sunset meditation

Destroying Control and Igniting Beauty in Costa Rica

The first time I saw “Pura Vida” was completely unromantic. The phrase was in an email signature that I read on my couch—swaddled by my robe, blanket, and cats—a valiant effort that ultimately failed the battle against winter’s warfare.

I had reached out to a tour company about a waterfall hike, two weeks prior to a Costa Rica yoga teacher retreat I booked last summer.

sunset beach warrior

Flying solo, I had two personal goals:

  1. To remember what sunshine felt like in the dead of winter
  2. To get reinspired after a three-year hiatus from teaching yoga

dancer-pose-yoga-retreat

My logical, no-frills goals would later be replaced with two deeper concepts, teased already in the title of this blog post. But, I wasn’t able to see them yet.

relaxing-in-swing

In my typical Type-A fashion, I was absurdly stressed before leaving the grind for paradise.

Crazy how the before and after of travel as we get older, with ever-increasing responsibilities, can almost total an elegant adventure in a collision of our own making.

jungle-hammocks

Anyway, I remember how that email signature stood out to me, overtaking the usual “thanks” and “cheers.”

Even with my survival basics Spanish, I knew what it meant—and how arresting that phrase was…

PURA VIDA

costa-rica-beach-meditation

Pure Life

It isn’t about keeping a city weird, an odd slogan that never caught on in Portland and kind of did in Austin. Pura Vida is about the simple life…legit simplicity.

nosara-beach

I’ve been hung up on Costa Rica since 2011, back when Mr. H and I had a trip booked that we canceled.

That was the year I quit my full-time marketing job to pursue an artistic career, teaching dance while finishing my first book and launching this cute blog. Travel budget wasn’t exactly a thing then.

playa-guillones

My infatuation with Costa Rica never faltered, making me feel like a love-sick teen that got stood up at the movies. I had also been pining over a yoga retreat for many years.

When the two came together, I told Mr. H it was something I had to do. And, he told me to go.

playa-garza-walk

After I booked the trip, I had a silly moment of buyer’s remorse. I was worried I had built up Costa Rica way too much. Others warned me it wasn’t great (always nice to hear when you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a trip of a lifetime, right?).

And when I was on what can only be described as the American party plane from Houston to Costa Rica, I wondered again if I had signed up for a weeklong tourist immersion instead of a mind, body, spirit one.

sunset-dog

But I ignored judgment and apprehension, in favor of a beautiful experience from start to finish.

I love to have soundtracks for trips, new albums by my favorite artists that I haven’t listened to yet. It’s especially travel perfection that Bonobo’s most recent album is called “Migration.”

sunset-biker

Because I’m free of distractions—not playing music while working, for example—I can relish the sounds like no other time. It makes the album even more special, associated with this unforgettable place—suspended gracefully in my memory.

Although we didn’t have bonobos at our retreat, we did have howler monkeys.

The male with the big balls woke us up at 4am sharp the first two days. Then he appeared to accept our group and kept it down until the more reasonable hour of 6:30am.

howler-monkey

So for those that warned me Costa Rica wasn’t great. They did it wrong.

love-nosara

I guess I did it right by flying into Liberia instead of messing with San Jose. I did it right by staying in Nosara, which caters to surfers and yogis. Fresh coconut water for a buck? Yes, please!

coconut-water

I completely disconnected for the first time in many years. WiFi, when available, really isn’t the same. And thankfully it isn’t.

Because who wants high-speed anything when it’s so much sweeter to slow down?

ahki-retreat

Only 700 miles from the equator—the closest I’d ever been—I was refueled by the Pura Vida radiating from the big delicious sun.

Yep, as cliche as it sounds, I was about ready to become an expat like all the rest of them. It was like hitting a reset button I didn’t think I had anymore.

sunset-savasana

There’s just something about:

  • Seeing “buterfly” misspelled in a poster ad for a park at customs.
  • The feeling of waking up in another country.
  • Getting used to “Tico Time” where everything moves at a glacial place on purpose.
  • Our driver, Rico, slamming on his breaks to miss various animals: a monstrous iguana/dragon crossing the road, a herd of cows trotting with determination, a daring horse illuminated by the headlights.
  • Swimming twice a day at a minimum.
  • Salty hair and skin.
  • A cold Imperial beer, anytime.
  • The white cows and horses that make the countryside even more luminescent.

costa-rica-jungle

Top all that off with the purpose of this trip, a yoga teacher retreat with 30 hours of anatomy and practice, tucked away in the jungle above the Pacific Ocean at Ahki Retreat.

Our small group had this gem to ourselves, with Chef Daniela, who made three fresh, organic healthy meals each day that were both energizing and inspiring. We practiced yoga in an open-air studio overlooking Mother Nature’s Central American handiwork.

yoga-retreat-outdoors

At Ahki, the relaxation nudge was masterfully executed. Sacred thought went into every architectural detail and inescapable peace happened the second you wandered in.

jungle-hammocks

hammock-music

Then top all THAT off with great people and great conversation, new friends that give life new meaning. The stories you never thought you would hear.

Someone finding yoga after recovering from cancer. Someone going deeper into their practice after losing their spouse, much too young from a heart attack.

Then, there were the meditations… (Holy shit, I know!)

sunset-meditation

I cried during the first meditation in the treetop shala. The repetition of “let go” always does me in.

sand-meditation

I smiled during frequent morning meditations on the beach, where we could sit as long as we liked before exploring other meditative forms…walking, running, swimming.

playa-guillones-sunset

I found myself during a fire ceremony under the stars in the cool sand. We each had to write down something we wanted to destroy and something we wanted to ignite, then burn those pieces of paper.

I won’t share what others tossed in the fire, since they were personal. But, I already shared mine with you guys. I chose to destroy control and ignite beauty.

Without knowing this would happen to me all week, I embodied these deeper concepts. I couldn’t help myself in Costa Rica.

sunset-surfers

From the first hello to two strangers that would become my roomies, and by the end of the week, my beautiful friends.

pool-bar-nosara

coconut-stand

To the last day, when I decided to face one of my fears and go ziplining for the first time.

I was terrified, as it was the second longest ziplining course in the world. What’s great about having so many legs on one course is that you start to loosen up.

costa rica zipline

So, eventually I released the death grip, lay back, and spun around while gazing at the blue skies. Below me was the canopy and a river. Off to the side was a waterfall and the ocean.

The last day on any trip is always fragile and precious. To end it with flying over the jungle is all too fitting for the themes of less control and more beauty. This poignant memory is still so damn lovely in my mind and I know I’ll never forget it.

A place like Costa Rica can be misunderstood when people try to turn it into something it’s not—or force a contrived experience that will never play out the way it did in their mind.

sunset-runner

Pura Vida is about leaving your expectations behind, relinquishing control and welcoming beauty in the wildness of simplicity. Every local I met was a complete nature nerd, and they want you to appreciate and enjoy it like they do. In fact, they expect that.

praying-mantis

Costa Rica will challenge you with its vibrant Pura Vida anthem. You may not get it when you’re there, and hopefully you’ll find it elsewhere someday. Or you’ll accept it body and soul…and stay forever, like many do.

ahki-retreat-pool

Me? I came home. I’m writing this post from my couch in dreary Portland, once again swaddled by my robe, blankets, and cats.

britt-coffee

But, I took a piece of the Pura Vida with me. I tucked it inside the jungle of my wild heart, and I’ll always keep it there.

nosara-costa-rica

night snow

Why Having Less Goals is Working for Me

I think many of us mean well when we start a new year.

Whether you’re into that whole goal/resolution/intention setting thing or not, when we turn our calendars and write the wrong damn year on everything for at least a month, we know that it’s a different time. And that in itself can move us to change.

I’ve written some sort of beginning of the year declaration on this blog the past few years, but for 2017 I didn’t. I typically set a sankalpa, or positive intention, for the year…

2014 – To Love More

2015 – To Simply Enjoy

2016 – To Live Consciously

cafe in the snow

Before you dive too deep into my ulterior motive for not writing anything, I actually wasn’t in the “let’s move on from 2016” camp. It was one of my most trying years of adulting, which included being laid off and almost losing my dad.

No matter what happens that is in our control our outside of it, I’m a firm believer in accepting life’s curve balls with a bit of grace. I say “a bit,” because I do my best but it’s not always graceful.

I really loved this blog from my girl Zen, who wrote in Defense of 2016

“Every day in 2016, someone got married, had their first kiss, gave birth, overcame cancer, reunited with their best friend, landed a new job, explored the world, stepped down from the brink of suicide, celebrated a birthday or an anniversary, saved a life, won the lottery, laughed till they cried, wrote a book, graduated… for every bad thing that happened, something equally good happened. In the midst of all the chaos, why not celebrate our small victories?” 

Pep Talks with the Voices in Your Head

I did set an intention for 2017 though. It was this…To Have Less Goals

So, that’s why I didn’t write this post at a more relevant time, like closer to the turn of the year. I’m writing this on a Wednesday, January 18, at the butt crack of dawn. Because that was when I was able to get to it without forcing anything.

And that might seem like no big deal to some of you. But it’s downright poignant for me, because I let go for once.

I gave myself a pep talk and said: Don’t sweat it. Just now, while writing this post and starting to feel anxious about starting my work day, I said: You’re doing so good.

We all have voices in our heads, don’t we? Funny, how they can be a missed opportunity when all we need is a pep talk.

books in the snow

Meaningful Goals vs. Lots of Goals

I shared this Harvard Business Review article, Don’t Set Too Many Goals for Yourself, at the end of the year. It spoke to me, because well…I’m too goal-oriented.

It’s the reason I didn’t sign up for the Goodreads reading challenge this year. The challenge did what I needed it to do initially, which was read more and track my progress.

Years later it morphed into this strange, unforeseen form of competition in an already competitive world. A competition with myself, with reading—something that usually brings me more peace than anything.

Oooh, dang. So close, Britt! But, you didn’t reach your annual reading goal…AGAIN.

goodreads reading

I mean…come on!

Anyway, while goals are really great for a lot of people, for me I tread the choppy waters of doing too much and not enjoying life enough. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals, because you should. But those goals should be meaningful.

“In order to accomplish our most meaningful goals, we need to fight back against two dangerous impulses: hewing too closely to a fixed plan and attempting to do too much at once.” – Dorie Clark

The HBR article warned of the dangers of busyness, of the unimportant victories we claim when crossing off tasks on our to-do lists. Instead the recommendation was to focus on bigger goals, no more than two for each 6-month period.

Maybe you’re trying to finish a book—maybe it’s your fourth or your first. That can be one of your big six-month goals, because let’s face it…finishing a novel ain’t easy. And like me, you are probably working on this book in your precious free time.

So then, you can ask yourself: Does this other thing I’m spending time on help me finish my book? Or, does it keep me from finishing it?

You might have one of those “well, I’ll be damned” moments. Because you investigated and found something, an oversight you’d missed before.

Making Tough Choices to Stay Focused

Asking yourself if something you’re doing voluntarily is keeping you from your big goal isn’t always a fun question to answer. A lot of times, you won’t even want to ask it.

With the book example, I’ve had to investigate my blogging and social media efforts. While there is a correlation—because it’s marketing and branding, which do matter when publishing a novel—until I finish my book during this 6-month period, I’m easing off the gas pedal.

night snow

I had to set some parameters (not goals) to stay focused, one of which is only blogging once each month. And, that’s the max.

I felt so much relief when I made this decision, because blogging has a way of haunting you as a writer if you’re not careful. What should I write about next? Hell, when am I going to write it? The cycle can be pretty vicious, as many of you know.

So, setting those meaningful goals can be a truly grounding experience. And the effort is pretty minimal for the reward.

“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.” – Patti Smith

It’s true that as we get older, time appears like it’s moving faster. I remember the occasional adult saying things like “enjoy it now” and “it’s all downhill from here” with a sing-song voice that always made me cringe a little as a kid. At the time, I didn’t understand why they said those things that way.

But I know now. And while it’s easy to fall into that crotchety reasoning that time magically moves faster as we age, it’s really just us that keeps moving faster.

So, don’t sweat it. You’re doing so good.

Slow down, hug it out with your hopes, dreams, and wishes, and aim for the life you want to live.

What are your thoughts on goal-setting? Like it, don’t like…somewhere in between?

dad-and-me

For the Love of Family

I’m not sure why we build these walls around ourselves, especially to keep out the people closest to us…our families. As we get older, more independent or whatever, these walls become longer or deeper or taller—layers and layers that stick together on their own somehow.

There are a lot of things we should protect ourselves from in this world. Family probably shouldn’t be one of them, right?

Then, something happens. Like a trip to the hospital. And we scramble over these walls—hell, we’ll do anything to get past them—because we’re not sure if we’ll ever see the person we love on the other side again.

holding baby

Right before Thanksgiving I found out my dad had a heart attack. Because there’s no need to build suspense in a blog post, I’ll tell you now that it was a close call but he’s okay.

I felt pretty much the same way I fid when I found out my mom had breast cancer again a few years ago. Helpless. Stuck behind a wall. On the other side of the earth even though I was only a handful of states away.

And, on a deeper level. I felt like a part of me was fading away. When you come from a pair of humans, you can’t help but think that.

carousel

Both of these times I tore down a chunk of that damn wall with the most menacing imaginary object within reach. Otherwise known as…I bought a $300 plane ticket, because I was hell-bent on hugging them in person and never letting them go.

The crazy stupid thing is this…it wasn’t all that hard. And each time with both of my parents, I wondered: Why the fuck does it take something so scary to get me here?

And, like the last time I saw my family, I realized just how insanely lovely they all are. All of them. Those I talk to regularly, and those I don’t.

I think it takes a while to arrive here…for everyone. Because we have all built these walls.

mom in a hat

Some walls were built out of disappointment, some out of loneliness—others were built during the years of forgetting the unique laughter of those we love. It’s like our very own fortress of stuck energy.

When I first saw my dad, I can’t even tell you how that felt. In my mind I kept replaying the first words he said to me on the phone at the hospital: “Hi, baby.”

Hi—how simple and beautiful that two-lettered greeting was. How my heart broke when his voice cracked as he called me “baby,” like I was still his little girl instead of a grown woman.

out with dad

I didn’t care anymore about coming to terms with that whole “death is a part of life” bullshit. I wanted my dad to stay with me—to live forever, to live past me even. I would have traded my life for his if it was an option. No contest.

I’m still suffocated by my own emotions just thinking about a moment that almost didn’t happen. When my dad said “Hi.”

He’s my hero…my dad, ya know?

And, it was surreal and bittersweet to see so many poignant things tie together during that one trip to Texas a few weeks ago.

estate-sale

We went to an estate sale and I did this silly pose with a cardboard cutout of Indiana Jones. As a kid I was obsessed with Indy. I loved his clumsy, heroic nature—how he saved the day with intelligence and strength he didn’t know he had.

Strangely, before I got on the plane to come home, my mom gave me a pile of never before seen pictures. One was this old picture of Dad, dressed up like Indiana Jones for Halloween.

indiana jones costume

So, I guess what I’m getting at—especially with the holidays upon us—is a request. To break down some of the walls you’ve built. Right now.

None of the presents matter, the money you’ve spent to make this seemingly perfect experience with the plastic decorations you painstakingly hung to celebrate glittering togetherness. Your family is the gift. None of that other shit matters.

Love your family now as much as you can. Not when it’s too late and they don’t know how much you love them. Pick up the phone. Buy a plane ticket. Break down a chunk of the wall.

And love them.

laura plumb

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Laura

There are some people who truly shine, don’t they? There’s a radiance about them we can’t quite put our finger on, and we turn to them, captivated by their spirit when we need guidance and positivity.

Laura Plumb is one of those radiant people, and I have wanted to invite her to be a Life Enthusiast for the wonderful years I have connected with her.

Between her incredible Ayurveda food blog, Food: A Love Story, her wellness courses and trainings, festival appearances, Ayurveda TV, and jet-setting to India, I wasn’t sure if Laura would have the time to join my wonderful band of enthusiasts on The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. In typical Laura fashion, she smiled warmly and made it happen.

I’ll let you check out her website to fully understand the way she inspires people to live more balanced, healthy lives.

She truly goes beyond what we often see in the yoga and Ayurveda world with her ability to embrace spirituality and make it accessible to others. That beautiful quality shines through in her Life Enthusiast words below.

Get ready to shine with Laura…

Connect with Laura on Facebook and Twitter!


teaching yoga

Isn’t Britt wonderful to create a series that invites all of us, readers and writers alike, to consider what makes us enthusiastic about life? It’s like asking us, what do you love? Which feels to me like being asked…how can we unite around all that there is to love about life?

That is exactly what makes me enthusiastic about life. I love, love, love human creativity and inspired connections.

You know those times in your life when you were doing something random, everyday, ordinary, and suddenly you find yourself in a conversation with a complete stranger who opens your eyes to wonder—or speaks of enlightening truths, or hints at the hidden depths of your heart?

Or how about those times when you are simply walking along, minding your own business, and in a flash, on turning a corner, you come across a thing of such striking beauty you can’t but gasp in awe?

spices in hand

Nature is life and we as humans are part of that eternal pulse of nature, that dynamic circle of life. When we pay attention, we find beauty everywhere. Life replicating life everywhere. Creativity and inspiration everywhere. Love, simple and infinite, everywhere.

So i am enthusiastic about seeing. Seeing love. Seeing beauty. Seeing miracles. Seeing what makes a person special.

I want to be that person who makes a person feel seen, really truly deeply seen. I want to show the world to itself, to help all people see that the world rises up to meet and support you in every moment.

india

You are not alone. We belong to this world, this life, this one family of humanity. Everywhere at all times there is a power, a radiance, a beauty that wants to help us become more and more alive.

“To see with the heart” as Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, and to feel fully seen for who you are in the heart, is one of life’s greatest gifts. To see the power and the light of life within all is en theos, the root of the word enthusiasm—to be with god.

bhakti fest

I hope to always be enthusiastic, a Life Enthusiast, and forever will be grateful to Britt for this celebration of our humanity and our grace.

how we start and end each day

How We Start and End Each Day

Sometimes our lives feel crowded, don’t they? The funny (or not so funny) thing is that we make our lives this way. We’re crowding ourselves.

We can play the technology card—absolutely. We’re always on, plugged in, and this is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

writing portfolio

For most of us, this is an occupational hazard. But if you’re a writer like yours truly, the screen time is that much worse. And when we’re glued to screens during our free time? By that point, screens have pretty much taken over our lives.

“We never really choose to live reactively. Instead, it just kind of happens. A little bit, every day. Until, one day, we wake up and realize, “my life is not my own.” Think about it. Did you choose, I will begin checking my email first thing before I get out of bed, and then respond to what everyone else says is important today?” – Jonathan Fields

Over the past two years, I started receiving strange compliments about my posture. Thanks to ballet and yoga, I tend to sit without resting my back against chairs so I’m straight as board.

Side story…my fabulous posture almost cost me my driver’s license test when I was sixteen, because the DMV guy thought I was terrified. He made me pull over, then gave me a pep talk to calm me down, or else he was going to fail me—yep, for my posture.

pointe shoes and duct tape

I explained to him that I did ballet, but he didn’t believe me. So I had to slouch uncomfortably for the remainder of the test, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’m not really sure how I passed my driving test like that, but I did.

Anyway, now good posture is this crazy awesome sight to people. Because sadly, we have become a hunchback society that’s missing the world around us.

eye palming yoga

I’m really no different. I do plenty of yoga, foam rolling, and massage to try and fight it, but I have the same complaints as any fellow sitting addict. Headaches, eye strain (I highly recommend eye palming!), neck and upper back knots for days.

In the end we’re certainly not being forced to live this way, but we are being encouraged to. So it’s absolutely up to us to make a commitment to ourselves. And one of the best ways to do that is fine-tuning how we start and end each day.

vrksasana

It wasn’t until about six months ago that I got pretty good at this. The twenty or so years before that when I was a stubborn night owl, I was doing it wrong—I hated mornings, slept as late as possible, and rushed into my day.

I was late and stressed until the afternoon, and then like clockwork, I felt sluggish. It was a vicious cycle, and I wasn’t living the best life I knew I could live.

As life got busier and busier, I realized there were two parts of each day that were mine and nobody else’s…morning and night. So, I stopped sleeping. (Kidding!)

But I did create a routine where I started and ended each day the same way. On my yoga mat.

half moon

Sometimes it’s only five minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. There are days I meditate or practice yoga, and others where I just lay on my yoga mat and stare at the ceiling, or do some gentle stretches to music.

If I feel especially overwhelmed or exhausted, I just take child’s pose, press my forehead to the ground, and thank myself for being alive.

cat yoga

There are the simple pleasures that get me too. I love the sound my mat makes as it rolls open and slaps the floor. I love the comforting feel of the squishy rubber beneath my tired feet. I love the way it reminds me of being a kid, when I used to pretend a towel or couch cushion was a magic carpet that whisked me away.

