to pursue their dreams, they sometimes realize they aren’t in an environment that supports them. 

Location is important to me, too. I live in Kansas. But during the winter months I run screaming to Florida. The bleak, grey winter does not inspire me. In fact, being trapped in a house without sun and vitamin D makes me sluggish. So I plan my escape each year.

Changing locations isn’t easy. Family, money, and career obligations often keep us in one place, even though we may long to be in another. But that doesn’t mean we can’t travel to other places.  Airbnb opens up wild new opportunities to go places that are affordable. 

Think about what feeds your soul. Where do you dream of living or traveling? What goals do you have for your life, and where are they most likely to be achieved? Create a plan and start taking actionable steps. 

How do you know when the grass really is greener? 

There is only one way to know. You can only know this if you really know yourself.

  HomePageSliders12-940x360

Chris Michaels is a husband, executive coach, national speaker, entrepreneur and author. Chris’ recent book, The Power of You, published by Penguin Press in 2014 received a Silver medal in the Nautilus Awards, an organization that recognizes world-changing books.

When not building programs, writing, and speaking, Chris is traveling to Bali, Thailand, or Europe. During the winter he can be found in Florida soaking up the sun and dreaming of his next big assignment.

To learn more about Chris or to stay connected, sign up for his weekly newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wine and Needles

I've got some talented, inspirational family in Walla Walla. During a recent trip there, I got to tour not one cool place but two: Tertulia Cellars and Thompson Acupuncture.

Tertulia Cellars is staffed by my brother-in-law Thomas, my husband's little brother. After a long career as an indie rocker, Thomas went back to his home town to study viniculture, and he's been deep in the wine barrel ever since. 

Thomas took us behind-the-scenes where they process and ferment the grapes. Thomas' work is very hands-on, and yes, it involves some sampling to get the process just right.

Although Tertulia is a small, boutique winery, in my head I kept contrasting it with the Adam Puchta Winery I toured in Missouri, with its old-fashioned, hand-cranked equipment. Adam Puchta is the oldest continually operated winery in the country. Not many people know this, but Missouri was the first wine district established in the U.S. Compared to the Adam Puchta Winery I remember from the early 90s, Tertulia seemed sleek and modern.

Thomas and Tino Wine1 Green5

Of course, as much as I think back fondly on my Missouri wine-sipping days, I know those grapes and the quality of the wine aren't on par with the world-class wine made in the Walla Walla Valley today. We tried wines at both Tertulia and Mansion Creek Cellars, which keeps a small tasting room in the Marcus Whitman Hotel in town.

The barrels are distinct, and pretty much the same as they were when wine was introduced in this country by Thomas Jefferson. Yeah, that Thomas Jefferson. Here's my gorgeous hunk of a husband among them:

  Tino_barrels

And me, too.

Me and tino barrels

At Tertulia, wine is taken very seriously. There's even a lab:

  Wine_lab

I've always liked that word, "mouthfeel."

Lab2

Because wine weaves its way through everything in Walla Walla, we attended a chamber music concert one night, and it took place inside Pepper Bridge Winery. This "portrait of an artist" featured a soloist on harp. Memorably, she covered "Stairway to Heaven."

Speaking of music, Thomas has returned to the stage recently as the bass player for the Poetry Assassins. In another life, he's also the Mighty Malbec Man.

Sign

Thompson Family Acupuncture is the brainchild of my sister-in-law, Lindsey Thompson (aka, Thomas' wife). She was an artist and snowboarding instructor before finding her calling in this Chinese healing practice with ancient roots.

  Door

Let me just say that if it weren't for Lindsey, I'd still be on inhalers and allergy meds and casting around for a diet that might heal my gut. Before I met her, I thought I was vehemently opposed to acupuncture... because NEEDLES. 

But her passion, knowledge, and conviction won me over, not to mention her assurance that the needles were so thin I wouldn't even feel them. And she was right. I was lucky to get a couple of cracker-jack acupuncturists in Seattle, and over a year of treatments, my allergies, asthma, and digestive issues cleared up.

