collard greens

How to Travel this Summer Without Going Anywhere

I’m really just a gypsy masquerading as an American woman.

I can say that with confidence, because A) I’m half Czech, and the Romani people were highly concentrated in that region of Europe throughout history and B) I have nomadic tendencies I fight constantly, and occasionally I settle for travel.

This year I REALLY felt the travel bug after I suddenly lost my job in May. 2016 was the first time in many years Mr. H and I had solid plans to take an international trip.

I’m sure some of you are thinking: You got laid off and you started crying over travel? 

box of belongings

Well…yes, dammit.

You see, this is where the gypsy part of me can’t be subdued. Fortunately I was able to jump into freelancing right away to help cover bills and food. Crisis averted, but after that crazy change in my life, I wanted nothing more than to hop on a plane and get the hell out of dodge.

I wanted to be in a place I didn’t know, where nobody else knew me. I didn’t want to understand anything—the language, the culture, the street names—I wanted to get lost, wander, and find my way. Because these are the things I love about exploring new places, and that feeling is amplified when life throws me a curveball.

Without anywhere to go, and no money to spare, I renewed my passport. I prepared for the possibility of a great adventure without having one on the calendar.

passport renewal

Now I’m going to be cliché and bring up a line from the movie, Eat Pray Love. Some of you are rolling your eyes right now and others are smiling foolishly, but hear me out. It goes a little something like this…

“There’s a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, ‘Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.’ This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated staTue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, ‘My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.'”

So, I did. I bought two tickets actually. To Rome. (Permission to roll your eyes again, since that’s the first stop in Eat Pray Love.)

I’m seriously not going because of the movie. I chose a place that would heal me, that would remind me to slow down and enjoy. I chose a place that was undeniably beautiful with great food, so I could indulge my ass off.

Truthfully, I couldn’t afford the tickets and I threw them onto a credit card. But I knew if I planned the trip late enough in the summer, we could swing it with lots of freelancing. And a month ago, one of my clients ended up hiring me full-time (she breathes a sigh of relief) so it all worked out.

Because this was a big trip for us, that meant we were on lockdown with summer travel. That also meant we had to get creative with getaways on the cheap (or free) to appease my gypsy ways.

So, for those of you looking for ways to feel like you’re traveling without going anywhere, here’s a little inspiration for you.

Grab your sweetie, go for a hike, and take a sunshine shower.

hiking in the sun

Forest Park in Portland

Brave the cold water closest to you on a weeknight to beat the crowds and the heat.

sauvie island beach

Sauvie Island in Portland

Nerd out at a museum with a big ass plane in a small town, and do an overnight.

spruce goose mcminnville

Spruce Goose at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville

Trade in the patio beer for a ridiculously satisfying strawberry milkshake.

mcmennmins milkshake

McMenamin’s Pool and Tavern

Get your fitness on and be sassier in your bathing suit.

barre 3 online

Barre 3 Online Workout at Home

Bonus points for doing your core workout with a cat weight.
(Hence, the hairy yoga pants in the previous image.)

barre3 with cat

Yoga Cat is Also Barre Cat Apparently

Become a library regular and go to bed with a stack of books.

catch up with reading

Rediscovering Reading in Bed on My Belly

Choose a healthier happy hour option by hiking with one of your favorite people.

hiking to pittock mansion

Pittock Mansion Hike with Mount Hood Lurking in the Back

Befriend somebody with a houseboat, so you can crash their 4th of July party.

portland house boat

Houseboats on the Columbia River

Take a walk after dinner and see as many sunsets as you can.

sunset peace

McMinnville Wine Country

Save A/C energy with a collard fan, and support your farm community with a CSA.

collard greens

Gigantic Collard Greens From Hood River Organic CSA

No matter how hot it is, hug someone every chance you get.

sauvie island getaway

Sauvie Island Beach Hugs

The summer adventure montage is the perfect segue into my next bit of news that I will be taking a blogging break for the rest of the summer. (Come on, you knew it was coming!)

Don’t worry, I’ll be back with some Italy posts to make you all jealous. : )

Until then, I’ll be working on my fourth draft, a big freelance project, and enjoying some sunshine. I’ll be around a bit on social, but otherwise I will be totally vacationing away from the blogosphere.