My yoga mat is the one place I can just be.

Because it’s early enough, my inbox doesn’t matter. And when it’s late enough, the online chatter and screen light finally die down.

evening yoga

How we start and end each day is pretty critical. If you strip it down, it’s the precious time that surrounds our sleep—morning sets the tone and night sings the lullaby.

If you’re feeling off-balance, like you need more down-time in your life, I recommend checking out how you’re starting and ending each day. It may look very different for you—maybe the magic carpet yoga mat story just didn’t do it for you. Whatever it is that grounds you, building this healthy habit can really change your outlook, like it did for me.

How do you start and end each day? Share your me-time habits, or how you want to improve them!

love more

A Wolf of Love and A Wolf of Hate

I felt like I was suffocating last Tuesday and I needed space to be able to breathe. So I rushed out to Forest Park for a long hike to one of my favorite hideouts, Pittock Mansion, a little before 4pm.

I wanted to see the world from up high to gain a little perspective. For the first time in the three years I’ve lived here, I caught Portland right at sunset on an unusually clear day.

pittock mansion sunset

I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few of us taking in Mount Hood’s fetching winter hat framed becomingly by an ethereal sky. It was freeing being up there—just what I needed.

Then, my stomach flipped and I swallowed down a knot as the pink began to fade. Suddenly my anxiety was worse than it was before the hike. Reality set with the sun.

There was a reason I hadn’t ever seen that view at sunset. Because it takes 45 minutes to get back home, and without a scrap of daylight the forest would be pitch black. We just had a time change, and I forgot that small but important detail.

I was the kid who was afraid of the dark and believed in the closet monster—not much has changed as an adult. My night-light looks a little different as a Himalayan salt lamp in my bathroom, but I can’t sleep with the closet doors open and every morning I fling them wide to set the evil spirits free.

In other words, night hikes aren’t my thing. Especially when I’m alone.

salt lamp

I had my phone and the logical voice recommended calling an Uber to rescue me, simply drive eight minutes to the end of the trailhead where Silvie the bike was waiting for me. But there was a part of me that thought it was all too fitting, to watch the sun disappear on Election Day and to face my fears of darkness.

So, I hiked back home in the dark. And when it’s nighttime in the forest, it’s very different from any other type of darkness you will ever experience.

The few people on the trail were scary as their shadows suddenly appeared, and rather than feeling comforted by another human’s presence, I wondered if they were going to hurt me. I trusted nobody.

The human alternative was the animal one. I realized I was trespassing, now that it was nighttime. At first I tried calming myself with music, but I shoved my headphones into my bag to be completely alert after a rustling off to my left gave me a small heart attack.

Denali, a pure gray wolf

Denali, a pure gray wolf

Though a coyote would be more likely, I kept thinking there were wolves in the forest. And, I should know from my wonderful friend Kate, that wolves are lovely animals. But in the dark, I was terrified. I saw many coyotes growing up and they used to run down my street when I lived in the canyon in Azusa, California. But wolves I had never seen, so why would I think they were there with me now?

The rustling ended up being anticlimactic—a ratty, chubby squirrel stocking up for winter, more afraid of me than anything. I released my fists and my breath, and continued through the darkness.

The creek is higher this time of year. It was hard to see where the edge of the trail was. Though I wanted to run to get home faster, and even tried for a smoother stretch of the trail I knew well, I refrained so I didn’t trip and fall into the icy waters.

Tree shadows were menacing as they danced in the wind, and their long limbs seemed to be reaching for me. To think, their colorful arms had been so welcoming on the way out to the mansion.

I was surrounded by danger and my body was charged with an instinct for survival. Strange, being that it wasn’t even 5pm yet. Stranger still, I had been in my husband’s arms in this same spot weeks before and felt so safe.

fall forest park

I turned around a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. But I kept moving forward, and I focused on everything I loved to overcome the fear of the darkness, until I saw the lights of Thurman Bridge at the end of the trail.

When I got home, I was shaking from the waning adrenaline and the cold. I had gone on an unexpected personal journey I wasn’t prepared for in my already emotional state. I ignored social media and the coverage on TV most of the evening, until it was finally time to face the results.

After that I retreated to the safety of my yoga mat and put on my headphones to shut out the world, the glorious pink one I had been admiring hours earlier. How whimsical and innocent it had seemed then.

You know, I tried to do everything I could to protect myself from this day, avoiding online content and social media like the plague. Still the depression and anxiety permeated my mind.

positivity during election

Earlier in the year I tried to make a positive stand. Because I knew this year was going to be unlike the previous years—there would be protests and rioting, even in peaceful Portland a young man would be shot on a bridge. I would get a text from a friend of mine, asking if we were okay.

The next day I made the mistake of getting on social media and was back in the dark forest again—my heart racing, my breath uneven. I didn’t feel safe, and I wanted to run even though I couldn’t see anything.

I felt the need to say something, but I certainly didn’t want to fuel the fire. So I posted something from a book I had read last month, exquisite words I had forgotten to post after I finished reading it…or, so I thought.

Now I see that it was meant to be posted the day after the election.

“In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.” – From Buddha’s Brain

wolf of love

It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, who you voted for or who you voted against. What matters now is how we all move on and continue to live. What matters now is which wolf we are feeding each day.

The wolf lives inside all of us. The wolf of love is the beautiful creature that is respected for its power and grace. That’s the one I want to feed in my heart, and the one I hope the world will too.

love trumps hate

Love does trump hate, but we have to love from a place of strength and light to win fear and darkness. For now I’ll just remember dancing in the sunshine the week before…

children on lake

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Alexandra

People always amaze me, the way they can feel so much and do so many things. And, there are some very amazing people I am fortunate to know who live life differently…they seize it.

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles has been on vacation since June, but now the series is back in town. One Life Enthusiast has been on my mind for a while, because she has been making me smile on Twitter for some time.

Today Alexandra Jonsson from Sweden, who many of you know on Twitter as @Treememories, is here to enlighten us with her enthusiasm.

alexandra-tweet

Whether she’s making us laugh with her storytelling tweets or inspiring us with her beautiful thoughts, Alexandra is a pure Life Enthusiast. It’s just in her nature—and it shines through her words.

When I asked her to be on the Life Enthusiast Chronicles, Alexandra told me she had never written a blog before. That was when I realized…whoa, she doesn’t have a website either. I never noticed, because she had been using Twitter to write these mini-blogs for so long.

So, this is a very exciting day indeed. Let’s give Alexandra a warm welcome into the blogging community!

Connect with Alexandra on Twitter.

Inspire us, Alexandra!


What Makes Me Enthusiastic About Life
or
A Self-Evaluation, More or Less Serious and Silly

Of course, the first answer that popped into my head about what makes me enthusiastic about life is my children.

My second answer is people—well, perhaps not if someone is being a jerk, then I won’t be very enthusiastic about him or her. Also, not if I have to stand and talk in front of a bunch of people.

You see, I’m shy. Most people I meet say: “You’re shy?! No, you’re not.”

But yes, I am. I have a tendency to blush and I don’t really speak about myself, or give anyone I don’t know personal information. I steer the conversation to focus on them, letting me hide behind their words.

I’m certainly not silent—I smile and laugh and make comments, but I hardly ever put myself in the spotlight.

paper bag over head

Like, that whole speaking in front of a bunch of people problem. Kind people have given me advice that I should picture my audience in their underwear, or even naked.

OMG that is not helping! How on earth would that make me blush less?

Nakedness of strangers usually makes anyone blush, especially if the naked person is, how should I put this—you know…well…hot. And because I’m a writer I also have a vivid imagination, which immediately creates a scenario where after my speech I have to mingle and network with my naked audience.

I mean, what do you say to a naked person? Is it…

“Oh, I like your chest hair very much. How do you make it so curly?”
“I just love your skin colour! It matches your eyes so beautifully.”

will ferrell basketball

No, no, no and no. That’s terrible advice to give to a writer! Our imagination is way too vivid to deal with that. I’d much rather blush my way through an entire speech looking at a fully clothed audience—thank you very much.

But, apart from these two scenarios where I’m not very enthusiastic about people, I’m otherwise very enthusiastic about them.

You see, when I first started my university studies I studied to become an archaeologist. It was very fun the first week, as I dusted dirt and was digging my way down towards the hidden treasures beneath us.

Then I found it was more exciting to speak to other archaeologists from our host country and the “diggers,” as we called the men who dug down to our level.

After a while the diggers’ muscles got quite big—it was summer and it was hot. Let’s just say it was pretty difficult for us girls to stay focused while the shirtless diggers were working. Then we spent most of our time hanging out with the diggers instead of working on the 2,000 year-old-roof we were all there for in the first place.

archaeology

When the summer was over we went back to cold Sweden, and we buried ourselves in our studies, hidden deep in the library. I knew I didn’t want to only work with people in the summer, and spend the rest of the year in some dusty library surrounded by dead men’s words and their remains.

It was then I realised that I was enthusiastic about people. So I became a teacher.

All of a sudden, I was surrounded by people who were constantly talking, asking, calling—not only during the day, but also in the evening and first thing in the morning. I decided that teaching wasn’t my cup of tea.

Then my friend said to me: “Write!”

So, I did.

alexandra-jonsson

It’s not that I hadn’t written before in my life, because I have always written in every possible way, genre, and form. But when she said that magical word “Write!” I started to write for real. And I was so enthusiastic about this, and I still am.

I love to create imaginary people and their stories, based on people and situations I have encountered—men and women and children, and jerks and bunches of people (hopefully clothed!). I find inspiration in so many people.

People I have watched get on a bus or I have driven by in my car, and people who have made me smile, laugh and feel. Characters I have seen in an actor who interprets them in such an interesting way. Musicians listening to music they have created to express themselves, artists looking at a finished painting they have poured their souls into, or authors sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings through words.

This is why I’m so enthusiastic about people, and that’s what’s make me enthusiastic about life. Because if there were no other people, then what would life be like?

embrace fall

5 Ways to Embrace Fall for Some Well-Deserved Wellness

I love fall. I do. But, this year I felt like summer was just gone too quickly.

I’m thankful that Portland winters are mild compared to the sub-zero temps I experienced in Wisconsin for five years.

wisconsin winter

Yet, the rain and grey rolled in early this year and I felt like I had been cheated.

Hold the phone…No more reading on the patio on a weekend afternoon with iced tea? Sure, I could do that now. But I’d be shivering on our soggy outdoor rug, ruining my book and spilling iced tea all over myself AND the book—soaking everything (because it wasn’t wet enough already).

Clearly this was the first autumn I wasn’t super pumped about, and I tried to figure out what the hell the problem was. It happens every year…get over it.

portland bridge

Well, I kept hanging onto a season that had passed. And it was messing with me.

I finally decided to embrace fall instead of pretending it wasn’t here to stay. In case any of you are feeling the “Fall Blues” like I was, here are a few things that worked for me.

1. Embrace Fall in the Kitchen

The same food you ate all summer isn’t going to cut it—both logistically with trying to grill in the wind and rain, and physically with your body craving comfort and warmth.

(Here are some awesome fall recipes from my gal, Laura at Food: A Love Story.)

crockpot

Buy a cooking treat

I’m leery about buying too many kitchen contraptions, but finally I shelled out $30 for a crockpot to make weeknight meals easier on us. Everybody around me was intrigued and annoyed by my excitement, which included hugging the box when it arrived.

crockpot recipes

However my Instagram posse understood and saluted my first crockpot recipe, breaking all previous records of social engagement with this soul-soothing kale white bean soup.

(Psst…Want to obsess over crockpot recipes with me? Follow my What a Crock! board on Pinterest.)

Rethink your healthy staples

I often depend on smoothies and salads for a health boost, but when it gets colder, I just can’t. There are still ways to enjoy them with a few seasonal tweaks—like a pumpkin smoothie bowl and a warm spinach salad.

pumpkin smoothie

If you’re still feeling greens deprivation, take Chlorella tablets. I bought them for travel, but I’ve been taking one a day since my fall diet changed to make sure I’m still getting ample greens.

Tea up

No matter what you do, energy levels are bound to get low. And like me, you might find you have developed a late morning AND afternoon cup of coffee habit on top of your morning cup. Whoa, girl!

loose leaf tea

Stock up on tea—and perhaps a fancy new tea kettle—so you have plenty of herbal goodies to brew when you need a more subtle pick-me-up with bonus health benefits.

2. Embrace Fall in the Bath

Spices and oils aren’t just for your fall diet, they’re perfection for your skin too. Now is one of the best excuses to slow down and experiment with some R&R.

Pumpkin face mask

It never fails that I have leftover pumpkin from some dessert that only calls for a little. Oooh, pumpkin spice molasses cookies

pumpkin spice cookies

Rather than letting the leftover pumpkin spoil in my fridge, I mixed it with other gentle ingredients in my kitchen and slapped it on my face. A girlfriend of mine was horrified when I talked about this homemade mask, because she had used harsh chemical editions before.

This one works on my sensitive skin,  but test a small patch for a short duration to see how it goes.

Create your own spa

The amount of yoga and spa props in our tiny apartment might be funny to some, but I’m willing to give up closet retail space for my puffy friend, Bolster, any day. I recently picked up a bigger body version of an eye pillow I love, but instead of storing in the freezer, you nook this one in the microwave.

Nothing needs to hurting or sore to enjoy it—the wrap just feels really good to have concentrated warmth on your belly or feet while you read, write, or lounge aimlessly.

Incorporate some Ayurveda

Oil pulling? Tongue scraping? Neti pot? Oil massage? These are all practices of Ayurveda and I’m a big fan of them for routine self-care. Abhyanga oil massage is one of the most decadent things you can do for your body, using warm oil to soothe your skin, muscles, and joints.

To fight nasal dryness, I stepped up my game this year with Nasya oil—which has greatly helped stuffiness in my sinuses when I do this at night. I can actually breathe when I wake up, even before my morning Neti time.

3. Embrace Fall in the Elements

You can either fight seasonal changes, or sync up with them. And while shelter may seem like the best idea, nothing beats being one with nature in the fall.

(Read Andrea’s beautiful fall descriptions over at Harvesting Hecate to get in the mood.)

Exercise outside

Whenever I’m feeling especially cranky about the rain, I get my sorry ass outside for a run. Being out in the elements makes me feel better about it, versus trying to avoid the inevitable cold.

rain running

Plus, when you’re splashing through puddles you feel like a kid again—but to everyone else, you look like a bit of a bad ass.

Listen to everything

Autumn sounds are undeniably lovely, from the crunch of leaves beneath your feet to the chuckles of the squirrels as they dash in front of you with their loot. It’s truly one of nature’s masterpieces when you stop and look around. Everything is changing and turning inward, just like we are.

forest park fall

Be young at heart

Go ahead and jump in a pile of leaves (you know you want to!). Carve a pumpkin, dress up for Halloween—stop being such an adult all the time and play.

4. Embrace Fall in the Ensemble

The fading memory of simple summer clothing can be jarring when you’re grasping for the fluffiest blanket. Getting dressed seems more complicated than it was before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Shop ‘til you drop

Kidding. You don’t need to break the bank, but buying a couple of new pieces can lift your spirits. I immediately felt frumpy as I layered up—enter sassy new rain jacket and these fabulous wedge sneakers.

sneaker booties

Change out your closet

Pining over that flirty summer dress isn’t helping. While there are some pieces you can layer to get more mileage out of them, fall is really the time to look as crisp as the leaves outside. Rich colors and cozy structure will align you with nature’s will.

Invest in amazing socks

Slippers are typically made of synthetic materials that get icky as your feet overheat. Mr. H and I bought alpaca socks last March when we visited San Juan Islands. I had never spent $25 on a pair of socks in my life, but they are the best.

alpaca farm

They are the only fabric that shields us from our first floor apartment floors, they are the perfect temp (not too hot or cold), and basically your feet feel like they’re being hugged. Thanks, alpaca friends!

5. Embrace Fall in the Chill

By “chill” I mean don’t overdo it. The changes of fall can be quite a shock to the system already, so take the time to turn inward instead of trying to maintain the energy and commitments you had in the warmer months.

Enjoy a little couch time

In the warmer months, besides our faux leather sofa sticking to my bare legs, lounging around the house doesn’t happen much because it just feels wrong.

When the blankets come out and the cats launch into cuddle mode, give yourself permission to catch up on books and movies. If you’re a creative type, think of this as “inspiration time” not a waste of time.

cats on suitcase

Hunker down at home

For me, the fall transition basically went a little something like this: Italy, San Francisco, sick as a dog. I hadn’t had an epic three-day migraine in years, but it hit me the week after I got back from a conference.

nurse cat

Migraines are my body’s way of saying “stop.” And, it works. Traveling this time of year can amplify the ungrounded feeling, so especially at the turn of the season, a smoother transition means staying at home to explore the previously mentioned tips.

Let things go

It seemed like right after Labor Day weekend, summer vanished in the business world for me. Everyone came back from vacation, full throttle, and I got swept up in the “must do everything perfectly and immediately” mode. Don’t.

A more laid back approach is something you should hang onto from the warmer months. Unnecessary stress will drain you, and this time of year the immune system is working harder anyway. Let it go…get your cuddle on, or take a walk in the beautiful scenery and breathe.

fall hike

Since making an effort to embrace fall, I have been much happier and relaxed. For the go-getters out there, I think this time of the year can be especially tough because we are being asked to slow down. Slowing down is a good thing—a chance to take care of ourselves for a change.

Do you have any good tips for embracing fall? I’d love to hear them…go!

san francisco bridge

A Little Ditty About Meeting My First Blogger in San Francisco

About two years ago I made a wish that I hadn’t had a chance to fulfill. The wish was this: If I’m ever in the same place as another blogger I know, I’m going to meet them face to face.

What was it…ten years ago that meeting someone from the internet was batshit crazy? The possibility of meeting some psycho perv was a real threat. Now, it’s totally legit to meet up.

san francisco travel

I like to think of my good blogger friends as pen pals. Remember those? A pen pal was someone you talked to like nobody else in your life. The distance and anonymity of it all made it a safe space to share true pieces of yourself.

Well, finally it happened. I met my first blogger.

I was at Dreamforce, one of the biggest user conferences in the country. It was my first time, a strange thing to say being that I’ve been immersed in the B2B marketing world for almost three years. Finally, I had a company that sent me to witness the insanity firsthand.

salesforce dreamforce

It’s funny because I remember talking about Dreamforce with one of my close blogger friends who lives in San Francisco around this time last year. The chaos was amplified for her—just as it is for everyone living in a city already bursting with people—when nearly 200,000 businesspeople invade the streets.

I sent an email to my girl, Jilanne Hoffman, with a subject line she couldn’t refuse…I’m in San Francisco! Coordinating was challenging between our hectic schedules, but we made it work.

dreamforce 2016

And by day three of the conference, I was over all things business. It was the focus from the moment I woke up until I went to sleep at night. At least at home there is some down time, but at a conference like Dreamforce, you’re always on.

I was also over crowds. I’m an honorary extrovert, meaning I worked hard to become one in order to survive the real world. It was clear every afternoon when I dropped everything to escape to my hotel for yoga and some breathing room.

yoga in hotel

In other words, I was more than ready to feel like me again. To hang out with a friend and talk about writing and life in a quiet residential neighborhood where people shopped for groceries on a Wednesday night, instead of cramming into a U2 concert.

Yes, I skipped U2 at Dreamforce to go have chamomile tea with a friend. I told you so…introvert incognito.

oakland bay bridge

What’s crazy is on my way to see Jilanne, I had some serious deja vu in the Uber.

Some of you may recall a post I wrote in the spring last year called 1am in a Cab on a School Night. Strangely, it was one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written on this blog.

This time I was in an Uber instead of a taxi, on a clear San Francisco night instead of a rainy Portland one. I was also in a very different emotional state—last year I was saying goodbye to a wild piece of me, and this year I think was missing that wild piece of me.

portland reindeer sign

But the conversation and soundtrack were just as good. I’ll call the Uber driver what he was…a cool cat named Dwight. He was a native San Franciscan, with the knowledge of the city prevalent in his eyes. And, he had great taste in music.

A song started playing as we began our journey away from the madness of Union Square toward the residential sanctuary of Potrero Hill. He seemed surprised when I wanted to talk beyond the formalities.

I asked: “What song is this?”

Dwight raised his eyebrows: “You like this kind of music, Miss?”

“Love. I love jazz.”

“Well, alright.” He laughed. “It’s John Coltrane. Called Equinox. I always listen to it after a long day. It’s the perfect song because of its cool expansive qualities.”