Lindsey and I talk about acupuncture often, and I find the Chinese philosophy behind it especially fascinating. Lindsey writes a blog about her work called Stick Out Your Tongue, where I'm always learning something new. For example, there's a specially designed cup she can use on your jaw to treat TMJ.

Lindsey_cupping
This photo by Brittany Yunker. All others by Lisa Brunette.

I'm proud of Lindsey for starting her own business and couldn't wait to see her office, which turned out to be a gem of a space. It's in a mid-century modern building that is so cute, not only would I go there for treatment; I'd live there!

  Entry

  BlocksJPG

I commented on her use of orange and blue paint, which seemed to both awaken and soothe the senses, and Lindsey explained she'd done some research on the psychological effects of color before making her choices.

Her practice has really taken off, and it's easy to see why. I'd let Lindsey stick needles in me any day.

Now if we could just figure out a way to combine wine and acupuncture...

  


A Couple of Witchy Women

Brooms

On vacation in Walla Walla, I stopped to take pictures of a row of gorgeous brooms, as they reminded me of the cover of my poetry collection, Broom of Anger.

BROOM OF ANGER 1890x2880

 The owner of the store, Kim Hedine, and I struck up a conversation. My husband, who grew up in Walla Walla, went to high school with her, so the two of them kind of knew each other already. The first gift he ever gave me, coincidentally, was a trio of the fragrant, mystically named goat milk soap bars she sells in her shop, Midnight Oil.

  Midnight_oil

I told Kim my fascination with the brooms came after working on a cover design for the poetry collection, and we got to talking about what it means to recognize anger as an essential component of the healing process. Like a lot of people, she could relate and had her own story to tell.

I stocked up on perfume, more soap, and a couple of bottles of massage oil. Kim carries some really great products in her cute little Walla Walla shop. It's kind of hard to control yourself from breaking the bank in there. I resisted the cuticle cream because I always get my hopes up too high about cuticle cream, only to be disappointed.

Just as we were leaving, Kim asked if she could get a copy of Broom of Anger

"It hasn't released yet, but here's a card for my debut novel," I said, reaching into my purse and pulling out a card.

Kim stared at it in disbelief. "Wait a minute..." she said. "I'm already reading this book!" She opened up her purse and pulled out a dog-eared copy of Cat in the Flock, one with the original cover of the cat on the front.

I gestured toward my husband. "You didn't hear about my book from him?" (The two of them are Facebook friends, owing to the high school connection. And he's my biggest fan.)

"No!" she said. "I found it on Amazon. I had no idea!"

By the way, my husband and I have different last names. When we got married, I kept "Brunette" since I have so many bylines and credits under that name. Besides, Valterra is a made up name he created with his ex-wife, so it doesn't have any lineage or history; whereas, I come from a long line of Brunettes. It's my maternal grandmother's name, which I took after my own divorce.

After we cleared up that I am indeed the author of the very book she happened to be reading, Kim hugged me and said, "Oh, my God! I love your writing! The twist, and the character Cat... I love it."

I walked around on cloud nine the rest of the day. I think I might still be there, in fact.

The next day, I realized it was dumb of me not to buy that broom, so I went back. On my way there, I ran into my husband, who unbeknownst to me, had just stopped by the store. He'd picked up the cuticle cream, which my sister-in-law had assured us would not disappoint. And he said Kim was trying to get a hold of me for a picture to post on her store's Facebook page.

So we trooped back to Midnight Oil, and this happened:

  Riding_broom

  Broom_jump

 


What I'm Reading: Bats and Bones

Bats and Bones (The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries, #1)Bats and Bones by Karen Musser Nortman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a brilliant introduction to the world of "glamping," aka "glamor camping." A hybrid between the cozy mystery and the humorous 'how-to,' Bats and Bones is the perfect way to learn about recreational vehicle camping. The author's sensibility is folksy and cleverly funny, and her characters are the kind of people you'd want to take on a camping trip. The twists in the murder-mystery nicely surprised me, and the plucky Frannie is an easy character with whom readers of all ages can connect. Each chapter ends with helpful camping tips, too. I enjoyed this first book and look forward to reading more in the series.

View all my reviews


#FridayPoetry: Surf Song

Feb 6, 2015

Surf Song

The Air Force stationed her father
in Shemya, a lone island,
grit between links in the Aleutian chain.