If you’re not already, follow me on Instagram. Though I’m not a believer in the vacation play-by-play on social media, I imagine a few Italy pix will magically end up on my Instagram account.

Hope you lovely people all enjoy the rest of your summers away from screens! And tell me what free/cheap summer adventures you’ve been having.

northwest 23rd avenue

I Gave a Man My Sandwich on 23rd Avenue

So, I was walking down 23rd Avenue last Saturday. It was such a nice evening, after a nice dinner, and 23rd Avenue is one of the nicest avenues you can walk on—with lots of ice cream, shopping bags, music, and toasts. People celebrating the good life.

Then, there are those who are different. Those who aren’t celebrating the good life.

They’re dirty, hungry, and they don’t smell like food scents mixed with laundry detergent and cologne or perfume. They smell different.

Anyway we were walking home after our nice meal of oysters, craft beer, and incredible sandwiches. As usual, I couldn’t finish the other half of meal. It was a Cubano, a well-executed one that made you want to stuff your face, even though you knew you would pay for it later.

That evening I decided to hang onto it and take it home. But my sandwich never made it home with us, as it found a new home. A much better one.

matching couple

There was an old man on 23rd Avenue, homeless and alone. He didn’t ask for anything—he didn’t beg—he was just minding his own business. He was arranging his colorful blankets just so on the sidewalk, with a serene smile on his face. In a way, he seemed happier than the parade of privilege passing him by.

We passed him, and I stopped and turned around. I asked Mr H: “Can I give him my sandwich?”

He said: “If you want to.”

Without a word, he knew that was all I wanted as I approached the old man on 23rd. To be honest, I’ve never gone up to a homeless person and sparked a conversation. And for a moment, I didn’t know what to say.

I decided small talk was completely ridiculous and pushed my sandwich forward. “Do you want my sandwich?”

Looking back, I hate that I called it mine…my sandwich. It was a sandwich, or this sandwich.

writing blog on paper

The man struggled to speak. He stared at the container, then at my face several times, with his mouth hanging open. Finally, he said: “I’m a diabetic. There are some meats I can’t eat. I can’t—I can’t eat red meat. Is there…?”

“Just pork. This one’s okay.”

His eyes lit up as he grabbed the container and tore into it. He gazed at the sandwich like he still didn’t believe it was in his hands. He looked straight into my eyes and said: “Thank you, bless you.”

I squeezed his shoulder, my eyes filled to the brim with tears, and said…actually, I’m not sure what I said. Goodbye? Enjoy? Take care? Have a good night? Once again, the small talk seemed totally effing ridiculous. And so, we kept walking down 23rd Avenue.

I’m not expecting an award here by sharing this story. We didn’t do much, but we did something. We could feel it, and we will never forget it.

Because there has been so much crap happening in the world, it’s more important than ever to notices the opportunities to change that. We can’t change the presidential candidates or the terrorist attacks. Hell, we can’t really change ourselves.

What we can do is seize that glimmer, that moment that holds us and gives us a choice, to keep walking down the same avenue or stop and turn around.

publishing tips

5 Ways to Avoid Publishing Rejection by Being Human

Last week I made it my mission to get my ass out into the community. I’ve lived in Portland just over two years and had my head down for too long, grinding and whatnot. And when you work from home—no matter how terrific and cuddly your pets are—the need to be around humans intensifies.

Besides the array of local bars and coffee shops in my neighborhood, there is another convenient place to be around other humans…MeetUps.

I joined A LOT of them. Hence, the reason I ended up dancing in a Bollywood class, signing up for a marketing conference, and going to church.

Church? I know. They even let me in, can you believe it?

All joking aside, I went to church for this Willamette Writers MeetUp. The topic was all about how to get published…and how not to.

Presented by Tod Davies, Editorial Director of Exterminating Angel Press, Tod is an author herself with a colorful career track record as a radio host, screenwriter, and indie film producer. I’m not ashamed to say it—I was smitten when I discovered she co-wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Yep, that’s pretty damn cool.)

There is a Shit-Ton of Noise

This might be the part where some of you that have known me for years are wondering why I, a devout indie author with three self-published books under her belt, strolled into a MeetUp to learn tips about traditional publishing.