I smiled. Cool and expansive. That’s all I wanted to feel that night after a long day.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous as I waltzed into a Whole Foods cafe away from the mayhem downtown, and it took me a minute to adjust. I texted Jilanne to let her know I was here, and there she was sitting at a corner table with a glass of wine.

After a welcome hug, I slid into a chair next to Jilanne and it felt like we were chatting in our own real life WordPress comment box. It wasn’t weird, it was comforting actually. Years of virtual conversations meant we already knew each other well enough to skip the small talk—and we only had an hour in our schedules, so we had to make it count.

But I still love the first question Jilanne asked me, her eyes wide: “So what the heck are you doing at Dreamforce?”

dreamforce fun

I laughed. It was a fair question. When we know each other as bloggers, we usually don’t know life’s logistics, like occupations. But honestly in that moment, I didn’t know why I was at the conference.

It definitely seemed out of place to me then as I was meeting a fellow writer at a cafe on a calm evening. Once I was sitting at that table I had shed the “business suit” and the persona that went with it. I was just a writer again in my flare jeans and blouse that mimics floral curtains from the 1960s.

blogging friends

Anyway I won’t rehash our conversation here now, but I will say that Jilanne is just as I imagined her to be—quirky and lovely. If you want to see what I mean, read her post on The Life Enthusiast Chronicles from last year.

That evening talking with a friend was what I needed to return to myself. I left the cafe and climbed into another Uber to head back to my hotel, feeling cool and expansive.

And I made time to hang out with the sea lions before I hopped on the plane back home.

pier 39

Have you ever met a blogger in real life? If not, would you if you had the chance?

wandering venice

The Soul Citizen of Venice Finally Lives Out Her Dream

I’ve had this recurring dream throughout my life where I get lost in the alleys of Venice. This dream started sometime in my early twenties, and I have no idea why.

Was it a movie or a picture that triggered it? I can’t be sure. Maybe I was born with this soul connection that made me an honorary citizen of Venice. A soul citizen, if you will.

things to do in venice

You see, my dreams have been vivid for as long as I can remember—I was the creepy sleepwalker kid that punched my sister if we shared the same bed. I’ve met people in my sleep and never remembered it.

On a positive note, I have seen and felt the most incredible fabrications of reality. And I have a silly habit of “swim flying” in the sky, which is an interesting way to get around.

The only time my dreams were tame was in college, when I was seeing a therapist who doped me up with antidepressants. But those drugs stole my dreams away, left me lost in a fog of apathy instead of the exquisite alleys of Venice.

venice italy travel

When I first met Mr. H, he said: “You’re not depressed. Why are you taking those?”

I said: “I have anxiety.”

He said: “You can beat it without that shit.”

And, he was right.

summer in venice

I got off antidepressants and my dreams returned—sometimes they were night terrors that sent me sprinting across the room in the middle of the night, sometimes they were unconscious explorations that inspired my first novel, and sometimes they were magical and nonsensical, like wandering Venice without purpose.

Yet the crazy dreams were mine, all mine, sensations and visuals my brain conspired to create just for me.

Beyond the dreams, this other Venice thing happened at my wedding over 11 years ago. For those of you that don’t know this fun fact about Britt and Mr. H, we got hitched in Vegas.

Imagine my surprise when my dad gave us a wedding present that we could enjoy right after the ceremony—a gondola ride at the Venetian.

the venetian

Still, we never thought we would see the real deal and we settled for the sparkling chlorinated Venice canals from our wedding day.

Most people would kill to see Venice. As I mentioned in my first Italian travel post, I just didn’t have the bug like everyone else.

venice for couples

When we randomly decided to go to Italy, we did our best to avoid the typical American race across a European country by limiting our stops.

It was a showdown between Cinque Terre and Venice for a day trip from Florence, and Cinque won.

get lost in venice

I had heard negative feedback from other people I knew that went to Venice: It was touristy, pricey, the food sucked. These are all things I later found to be true, including eating overpriced frozen food as our last meal before boarding the train.

Except this espresso didn’t suck…

coffee in venice

And, this chocolate orange cannoli definitely didn’t suck…

cannoli

But I also feel these things—crazy tourists, high prices, mediocre food—are a given when you go to one of the most fantastic places in the world in the summer.

Hands down, these were the most expensive cappuccinos I’ve ever purchased in my life. The people-watching and live music were pure perfection though.

cafe in venice

That’s why I’m taking the high road with a whimsical perspective on the city so many have visited before me. Because at the end of the day, Venice is TOTALLY a tourist trap.

Exhibit A…

venice clock

There are truly as many pigeons as there are tourists, and sometimes they join forces. Like this young bird woman with a pigeon on top of her hat (crapping on her head, no doubt), dutifully documenting the whole affair with her selfie stick.

Because who would believe her otherwise?

pigeons and venice

But if you really want them, I can sum up my Venice tips right here:

  1. To Avoid Tourists  Don’t visit during peak season. Or, spend the night since the crowds thin out after the last train leaves for the day. But be ready to fork over some bucks for a hotel!
  2. To Avoid Overspending  Don’t go to Venice. Kidding, use the vaporetti (water buses) to see the city the way it’s meant to be seen, and wander around (wear comfy shoes!) for a day trip.
  3. To Avoid Sucky Food  Don’t forget to pack your own food. There is too much portable deliciousness in Italy to play the victim here—plan ahead. Unless money isn’t an option and you can dine at the fancy pants restaurants.

venice canals

Anyway, I’ve never been one to ignore my dreams and I felt a quiet pull inside knowing that Venice was within reach as soon as we arrived in Italy. I felt it strongly in Florence, and even stronger in Cinque Terre.

Fate called on the tour bus back from Cinque, after a long day of hiking and swimming, sunshine and seafood. One of our tour guides was giving Venice tips to pretty much everyone but us.

His advice was always the same: “Just get lost. When you go to Venice, that’s what you do.”

romantic venice

Mr. H turned to me and said what we were both thinking…when will we ever have a chance like this again? The pull was so strong that my heart was ready to explode.

Fortunately there was room on the train the next morning and we saw the fabled place I had dreamed about.

venice

Instead of repeating the gondola ride from our wedding, we splurged on a private water taxi. There wasn’t a huge difference in the price, since both options were astronomical.

The main reason is that we were fortunate to have an amazing opera singing gondolier during our Vegas/Venice trip on our wedding night, a memory we didn’t want to taint in any way. The real-life gondoliers don’t exactly serenade you, and you probably don’t want them to try.

gondola ride
Because Venice is meant to be savored from the water that is slowly reclaiming its earthly beauty, we decided the 15-minute private water taxi ride to St. Mark’s Square was worth the (gulp) 65 Euros.

Truly, it was worth every penny.

water taxi venice

venice water taxi

venice taxi

venice in a day

Sometimes we are linked to a place in the world and there’s no need to understand it. So why not take the chance and see what happens—if anything happens at all.

Nothing spectacular really happened to me. I’m just happy to be a soul citizen of Venice who finally got to live out her dream.

venice alleys

Are you a soul citizen of any place? Or, is there a place you visit over and over for some reason?

P.S. This post wraps up my Italy travels and I hope you all enjoyed coming along. Be sure to check out Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre if you missed them! Next time, I’ll be back to American Britt. 🙂

italian coast

I Left My Heart in Cinque Terre

You know those pictures of the bright dwellings perched becomingly by the sea? It’s like some giant in the sky dropped a handful of sweet candies and decided they were too beautiful to eat, so he left them just as they were.

I never knew that place truly existed. It was too picturesque to be real, another place where people lived and did their laundry, hung it outside to be dried and lightly starched by the sunny salty air.

italy by the sea

To them, the beauty was commonplace and mundane. To me, it was heaven on earth. Plus, seaside kitty with deformed ear. Awwww….

mediterranean cat

Cinque Terre. Five villages on the Mediterranean. Unesco World Heritage Site. The Italian Riviera.

No matter what you call it, it sounds as alluring as it looks.

romantic italy

Finding Our Way to Cinque Terre

Rome was relentlessly sunny, well over 90 degrees for three days. Mind you, one of those afternoons we silly Americans attempted a three-mile run in a park. Sucking back end-of-summer park dirt in your Nikes while everyone else relaxes in the shade with a cold drink is really something—you should try it. (Kidding, don’t.)

Florence played nice, with gentle rain that soothed our sunburns and spirits, making the city even more of a looker at night.

With the promise of sunshine and mild temps lined up in Cinque Terre in the middle of our Italian trip, we were giddy the morning we climbed onto the tour bus to make the trek to the sea.

hotel in cinque terre

It was by chance that we even found our way to Cinque. I was looking for day tours from Florence when those bright dwellings perched by the sea caught my eye. And color me happy, it was a hiking tour!

cinque terre train tunnel

Consumed by enthusiasm, my articulation was worse than usual as I rattled off the idea to Mr. H in what would have made someone else think “perhaps English isn’t her first language.”

At the same moment, Mr. H was coming at me with the same excitement, saying he had an Italy recommendation for us from someone he met.

italy colorful homes by the sea

Cinque Terre” we both said in our pathetic Italian. And, we booked the day-long hiking tour without a second thought.

Freddie Mercury Returns From the Dead

You just never know what you’re going to get when you go on a tour with a bunch of adults. Is it going to be fun? Cheesy as f*ck? Are people going to pretend you don’t exist, or barge into your conversations?

italy train travel

italy by train

We had a two-hour bus ride through Tuscany, a hike, seaside village train-hopping, a boat ride, and then we had to bus it back home. I was majorly skeptical about how the tour company, Walkabout Florence, was going to pull it off.

But, they did.
hiking tours cinque terre

We were lucky to have two incredible tour guides, Giada and Matteo. They not only magically corralled tourists all day, they injected just the right dose of history and jokes, which included our nicknames.

lunch in cinque terre

Mr. H’s nickname was coined at lunch when a waiter asked me to take a picture of them together after gawking at him throughout the entire meal.

The waiter thought Mr. H was Freddie Mercury, back from the dead.

freddie mercury twin

Right after the celebrity photo with our waiter.

Our guides found out, because the guy was pretty damn excited about the chance encounter. He was telling everyone, jabbing them in the sides with his elbow wearing a conspiring smile: “Freddie, eh? Don’t you see it? He’s Freddie Mercury!”

Er…Freddie wasn’t quite this burly, but yeah…TOTALLY!

how to hike cinque terre

Because our Italian tour guides thought me, Freddie’s wife, needed a nickname too, they continued with the music theme. So, I’ve always been a big fan of hers…but…meet Annie Lennox?

cinque terre sea

 

Hiking, Swimming, Slushies…These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Anyway, the punchy nicknames and unfairly delicious seafood pasta energized us for the hike. Because we were allowed to split off, we hike-loving Portlanders left our group in the dust, working up a nice Italian Riviera sweat to go with our fluffy humid do’s.

(Remember when you guys voted for my worst San Francisco hair last year? The Hair Basket was pretty epic though.)

cinque terre hike

Tame that hair!

hiking trail cinque terre

Bringing back the fro. So fluffy!

Like the hair, everything grows right before your eyes. You can breathe in the freshest rosemary and thyme on the side of the trail, and pick delicious capers when you need a snack.

capers-in-italy

Unlike hiking in Portland, the people coming from the other direction didn’t say hi, because they weren’t sure which language to speak. Once we passed them, their melodious foreign chatter continued on, transported down the winding dirt trail by the cool breeze.

cinque terre fun

Halfway, at the highest point on the hike, the sparkling view had some competition. Lemon slushies.

One rickety restaurant sat alone, making bank on the thirsty tourists and hikers staggering inside.

cinque terre villages

The reason we high-tailed it through the hike was less about the workout and more about this…

mediterranean swim

Swimming in the Mediterranean had always been on both of our “wow that would be awesome” lists.

italian-riviera-swimming

Check. 🙂

cinque terre beaches

When we heard rumors about seafood cones, we crossed that one off the list too. Check.

cinque terre food

The Cinque Terre You See Online is a Sham

You may have noticed my Cinque photos look different from others you have seen. That’s because—except for the lunch image above, which was too dark—I didn’t “enhance” these images, not even the header.

vineyards cinque terre

The first thing I thought when I stepped off the bus and caught my first glimpse was: Aren’t the buildings supposed to be a lot brighter?

Nope. They’re actually softer, practically pastel. And Cinque Terre in its natural state—like most things—is even more stunning.

relaxing in italy

It’s funny how saturated our world has become with well…everything.

Then we make it a point to saturate the world even more with cool effects and filters in the photographs we share. We try to make things seem more perfect by photoshopping out whatever it is that is taking away from the shot.

kissing in cinque terre

This is one of the first blogs I’ve ever published where I didn’t touch the photos. It doesn’t always work, but Cinque is an easy subject.

When I first saw this image, I considered not using it because my tag was sticking out of my shirt.

cinque terre italy

Then I thought how ridiculous that was. It was a real moment in time—no effects, no filters.

An Unexpected Pit Stop in Venice

That evening the bus back to Florence was very different from the ride out to Cinque Terre. A day of bonding by the beautiful sea can break down anybody, even the most stubborn adults.

With the navy Tuscan scenery flowing effortlessly in front of our heavy eyes, everyone was talking about their next stop…Venice.

espresso in cinque terre

Mmmmm….espresso.

It wasn’t on our itinerary. We had chosen Cinque Terre as our one day trip from Florence to avoid racing from place to place. Mr. H and I turned to each other, shrugged, and said…

What the hell? When will be here again?

Stay tuned for the last gorgeous leg of our Italy trip to Venice. You can read about Florence and Rome if you missed those wonderful cities.

florence italy

Beautiful Florence and the Renaissance Butt Movement

Any time I mentioned that we were heading to Italy for a vacation, people wanted to know all the non-gory details. I dutifully listed off the travel itinerary in order:

Rome.

Ah, Rome!

Florence.

Florence?! Oh, Florence is so beautiful!

florence windows

It was interesting, because everyone that had visited Florence called it beautiful. Nobody said that about Rome.

Rome has plenty of other descriptive words to attempt to do it justice—”beautiful” not being the typical reaction, because its stunning qualities leave us at a loss for words.

So, I wondered what it was about Florence that made it unanimously beautiful. Being that it was a mere 90-minute high-speed train ride away from Rome, we thought…why in the hell wouldn’t we go there?

train to florence

I kicked back and watched the Tuscan countryside whizzing by, with the perfect soundtrack to complement the picturesque scene, courtesy of the great Billie Holiday.

Side note that Grandes del Jazz 8 is one of my all-time favorite Billie albums, and though I listen to it religiously in the bathtub, I made an exception for the Florence train ride.

beautiful florence

I felt the energy from Rome slide out of me onto the train flooring. I imagined it seeping onto the tracks before being swallowed up by the rich hills, turned into a sharp herb or fat produce, and eventually—a mind-blowing meal.

I sighed loudly. The beauty had already begun…the butts came later.

WHY I Call florence Adorably Beautiful

When I first saw the city, I didn’t think Florence was beautiful. I thought it was adorably beautiful.

Perhaps I was jaded after being in the powerful grip of Rome for three days, but the city was a lot smaller than I expected. Still the culture, history, and food seem to burst from the pocket-sized city limits.

florence church

There are colors that I find adorable and they graced some of the most intricate architecture I have ever seen.

The Duomo di Firenze reminded me of The Nutcracker, Act 2 specifically in the Land of Sweets. I kept aiming my camera at the church to catch the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de bourree by a window, but sadly it never happened.

florence streets

Since we used Florence as a travel base for Cinque Terre and Venice, we didn’t get to see as much of the city as we would have liked. There are so many lovely nooks and crannies that I imagine anyone could spend plenty of time soaking in the culture and food.

Speaking of, the food (oh man, the dessert!) was excellent in Florence. Not a single place, even in the tourista zone, disappointed us.

However if you’re short on time like we were, there is really only one food mecca you need to visit…Mercato Centrale. Spend hours there, share and try everything—you won’t regret it.

florence dessert

I know, I know. Where’s the art already?

Now don’t bring out the pitchforks, but I’m not much of a Renaissance art buff. Give me Hitler’s bunker or a Communist museum and I’m the inappropriate weirdo that jumps for joy. This can be a bit of a problem in Florence—because, good morning—Renaissance art is kind of a big deal.

But, there is other art for the taking…plenty of it! Unfortunately the dedicated exploration day we had in Florence was a no-go with the two attractions we wanted to see.

Mr. H is a huge Dali fan, so we hunted down an exhibit that was supposed to be happening—supposed to be. Alas, we found an empty outdoor gallery. I won’t show you the picture, because it was too depressing.

florence bridge

Nice hair. : )

The Museo Galileo was closed by the time we arrived from Rome and got settled in our apartment—at 1pm on a Tuesday. Sure, why not?

The Florence art gods seemed to be playing with us and we were sick and tired of it. And, that’s how we ended up in Poop Corridor.

Poop Corridor and the Italian Toilet Debacle

Feeling that it was blasphemous not to go into at least one museum, we paced in front of the art mothership, Uffizi Gallery, while plugging our noses.

Why? Well, in front of the glorious museum, it smelled like shit. Assuming it was an “old city sewage in the summer” kind of deal, but I didn’t inquire.

I felt bad for Machiavelli, who lives in Poop Corridor for all eternity. Assuming by this pose, that he’s masterminding a prison break with the other statues.

machiavelli statue

Being that the wait was well over an hour we decided we just couldn’t do it. So, we bolted away from Poop Corridor and wandered into Palazzo Vecchio, because…

1) The obligatory Florence rooftop shot seemed attainable from inside.

florence thunderstorm

Up yours, ominous thunderstorm! You won’t ruin our Florence vacation. You will make our rooftop images even more beautiful. Muah haha!

2) Alright truthfully, we needed to use the loo.

I will digress here for a moment by declaring that the Italian bathroom culture both intrigued and horrified me, and when I got home, I had to research the subject (thankfully, I’m not alone in this declaration).

Trying to find a public bathroom was freaking impossible in both Rome and Florence. It’s truly a great business model, because you have to buy something from a cafe to use the WC.

You might think this loo will somehow be nicer than the public toilets you’ve squatted over in some midwestern park, but it won’t be. Ladies…don’t count on a lid. You’re better off paying for a museum admission as these toilets are bearable.

Or better yet, see if you can get invited into some Italian’s home, since unlike public toilets, here everything is immaculate. Bonus, an astounding 97% of Italians have bidets in their homes for those who are into that sort of thing.

Okay, anyway the other reason we ended up at Palazzo Vecchio…

3) This beautiful angel fountain in the entryway sucked us right in, which of course didn’t help the aforementioned loo situation.

florence architecture

What I did love is that you don’t even need to go inside one of the many, many museums to enjoy the art. Incredible statues greet you everywhere as you’re walking around the city, and this is an example that I would love to see more cities following across the world.

I understand that not all art can survive outdoors, but the kind that can should be available to the public, without an admission ticket.

The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting for…Butts

If you’ve made it this far, nice work! Don’t be bashful—if you just wanted to read another “Florence is beautiful” post, you certainly wouldn’t have clicked on this one.

So, butts. I’ll never apologize for the observations I make, because hey, I’m a writer. If a writer saw the world in a remotely sane way, any reader would be bored out of their mind. Right, right?

medici palace

Somewhere in the Palazzo Vecchio, I came to this startling conclusion about the art in Florence…a fascination with butts.

Horse butts, angel butts, god butts, child butts, man butts, but…no lady butts, just tatas. Fun game: see how many butts you can spot in the above picture!

florence attractions

I turned to Mr. H, my forehead wrinkled as I stared at yet another floor to ceiling painting with this common theme. Even as a grown ass woman, I still don’t understand how to use an inside voice, so my observation echoed throughout the museum:

“Hey, did you notice there are a lot of butts in here?!” (The “butts in here” part was the echo, I swear it.)

florence art

I threw my hand over my mouth right after it escaped. Whoopsie.

Distasteful loud-mouthed American woman, some might say. Luckily, my man continues to love me for better or worse after 11 years of marriage.

romantic florence

So, Mr. H laughed and nodded. “Yeah, babe. There are a lot of butts.”

See? Actually here, read this article called A Brief History of Butts in Art, so I appear smarter than I actually am.

Florence Brought Out our Ass Side as Well

Because I just went from the no-frills toilet discussion to my compelling observation about Renaissance era butts, I’m going to take the ass idea a little further and say that we acted like complete asses while we were in Florence too.

Not really sure what got into us. Butt inspiration was everywhere, so when in Florence…

statue pose

turtle statue florence

gold turtle

I can explain…these are our turtle faces.

museum fun

florence lions

florence activities

All butt jokes aside, the time we spent in Florence was truly awesome, and I have nothing but nice things to say about the city and the people there.