Seventy-mile-per-hour fog
blasted his barracks.
Dark surf
squelched onyx pebbles.

He couldn’t reach her
from so far away.

At the airport in Anchorage,
he buys a conch shell.
Tells her it’s from the beach in Shemya.

She presses it to her ear
straining to hear Alaska.
Pretending just for him,
she says she hears waves crashing.

Years later, she finds online
an audio clip of Shemya’s surf.
A mournful, far away song
that could never inhabit her shell.

She dives the Florida Straits
where conchs scurry
across white sand sea floor.
Her father’s lie,
smaller than a sea snail
tucked into its shell.

Not until she’s in Alaska
does she find Shemya on a map.

She flies there
holds the island in her palms
listens to the surf song
for herself.

 

 


Things That Should Never Be Localized #2

Dec 27, 2014

One of my colleagues at the day job went to Vietnam recently and brought back this little jar of dried fruit as a gift. It's delightfully called "wampee."

But it gets better! Apparently by eating the wampee, we were going about it all wrong. We should have followed the instructions, which calls for wearing the wampee. You're supposed to "don" it, "quietly," in fact. And it's not a mere fruit--it's affectionate! Wampee is a "loving cultural feature"!!!

Dec 27, 2014

 We must all quietly don wampee and go to Vietnam RIGHT NOW.


#FridayPoetry: Quenching

 

We three women, summer interns,

walk around Georgetown

Stopping to look at sunglasses and incense

on street vendors’ tables,

Sometimes lifting our long, unruly hair

off our humid necks.

We talk of dreams,

geodesic domes in the desert, streets filled with solar-powered cars, 

men who don’t cat-call, and, laughing, someone says, 

Hey, what about finally getting a WOMAN in the White House?

 

We don’t talk about our mothers.

 

As we walk in hot D.C. July, 

Mimi sweet

in a daisy-patterned sundress and sandals,

Tessie strong

 in black shorts matching the sprouting free hair on her legs,

Me in my red, thrift-store high tops, my T-shirt proclaiming for all to read:

 

No Woman is Required to Rebuild the World

By Destroying Herself

 

The sun hot on the tops of our heads,

our feet longing for grass and dew,

Mimi says,

Let’s dip our feet in the water.

 

There is no water anywhere, except for the long, pristine, rectangular reflecting pool.

 

Mimi slips off her sandals.

She walks across the dry grass,

tiptoes over painful bright concrete,

dips one foot, then the other

into the water. She closes her eyes in relief.

 

We’ll probably get told to leave, I say, 

remembering the guard

who kicked me out of a sculpture park.

 

Tessie kicks off her flip-flops with one foot flip each,

and I step out of my high-tops toe to heel.

 

Mimi dips her fingers in the water,

as if it were holy water,

cooling her temples.

 

Tessie draws water in a cupped hand,

splashes it on her boyish chest,

soaking the black cotton.

 

I lie back on the edge of the pool,

my feet and shins in the water,

the coolness traveling into my thighs.

 

The sun dims to an orange glow behind my lids.

 

We three could be in another part of the world.

Mimi in a sarong with a jug of water on her head,

Tessie pouring water on her child’s back,

me smacking wet clothes against a rock.

 

I open one eye to the long, slender monument

at the head of the reflecting pool.

 

With just one thumb, I make the whole damn obelisk disappear.

 

Tessie and Mimi splash each other.

 

No one 

tells us

to leave.

 


Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

Drinking water

Imagine a daily lunch that isn't spent eating microwaved food at your desk or rushed at a fast-food place but instead unfolds over the space of two hours, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, spent in the company of friends and family. This lunch includes wine and good, local food made from scratch, and it ends with fruit for dessert and the most amazing espresso you've ever sipped. No one's rushing or checking their watches. Everyone's laughing and talking and taking their time.

Welcome to Spain. 

Before this 2 pm lunch extravaganza, you might have had a sandwich snack around 11 at a local street cafe, with that glorious coffee, or maybe a pastry. Maybe that was the second time you ate that day, depending on when you got up, which didn't have to be early.