The rest of you probably want me to shut up and talk about the publishing tips, because you were lured here after reading the title of this blog.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch, or scroll down if you can’t handle the suspense.

Besides the MeetUp’s promise of writerly camaraderie, I have decided to give traditional publishing another go when I finish my fourth book this year. There are things I love about self-publishing, and things I don’t.

Without diving into a pros and cons moment here, I’ve talked about the struggle of being an indie author many times. When I wrote Why Writing Isn’t Enough—The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Success over at Kristen Lamb’s blog some months ago, I gave other writers the tough love.

We’re running a business. It’s the last thing any creative type wants to hear. But, it’s true—and we have to get our ducks in a row, like these guys.

writing as a business

In today’s publishing world—both indie and traditional—there is a shit-ton of noise. We know that. It’s not like the good ole days, when there were less authors and blogs. The accessibility of technology has opened the flood gates, and the market is…flooded.

Back in 2012, when silly me decided to pursue published author glory after I “finished” my first book, I diligently created a spreadsheet of every literary agent that seemed like a good fit from a hefty publishing book my mom gave me.

During the submission process, I acted personable and professional—hell, I was in my first marketing job at the time, so I knew a little something about PR. Still, I was ignored or rejected again and again and again, until the crazy time when a big shot agent in Manhattan actually considered my manuscript for Beneath the Satin Gloves.

I thought: This is it!

It wasn’t. He passed.

“Spectacular writing is writing that fits the category and fits the need. For example, with pornography you don’t want it to read like Proust.” – Tod Davies

Even though I didn’t get any feedback besides the “this isn’t right for us” pillow talk, I reworked my manuscript to make it stronger and I self-published it. Years later, I revised it again and republished it on Amazon, applying my recent years of writing experience to make it even stronger.

Looking back on it all, I realize I just wasn’t ready. And I think that’s a mistake a lot of writers make, whether they are self-publishing or shopping it around.

That doesn’t mean we have to spend years on a quest for writing perfectionism. That quest will make your life miserable and your book will never see the light of day. And simmer down, because you’re probably breaking it.

We absolutely have to put together the best possible work. But, we also need to consider the “now what?” phase. If you’re self-publishing, how are you going to get people to read it? If you’re going traditional, how are you going to get it picked up?

Here comes the “B” word again. We’re running a business.

publishing tips

We’re All Humans, So Act Like One

So, where was I? Oh, yes. An indie author walks into a church…

I’ll admit I was skeptical about the MeetUp, because it was the first one I ever attended. I sat in one of the back pews, close to the exit in case I needed to bolt. I was pleasantly surprised by not only the educational value, but the entertainment as well.

Tod Davies knows her shit, and she was up front about her goal to create an interactive experience for the crowd.

During the “what NOT to do” part at the beginning there was some tasteful role-playing—with the desperate writer acting out each point to the publisher searching for an escape route.

Though they may all seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many writers regularly commit these atrocities and become a part of the “guess what this writer did today” discussion when publishers get together for drinks.

What NOT To Do

Be insistent
Be confident
Be oblivious
Be pretentious
Be yammering

While I enjoyed the playful approach, the shining moment of the MeetUp happened in the second half, during the “what to do” segment.

This was when Tod went through each point from her publisher’s perspective, inviting the audience to freely ask questions to fuel the discussion. So, here they are:

What To Do

Be informed
Be courteous
Be open
Be professional
Be yourself

“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else, Because that’s what you’re bringing to the party.” – Tod Davies

At the beginning of the talk, Tod asked us one no-frills question that stunned the room: How many of you know that publishers are human beings?

I wish I could have been standing where she was, taking in the blank stares. I imagine it was a bittersweet mixture of comedy and frustration for her. When she posed the same question again, cautious hands began to rise from the tattered pews and laughter enveloped the musty space.

So, if thinking about your writing as a business doesn’t resonate with you, then remember humanity. Be human, be yourself. Because there is a human on the other side of every part of this.

Who’s reading your book? A human. Who’s reviewing your book? Oh look, it’s a human. Who’s editing, formatting, designing your book? Still a human. Who’s reading your eager email when you submit your pitch to a publisher or agent? I think you get it.