The two nights we came stumbling back from the train station to our apartment after long days exploring, we always felt at home. It’s a rare place that can make a weary traveler feel that way in only a few days.

florence at night

Maybe that’s a hidden part of Florence’s charm, beyond the obvious. Maybe that’s what really makes everyone say it’s beautiful.

Missed the Rome blog last week? You can read it here if you’re still in the Italian mood. Onward to Cinque Terre next time!

underground-colosseum

They Call it The Eternal City Because Rome Gets Inside You

Rome. Just the name of the city spoken or written does something all on its own. It gives us a rush, a sensory high that hits hard, leaving us in a state of wanting.

The Rome I knew was from textbooks, lectures I yawned through because I’ve never been the ancient history kind of girl. Later in life a predictable attraction with Rome happened through films, as the city’s boisterous seduction came at me through the screen.

Want to listen to this blog instead? Hear Britt butcher Italian (and some English) by pressing play…


…OR, if that idea terrifies you, carry on!

scooter in rome

I began to wonder what the real Rome would be like. Truthfully, I thought it was overrated and it was never high on my wanderlust list.

Seemed like everyone I knew had been there or wished to be there, and at the very mention of the city, a whimsical daze fell upon them as their busy minds surrendered to the alluring distraction.

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.”
– Giotto di Bondone

rome wedding

After a layoff this year, for some crazy reason I knew Rome was the place I needed to escape to. I wanted to see the city they called “eternal,” because I’ve always liked that word. To me, it means surviving beautifully.

That’s what I wanted to do after a rough year. Survive beautifully—to scrape up a little grace and live on.

rome river

But, I wasn’t prepared for Rome’s everlasting pull.

Days later, typing up this blog post in my robe on my couch—with the Portland drizzle letting me know there’s not a chance in hell for an Indian Summer—I can still feel the golden sun soaking into my eager bones, see the woman’s bare olive arms wrapped around her man’s torso on a zippy scooter, hear the honking melodies and the jeering Italian conversations that sound like fighting when they’re only discussing the next delicious meal.

When you visit Rome, it’s not about what you do. It’s about how you savor it.

selfie sticks in europe

How to Savor Rome’s History

While I’m more in the “live like a local” camp while traveling, tourist attractions are attractive for a reason. In Rome the exploration options are endless, and you will turn a corner to catch a random site that will stop you right in your tracks.

Choose your top must-see site and a few secondary sites—but don’t choose them all. Be sure to spread out your adventures, so you can truly soak in the majesty.

If you’re cramming in too many attractions, you can’t fully digest the experience and you’re being counterproductive to the reason you’re traveling in the first place.

colosseum metro

For us, the Colosseum was our top must-see site and we splurged on a VIP tour with Walks of Italy to be able to see the underground and third tier. Included in the tour were the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill to round out a very hot summer afternoon that was chock-full of tales and tidbits over the course of 3.5 hours.

walks of italy colosseum

The tour guide, Angela, was cute as a button and she managed to keep us entertained and energized—despite the fact that we all felt like we were being slow-cooked in a fine coating of ancient dirt.

colosseum history

How do you know if you’re truly savoring Rome’s history? You will get emotional.

palatine hill rome

I teared up multiple times while we were walking across the ruins. I wasn’t prepared for it, how well everything was preserved, the painstaking details, the jaw-dropping size of it all.

These ancient sites should get under your skin a bit. Because if you stop and feel the history right beneath your feet, it’s pretty damn humbling.

roman-forum

Secondary sites for us were more of a drive-by rather than racing through the interior of each. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Mouth of Truth, and the Spanish Steps all fell under this category.

pantheon rome

trevi fountain rome

mouth of truth rome

Be prepared for a letdown, because invariably there will be a site under restoration. Case in point, me pouting in my new pretty dress I wore just for the Spanish Steps, my illusions shattered before the Plexiglas.

spanish steps rome

How to Savor Rome’s Food

The main focus of our Italy trip (and pretty much any trip for that matter) is food. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in Rome’s bountiful history, you are doing yourself and the city a disservice by merely treating food as fuel.

You’ve probably heard warnings about the tourist traps, with English menus and the salesy host casting his wide net in front of the expansive patio to see how many hungry tourists he can catch. This is all true.

piazza navona fountain

And—she admits with her eyes glued to the floor—we ate at a couple of these restaurants when we were too desperate to care. As expected, we paid extra and the food was so-so, but thankfully nothing was terrible.

On a positive note, the service was decent enough and the scenery and people-watching were terrific, since most of these restaurants have commandeered Rome’s historical center.

So, my dear foodies, you know what to do.

Though your English-speaking will be far from coddled, head to the neighborhoods. Feel free to gawk at everyone’s laundry on display, which for some unexplainable reason is completely mesmerizing.

pigneto

We stayed in an amazing AirBnB in Pigneto, a Southeast neighborhood they call Rome’s Brooklyn. (Huge shout-out goes to Fabrizia and Antonio for being the best hosts…EVER!)

Though several of the restaurants were closed for the August holiday, we found great cappuccino at Bottiglieria and even greater mortadella sandwiches at Dar Ciriola, which thankfully opened on the last day of the month so we could try their yummy food before traipsing off to Florence.

dar ciriola

The Jewish Ghetto should also be a non-negotiable stop, because believe it or not, Italian food lovers—you will be totally sick of pasta and pizza after a few days.

Thanks to our hero Anthony Bourdain, we were armed with restaurant knowledge to avoid any mishaps, and enjoyed a mind-blowing lunch at Nonna Betta. The fried artichoke looked as beautiful as it tasted, and everything else we tried, from the fish of the day to the potatoes, made us smile like absolute fools.

jewish ghetto

Where’s the pasta, you ask? Well…

It took us a while to find pasta worthy of a photo after several misses in the tourista zone. But a few blocks away from the Spanish Steps, we hunted down one of Rome’s classics, Cacio e Pepe—a seemingly simple spaghetti dish with olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper that will move you when it’s done right.

italian pasta

I can’t tell you which restaurant this lovely pasta came from, because we paid with cash and I was too spaghetti drunk to remember. Like we did, you’ll just have to try all the pasta in Rome until you find the right one.

rome travel

How to Savor Rome’s Gelato

Not all gelato is created equal, so I challenge you to try as many Gelateria as you can. I didn’t think there was a such a thing as lackluster gelato, until I had a forgettable fruity cup near the Colosseum.

The one tourista zone you will find excellent gelato at though is Trevi Fountain. Competition is fierce here and each quaint shop is hell-bent on wooing you with a cheerful canvas of creamy, colorful gelato piles.

You will seriously be dazzled by the window displays, because they are like art installations.

gelato

Gelato isn’t supposed to be eaten inside, as it is designed to be enjoyed while you walk around the city. Choose your weapon—cup or cone—but I vote cone, for the guaranteed sense of childish joi de vivre.

trevi fountain at night

If you struggle with doing multiple things at once, find a perch next to a fountain to slowly devour your gelato. You’ll know you’re savoring your gelato properly when your hands are sticky from the drips that overcame your flimsy napkin.

Favorite flavors for me: mint chocolate, tiramisu, and nutella. And yes…I’ve been having gelato withdrawals since coming home.

the eternal city

Rome is really too much for words, so I won’t go on anymore. For me, the hidden layers inside the city competed easily with the most popular attractions.

If you don’t know what I mean, walk into the smallest cafe and drink a proper cappuccino standing at the bar. Lick the most incredible milky foam off your lips, listen to the lyrical Italian language mingling effortlessly with the city’s energy, and then you’ll understand.

Rome just has a way. It gets inside you.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. Because there is no way to fit all of the gorgeous photos and videos from this trip into a blog, check out my Instagram this month for more on Italy.


P.S. If any of you crazy kids decide to listen to the audio version of this blog, I’d love to hear what you think! It’s all part of my “less screen time” campaign. 🙂

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

summer roses

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Rebecca

Sometimes we need to hear the perfect quote at the perfect time. Whether we’re feeling low or we’re on a high, words from another person’s soul have a way of romancing us, don’t they?

In this month’s segment of The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, I reached out to a person who always has the right things to say…Rebecca Budd of Chasing Art, who many of you know as Clanmother.

Besides the wonderful historical stories she writes about on her blog and the gorgeously uplifting images she sends us on Twitter, Rebecca has a knack for sprinkling our lives with inspiration.

These are just some of the quotes she has left me in the comment section of my blog over the years I have known her…

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” – Hellen Keller

”The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
– Lord Byron

So, I had to ask Rebecca to join my band of Life Enthusiasts and tell us what it is that makes her so enthusiastic about life.

Connect with Rebecca on Twitter and Facebook.

Take it away, Clanmother!

______________________________

rebecca budd

I am absolutely delighted to join the remarkable group of “Life Enthusiasts.” That title alone gives me goosebumps.

Britt’s message was a serendipitous prompt to reflect on the joy of connecting. For that is what makes our lives strong, builds resilience, gives courage to the circuitous path we follow, and grants enthusiasm to our days.

Over the past few days there have been profound reminders of why I am enthusiastic about life. For me, it all begins with engagement in the world around me.

vancouver

Recently, I had a telephone conversation with a young woman who is in the process of setting up a Gaelic on-line course to revive an ancient language. I was moved when a young man shared a new song that he wrote and produced. A few weeks ago, I watched my son perform in a mass bagpipe band at the Victoria Highland Games.

I find pleasure in reciting a poem aloud to an audience of one or sharing a coffee with a dear friend. And then there was the call at midnight from my neighbour asking me to stay with her while she waited for an ambulance. The journey, the story of humanity, the miracle of living: that is what makes my life enthusiastic.

flowers on the water

I have entered my sixth decade! I lived during the counterculture revolution of the 60’s and early 70’s, the excesses of the 80’s, the technological advances of the 90’s, and the globalization that accompanied the dawn of a new century.

I now live in a world where communication takes place in seconds and ideas really do spread like wildfire. Looking back, I smile at the memory of a young girl, wearing a floppy hat, strumming a guitar and singing “Let the Sunshine In.” She believed that life was full of possibilities.

Now, nearly a half century later, I can confirm, without hesitation, that her conviction was well-founded.  Life is indeed full of possibilities. That is what makes my life enthusiastic.

We live in a fast-pace, ever-changing mercurial world that offers complex, even contradictory problems that have no easy solutions. But together, the likelihood of problem-solving is given exponential strength.

wildflowers

Creating an environment that encourages participation and the exchange of knowledge allows us to envision a wider range of positive outcomes. What better way than to celebrate the efforts of those who strive to make a difference; to recognize the successes of others; to applaud, from the sidelines, when someone accepts the risk of the unknown.

That is what makes my life enthusiastic.

What is it like to be in my sixties? I feel powerful, simply because of the connections that I have made over my lifetime.

Aging is not frightening; rather, it is liberating for there is an appreciation that what we do, even in a small, seemingly insignificant way, can introduce a fresh attitude, a spontaneous change in a new direction. My dear friends, that is what makes my life enthusiastic.

foxglove flowers

A Beautiful World Outside the Daily Grind

I didn’t choose a life outside the daily grind. It chose me when I got laid off a month ago.

It’s crazy to think how much has changed since the day I received that detrimental news. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore and I questioned myself until I felt like I was looking at a stranger in the mirror.

Like an earthquake, my world shifted violently. Then the shaking stopped. Like someone just flipped a switch.

With the stillness came a clarity that surprised me. I decided the layoff wasn’t the end of the world. It was the beginning of a new one…a beautiful world.

I’ve become an outsider. Literally.

Back in my retail days, I used to love having the wacky schedule—screwing off when everyone else was singing the Monday Blues. It almost feels like you’re playing hooky when you’re a 9-5 outsider. The forest trails are empty, and so is your favorite cafe. The quiet seems so special and fragile, and you seize every opportunity to enjoy it.

In a way I was damn lucky to discover this unexpected freedom as summer is taking its rightful place. Had I lost my job in the damp, dreary winter, I imagine this sense of joie de vivre would be harder to find.

working from home

Truth be told, being inside an office all the time (no matter how cool they try to make it with afternoon beers and indoor basketball) doesn’t suit me.

It works for some people, so I’m not knocking it. But I prefer to change up my location, to be free. And it’s funny how being a part of the daily grind doesn’t really allow that kind of behavior.

Even the hip companies with “flexible” arrangements question you when you’re coming and going. You can be kicking ass, but still they wonder whether or not you’re really working hard enough when you take a walk outside to breathe for a minute.

I always want to be outside—it doesn’t matter where. The grimy nature of the city, with its concrete mountains and electric stars, inspires me with its energy. The pretty nature of the woods gets me too.

All this newfound awareness comes with its own hazards though. Yesterday I stopped on the trail to marvel at the gorgeous, bell-shaped flowers below. I didn’t realize they were poisonous when I was inhaling them and (she smacks her forehead) petting their sinister petals.

I found out when I was looking them up to properly name the image for this blog post. They’re called foxgloves. As lovely as they seem, they contain a bouquet of chemicals that affect the heart.

Don’t worry, I survived. It’s just another part of being an outsider—learning to navigate the perils of these exotic circumstances of my new life.

foxglove flowers

I’ve been unleashed, and despite the run-in with toxic flowers, it feels pretty amazing. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for better inspiration. I’m observing everything in a different light and it’s a lot like being born again.

Each morning I sit on my patio and listen to the birds, starting a new day of unknown possibilities with my trusty laptop, which is habitually covered in cat hair. At work I used to listen to ambient music with nature sounds to calm me down. Now I feel so privileged to savor the real deal.

The birds sing loud and clear, because there is less to compete with—less to fear.

I’ve been really connecting with birds lately. As an outsider of the daily grind, I feel like one of them. No, I’m not pretending to fly and breaking a leg in the process, or chirping in front of my neighbor’s window. I’m not that crazy…yet.

But there is less to compete with and less to fear, so each day I’m soaring in my own way.

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, “you must not ask for so much”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, “hey, why not ask for more?”
Oh, like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

– Leonard Cohen, Bird on the Wire


indie books

flowers for anniversary

The Man Bought Me Some Damn Flowers

When we first started dating thirteen years ago, I said things that made it seem like I was trying to run him off.

I told him: “Never buy me flowers. They’ll die, so they’re a waste of money.”

Okay, maybe I was trying to run him off. I was twenty-one, and I was scared and lost. I covered up my vulnerability with piercings. I didn’t want to show anyone what I was really feeling inside, so I often chose pain as way to cope.

Mr. H didn’t let that fly. And even though I wasn’t ready for a love story, I didn’t have a choice.

Still, he was always careful never to buy me flowers. After a few years, I brought up the touchy flower subject.

Because, guess what? I wanted the man to buy me some damn flowers.

I remember him laughing, and saying that he was just doing what I told him to do. I explained that it was a barrier I had built to protect myself. Flowers were too sweet for a girl like me…and other nonsense along those lines.

Yesterday evening I got back from the grocery store and Mr. H had just come home from work. So busy in my own head, I didn’t notice them on the counter. I was putting away the groceries when he smiled his gorgeous smile and presented the beautiful, smelly bunch.

The man bought be some damn flowers.

At first I didn’t put two and two together. As many of you know, I got laid off from my job earlier this month. And though I have landed on my feet with a sudden leap into the freelance life, quite a bit of the brain fog from all of the changes this month has stubbornly remained.

So, I had honestly forgotten what day it was. Our 11-year anniversary.

I cried all over my flowers and all over him. He decided not to listen to my bullshit—he bought me something pretty and sweet that would maybe last a week.

Problem was…because of the no flowers rule, we don’t own a single vase. I spent about a half hour creating makeshift homes for my anniversary flowers, gazing at my wonderful husband that doesn’t listen to me through my happy tears.

flowers for anniversary

I don’t really buy flowers, but at least I can write. So, Mr. H…

You know this already, but you are my everything. Every day I’m so damn thankful that you decided to love me.

When I smell these flowers, I think of the impenetrable sweetness of our love. And though these flowers will only live for so long, our love will never wilt.

One day we’ll return to the earth together, but our love will keep on living—reaching for the sun, all lovely and bright. In a world that badly needs a romantic revolution, our love will continue the good fight.

box of belongings

Severance

No, I’m not going to be that employee who bad mouths her employer for laying her off. It’s really not my style. Because you know something? Shit seriously happens.

I was somehow sane enough to wait to write anything. Last week I was pretty blue, and I didn’t trust the words that would pour out of my weakened spirit. Then I performed the classic “should I or shouldn’t I” blogging dance. Should I write about losing my job?

Even though I wasn’t at fault, I felt ashamed when I set my sad little box of desk belongings on the kitchen floor. Over and over again, I replayed any possible missteps I might have taken at my job over the past two years that led me here—to being let go.

I remembered how hard it was for me to find an empty box through my blurred, tear-soaked vision on my last day. I looked all over the damn office and I couldn’t even find one. So I dumped some random files out of the closest box on the counter and made a run for it.

All of last week I was trapped in the unforgiving fog of failure. As it lifted, I realized I needed to write about my experience. Because writing is my free therapy, and also, I know a lot of you out there can relate to losing a job.

I don’t believe writing about a layoff should be taboo. This post isn’t about blame or injustice, or any other negativity that is a waste of energy—it’s about living and learning.

Again…shit happens.

box of belongings

I have only lost one other job in my life. It was just after 9/11 and I was slaving away at the front desk of one of those big, boring chain hotels. The hospitality and tourism industry was hit pretty hard. Instead of layoffs, they trimmed the fat by finding excuses to fire their part-time staff.

That was me. And that was when I first learned how wonderful being fired can be.

Don’t get me wrong. I was 19, up shit creek with no savings, a full-time college student living at home but making just enough for my car payment, cellphone, and some junk food.

Like an unstoppable avalanche, that sudden life change prompted several more life changes. I packed up my stuff and moved to Texas to reconnect with my family and get the hell out of dodge.

I left behind a no-good, abusive boyfriend who was on his way to prison and never looked in the rearview mirror as my self-destructive self became smaller and smaller, until it finally faded in the distance.

About a year after living in Texas, I met Mr. H. And, this all happened because I got fired after a terrorist attack.

playa del carmen

That was fifteen years ago.

This job was the first time I knew stability. For going on two years, I kicked ass every day. I really enjoyed what I was doing and I loved my team to pieces—so much that I truly felt like they were my second family. Believe it or not, this was my first salaried job in life.

So, yeah. I had finally found my place, a career path, and I felt pretty damn secure.

I certainly had no idea that Monday was going to be the last time I would laugh with my team. We were on an office scavenger hunt, as a reward for our awesomeness in Q1.

The next day I heard a word I had never heard before…severance. Because it was so foreign to me, I didn’t understand what he meant when my boss said it.

On Wednesday the news was shared with the whole team. I tried to wrap things up in between depressive fits. It was pretty impossible.

Thursday I packed up my things into the sad box I stole.

On Friday I was hungover from booze and emotions, sitting in my living room without knowing what to do with myself. You think you should be doing what you normally do on Fridays—attending end of the week meetings, powering through your to-do list to make Monday more palatable, planning the fun weekend ahead. I was lost.

That weekend I made a choice. I needed to bounce back—the pity party was SO over.

Even though I felt like I had been hit by a bus, I started updating my LinkedIn profile. With Mr. H’s incredible support, I finally decided to take the plunge and pursue a freelancing career.

Yep, I hired myself.

linkedin profile

I picked up the healthy habits I had shoved aside during my emotional rollercoaster ride. I meditated, practiced Yoga, ate a big ass salad, drank lots of tea and water, and cooled it on the self-medication masquerading as indulgence.

Slowly, but surely I’m climbing out of a very unexpected dark hole.

It was challenging to get a Life Enthusiast post out—it took me longer than usual to format it, and I smiled big when I hit that publish button. I’m behind on reading my people’s blogs and I miss my third draft very badly.

But, I’m coming back…not as the person you all knew before. I’ve seen and felt too much this past week to go back. And, I don’t want to anyway. I want to look forward—I want to absorb the sunlight and deflect the darkness.

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”   – Thich Nhat Hanh

pixie cut

The weekend before I got let go, I let go of all of my hair.

I wanted to make space for new things in my life. I didn’t know one of those new things was going to be severance. All I knew is that changes were coming.

I’m not exactly ready to say I’m happy this layoff happened. I am absolutely thankful for the experience and education I gained at my job, which are allowing me to go after a career as a freelance writer and content strategist. My boss took a chance on me and gave me an incredible opportunity. I’ll never forget that.

I’ll also never forget all of the beautiful people I worked with. I learned so much from them, enjoyed many awesome times, and they will always be a second family to me.

In the end, I learned that the modern-day human quest for stability and security can’t be found in a job. We can’t expect someone else to provide those qualities in our lives, and we can’t wait for them to come along and land right in our laps. They have to be found within us.

Have you ever gone through a drastic change that led to a whole new life?