Coffee and pastry

After this 2 pm lunch siesta, you go back to work for another two or three hours, heading home around 6 or 7, when you might have a snack. Dinner then is as leisurely paced as the lunch was, maybe even more so, and it doesn't start till at least 9.

Adding the Spanish work day up, I'm getting about 5 hours of actual work. To Americans, this probably sounds appalling. But after working like a dog for 25 years, the Spanish work/life balance seems much more civilized to me. 

And so is what they eat. It's hard to find a fast-food place in Barcelona; they're all clustered around tourist attractions for a reason. Most of what you find to eat in Spain came from a farm or ranch nearby, and is presented in its close-to-original state, like the famous Iberian ham, carved right off the shank.

Shank

During my recent trip to Barcelona, all of my admittedly low-grade, not-serious-but-annoying digestive issues entirely cleared up. Sure, it was in part due to the fact that I was away from daily work stress, walking every day, and breathing in warm, Mediterranean breezes, but I happen to think the food - and a radically different food culture - had something to do with it.

For one thing, it's hard to argue with black squid ink paella...

Black ink paella

Or seafood soup. (And in the background, there's a right-sized dish of homemade ravioli. Next to it, a bottle of wine, which came with the meal, all for far less than we'd pay in Seattle.)

Seafood soup

For another thing, the amazing artisanal yogurt pictured below seemed to heal my gut in the space of a week. We imagined it was made from milk gently and humanely harvested from Pyrrenese cows who enjoy daily massage and are sung to by maidens playing lyres.

Yogurt

Next door to our apartment was one of many fresh food markets throughout the city, which is where most people shop. The procuring of food is not a chore done in one large mega-trip to a mega-store but rather woven into the fabric of your life, so that you're stopping in for fresh produce, meat, dairy, and bread as part of your daily walk route, and taking the time to chat with the vendors. There are small stores resembling the grocery stores in the States, but even they have barely any processed foods. For bread, you go to a bakery. For toiletries, you visit a farmacia.

Concepcion market

In the U.S., we're too prone to taking the quick route, turning our fad-food-of-the-moment into something packaged, with a long shelf life. Just think about the section now devoted to "gluten-free" packaged food in a lot of stores lately. As detailed in this New Yorker piece, gluten-free does not usually mean healthy. 

Unless you have a true food allergy or celiac disease, restrictive diets like the gluten-free one probably won't cure all that ails you. Believe me - I've tried them. I was a vegetarian for 13 years, and about half of that included stints of true veganism. I tried the wheat-free thing back in the 90s before the word "gluten" was used by anyone but nutritionists. I've gone fat-free, egg-free, and paleo. These diets might make you feel better for a short time, as you tend to be more mindful of what you're eating and avoid gut triggers like fried food and alcohol, but they inevitably lead to further restrictions, frustrations, and failure. 

In Barcelona, we cooked frequently, used fresh ingredients, didn't eat anything processed, and were the better for it. We also spent less money on everything, but especially cheese and meat, than we do in Seattle. We ate everything, and we still lost weight.

Balcony spread

What seems to be the key is admittedly harder than simply cutting out a particular food, and that's eating as a truly healthy omnivore. Supporting that would be a less stressful culture and much better work/life balance.

Good, local food and dishes made from scratch, eaten at a leisurely pace in the company of friends and family, and a working lifestyle that supports it. I know some of you are probably thinking right now about Spain's economy and saying to yourself that their lifestyle is to blame, but I'm not convinced of that. I don't believe it's necessary to sacrifice our personal health and well-being for the sake of the health and well-being of our economy. That doesn't seem like a logical correlation.

It's no accident that one of the chief tourist attractions in Barcelona is La Boqueria, an incredible food market where local food artisans have been hawking their goods for centuries.

Boqueria

Boqu nuts

  Boqu meat

Since I've been back in the States, I've tried to replicate the Spanish way of eating, with mixed success. It requires carrying a lot of food with me for the long work day, and I still eat at my desk, which is the only way I can fit in a workout. And yesterday the organic farm we subscribe to delivered its last box of the season. Since I didn't have the time to can, dry, and freeze the summer's bounty of foods, I'm trying not to panic.

What's your food story? Tell me all about it.