We’re all humans, so act like one. Interesting concept, eh? See what that does for your success as a writer.

Have you ever been to an amazing MeetUp? Or, do you have any great tips for pitching to publishers?

digital declutter

Why Digital Decluttering is a Must for All of Us

Some might call me a neat freak. Mr. H just calls me Hausfrau.

My pet name was coined, because my overly efficient and effective domestic care might seem borderline OCD to some. I have daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning rituals that must happen for me to feel relaxed at home.

Cleaning is my therapy—it’s one of the rare times my mind feels clear.

Dancer's Pose Natarajasana

When it comes to digital clutter, however, I tend to be a hot mess.

I have good intentions, I swear. I do my best with folders and whatnot, but when I’m writing and working away, well…my desktop gets covered in a sea of screenshots and my inbox gets so full that I barely know where to start reading and deleting.

Recently Mr. H cried out when he saw the number of emails in my personal inbox on my phone. 435 emails…and, puke.

It’s a sign of the times when we have to think about digital housekeeping. One important thing I learned from my love affair with Marie Kondo is that the only way to truly declutter is to get rid of shit.

That doesn’t mean finding a more suitable home for your shit, or reorganizing your shit annually, bi-annually, or whatever. It’s about changing our mindset, so we don’t have the “my shit’s everywhere” problem.

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

This was revolutionary for me when I finally realized how many times I had resituated the shit underneath my bathroom sink. Once I got rid of everything I totally did not need—and changed my buying habits as well—guess what? The shit stayed clean!

Okay, enough about shit. So, I applied this same method to my digital….stuff.

Because no matter how many clever folders and sub-folders I’ve fashioned, no matter how many bookmarks with kitschy  names I’ve masterminded, I still felt scattered in my digital environment. And that environment is already stressful enough, am I right?

While there are MANY methods for decluttering your digital life, here are a few things I did this past week that helped me clean virtual house and feel happier.

I Had an Unsubscribe Party

Sure, there are the mailing lists we end up on from that dry brush we bought online or that webinar we attended for work.

This party was more about the content I had voluntarily subscribed to—content I really love and I would really love to read, but…ain’t never gonna happen!

I’m lucky if I read one Yoga-related blog post in my inbox each week. When they’re sending me content several times a week? Haha, nope!

digital organization

I found that even though I wanted to read content that would inspire me—and ironically help bring more peace into my life with meditation tips—my inbox was stressing me out.

It was nothing against these brands, but I unsubscribed from all of them. Instead…

I Created Tidy Twitter Lists

Just because you unsubscribe from content doesn’t mean you have to tell it to kiss off. For many moons I’ve used Twitter lists to keep up with my connections, and organize content resources for social media marketing purposes.

Yet, I was still holding onto the inbox approach for a lot of the content I wanted to read. As I was unsubscribing from emails, I started a reorg of my Twitter lists. These guys should be organized in a way that makes sense to you.

lists for twitter

This is what works for me, with pretty straightforward naming conventions that cover my connections, brands, and resources. I keep my lists private, because I don’t want others to know who my prospects are and which Blogger Buddies tier they fall into.

Hint…if I keep up with you regularly on Twitter, you’re probably in my Blogger Buddies #1 list. : )

I Went the Automated Declutter Route

Big surprise. Unsubscribing isn’t as simple as it should be.

Whether companies have an ulterior motive or terrible email templates where you can’t locate a damn opt-out button, we have all been victims to the unsubscribe breakup from hell at some point in our adult lives.

I had heard about Unroll.Me months ago when I was on a productivity mission, but I was too cocky, thinking I had a good system with my inbox. I decided to take it for a test drive this past week.

I’m in no way affiliated with them, but I will tell you this tool is a godsend and it’s free.

Remember that unsubscribe party I had? I thought I got ’em all, and I definitely didn’t. Unroll.Me broke it to me gently that I had 50 subscriptions still. So, I had another unsubscribe party to get those sneaky bastards.

unroll.me

I signed up for a couple of Moz webinars this morning, and I had a notification right afterward to help me decide how I wanted to organize that. Unroll.Me also has a nifty rollup feature you can use to group your subscriptions.