P.S. Shameless plug…have some freelance work? Check out what I do on LinkedIn and talk to me!


indie books

kid painting

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Arianna

Sometimes you have a week that humbles you, one that shocks your spirit with rapid uncertainty. I’ll get into that more another day, but the craziness I just went through reminded me why it’s so important for all of us to prioritize life and never stop holding it close to our hearts.

I’m thankful to have the strength today to pick myself up again, to log into WordPress to publish this month’s edition of The Life Enthusiast Chronicles.

And I am so happy that the Life Enthusiast is my very awesome friend, Arianna Suddreth from A Day in the Life. She was patient and supportive this past week as I filled her in on the chaos of life. It’s no surprise, because as I just mentioned, Arianna is very awesome.

I first met her over a decade ago, way back when Mr. H was her manager at their company. I immediately liked her. Her positive spirit is contagious, and she has a way of exuding beauty and kindness so casually that you don’t really know what’s happening—you just know you want to be around her.

This is the first time in the two years I’ve been running this series, that I invited a friend to be on The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. Being that she is already a fantastic writer on top of the things I gushed about already, it was a no-brainer for me to ask her…

So Arianna, what makes you enthusiastic about life?

Connect with Arianna on Twitter.

____________________________________________________

I love this question so much. But it’s so difficult to answer.

When Britt asked me to contribute to this series, I was ecstatic because it is one of my favorite things. And then I sat down to answer the question and just stared at my screen…and I realized that the reason I was having so much trouble answering the question is because LIFE is what makes me enthusiastic. Everything about it—even the parts that suck.

A few years ago, I got married to the love of my life (after six years of dating and a year-long engagement). I didn’t change my name right away, not because I was trying to stay progressive and keep my maiden name, it just wasn’t high on my list of things to do.

But when I finally got around to it, I wrote a blog post about it—an ode celebrating my previous name and embracing my new name. I received a lot of comments from friends and family about that post.

The one that stands out the most is from my mom’s aunt. She said: “I love how you celebrate everything.”

My immediate response to her was: “Well, life is a celebration!”

I have a friend who works for Hallmark (when you live in the Kansas City area that happens) and she made a comment about my response. She told me that I’m basically the living embodiment of Hallmark’s “celebrate life” mentality. I took that as a huge compliment.

infertile sticker

But why does life make me enthusiastic? Because I know how hard it is to create it.

I understand the absolute miracle and blessing that life is. We are all made from scratch. Like some kind of delicious, magnificent treat. Shouldn’t we treat life that way? Shouldn’t we treat each other that way?

I’m about to be a mom for the first time, and the road to get here wasn’t always easy. It involved a lot of tears and heartache and dark moments and self-doubt.

But in just a few short weeks, I will be enthusiastically celebrating a life I created…from scratch. I am in awe everyday of that fact.

frame couple shot

The world is just one big ball of life. And one of my nieces put it best: “The world is pretty and everyone should be quiet and enjoy it.”

Because that is what life is really about. Enjoying all the pretty things the world has to offer.

kid painting

Go out and enjoy life. It’s a precious miracle. And one that we should all be enthusiastic to live.

cat on vintage suitcase

What Inspires You?

We get so caught up in this adult thing, and we get pretty good at it over the years. We condition ourselves to answer almost any question…questions we thought we could never answer.

I was a very anxious child, hell-bent on perfection and pleasing others. So when the time came for me to learn how to order something on my own without the help of my parents, the cash was a sweaty wad by the time I made it to the cash register.

I rehearsed my answer until I was practically insane to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the cashier at the pizza joint. You see, I had it in my mind that adults never screwed up—that they had their shit together.

Funny as hell to think about that now.

As you get older you learn to think on your feet, so you can act like you have your shit together even when you don’t. As adults, we have to make choices and answer questions constantly. Whether it’s a purchase we decide to make or an interview question we babble through, we start to think we can handle just about anything that comes our way.

But sometimes you get asked a question that stumps you. One you continue to think about long after it was spoken.

At a restaurant the other night Mr. H asked me, out of nowhere across the dimly lit air we shared, posed above the salt and pepper: What inspires you?

patio chill

I blinked a couple of times. I’m pretty sure I grunted, unattractively attempting to form an answer, until finally I busied my lips with my pint glass. I folded.

What a question. It was just SO real.

I can handle all of these other crazy questions on a daily basis, but this one was really tough.

I suppose it’s because we don’t ask real questions very often. We don’t want to pry, we don’t want to go there—or we’re afraid to ask it because we don’t know the answer ourselves. Too many questions and answers are automatic in the modern world.

How are you?

I’m fine. And you?

Fine.

Imagine how different conversations would be if we asked meaningful questions. And sometimes a very simple question can have lots of meaning. I love to ask people what their favorite color is. I often use it as a conversation starter if I’m ever in an awkward group situation.

It’s a question that never fails to amuse and loosen up adults, because they probably haven’t answered it since they were a child—back when that innocent dialogue was commonplace. The answers are so fascinating, because the colors we are drawn to really say a lot about us.

Okay, so back to the inspiring question. After a few minutes I bumblef*cked my way through a couple of answers that kind of made sense. Something about living life fully and inspiring and helping others whenever possible.

It wasn’t a terrible answer. I mean, the delivery was terrible but it wasn’t what I really wanted to say.

Then, I landed on it.

What inspires me is reality…people being real and showing their vulnerability. I love to see grownups playing with their pets, exuding affection and acting like complete idiots. I love to see a husband look at his wife from across the room, entranced by her after so many years as if he was seeing her for the first time.

That kind of stuff. Real shit.

Anyway, it’s good to be asked a question like that from time to time. It makes us slow down this merry-go-round we ride on, so we can seek an answer.

So, I’ll ask you now. What inspires you? And for grins…what’s your favorite color?

writing with the senses

How to Amplify Your Writing with the Five Senses

When we’re drawing from life experiences to create art, integrating the senses into our work will amplify it. Otherwise, how can the person we are sharing the experience with actually get it?

Without senses, art wouldn’t have a pulse.

I remember learning about the five senses a lot as a child in school. There were fun activities and games to help us understand each of them. But as I grew older, the exercises for the senses disappeared to make room for more serious subjects.

And in the workplace—well, you don’t exactly dilly-dally with the five senses too much. Can you imagine? “In today’s meeting, we’re going to divide up into teams, explore our senses together, and come up with a strategy to implement them in Q3.”

Hmmm…not so much.

As an adult, I have found my way back to reconnecting with the senses through writing. And, I am thankful to continue driving forward my creativity—even when I have very little time to spend with it—so that I can appreciate how incredible each sense truly is.

As artistic people, we have to pay attention to everything—always the observer, the realist, the daydreamer, the romantic, the cynic, the philosopher. If we don’t, our creativity will carry emptiness around wherever it goes.

portland streetcar

Help Them Hear It

The whole reason I’m writing this blog post is because of sound. Last weekend I discovered something very cool and I thought I would pass it along to my creative thinkers out there. Mr. H, being a musician/DJ, was equally captivated.

I was hammering away on my third draft…

The night was clear with a bright moon illuminating the dirty sidewalks below—the discarded cigarette still burning in the gutter, the playful plastic bag skipping across the heavier garbage, the chewing gum dotting the concrete skin like a leper, and the questionably alive ExComm curled up next to his shopping basket filled to the brim with his life’s belongings.

Then, I thought…I need a streetcar in here immediately. Even though we have streetcars all over Portland, I realized I hadn’t actually heard one in a while—months, I’m sure.

I was jamming on my editing, so I didn’t want to run over to one to listen to it like I crazy lady. So, I searched for sounds and I found a gem…SoundSnap.

I searched for streetcar, I listened, and I wrote…

A streetcar rattled across the tracks, on its final journey before curfew. Echoing through the city buildings, a woman’s eerie mechanical voice announced the Couch Street stop and the streetcar’s rumble quieted as it slowed down.

Help Them Taste It

Unless they’re robots or not human in some other way, occasionally our characters need to eat or drink something. This shouldn’t be seen as a logistical addition to our novels.

Think about how lovely a cup of tea can taste on a cold morning, or how pleasurable a piece of chocolate can taste after a long day—taste is another opportunity to deeply connect with the reader by conjuring memories of sustenance.

Vi pushed her feet against the cliff to see if it was safe to return. A burning smell lingered in the air, strong enough that she could taste it inside her dry mouth. The knots in her stomach hardened as the new threat became palpable. The grass was on fire.

Help Them Touch It

This can get especially daring if you’re writing a sex scene, where the goal is to arouse the reader if you’re really good at your job, or at the very least make them blush if they’re reading it in public.

I remember writing a sex scene on a lunch break at work once, and it was damn awkward. That’s a good thing though, isn’t it? Chances are, if you’re describing physical sensations in such an honest way, it will come across to your reader who sort of just jumped into bed with you.

Vi ran the palms of her hands up the front of her thighs, enjoying the firm muscle beneath the feminine flesh. She explored her stomach and her backside, satisfied with the way everything felt—strong, but also soft. As Vi began to feel more comfortable with her own touch, protected by the darkness in the tank, she forgot inhibition.

Help Them Smell It

I have an acute sense of smell and I always say it’s a gift and a curse. Food tastes amazing, but cigarettes make me want to puke and die in the middle of the sidewalk.

While writing about food, we don’t say “yum,” we show it by the way the man closes his eyes to take a deep inhale of his dinner at a restaurant. When the woman is walking down the dark alley, instead of the cliché of hearing footsteps, perhaps she smells a stinky cigarette and that scent scares her because she realizes she’s not alone.

Try going beyond the obvious ones like perfume or coffee, and use unusual scents to invoke an experience.

He was bald in the middle, with black greasy hair that was long on the sides. He looked like a worm, the kind that smelled pungent when it rained.

Help Them See It

With writing, arguably more than the other senses, we focus on describing what we are seeing in our own minds—what our characters witness unfolding before their eyes. That has to translate to the reader, so that they can see a colorful world beyond the rows of black letters resting on white pages.

This doesn’t have to be overkill, like the mailbox in front of the house. Unless her husband is fighting in a war in a faraway place and the only way they can communicate is through letters (remember those?).

Maybe it’s been weeks since she’s heard from him and she wonders if he’s dead or alive. She watches the mailbox from the moment she wakes up, and glances at it one last time before she cries herself to sleep. THEN describe the holy hell out of that mailbox.

Bright buildings nestled against the wide river, while sleeping volcanoes topped with snow loomed in the great distance. The many bridges of Port City each had their own character—steely, colorful, plain, modern, and antiquated. They had been the victims of a demolition long ago to keep the citizens trapped inside the city. Only foundational bones of the structure remained, suspended mid-air, hugging the banks of the sweeping river to stay upright. The center of each bridge rested at the bottom of the same watery grave.

forest view

It’s important to keep an open mind, to evolve as artists, and not be too stubborn in our ways. We’re pretty lucky to have such amazing technology at our fingertips. And though an mp3 or a YouTube video can never replace real life experiences, boundless tools are ours for the taking.

If technology isn’t your thing and you’re struggling with incorporating any of the senses into your books, take a day to devote to each one and record them in a journal. You can do this anywhere at anytime, whether it relates to your work in progress or not.

The worst that can happen? You might discover something very awesome.

Do you write or create art using all of the senses? Or, do you tend to focus on a couple?


indie books

hitchhiker

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Victoria

Two months ago I asked my lovely readers to vote on a monthly series I had running for two years, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. The series is all about what makes people from all over the world absolutely in love with life. The sole purpose of the series has always been to inspire and uplift.

Worried that maybe the series had gone on too long, I had to ask you guys this: Should the Life Enthusiast Chronicles continue?

You said yes. So, here we are.

I took some time selecting a Life Enthusiast for the comeback post, because it felt important to bring someone here that could reinvigorate the series with unabashed beauty. That person is Victoria Dougherty from Cold (and from Virginia).

I’ll proudly admit that I have had a girl crush on Victoria all the years I’ve been reading her writing, both on her blog and her fantastic novel I can’t recommend enough, The Bone Church. Her writing is sultry, haunting, and edgy—but somehow it’s completely down to earth. Victoria’s writing never fails to make me feel something new, and she exudes life enthusiasm on a very deep level.

I’m honored to have Victoria here today. And, I am overjoyed to kick off The Life Enthusiast Chronicles again.

Connect with Victoria on Twitter and Facebook.


woman hitchhiking

Journey. The word feels so lavish on my tongue, like really good whiskey. It has a bite, too. If I could endeavor to swallow it, the word would burn as it goes down.

When I type the word journey, it takes on a whole other dimension. It makes me ache, awakening my wanderlust, making me feel unfinished. Like I want another, then another.

I’m talking about a Journey, of course. The process of going somewhere or going through something.

A journey can be the fresh snow path of a spiritual odyssey, where we make our own way one snowshoe at a time. Or the intellectual, emotional, and physical treks of a career, a marriage, or a yoga practice.

All transformative in their own way.

But for my Life Enthusiast post, I want to focus on a more literal journey—the kind where you pack your bag, leave a safe, familiar place and within hours, find yourself among strangers, not neighbors, in a place that looks nothing like home.

Perhaps it’s more beautiful, or more rough-edged, interesting. There might be a level of danger, or at the very least…alienation. You may or may not speak the language or understand the customs.

exploring space

I’ve become mostly an armchair traveler since turning in my Eurail Pass and passport for a minivan and Facebook page. And while I cherish the more interior journey of becoming a wife and mother, I miss my days as an observer and cultural chameleon. So much so that I wrote two full novels that drew heavily upon my years of travel as a young adult.

For over a decade now, I’ve sat at my computer—often pregnant or breastfeeding—and channeled everything from the more mundane experience of having to learn how to operate a Russian-made washing machine, to an obscenely glamorous encounter with then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright in an Art Nouveau cafe dripping with luxury veneers and attitude.

I’ve slept on the street, like a pauper, and stumbled into spending the night at a castle when I simply rang the wrong doorbell. I thought I’d come across the most ancient and titanic student hostel I’d ever seen, but the genteel sixty-something woman who answered the door took pity on me and offered a guest bedroom. (Note to self: Young men with handsome faces and sensual kisses can’t always be relied on for good directions.)

Or I’ve just sat on a local beach for hours, watching a sand crab scuttle from one hole to the next, and finding a sense of commonality with that tiny creature.

This is the art of the voyage. It’s a garden of empathy—given and received—that grows from within.

Travel is also about discovery and escape from the mundane. The disruption and then restoration of routine—all with the idea that we somehow come back better, the richer for it. Even if we were only away for a week.

When we embark on a journey to another country or city, it’s an opportunity not just to escape, but to renounce, reinvent. And once there, we get into character. We often dress differently—more whimsically or sexier. Our stories fall upon fresh ears, and help us see ourselves anew.

It’s exhilarating to imagine how strangers in a strange land might be interpreting us. Those who haven’t been subjected to our social media posts and political views. People who don’t know that our living room still sports Aunt Joan’s old, pink camellia patterned couch, or our weekends are spent in a frayed Virginia Tech t-shirt and army pants. They’ve never met our past boyfriends, or heard us complain about our jobs or stubborn muffin tops.

naked lady

If we fall in love when we’re on a journey, it’s often with a mighty wave of passion, and can take months, years to get over. We are in the moment, falling in love as a refined version of ourselves, perhaps with a person who’s more creative and dangerous than our usual type…or pretending to be. An individual who doesn’t quite belong in our regular lives, no matter how much we want them to.

And travel always brings at least some of that home, allowing us the most glorious hangover. Colors seem richer, almost making our eyes hurt, compelling us to stew in the experience, and avoid getting back into our old habits too quickly.

We want to remain the person we became, at least for a while. Because when we do re-enter our old lives, we long for at least one person to say, “You seem different.”

abstract woman

san juan island trails

Slower This Time on San Juan Island

I rattled off my order at the cafe and the owner just stared back at me, silent, with both salt and pepper eyebrows raised toward the espresso scented ceiling. It was like I had spoken in a language he didn’t understand, though we both spoke English.

“I’m going to need that again. Slower this time.”

And, I laughed.

It was my third day on the island and I thought I had the whole chillin’ thing down. But I wasn’t going to fool a San Juan Island local, even one who ran a bustling cafe right by the ferry landing.

I wasn’t catching a ferry and I certainly wasn’t on my lunch break at work. What’s the rush? Well, I’m used to it.

san juan island ferry

A four-hour drive, then an hour ferry wait followed by an hour ferry ride, took us to not to another part of Washington—the journey took us to another world. I had many recommendations to go check out the islands. And though I’ve wanted to for a few years, other trips were prioritized.

It’s not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump away. Any time a ferry is toting your car across a large body of water, it can seem like a lot of work when you’re craving a relaxing getaway.

The islands are such a down tempo place that it seems like there isn’t anything to do. And it’s pretty typical for a Portland city girl like yours truly to shy away from that kind of isolation.

On top of that, spring is the off-season in the San Juan Islands. Restaurants are closed, bakeries operate at funky hours, and the sidewalks are there for the taking. Summer water sports aren’t happening, because it’s too cold. The families are off in warmer climates for spring break. The tourists are few and far between.

But that’s where the experience becomes even more brilliant. You get the place all to yourself, and you get to soak in all the things you didn’t know you needed.

Sometimes you need nothing more than to get away from it all.

san juan island trails

Sometimes you need to detach from the busy world you’ve become accustomed to.

san juan islands nature

Sometimes you need to bundle up with a really fantastic book.

reading in nature

Sometimes you need to find your balance when you think you’ve lost it.

san juan island beaches

Sometimes you need to pause and take it all in.

pier san juan islands

Sometimes you need to notice how effing cute alpacas are.

alpaca farm

Sometimes you need to concentrate on each other.

northwest couple

Sometimes you need to take a break on your hike.

kiss and hike

Sometimes you need to realize there are other couples just like you.

cabin rental

Sometimes you need to go to the end of the earth to understand how small you are.

san juan island view

Sometimes you need to go to a place where time moves at a different speed—where you can be with nature, yourself, and perhaps someone you love more than anything. Rushing isn’t allowed, because it doesn’t exist. There’s nowhere else to go, but right here.

San Juan Island isn’t the kind of travel destination that dazzles you with things to do. It’s a place that unapologetically teaches you to slow down and embrace doing absolutely nothing.

Have you ever been to the San Juan Islands? Or another place that invited you to slow down?

no alcohol for 30 days

Why I Gave Up Booze for 30 Days

Many have written about the no alcohol commitment before, so I wasn’t planning on writing anything when I decided to do it for 30 days. What did I have to say that would be different? It was something I wanted to do for myself, so why should I use it as a blog topic?

I also didn’t want to talk about it during the month, because it was a time of reflection. To be completely honest, I felt funny talking about alcohol so candidly. I chose not to say a word about it until I was done.

When I shared this post on Facebook of me with my first beer, I received A LOT of positive support. And I’ve never held back on this blog in the four years I’ve been running it, and I certainly won’t start now. So, here we go.

30 days without booze

Last month Mr. H and I decided to do something pretty wild. We stopped drinking.

I think most of you can agree that we’re not alcoholics, but you also know how much we love our beer. When we looked back at all of our years together, we realized something and it stunned us a bit.

How long has it been since we’ve gone 30 days without a drink?

We eventually came up with the same age…twenty. Which was about fifteen years ago. Then I was randomly going through my pictures and noticed…damn, there are a lot of beers in these.

reading with beer

cheers geniuses

Beer at Mo's Cannon Beach

Most people do the whole Dry January thing, but we started off the year with a business trip to Vegas. From there it was one of the rainiest winters in Portland’s history and work stress was higher than usual—all things that led to more drinking.

One Saturday morning I was feeling like absolute shit after a night on the town, and I said to myself: “Enough.” And because having a buddy makes things easier, I asked Mr. H if we could do 30 days without alcohol together.

Some of you may remember that my sankalpa (aka intention) for 2016 was to Live Consciously. The idea was inspired by a wall of an empty gallery by my office.

A few non-drinking days went by and I decided to revisit that spot—take a new picture to remind myself of what that really meant to me. I was already realizing something that I knew deep down, that drinking was more like living unconsciously.

mindful living

As a Yogi I’m a believer in treating our bodies with kindness. I eat organic local food, drink tons of water, tea, and other crazy elixirs I won’t begin to talk about. I workout constantly, but I rest too—with consistent sleep, meditation and gentle stretching, and the occasional massage.

But all of that couldn’t singlehandedly win the heaviness and exhaustion I felt after drinking one too many beers. It helped my body heal faster, but it was a constant battle. And, I thought…why am I doing this to myself?