Bigger companies whipping out tons of content should offer subscription preferences you can toy with when you want to refine the frequency or type. Unfortunately many don’t offer this feature, which is super annoying when they are emailing you every freaking day.

The answer…unsubscribe or rollup!

I Attacked My Blog Subscriptions

One of the biggest culprits in my inbox, this is where things get really tough for me. This year I’ve been struggling to stay on top of my blog reading. I’ve always been a big believer in relationship-building, and connecting with other bloggers is important.

This one will be a work-in-progress, but I knew I had to start somewhere. After four years of blogging, I’m following…drumroll, please…

wordpress followed sites

…679 WordPress sites! Yow!

Don’t worry, I didn’t have email subscriptions for all of those. But I had close to 100, so my blog culling went a little something like this:

  1. Turn off email notifications for blogs that aren’t a good fit for me. I had the auto email subscribe thing happening, so this got out of hand.
  2. Manage those spirited bloggers who post more than once a week by changing my emails to a weekly round-up. It’s better this way.
  3. Use my handy new Unroll.Me roll-up feature to consolidate blogs I follow even further to have a cleaner inbox. Woot!

(Shameless plug for Mr. H from the screenshot up there…Cooking Irreverence is his new food blog and you should definitely check it out!)

I Pinned my Bookmarks

Funny story. A couple of weeks ago Mr. H did a clean sweep of my laptop as I was transitioning out of my previous company’s system, and I lost all the passwords and bookmarks I had saved in my Chrome browser.

So, if you really want the secret to digital decluttering—this is it! Start over.

Honestly, he did me a favor because I was hanging onto a lot of my old company’s links that I needed when I worked for them. This was the best way for me to experience a true fresh start as I moved into a freelancing career…a clean digital break, if you will.

Because an old version of my Chrome bookmarks still lived on, I was reminded of how bad I used to be with random bookmarks until I discovered Pinterest. It’s especially a lifesaver for my recipes, but also I use boards for work stuff.

Less bookmarks, pretty visuals…who says social media isn’t useful?

pinterest board
And look—I even have a Hausfrau board, because I’m THAT crazy. I learned how to get the pickle smell out of jars on Pinterest, thank you very much.

Summer Cleaning…make it a thing!

I know you’re probably thinking…Britt, isn’t it supposed to be spring cleaning? It’s summer, I want to frolic outside.

I was feeling the same way, except that I never got to any of this in the spring. I started thinking I was going to wait until fall for a lot of my organizational projects that had been sitting there when I realized how badly I wanted my home to feel spacious and free—just like the feeling you get during summer.

So, take it outside. Not a digital declutter, but I worked on my tan one weekend while purging our files. Ta-da!

organize files

What tips do you have for digital decluttering? I’d love to hear them!

woman vintage car

Nola Fran Evie is a Delight!

Summer is right around the corner and I know you’re all stocking up on yummy books to read outside in the sunshine. While I love cozying up with books in the colder months, I have to say reading outside this time of the year with the sun warming my skin trumps shivering my ass off any day.

It’s rare that I talk about my books around here, because I try to keep my blog more about life inspiration than a place for marketing my books.

BUT…

Today I have to share a lovely review for Nola Fran Evie—along with a little plug for anyone looking for a summer read set in 1950s Chicago, with strong women and bit of baseball. For those new to my novel writing (and perhaps a wee bit skeptical), I included an excerpt down below for you to check out.

Reviews in the indie author world are so golden, and I am very grateful any time a reader takes a moment to leave kind words and shiny stars on Amazon or Goodreads.

Big thanks to my girl, Arianna, for being a doll and leaving this glowing review on Amazon.

From the minute you start reading about Jacks and her discovery inside an old vintage handbag, you are transported back in time – to a time when women weren’t allowed to have opinions or dreams.

Enter Nola, Fran and Evie. Three women who, despite their circumstances and the era in which they live, are determined to be better and are willing to fight for it – no matter the cost.

But, do these women truly exist; or are they all a part of Jacks’ wonderful imagination? And what impact will they have in Jacks’ life?

Nola Fran Evie may just be Britt Skrabanek’s best work yet!