There are studies about the health benefits of beer and wine, but moderation and self-control are key…

In moderation and with self-control, alcohol can promote healthy digestion, stress relief, respiratory benefits and sound sleep. If you are a non-alcoholic DO NOT start drinking alcohol thinking of the health benefits. It is for those who are already accustomed to alcohol, and have self-control to. There are plenty other ways and means to get the above-said health benefits. Even regular alcoholics should take a break from alcohol for weeks or months to allow the body to recover its balance and health. – CureJoy (What Ayurveda Has to Say About Alcohol)

We’re that hip childless couple living in a rad neighborhood in Portland, with more bars and restaurants than you would believe. We joke about this often, but it can be a problem—we don’t even have to cross the street to visit our favorite pub. Moderation and self-control are a hell of a lot harder when alcohol is that convenient.

Naturally when we stopped drinking for a month, we confused the shit out of people. We showed up at my work event, a bowling fundraiser, armed with kombuchas which we then poured in pint glasses to pretend like we were having a beer. We visited our usual wine bar, ordered snacks and drank water—and we upset our favorite bartenders in the process.

People kept asking us: Why? Why would you stop drinking?

This was only for 30 days, not forever. We love our beer in Portland, so yes, the idea horrified quite a few people. They didn’t understand how it was even possible. However there were others who pummeled us with questions, because it was something they had been thinking about trying too.

So, these are the great things I experienced while NOT drinking alcohol:

  1. I got through some tough shit.  Instead of grabbing beer at the store or going out after a hard day, I meditated, practiced Yoga, or threw myself into writing. I chose healthier activities or (gasp) I relaxed more.
  2. I felt more confident.  When you look at your adult years, you will likely see a drink in your hand at social occasions like I did. It’s kind of a thing. Without a drink, I was able to see “hanging out” in a different light. My conversations were more calculated and enjoyable.
  3. I had more energy.  Overall, I slept better and felt great every morning right when I woke up. Mind you, this was smack in the middle of winter when energy levels are typically at their lowest.
  4. I had more time.  My writing was much easier to keep up with, even with my usual hectic schedule. I rediscovered writing as a joy instead of a chore, and I finished my second draft.
  5. I lost weight. This was more of a bonus for me as this wasn’t the goal. With beer being my weapon of choice, there are a TON of calories and bloating that come with them. I got crafty with wellness mocktails, like this Apple Cider Vinegar Mint Detox Drink, which delivered nutrition and hydration.
  6. I saved money.  A big one for us, because we live in that great neighborhood with entertainment at our doorstep. We kept wondering where our money was disappearing to…well, booze ain’t cheap.
  7. I felt life.  Childhood memories came up, some I swear I hadn’t thought about since they first happened. A big hug from Mr. H, the fresh air hitting my face on a run, and the scent of the trees were better than ever. Alcohol has a way of numbing us, doesn’t it?

patio beer

Did I decide to swear off booze forever?

From my pic up there with my celebratory beer after a month off, you know the answer. The answer is no.

That first beer tasted weird, but damn good. And when the sun is shining on a warm Saturday, I’ll be grilling on the patio with Mr. H with a cold beer in my hand. But it’s going to be one or two beers, because now I’m a lightweight. Now I have the perspective I needed to back off and learn self-control.

I understand that not everyone drinks. I also understand that there are plenty of people who successfully moderate their alcohol intake. Being the all or nothing kind of gal, this was the right move for me to make.

Maybe booze isn’t the thing you indulge in—maybe it’s sugar, fried food, eating late at night, or TV. Take a good look at something that has crept into your life, gone past the point of a “treat,” and evaluate if 30 days off would help change that for you.

It’s only 30 days (not eternity) but this kind of commitment to yourself is enough to make an impact…if you let it.

Tell me, have you gone 30 days without something and had a positive experience? I’d love to hear about it!


indie books

meditation in the morning

The Two Things That Saved My Life

Recently the wonderful Eden Baylee asked me to write a blog post over at her place. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve stopped by, and this time instead of an author interview, we decided I should chat about something else very close to my heart besides writing. Yoga.

I’ve known Eden for a while, and she’s one of my favorite people. You guys may remember her from her beautiful piece on The Life Enthusiast Chronicles about diversity.

Eden has been a meditation practitioner for some time, but a consistent Yoga practice happened for her when she listened to what her body needed.

Several studies have found that yoga can help improve cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance, and overall quality of life — and it can even reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. In addition, people who do yoga are 20% more likely to have a positive image of their own physical and mental health, including a stronger sense of mental clarity, physical fitness, flexibility, and strength. – Harvard Health

It’s all too easy for us to fall into a habit of NOT listening to what our bodies are telling us. But I think most of us know that we only get one bod, and we should do our best to treat it with great respect.

morning meditation

Eden is on the right track by taking this step forward on her wellness path, and I am very honored that she asked me to speak candidly about Yoga in front of her readers.

Here’s a teaser..

Over the past six months I pushed myself to return to Yoga. And, I mean it when I say pushed.

I made time for it. The demanding job excuse…so what? The novel won’t write itself excuse…so what? I knew I was doing the right thing for me and my body.

Over the past decade Yoga has exploded in the West, and there are many who claim it is a bastardization of its original form. The image of a skinny woman in expensive active wear doing impossible poses is something we started to associate with Yoga.

But, it’s so much more than that. And no matter how you come to Yoga, or which style you take, the benefits will take precedence.

A lot of people are attracted to the fitness aspect of Yoga. Then, they notice that they’re making healthier food choices and they’re handling conflicts with a sense of ease.

Take a moment and stop by Eden Baylee’s blog.

Share your current wellness journey, and of course, ask me any questions you want. Yoga skeptics are absolutely welcome! : )


indie books

vintage radio

Remember Radios?

The other night I was thinking about all the years I spent listening to music in the car. Just me—with the windows down, one arm dancing in the breeze, the beats driving me forward to the rhythms of the road.

In Southern California having music in the car was a must for me—as there was always one certainty, no matter how uncertain life seemed at the time. Traffic.

But no matter how late or pissed off I was, the radio was always right there with me.

vintage radio

Commercials were like the intermission before the show. They were annoying, sure. The constant drone of Trojan condom and disposable contacts ads wasn’t all bad. It was the build up before the music started again.

That was the greatest moment. That was when all the bullshit went away. It didn’t even matter if you liked the song or not. Remember that?

The ups and downs of the old radio experience were kind of lovely. By today’s standards, it was crappy. Now we have unimaginable options—with no build up, no anticipation.

There is so much instant gratification that it’s never enough. We are never content. We are stuck in the traffic of discontentment. In Yoga, one of the Niyamas is Santosha, which translates to “contentment.”

Often the things we think we need are just wants. Wants are manipulative, and they can fool us into thinking we will not be happy until we get that certain something.

I know that whole I’ll Be Happy When concept all too well. I think many of us do.

By fueling our desires in a constant frenzy, the opposite of the intended result transpires. We thought we were going to become happier after we got what we wanted, but it didn’t work. Or we were happy for a few seconds, then it vanished.

The other day a coworker of mine was running late, because he forgot to plug in his car. The week before that, a couple of the guys were discussing their new home automation systems.

I was floored by these conversations. It’s nothing against my tech savvy coworkers, but all I could think was: Damn, what is this? The Jetsons?

Kind of. Technology keeps on coming, and we latch onto the next big thing. We want life to be easier, quicker, customized to fit every possible “need.”

We are hunting contentment like it’s easy prey. Well, it’s not.

I fall into this mindset as well, get roped up by the ever-changing world we live in. Then I stop and notice. And for some strange reason—though I haven’t owned a car in seven years—recently I started missing my beat-up car radio.

laying on beach

The best times were beach trips with my girlfriends back in high school. We would sing and dance all the way home from the beach. There was sand on the floorboards and our skin was still hot from the sun. Our hair was crunchy and salty, and our muscles were exhausted from playing in the waves.

Traffic was a good thing then. It meant we could hang onto the beach a little longer, avoid responsibilities like chores and homework—those times of dumb innocence we would never feel again.

As adults we see traffic as nothing but a nuisance, and sometimes it can wreck our entire day. Where’s the appreciation for being nowhere and doing nothing? Where’s the singing and the dancing, because we don’t care?

Don’t we all miss those times…when things were so simple?

Anyway, you all know that I’m just another old soul. Or as I like to say…a vintage soul. I rant about technology, but I use it just like anyone else. I use it with a bit of reluctance, as I know convenience doesn’t equal contentment. At the end of the day, we have choices.

I dusted off my journal and wrote this blog post with a pen. It wasn’t quick and efficient, but it felt beautiful to write simply again—without staring at a bright screen while my fingers raced across the plastic keys.

I guess I’ll always be the nostalgic one, preferring to latch onto the past instead of the future. I refuse to forget the ridiculous joy I felt when a good song came on after a commercial break, and I turned up the radio.

It’s okay, you can be nostalgic here. Tell me about your favorite radio memory.


 

indie books

watching the water

Should The Life Enthusiast Chronicles Live On?

What the hell happened to The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, Britt?

Some of you have been following this blog for years, so you might be wondering where the monthly guest series ran off to. Others of you are new here, and you’re probably thinking…the whatty-what?

For those in the whatty-what category, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles is an inspirational project I started a couple of years ago, where I invited guest writers here to answer one question: What makes you enthusiastic about life?

looking at water

Each person was hand-selected for their uniquely beautiful spirit, how they each had a knack for celebrating and appreciating life in their own ways. Quite commonly, two things would happen with each Life Enthusiast.

  1. They would ask: Who me?
  2. They would say: This is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to write.

Because it’s a tough question. We go, go, go every day and when someone asks you about life, it can be pretty jarring. Watching the chronicles unfold over time was not only interesting, it was touching—touching in a real way, without the froufrou shit.

Every Life Enthusiast brought something so different. But what we also learned was that no matter who they were or where they came from, we share the same human qualities and we share the same sky.

We’re not all that different. We’re all just…living.

The second year of the series culminated with this lovely video back in November. Each Life Enthusiast was kind and brave enough to contribute their voices to the video. And if you haven’t seen it, these few minutes are truly worthy of your time.

After that video released, I thought: Now what? Do we keep going, or not?

I’m not a big television show person, but there are a few that I have really connected with—Mad Men, of course, is one of them. Some of the shows go on for too long and they lose their stuff.

There’s a sweet spot when you are running a dedicated blog series too. Because you guys are my audience, the lovely people taking the time to read these blog posts.

So, I’m going to let you decide. And like other polls I’ve run on this blog, I will listen to your feedback.

Back in 2013 I asked you all to help me name two of my book characters. Fran and Evie were the winners, and Nola Fran Evie was born.

san francisco hair

Last spring I asked you to vote for my worst San Francisco hair. And, The Hair Basket was a clear favorite.

Here’s your chance to share your thoughts on The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. Voting ends on Fri. 2/26 and I’ll announce the results.

Thanks, wonderful readers!


WWII thriller

legs up the wall

Guided Meditation Used to Freak Me Out

A strange woman’s voice repeating affirmations: “You are strong. You are.”

No thanks, I’m good.

A strange man’s voice cooing analogies: “You are strong like a tree. You are the tree.”

No, I’m not. I’m just a girl.

It took me a long time to get into meditation. Even when I was learning about it in my Yoga teacher training, I struggled with it. I wanted to move, flow through the postures—not sit quietly with myself.

I know a lot of people can relate. I’ve heard others say they want to meditate but they don’t know how. Of course, they also say that they don’t have time. But like anything else that’s good for us, we have to make time…because it’s worth it.

Over time I’ve learned to sit somewhat quietly with myself and I spend a few minutes each day doing a morning meditation. I say “somewhat quietly” because my mind often gets ahead of me and wants to think about work. I don’t punish myself for this, I simply remind myself to breathe.

What makes people give up meditation early on is the ideal image we all hold in our minds. Funny that we have expectations like this, but we do.

We picture this peaceful state of mind, with no chatter, and perhaps a vision quest that takes us to a babbling brook, where we are listening to a serene symphony of bird-chirping while our faces are bathed in radiant sunshine.

Well, folks. This is what my meditation looks like…

meditation at home

There is no perfect Yoga outfit and blanket…just a bunch of mismatched everything in front of the closet on the bedroom floor.

You’ll notice I’m not sitting while I meditate. Well, that’s because you don’t have to if it’s not comfortable for you. After a long day at my computer, bound dutifully to an office chair, sitting on the floor doesn’t work for me.

It’s true that lying down, especially during evening meditation, makes it more challenging to stay awake. A happy medium for me is Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani). It’s one of my all-time favorites, and the benefits of this gentle inversion are vast—soothe tired legs, calm the nervous system, improve circulation, etc.

Anyway, back to this guided meditation thing.

A few months ago I decided I needed more meditation in my life, in the evenings after work. As part of my goal to reduce screen time, I thought this was a good way to rest my eyes and calm my mind before bed.

But naturally at the end of a hectic day, trying to sit quietly with myself wasn’t working. So, despite my lifelong suspicions of guided meditation with its hippie rainbows and pep talks, I decided to explore my options.

I’ve been a YogaGlo subscriber for several years, and they have no shortage of meditation classes. I’ve played both the teacher and the student, and I know it’s important to take the time to find someone you connect with.

For meditation, that someone was David Harshada Wagner.

As most of you know, I love the no BS approach. David is a master of this. He actually works a lot with men, so there is no fluffy stuff. His teachings are very straight-forward and actionable to your life. That’s exactly the kind of teacher that inspires me.

Last night I took a very special class of his called Fierce Sweet Wise. It hit me hard, and tears released from my eyes three times during the 20-minute session.

I didn’t cry, I released. They are two very different things.

This was one of those times where meditation caught me off guard, displacing my expectations. It’s not about the peaceful make-believe scene, it’s about ourselves and our lives. You know…the real shit.

I’m not going to take you on my personal journey from this meditation, because honestly, it’s too personal for me to share. I’m simply inviting you to consider these ideas that David mentioned.

When you look at the situations in your life, where could you benefit from being more fierce, more sweet, more wise? Strangely, this trio of words covers a hell of a lot.

yoga arm balance

FIERCE

Being fierce isn’t just a Tyra Banks modeling tip.

Is there a creative project you’ve abandoned because you’ve been busy? Be more fierce with your commitment and get after it.

Are you taking on too much at work to the point of burnout and exhaustion? Stand up for yourself. It’s okay to say no. If you get fired for saying no to protect your health, find another job with more balance.

SWEET

Sometimes without meaning to, we become harsh in certain areas of our lives. We don’t typically want to examine ourselves in this light, but if you look around, you’ll notice there are times when you’re not being sweet.

It’s a common behavior in our society, because we wear heavy armor every day to protect ourselves. But as David said in this meditation…

Open your heart and let your sweetness pour forward. Be a little bit more forgiving, a little bit more loving. You don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of, because you’re already fierce.

WISE

This is not about what’s right or wrong, but what’s true or false for you. David brings on the tough love here and asks: Are there areas in your life where you’re just being plain stupid?

Umm…yes, David.

We ALL have those areas of stupidity—no matter how many books we’ve read, no matter how many life experiences we’ve had. And if we have the courage to face our stupid moments, we can use wisdom to make positive changes.

So, yeah. That’s what I learned before I went to bed last night. And hey, it only required 20 minutes of my time.

Hope you all can take a moment to pause and find the fierceness, sweetness, and wisdom in your lives.

Have you ever tried guided or unguided meditation before? What did you think?


WWII thriller

book donations

Releasing Your Books So They Can Find Love Again

This post is going to horrify some of you. I’m willing to write it anyway, because I did something I never thought I would do. Something that took courage, something that took a lot of soul-searching, something that has already changed my life in just one week…

I decluttered my books.

cleaning your bookshelves

I feared sharing this project with my bookworm friends would end badly, with an mob of intellects standing at my front door with pens instead of pitchforks. But the response was positive on Twitter—unless you all just favorited Aphrodite the panda cat photobombing this one.

Living in a studio, there is only so much clutter one can have. But when you’re living in a smaller space, the clutter you do have is very obvious. You have to get crafty with storage solutions, there is constant rearranging, and no matter what you do…it still feels messy.

In preparation for spring cleaning—something I always do in the winter so I can enjoy the beautiful weather when it comes—I read two books.

karen kingston

My mom and my sister received copies of Clear Your Clutter for their birthdays, because I knew they would love it. I flew through the book and it opened my eyes to a lot of decluttering ways I hadn’t considered before. The main question to ask yourself…does this lift me? If it doesn’t, you toss it.

Clear Your Clutter was my first time reading about getting rid of books, and I laughed. I cleaned out my closets and my bathroom—my books stayed put.

marie kondo

Then I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Without the feng shui aspect, this book is very straightforward about what you need to do—get rid of some shit.

But before you do, lay everything out so you can see it. If you’re working on your clothes, that means you pull out everything from your dresser and closet. Then you need to touch every item and make a decision…does this spark joy? Once again books were mentioned, but this time I listened to the argument.

If you’ve been lugging around books for years that are just collecting dust for the sake of decoration, is that bringing you joy? If you’re hanging onto books that someone gave to you that you will never read, old college textbooks you will never open, or fiction that you would never read again in your life, is that bringing you joy?

No. And, to get emotional here for a moment, because I truly believe books are our friends…this isn’t bringing them joy either. So last weekend I decided it was time to release them into the wild.

Easier said than done.

Kitchen with book decor

Some of you may remember that I had the bright idea to decorate the top of my kitchen cabinets with all of my books when I first moved into my studio in Portland a couple of years ago. I called it The Book Decor Workout, because strength and agility are a requirement when you’re using a ladder to organize your books.

This time was all about reverse engineering and not as difficult. But my hamstrings and upper body were put to work.

book piles

I followed the KonMari method by laying out all of my books on the floor, then holding each one to decide if it “sparked joy.” If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I have to say that there is something to this—especially when you’re a book lover parting with your sweet friends.

There are decisions that need to be made and I think it’s important to take your time when you’re taking on a decluttering project that involves emotional ties. You want to feel good about your choices. If you’re rushing through this project, you’ll either hang onto things you don’t really want or you’ll go too crazy and get rid of something you shouldn’t have.

Because we’re not talking about putting all of your books by the dumpster. (I just puked in my mouth a little.) We are talking about selecting the ones that still have meaning to you, then finding new homes for the rest.

In the image up there I have my two piles. The big pile on the left did not spark joy anymore, while the pile on the right did. Everyone is going to be different, but these are the books I decided to keep in my life.

gatsby

CLASSICS YOU WANT TO KEEP

I had quite a few classics, some that dated back to my high school years. Yep, high school (aka a million years ago).

When I held these books, I remembered that well…I really didn’t like them that much. They were a reading assignment or one of those books you just had to read because it was a classic. Sometimes we hang onto books of this nature, because we feel smarter having them in our collection.

Who gives a shit? If Mark Twain isn’t your thing, let it go.

writing toolyoga book

TOOLS YOU WILL ALWAYS TURN TO

Whether you’re a writer or you have another passion, there are some really awesome books that you will discover one day and they will become your trusted companions.

When you hold these books in your hand, you don’t get all jazzed up over the story inside—you will probably feel steadier. A book like the Emotion Thesaurus has been my confidante during the editing stages of several of my books, and that made me happy. It was a tool that helped me write a better novel.

I also ended up hanging onto all of my old Yoga books from my teacher training. They are friends I will always turn to when I need them.

costa rica book

IMAGES THAT ENERGIZE YOU

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I got to my coffee table books, which are mainly travel related but I do have one beastly one, American Fashion. I barely had to hold these, because as soon as my eyes landed on the covers, I got energized.

In reality, I will probably never go to all the places in the world I want to see. Books like these allow me to escape without the cost of leaving my house.

book inscription

WORDS OF LOVE

I’ll admit I haven’t picked up my poetry books in years, but I reconnected with them the day I brought them down to hold them in my hands. And one of them had a beautiful inscription from my dad. There was no way I was going to part with this one.

So, this bunch was more about the words inside of them for me. All of the poems were too lovely for me to let go.

madeleine l'engle

CHILDHOOD FAVORITES THAT SHAPED YOU

These are the books you first read as a child, but you read them again and again throughout your life. When I held these books, I remembered the feeling of the first time I read it. It was a little bizarre.

The wonderment I felt when I read these stories absolutely shaped me into becoming a writer. If an author had the ability to connect with me in such a way, to steer my imagination, I knew I wanted to try to do that too someday.

All together I decided to keep 60 books. I sold 19 (mainly old college textbooks) and I am donating 124 books to our wonderful Oregon libraries.

I have not felt any regrets. On the contrary, I have felt much happier—lighter even. That yummy feeling has been oozing into other aspects of my life.

Since early adulthood, I have dutifully moved my books across multiple states and made room for them in my home. Years later my books were covered in dust and cat hair, and because some of them were above the stove, they were speckled with kitchen grease.

Until last weekend, I hadn’t opened the majority of them and they were stiff as they moved in that unfamiliar way as lost pictures, receipts, and college papers spilled onto the floor. Many of my books were no longer loved. Now that I’m letting them go, they will find love again.

Have you decluttered your books? Or, do you find it too hard to part with your friends?

P.S. This was a helpful post I used to make the change.


WWII thriller

indie books

There’s Some Savvy to This Writing Thing

beer and writing

Big awesome day for this girl today…the great Kristen Lamb invited me over to write a piece about the importance of savvy marketing in writing!

I’ve been following Kristen Lamb’s blog since I started this whole indie author thing almost four years ago. She’s definitely an influencer in our world, and I have learned a lot from her over the years.

What I love about Kristen is that she keeps it real. She helps us struggling writers follow our dreams without blowing sunshine up our asses.

I ended up on Kristen’s blog, because quite simply, I took a chance and made an effort by reaching out to her. The introverted writers of the world are cringing at this idea, but the main point of my piece is something we cannot deny—that we writers are running our own businesses.

At the end of the day, we have to be savvy and we have to do some marketing if we ever want anyone to read our work. Otherwise, your family and friends might read your books…but that’s about it. Hey, I know, because it happened to me.

So, it’s a little tough love with a dose of inspiration. Can you handle it? 🙂

In all seriousness, I feel beyond honored to be a guest at Kristen’s place. I hope you all will stop by to read the full piece and help spread the word. She gave little me a HUGE opportunity, and I want to bring her some peeps to show my appreciation.

Here’s a teaser…

I’ll be completely candid with you guys and tell you I’m one of the most impatient people I know. Now perseverance is a very different thing. Perseverance will propel you forward, so you can finish the novel you’ve been working on for three years. Impatience will disappoint you, make you think you’re not good enough when people don’t come running to buy your book you worked so hard on.

Impatience doesn’t serve us in the self-publishing world. Perseverance does.

Here’s the piece…

Why Writing Isn’t Enough—The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Success


WWII thriller

limit screen time

Step Away From Your Screen and Rest Your Eyes

eye palming yoga

The phrase “screen time” has become a popular addition to our vocabulary over the past year or so. I mentioned it in my New Year’s post about positive intentions, and how I have made many changes to avoid living too much of my life behind a screen.

Quite a few of you had the same goal. I was chatting with a good friend of mine recently, who is a decade younger than me, and she too mentioned she wanted to step away from the screen this year.

It’s tough. And it’s especially tough when you’re a writer.

While it’s wonderful to mix it up and put pen to paper, feel that organic yumminess of scribbling away without staring at a monitor, we can’t escape the fact that computers make our writing efficient as hell.

In today’s world, it’s next to impossible to escape screens entirely. Most of us—yours truly included—have jobs where we peck away at a keyboard for 8-10 hours a day, eyes dutifully trained on a bright screen.

Now we have smartphones. I won’t knock them, because they have given us the opportunity to have technology at our beck and call. But naturally there are downsides to that…even more screen time.

And, if you watch TV or play video games when you’re relaxing. Guess what? More screen time.

Writers who are working on novels and/or blogging and/or keeping up with social media, are even more susceptible to screen life. The majority of us have full-time jobs, and our nights and weekends are spent behind a screen, because this is the tool we are using to move forward with our dreams.

The reality of screen time floors me often. I’ll never forget telling my parents over and over again—as a child, as a teen, and even my early years in college—I don’t want a “computer job.” They were both successful in the aerospace industry, but I only saw what they did as one of those computer jobs I wanted to avoid.

My parents both love to tease me about that, because look at me now—I have a computer job. Actually, I have a few.

This morning I performed my usual Saturday dance…what to do, what to do. I’m usually still wound up from the workweek, feeling behind on anything related to my personal writing that I have abandoned throughout the hectic week—my second draft and my blog, keeping up with my fellow writers’ blogs and social media updates.

Make the choice to step away from your screen. When you do, here are two of my favorite eye resting tips. You can do one without ever leaving your desk.

screen time

GET YOUR ASS OUTSIDE

Living in Portland, I know that I am lucky to have beautiful nature nearby to entice me away from my screen. The weather, despite the incessant gloom and rain, is pretty easy to deal with year-round.

Hiking is my weapon of choice for combating too much screen time. But even if you don’t have trails, you can go for a run or walk in your neighborhood or park. Though I live in the city, I find even a run in the urban chaos is enough to clear my head and rest my eyes, versus spending hours working on my computer.

If you can, find some nature to stare at for a while. Greenery and water are especially soothing for your eyes. I often notice my whole body breathe a sigh of relief the moment my eyes meet nature.

PALM YOUR EYES

Yeah, so you might have been wondering about the weird ass picture of me with my hands over my eyes up there. I’m doing something legit, promise. It’s an amazing Yoga move, called eye palming.

Didn’t know there was Yoga for your eyes? Dude, I didn’t either.

The first time I tried eye palming was in a Yin class, and I was so stunned by the immediate results. I showed this to my coworkers at our morning huddle and asked them all to join me. They already know I’m batshit crazy, so they played along.

What’s great about eye palming is you can do it anywhere, anytime. When you’re at work or you’re jamming on your novel and you can’t get away, simply rub your hands together and place your palms over your eyes for a bit.

If you still feel like your eyes need more resting time—or you just feel really damn good and you have another minute—repeat.

I’d love to know…what tips do you guys have for limiting screen time?


WWII thriller

downtown vegas

How to Survive Vegas When You’re Not in Your 20’s

sahara sign

The moment you get off the plane, you just know it. You’re in another world…Las Vegas.

You battle vertigo as the lights of slot machines and giant screens promising riches, excitement, and sex greet you around every corner of the airport terminal. You walk faster and faster, charged by the insanity, unable to resist that pull.

It’s time to f*cking party.

We were returning to the scene of the crime for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—we hadn’t been to Vegas since we got hitched there WAY back in 2005. One of our taxi drivers congratulated us with a high-five for everlasting love, against the odds.

So, yeah. Back then we were pups. This time we weren’t. But when you have to attend a conference in Disneyland for adults, you need to leave your healthy treehugger Yogi ass back in Portland and prepare yourself for lung and liver debauchery.

Before I get into the debauchery, I’ll tell you that our late afternoon flight got canceled and we had to hang out at PDX for four hours. Thankfully, Portland has been voted the best airport in America the past few years.

They made a big deal about the new carpet, but we didn’t give two shits about that. What we did give two shits about? Organic food options, clean water fountains with water bottle filling stations, and good beer.

We so Portland.

AIRPLANE DELAY TIP:  No matter how annoyed you are, drink two beers and play on the people mover.

pdx

Because all of the hotels were sold out by the time Mr. H booked a room for the conference, we ended up at the Golden Nugget. Downtown Vegas, away from the shiny Strip, is more our speed anyway.

Anyone from Southern California will likely alarm you by telling you they grew up in Vegas. I did. It was a regular vacation for me and my dad. It’s an easy drive, and back then it used to be cheap.

Give me some old Vegas any day. I miss the seediness of it all—that’s the history and the culture, like it or not.

What I wouldn’t give for the sound of filthy coins spitting out of the machines. I came to expect that sound, and loved it in some strange way. That’s long gone now, having been replaced by TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out). Only a few of these noisy, dirty slots still exist in the old casinos…good luck finding them.

Bedraggled and exhausted, we were floored when we were offered an upgrade. With such a late check-in, we half-expected no room, not this.

LATE CHECK-IN TIP:  No matter how tired you are, be nice to the front desk person and you may be rewarded. (I know, I used to be one.)

golden nugget room

It was like being in one of those wild Vegas movies, but in the 1970s. That’s what the high-roller two-level suite in the Spa Tower looked like anyway.

The suite was banged up, well-abused by misfits doing God knows what over the years, spruced up with gaudy accents and art. I won’t even post the picture of the “chandelier” on the bottom floor, because the mini lampshades and beige tapestries will upset all of you. Shitty chic would be considered a compliment.

There were mirrors everywhere, above the bed (blush) and in the bathroom, so you could watch yourself use the bidet. Yep, we had one.

Our old asses had two choices after we unpacked and sprayed down the room with our antibacterial Thieves spray.

  1. Eat a late dinner and pass out.
  2. Eat a late dinner and go out.

We were in Vegas. You know exactly which one we chose.

las vegas suite

We don’t go out anymore. Been there, done that…many, many times.

However, a friend who was being wooed by some old clients invited us to free bottle service at a popular nightclub, Light. We tried and failed to get into a club many moons ago when we were there for our wedding.

To get into a Vegas club, you need to:

  • know someone that works there
  • have a table with bottle service
  • be a regular stripper/dealer/prostitute/escort/high-roller

We had a table, so why the hell not? We knew we would get in and drinks were free. We also knew we were far from the age of 21, and the only way we were going to make it was with sushi and green tea.

PRE-GAMING TIP:  No matter how “Vegas, woohoo!” you are, eat a power dinner and save the booze for later.

light las vegas

I was the only woman at Light without a micro mini dress and thick black eyeliner. About a half hour in, I knew I had to drink faster if I was going to be able to take anymore. The neon lasers were making me schizo and I had surpassed my annual quota of butt cheek sightings—mind you, it’s only the first week of the year.

A few cocktails later, I danced a bit and began enjoying the people-watching. And just like the old days, we closed the place down at 4am.

NIGHTTIME ANTI-HANGOVER TIP:  No matter how wasted you are, chug water all night and eat a gigantic greasy breakfast at hotel (ours was Claim Jumper) before bed.

golden nugget spa suite

The next morning/afternoon we woke up mostly intact. Mr. H pushed the button next to the bed and the drapes creaked and moaned as they drew open to reveal the best thing about our upgraded room…the kick-ass view. Snow-capped mountains to the right, pool just below.

MORNING ANTI-HANGOVER TIP:  No matter how pathetic you feel, chug more water, eat that organic apple you were smart enough to bring from home, double fist coconut water and a dirty chai, then take a well-deserved hot shower.

The main reason I accompanied Mr. H on the biz trip was to see this girl…

neon museum entrance

…my childhood best friend, Laura. Now a Vegas native, I hadn’t seen her in 18 years. Girlish excitement was an understatement.

Because I had a business dinner to attend that evening, the usual non-stop Vegas day-drinking was out of the question. Hanging out by the awesome Golden Nugget pool and watching people go down the shark tank chute—also not an option. In January, the desert gets mighty cold.

We all ate delicious pepperoni pizza at Pizza Rock, then Mr. H traipsed off to the conference. Before he left, he said: “Now don’t you two Irish girls get into too much trouble.”

We nodded obediently. But, we still had a few beers downtown that afternoon. Walking down Fremont Street, thrillseekers flew overhead on the zipline, while a poor man’s Spongebob waved next to a half-naked gypsy woman wearing an open robe with nipple pasties.

With a pleasant buzz, we headed over to my kind of attraction, one that can be enjoyed year-round…the Neon Museum.

las vegas signs

Vegas isn’t exactly known for preserving history, but this non-profit is doing just that. Lovingly called the Neon Boneyard, visitors can only view the signs under the supervision of their tour guide.

I’ve been to many different museums in my life—from Dachau to the Louvre, from the Guggenheim to Pearl Harbor—but this museum was strict. You are not allowed out of the tour guide’s sight for a second. If you have to go to the restroom, you have to ask. And if you think you’re going to be drinking a monster cocktail in a bright plastic carafe with a crazy straw, think again.

The Neon Museum is probably the only dry place in the city. It makes sense that they have to use precautions to protect the signs from sloshed individuals who might be tempted to mount them for the sake of an epic social media pic before slicing their leg open on a rusty edge.

stardust las vegas

There are day tours and night tours, and I’ve heard they are both amazing. Not all the signs light up, but the ambience at night is hard to beat. Plus, the darkness conquered by blinding neon gives off that true Vegas vibe.

NEON MUSEUM TIP:  No matter how gung-ho nerdy you are, drink a couple (but not too many) before you arrive, and bundle up if you’re doing the night tour.

vintage las vegas signs

Vegas reminded me of how I used to be—nonstop, overindulgent, careless and carefree. That really hit home for me when Mr. H told me he heard “I Just Can’t Get Enough” blasting in The Venetian’s casino. That could have been my theme song when I was younger.

Things are very different. Now I can get enough.

I practice the appreciation of life and simplicity. I want to drink tea in my jammies while dreaming about the next time I’ll be on my Yoga mat or hiking on one of Oregon’s beautiful trails. I like clean water, air, and food. If I have all of those things, I’m set.

Besides the travel tips sprinkled throughout this crazy Vegas tale, I thought I would help you guys out if you’re coming home from Las Vegas and wondering how you will ever piece your life together.

Our Vegas recovery routine included:

– water (lots of it)
– healthy snack
– nap (I love you more than anything, Bed)
– more water
– garlic infused honey
– ginger kombucha
– pineapple
– dry brushing (gotta scrub it off)
– epsom salt bath
– launder ALL smoky clothing
– Postmates dinner delivery (Lardo, aka comfort food)
– good, strong beer
– movie with cats on couch
– chamomile tea
– sweet, sweet bed
– 11 hours of sleep

We’re as good as new again.

As an old fart, how do you survive Vegas?


WWII thriller

sankalpa

Bringing Positive Intentions Together for the New Year

new year's kiss

It’s so interesting returning to a life on the West Coast to become one of the last people in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve. On social media I can jump on and watch everyone else celebrating at midnight, while I’m still getting ready, cracking open my first beer, and waiting for my turn.

Every year Mr. H and I have a tradition of doing a play-by-play of the year together, going through each memorable month to explore all that happened. It’s always fascinating to see what we can remember, what stands out in our minds—an unforgettable sunset on the Oregon coast, the ups and downs of our jobs, that time we learned something about ourselves that changed us forever.

I’ve never been a huge New Year’s Eve fan, often dismissing going out to avoid amateur night. This year was an exception, as we were able to share it with a group of wonderful friends, who were all in the same boat as us—without plans, but wanting to get out of the house to do something chill and grown-up.

A couple of our friends own Muse Wine Bar, a magnificent spot around the corner from where we live. After many hours of yummy conversation and wine, we stumbled and laughed all the way home, proud of ourselves for braving the night.

It was worth it to bring in the new year with a great group of people. It helped us erase those earlier NYE attempts, the disappointing ones with questionable company and cheap champagne at midnight.

You can listen to the countdown and glasses clinking like crazy by pressing play…

 

As the year comes to an end, I never doubt its significance. Looking back at the year with Mr. H is one part of that, and looking forward with a positive intention is another.

Most of you know that I am not into resolutions, but I create a sankalpa instead. While resolutions can carry a negative vibe (lose weight, don’t drink, etc.), a sankalpa is more about purpose.

The past two years I have shared my sankalpa on the blog. In a way it’s a public profession, and it has helped me remember to stick with it throughout the year. Unlike resolutions that can be quickly forgotten, a sankalpa tends to stay with you because it’s deeper—it’s intentional.

2014 was “To Love More” and 2015 was “To Simply Enjoy.”

Quite literally I faced my sankalpa in the reflection of a window this summer. It was painted on a wall inside an empty art gallery by my office. There is a lovely irony to it, with the man walking with his smartphone in the background while I snap a selfie.

positive intention

So, my intention in 2016 is to “Live Consciously.” This may be one of my most challenging sankalpas to date, but I believe it is a crucial one for me, and well…most of us.

Living consciously is difficult in our society. Multi-tasking and distractions are the norm, just being is not.

I struggle with it as much as anyone. Hell, I’m a Content Manager at a marketing agency and a blogger/author when I’m not at work. If anyone’s digitally bound and gagged, it’s this girl.

I am very aware of the perilous nature of living life behind a screen. This is why I have stepped back quite a bit with my author platform this past year.

  • I took the entire summer off from blogging, because I needed the time to write my first draft and enjoy the sunshine.
  • I stopped worrying about keeping up with too many blogs and only focusing on a small group of writers I cherish.
  • I don’t spend as much time on my social media channels anymore, so I can shut down the digital madness in the evenings and relax.
  • I chose not to get down on myself for not working on my novel a weekend here or there, as it isn’t necessary to try to win a race against myself.

Have I sacrificed the “growth” of my blog, social media channels, and book sales by making this decision? Depends on how you look at it. From a numbers standpoint, yes my growth has slowed. But numbers have never been important to me, relationships have. This past year I continued to deepen relationships with others and myself, and that’s all the growth I really need.

I’m devouring a fantastic book right now, which I highly recommend to anyone, whether you are into Yoga or not. It’s called A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom.

In the opening of the first chapter, he hit it right on the nail:

We live in a unique time in history, both promising and ominous. As technologies continue to develop at an unbelievably increasing speed, it seems mankind is not maturing nearly fast enough to adapt. And so we find ourselves in a global crisis. Billions of people now covet the industrial world’s wealth and are replicating its system of modern consumerism as rapidly as possible. But what they are ignoring, perilously so, is the fact that as materially well off as the West is, we are also chronically living what Henry David Thoreau coined “a life of quiet desperation.”

Though Strom starts with a jarring intro, interestingly what follows is his point that there has been an upsurge in people embarking on self-examination over the past decade—exploring Yoga, meditation, and reflection. He says that Yoga may be one of the great rays of hope for our future…and, I totally agree with him.

I got a jumpstart on my 2016 intention by reconnecting with Yoga and meditation, incorporating educational and spiritual books into my predominately fiction repertoire, falling in love with all of it again.

But it’s a new kind of love, with a deeper understanding focused on being present, returning to the student mindset. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve practiced a pose or rolled out my mat over the past 10 years, I’m pretending that each time is the first time.

If Yoga isn’t your thing, living consciously can translate into so many other parts of your life. I can relate this to writing very easily.

Yes, it’s important for me to continue pursuing my creative dreams. However as any author knows, writing a book means shutting yourself off from the real world, and unfortunately, that means disconnecting from people around you.

So, I try to time my writing when Mr. H is busy with something else, because I don’t want to sacrifice the little time we have together. That also means, saying to hell with it some weekends to get out of the house and live. For me, that’s all part of living consciously…absorbing everything fully, with intention.

On New Year’s Eve, I woke up and decided I wanted to throw out a request on social to gather up sankalpas to include in this blog post. Why? To start 2016 on a positive note as a community.

A rather small community responded, and perhaps others did not want their intentions listed on a blog, because it was too personal of an ask.

So, thank you to the five ladies who responded to me on Facebook and Twitter for being open to sharing their sankalpas. I love that two of the five had the same name…

Bring more play opportunities to kidlets!  – Karen

Prioritize work, play, creativity, love, and laughter equally.  – Letizia

Express creativity!  – Courtnay

Learn to love myself.  – Laura

Not only will I open myself to more opportunities, I intend to CREATE them!  – Karin

Thank you all for continuing to share delicious slices of life with me. I wish you all an insanely beautiful 2016!

P.S. If you’d like to leave your sankalpa in the comment section, you are absolutely welcome to go for it.


WWII thriller

macleay park

Forest Wonderland

It’s all too easy to hunker down this time of year—simply curl up under a cheap blanket, with a good book and some furry friends.

Working out becomes a lot harder in the colder months. You have to shrug off the incessant darkness, squeeze your Christmas cookie ass into your workout clothes, and muster up some excitement to get moving.

This is a good time to make the effort. Because if anything is going to uplift you during the winter, it’s exercise.

Diversifying your routine and keeping an open mind are important. The same thing that worked for you in the summer won’t work for you now, because your body changes with the seasons.

I’ve switched to morning Yoga during the week to maintain my practice, because getting off work to greet a pitch black world was sucking the life out of me. No, I don’t bounce out of bed ready to seize the day. But after a few minutes on my mat, I’m happy to be there.

Also important is not to disconnect from nature. Rather than writing off Mother Nature, this is a lovely time to embrace her ill-tempered ways. I’m not saying you should do Yoga outside in the snow, but a long walk or hike are great ways to get away from stuffy, dry buildings and enjoy some fresh (okay…frigid) air.

Lately I’ve been making it a point to go hiking—even when it’s cold and wet, when leaving the house is the last thing I want to do. We had 17 straight days of rain in Portland earlier this month.

It was brutal and I was starting to crack, questioning my existence and growing emotional over insignificant things. You know, the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) works.

After the rain calmed down, I took a little field trip up to Forest Park. I often feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland when I wander around the trails here, like I don’t belong in such a magical place.

I hadn’t been up to my usual stomping grounds in a while, because work and rain got in the way. The never-ending rain had transformed the trails since my last time up there. I got pretty camera happy, like a damn tourist. The beauty of that—I was able to mix two of my favorite things together. Exercise and creativity.