 

Nola Fran Evie Cover Master Small

Get it now on Amazon

Get in now on Amazon UK

______________________________

woman vintage car

Once upon a time, sitting beside Harvey in one of his fancy cars made Evie feel like a queen. Now she felt like the jester, a laughable character forever stuck in a flashy costume, attempting to please yet never able to do so.

Her eyes wandered to the small space between them on the shared leather bench. Now she wished they had one of those European cars that came with separate seats. Evie hated sitting so close to her husband. To think she had once sat tucked inside his draping arm. Even then she instigated the affection, wiggling closer and placing Harvey’s arm around her body.

He’d always been incapable of showing any tenderness. A man like Harvey Shaw didn’t know how to love. He was a connoisseur of lust—quick, impatient, greedy lust.

She wagged her feet, which hung lazily out the window. Her pretty red toenails contrasted against the green countryside. With the fresh breeze lifting her plaid sundress and tickling her feet, Evie could almost pretend to be a little happy.

Almost.

“We’re getting close. Put your feet down before somebody sees them,” Harvey said, snarling.

Determined to protect her fragile euphoria, Evie remained with her feet up. “There’s a lake and it’s summer. Chances are, they’re all gonna catch my bare feet sooner or later.”

“I don’t want you to go swimming,” he said, continuing to look at the road.

Harvey hadn’t looked at her a single time during their excruciating hour in the car, except to snarl at her feet. A tiny wad of toilet paper with a red mark hung from his chin, the shaving bandage she loathed as much as his cold laugh.

“And why can’t I go swimming?”

“Because I don’t want you getting your hair wet.”

Harvey didn’t want people to see her in her swimsuit. Purposely she had packed her raciest one, a modern white two-piece. Evie was sure it would attract attention and enrage her husband.

“You know, darling. For a man who goes through women like he goes through cars, I’m surprised you get as jealous as you do.”

Harvey pulled the car over to the side of the dirt road, stopping below a billboard of a chirpy wife cleaning her kitchen with Clorox. Dust kicked up around them, infiltrating the open windows and causing her to cough.

He killed the engine, yanked the emergency brake behind the wheel and lurched across the bench. He pointed an angry finger an inch from her eyes. “You better listen closely, Evelyn.”

Evie stared at his finger. “It doesn’t appear that I have a choice since I’m trapped in this overpriced tin can.”

Harvey squeezed her arm roughly. “When did you start losing your mind?”

Though she was frightened, crippled by one of his searing questions, Evie looked him straight in the eyes. “It’s hard to say, because it was so long ago. Probably around the time you stopped loving me.” She placed her feet down, then crossed her legs.

He released her arm and scanned the open road.

She laughed weakly and took the tiny piece of toilet paper off the tip of his chin. “I can see by your face that you never loved me at all.”

Harvey gave her a surprised look.

“You know, I wasn’t born yesterday.”

He rubbed his chin, gripped the steering wheel and leaned back with his eyes closed. “Suppose I loved the idea of you when we started. Then I realized an idea isn’t the same in reality.”

He opened his eyes and turned toward her.

Tears rose to the surface and she looked away. “Dammit, Harvey. I thought I was past this point. But you can still break my heart as if you were born to do just that.” Evie dipped her chin down to hide her sadness underneath her summer hat.

Harvey started the car, wearing a harsh expression. “Don’t flatter yourself, darling. I have other things I was born to do.”

“That’s true. You’ve done most of Chicago and half of Milwaukee. Perhaps you’re here just to screw everyone.”

He laughed. “I know you’re trying to get under my skin, but saying that I screw everyone has a nice ring to it.”

“Mr. Shaw, you make me feel sick.” Evie hugged herself protectively, looking down the road.

Harvey cracked his neck. “Mrs. Shaw, you don’t make me feel anything.”

“Go to hell, Harvey.”

“Sure, darling.”

He pulled onto the highway and they drove in bitter silence to the picnic. Somehow after all they just said, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw would try to pull off their biggest bluff. As two people eating hamburgers and potato chips who could stand the sight of each other.

Evie flipped on the radio and surrendered to the rock and roll music blaring through the speakers. She closed her eyes and tapped her hand on the windowsill, dancing alone inside.


vintage story