Moss invaded every branch, turning the forest into a world carpeted with AstroTurf…

lower macleay hiking

Speaking of Alice in Wonderland, this tree kind of reminded me of Caterpillar…

portland hiking

The Queen of Hearts…yeah, she’d live here at the Stone House

stone house graffiti

Too bad the moody trees destroyed the East Wing a bit…

tree damage stone house

In fact, it’s one mood swing after another with Mother Nature. Trees crashing everywhere…

winter hiking in portland

Becoming wet canvases for leafy masterpieces…

pacific northwest winter

What was once Balch Creek is now a rambunctious river…

balch creek

… a damn cold river you don’t want to slip into.

So yeah, it’s a bit precarious on the disintegrating trails right now, with waterfalls sprouting up where they’re not supposed to be and chunks of the path eagerly becoming one with the “creek.”

But it feels so good out there. I feel renewed instead of sluggish, in tune with nature instead of fighting against it.

If you need some motivation to get moving, don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions or ideal weather. Bundle up and go see what nature’s been up to.

vintage scarf

Broke-Ass Holiday Shopper? Read Nola Fran Evie for Free.

vintage summer

We survived the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the year, but let’s face it—we’re a bunch of broke asses now.

And since I’ve been feeling the holiday spirit so much this year, I decided to make one of my books free on Amazon all week long.

Free, Britt? For real?

Yep. It’s my little holiday gift to you.

Nola Fran Evie is a retro summertime romp that will whisk you away to 1950s Chicago. So you can tell winter to kiss off for a bit while you cozy up with three of my favorite fictitious gals.

Here’s the enticing description…

They were unladylike rebels, three young women abandoning rolling pins for baseball bats to join the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They changed history and that changed them. After the league folds in 1954 Nola, Fran, and Evie meet by chance on a popcorn-scented summer day where it all began…Wrigley Field, Chicago. They team up once again to fight for a pivotal cause these dames can only win by uniting as one.

Inside these ball players lies a fierce beauty, an unconventional destiny beyond the kitchen. Foregoing the American dream of sparkling cars and pastel suburbia, together they face up to the reality of nuclear drills and civil rights. Their story is uncovered nearly forty years later when Jacks Demonte discovers a trail of clues tucked away in a vintage handbag. The extraordinary lives of these women intersect with Demonte’s as she falls deeper into a heroic past.

Here’s an awesome review by Roy McCarthy

I guessed Britt Skrabenek’s third book was going to be good. What I wasn’t expecting was to be taken on quite such a roller coaster. It starts a little jerkily with four main characters and three time frames but it soon gathers pace and takes the reader on a great ride.

We follow three young women playing professional baseball together in the 1940s, full of hope and joie de vivre. Nothing can stop them and they form a bond which, though soon broken, is to be re-formed later. The try-out day is portrayed with dash and humour as the `girlies’ are discarded and only those with toughness and talent, including the three protagonists Lippy, Toots and Farm Girl, make the grade.

But inevitably the good times end and the women go their separate ways into the real world. Life changes them. Love is won and lost. It is 1950s America which has just seen the landmark Brown v Board of Education court ruling desegregating black and white students. Here Britt’s research comes into its own with its intimate portrayal of Chicago life of the time. She specialises in fashions and her characters, male and female jump right off the page. Through her characters the author deals with relationships and the hopes and fears that go with them. Inter-racial relationships are examined in the light of attitudes of the day.

There are some beautifully worked passages. I loved the drive-in movie scene with Nola and her son. I was glad, at the end of Chapter 26 I wasn’t reading in public – I was in floods and had to take a break.

Whether intentional or not I saw the modern day character Jacks as an extension of the author herself in an omniscient role, together with mental cat. And it is through Jacks that it all came together at the end with an awesomeness that had me gasping.

Meticulously researched, humorous, poignant, entertaining. Britt’s best work yet.

And, you can “buy” it for absolutely nothing on Amazon starting today through Christmas (12/21-12/25).

Happy holidays, sweet things!

Get it now on Amazon

Get in now on Amazon UK

Nola Fran Evie Cover Large

brown rabbit

Fake Grapes, a Mermaid, and a Bunny

Remember when fake fruit was a thing? People would situate a bowl or tray of plastic fruit on their table and call it chic.

I found out about fake fruit the hard way, at my grandmother’s house when I was just a pup.

You see, green grapes—the real ones—have always been my favorite. I love that moment when my teeth puncture the skin and I discover the vulnerable flesh hidden inside. I will inhale a bowl of cold grapes under the bright summer sun and feel like I’m invincible.

So, my grandmother had this silver tray of green grapes on her coffee table in the formal dining room she and my aunt never used. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I tried eating one.

Luckily, I didn’t break any teeth. But I was confused, and slightly enraged, that the grape was inedible.

movie kiss

The grapes in question are on the left. When I posted this picture on Facebook recently, my sister explained this was one of my “movie kisses.”

Why do that to someone? Why promise a snack made of plastic?

Manners? Tradition? Hell, if I know. I’ve never been into manners or traditions.

Grandmother Skrabanek was from the Czech Republic. She came to Texas, like so many other Czech immigrants, and stayed. Severity mixed with southern hospitality, and my grandmother did all the things a woman should do at the time. Get married, have kids, and make her home real nice.

Having lived in Texas for a 7-year stint as an adult, I can tell you that people take their homes very seriously. A lot of people—and this is going to shock the shit out of some of you—have housekeepers. I’m not talking about rich people only. I’m talking about all ages, and all levels of income.

Housing is cheaper in Texas, so one can afford such luxuries. It’s all about keeping the home perfectly presentable, in case someone stops by and you need to feed them fake grapes.

Anyway, my grandfather died and my grandmother went to work and became a bona fide Avon lady. She did well, because she was naturally business-minded—ambitious, relentless, and quick on her feet.

Grandmother Skrabanek had work ethic like you’ve never seen. The woman was always busy, certainly never idle, and she spent very little of her life enjoying simple pleasures.

She was a hardcore Methodist (hence, the crooked picture of prayer hands below) and she used to make me dress up for different religious outings whenever I spent my summers there. I was never excited about a new dress, because I knew it meant an afternoon of showing off in front of her Eastern Star friends.

She was rigid and temperamental, well before she was old and senile when it would have been more acceptable. And, some of the inappropriate racist jokes? I won’t even go there.

hugging grandma

As you can imagine, my grandmother and I never meshed. I was born in Texas, but I was raised in Southern California from the age of two. I questioned authority, religion, and intolerance—and I hung out with children of all different colors and sizes without thinking it was a big deal.

I spent every summer and Christmas in Dallas with my grandmother and my aunt. In the summer I practically lived in the pool and became a phenomenal swimmer. I used to pretend I was a mermaid, not a captive in that old house where my grandmother made her remarks when she wasn’t watching soap operas.

And the holidays, well…they were always a disaster. Some family feud would erupt. I’m not talking about just picking at each other, I’m talking about screaming, cussing, and the moment where my dad would shoo me into the rental car so we could run away.

I hated the holidays growing up. I did.

The holidays meant that I had to spend quality time with my grandmother and aunt, who honestly, seemed to want to kill each other. Everything was okay when I got picked up from the airport and ate my first delicious dinner with them. Because of the Czech roots mixed with Southern cooking, their food was out of sight.

Inevitably by the second night, there was an argument. Usually it was between my grandmother and my aunt, then I would get pulled in. Then my dad would come into town, and fall into the drama as well. If he had a girlfriend or wife in tow, I felt sorry for them.

Everyone has dysfunctional families. I totally get that. And I’m not here to say that mine is worse than yours, or that I had to work a little harder to not hate the holidays all my life.

This year was one of the first years I felt genuinely happy about the holidays. I’ve been telling stupid Christmas jokes at work and I made gifts and shipped them to my family. Not sure why this year is different, but I’ll take it.

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately. I wrote a blog about the vintage suitcase I found recently in a Portland store with her name on it. Maybe that had something to do with it.

My grandmother passed away in 2011, and I wasn’t there when she died. She was a stubborn woman, unwilling to let go at the commendable age of 92—however, her body had a different opinion.

My grandmother and my dad had their birthdays on Sunday. Mine is today. Three generations all in one week.

I have strange memories about my grandmother and I’ve had to work hard through a lot of things over the years. If you’ve read my book, Everything’s Not Bigger, you will notice Jaye’s grandmother is a lot like mine. Because hey, writing is my therapy.

I never understood my grandmother, and I know she never understood me. Except once. When I was very young, maybe four, and she bought me this oversized brown bunny.

I loved her then. I loved her so much. I remember how infatuated I was with that brown bunny, how I hugged it tightly while my family cooed and giggled in the background.

That was the time I realized my grandmother loved me in her own way. Even after countless garage sales and closet purges over the years, I still have it.

stuffed animal bunny

It was hard for my grandmother. Loving never came easy to her, and I’ll never know why. I don’t want to know anymore. I’ve stopped trying to figure everything out in life.

In my early twenties, my therapist said something brilliant to me that really changed my perspective: “Your family’s your family, and you are a part of them. You can’t change them, just like they can’t change you.”

The holidays are here, so it’s a good reminder for all of us. Just love each other while you can.

vintage luggage

An Old Suitcase Named Ann

There’s this store over in Northeast Portland that I’ve been eyeing for a while called ReClaim It. Last Saturday, I finally went in.

When I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells. I almost immediately backed out. I had expected to find secondhand treasures—like wobbly chairs, funky dressers, eyesore mirrors—that sort of thing. But a soulless corner of wood and metal scraps lay before me instead.

Where were the lovely relics from a bygone era? Those pieces clinging to the lives of their previous owners, encapsulating their memories in the battered wood?

They were a little to my left. I was so distracted by the beams and poles that I almost missed out.

Confession…my personal hell is Home Depot. Those expansive, drafty aisles of nonsensical parts and fixtures make me crazy. I prefer the finished, working stuff instead. Now you know why I ain’t your handywoman.

Anyway, there they were. The reason for the unapologetic musty odor—a whole section this thrifty gal wanted to roll around in, like a dog who just happened upon fresh pooh in the backyard. Though not a big store, I could have easily spent hours in there.

Nothing was organized and nothing made sense—in fact, you had to lift and move items to get to another. It kind of felt like you shouldn’t be rearranging things, like someone would scream at you to stop touching the basket of postcards or the stained lampshade. But no one said a word.

Hurrah! The store was mine to pillage!

Right off, something caught my eye. It was buried underneath a couple of chipped vases, which I moved very carefully as I’m a notorious klutz. Then I ran my hands across the fabric covering the hard surface.

old suitcase

My grandmother had one just like it.

I paused when I looked at the bronze fastenings on the front, then just as I remembered from the last time I opened something remotely like this when I was a little girl, I shoved the button on the right over to one side. It clicked, the latches flew up, and I smiled.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever opened a vintage suitcase that’s been carrying decades of mystery inside its aging exterior, but as you can imagine, the smell can be less than desirable.

Yet, when I lifted the top and rested it against a bookshelf, a pleasant—shall we say—retro odor greeted my nostrils. More importantly, I felt her energy wash over me. It wasn’t a froufrou suitcase with its grey-blue denim-like material, but I knew instantly it had belonged to another woman.

cat in a suitcase

The interior was in surprisingly good shape, its blue satin only torn around the corners. The pockets in the lid were disappointingly empty.

For those who have been following this blog for some time, sadly I did not find any artifacts tucked away. I thought I would, and I was already mentally preparing myself to write another Nola Fran Evie book.

But no, only this beat-up suitcase was the treasure.

I closed the lid, and naturally, one of the latches was too stubborn to find its way back where it belonged. For grins, I looked at the price tag, figuring the suitcase would be a million dollars.

It was $25.

Shocked, I glanced around the room, suddenly protective over my find, ready to fight for it if necessary. But the leisurely Saturday shoppers were preoccupied.

So I opened the suitcase again, inspected it again. I closed it and got frustrated with the lock. Then, the latches behaved themselves and the suitcase shut properly. I crouched down and traced the fraying border, then stopped when I made it to the front and saw the name.

name on suitcase

Ann. That was my grandmother’s name.

I drew my hand away, standing quickly. I backed away from the suitcase. I continued to watch the other shoppers closely, but still they took no interest in the suitcase.

I’m not sure why I did it, but I walked off. I wanted to explore the rest of the store, to see if there was something else I liked better. I mean, what the hell did I need a smelly old suitcase for anyway?

I don’t know, but suitcases were all I could think about. The store had several, and I looked at all of them. Remember how I said the first one wasn’t stinky? These others knocked me over.

All the time I was shopping around, I kept my attention on the first suitcase. If anyone made a move, I was ready.

No, silly. There was no secondhand store showdown. I simply returned to the suitcase, opened it yet again, wrestled until I got it to close properly, then I ran my fingers across the name. Finally, I huffed and puffed as I carried it over to the register, secretly wondering if women back then were on to something…the suitcase workout.

The woman at the register saw my triumphant face and smiled back. “This is beautiful,” she said.

“It is.”

“Oh, and look! It has her name on it. Ann.”

I nodded. “It certainly does.”

cat with vintage suitcase

I learned more about Reclaim It, and I was captivated by the story. It’s a non-profit, with a dedicated crew that rescues materials and “junk” from the Metro Transfer Station, so artists and DIYers like yours truly can bring them back to life.

In the end I paid $25 for an old suitcase from the dump, and I was over the moon.

You might be wondering…what are we going to do with Ann? She may become a nightstand, or perhaps become an end table.

But don’t worry, Ann will forever be loved in our little home. She and I were listening to Billie Holiday while I was writing this…I thought she’d like that.

cat fridge

Sweet Fridge Full of Food

fridge with cat

Our idea of shopping doesn’t involve clothing. We spend our money on food.

In this house, we love food. You might say that food is our religion.

The cats feel the same way. Hence the furry huntress up there, curious ears twisted back, framed by the crisper drawers.

We switched to organic food five years ago. Whenever I get into a conversation with someone about my beautiful groceries, they complain about how expensive the good stuff is. Yet they’re wearing the latest trends, drinking their expensive coffee drinks…need I say more?

Food is medicine. It’s the most important thing we put into our bodies. Truly good food will pay for itself, while a shit diet will cost you.

I never understood what food was, how it was made, and where it came from. I lived in the burbs, without a farm in sight.

I grew up with my dad in sunny Southern California—middle class, I suppose. Dad did the best he could with me, in between the full-time job and need for sleep. Sometimes he cooked one of his go-to meals: tuna casserole, spaghetti, chicken and rice, and the occasional luxury…pork chops.

Back then frozen dinners were a thing, so I had a lot of those too. I still remember the Salisbury steak one with the mashed potatoes and gravy—it makes me shudder. Then there was the fast food (eww, I know). I lived for McDonald’s chicken McNuggets with barbecue sauce, and never cared about the toy in my happy meal.

I was always happy to be eating, even though none of it was actual food.

Mr. H on the other hand, grew up in Waterford, Wisconsin. Farmland. He understood what food was, how it was made, and where it came from. He had a big family, and not a lot to go around—so food was a precious commodity.

That never left him.

When we first met each other, we saw eye to eye on so many things, even though we came from completely different places. One of those things was food.

We spent our paychecks on restaurants, but realizing we didn’t make enough to eat out all the time, Mr. H learned to cook. Over the years, he crafted his skills to become one of the best chefs I know. And I’m lucky, because I get him all to myself.

Those of you who follow me on social are forced to see drool-worthy pictures like this occasionally…

homemade pizza

Besides making all of you jealous, what I wanted to share is how I often feel when I look at my fridge.

Whenever life confuses me, when I’ve convinced myself that I want more than I need, I look at my fridge right when I get home from the grocery store. It soothes me. I know that I have more than enough, just by looking at my full fridge.

Mr. H and I get funny when our fridge is empty, toward the end of the week when we’re zapped from working our tails off. We try to make do, grabbing things here and there, but something’s off. If we aren’t surrounded by food, the thing we love so much, we just don’t feel like ourselves.

I’ve been crazy busy at work and with writing—helping grow the marketing agency I work for, while holding down this blog and slaving away on the second draft of my novel.

Somewhere in there, I’m doing my best to live. I started trail running again a little over a month ago, I’ve been amping up my Yoga and meditation practice, and bringing dance back into my routine. And then there are movies and books, good conversations with good people at our neighborhood bars, petting my cats’ bellies and playing laser mouse—and hugging Mr. H tightly whenever I can…because I don’t get to see him enough.

So when I was looking at the fridge the other day, I realized just how damn lucky I was—to have this life and to be fed.

I won’t preach to you all, because it’s not my style. But with the holidays upon us, it’s a good time to realize how immaculate the simple things can be.

For me, that’s seeing a full fridge. For you, that might be something very different.

I know that others in the world don’t have it this good, which is why I try to stop and appreciate. And you bet your asses I’ll be rockin’ the lunch lady look again next month when I volunteer at the Oregon Food Bank with my coworkers.

Because though I have a sweet fridge full of food, there are many who wish they had one.

oregon food bank

hugging the sunset

We are not different. We are alive. Together.

loving life

I was going to wait until later in the week to post the 2nd anniversary video of The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. Due to the uncertainty enveloping so many hearts after the recent attacks in Paris, I couldn’t wait.

If there is ever a time for us to come together, that’s now. One way we can rise above this tragedy is through positivity. And though it cannot undo what has been done, positivity has a way of healing us even when we feel lost.

I began The Life Enthusiast Chronicles on a whim two years ago. I wanted to start a monthly series where people were challenged by a theme that would bring out their truest human nature and exude inspiration.

Life enthusiasm was that theme. Specifically, to answer one question: What makes you enthusiastic about life?

I’ve been told by almost every Life Enthusiast—who are all brilliant writers—that this is one of the hardest things they’ve ever written.

Interesting, isn’t it? That a seemingly simple question can challenge us on such a deep, personal level.

But, it makes sense. How often do we stop to ask that question? If you asked yourself right now, what would you say?

The first year of the Life Enthusiast series opened my eyes to so many possibilities, reminding me (and many of you out there) how much beauty resides in all of us. The second year I noticed something else as another group of people from completely different backgrounds and places came together to answer the same question.

We are not different. No matter our age, our race, our profession, or our language, we share the same human qualities and we share the same sky.

We are alive. Together.

For the one-year anniversary celebration of The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, I used my own voice to speak the wonderful words of each Life Enthusiast. (If you missed that video, it’s right here.)

This year for the anniversary video, the Life Enthusiasts were kind enough to lend me their voices to accompany their words. Though it took some persuasion, everyone (but one) was able to come together to create 3 1/2 minutes of sheer positivity.

In addition to the wonderful people who participated in the first season of The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, here is a loving thank you to all of the beautiful writers who helped make this inspirational series come alive this year.

Zen

Mike

Eden

Jilanne

Eli

Abby

Stan

Julie

Dannie

Kath

Joey
(though dearly missed in the video)

 

laundry cats

How in the Hell Can We Writers Stand Out?

laundry cats

On a cold fall day in Portland recently, my two lazy ass cats were cuddled down in the laundry on the bed. It was fresh out of the dryer…can you blame them?

I was rehearsing the ole “I’m failing as a writer” dramatic play in my head. It’s not my favorite. I’d rather be in a cheeky musical.

Anyway, as usual the cats seemed to be onto something—looking cute, while I was pacing and questioning my creative existence. They’re smarter than us silly humans, they get life.

Being the silly human that I am, I was pondering something that’s been assaulting my writerly mind…everybody’s putting out content.

THESE DAYS…EVERYBODY HAS AN ONLINE PRESENCE

Just this past week I saw two people I know come out with blogs—people I never would have thought of as “writers.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. It’s awesome that they’re taking this leap, expressing their thoughts through writing.

However, this also demonstrates my point. Everyone’s blogging now.

It’s true. I know this from my almost four years of blogging, and my career as a Content Manager at a B2B marketing agency.

We’re experiencing the same conundrum, because every business has a blog. So we have to work diligently within our niche, we have to provide unbeatable value to our audience, and we have to be consistent and tactical.

These are the must-haves of producing content to bring awareness to your brand. I’m only talking about awareness, which is at the very tip-top of the buying cycle. Those people still have a long way to go before they make a decision to buy.

Are you still with me, or did I lose my writer friends with the B2B talk?

The thing is we’re trying to do the exact same thing. We’re trying to build awareness for our author brand. Because like it or not—and believe me, I know how hard it is to self-promote—if we’re trying to sell something (like our books)…we’re running a business.

You know, sometimes you think a blog post is going to rock and it bombs. Other times a post takes off and you’re staring at your ridiculously high stats, wondering if WordPress is malfunctioning.

I had this happen with my post, 10 Years of Marriage…We Never Saw it Coming.

britt and hugh

It was my best post ever, with over 500 views in one day. Somehow it was a massive hit on Facebook.

Hey, for my little blog, that was a big deal. Did the extra attention on my blog achieve any book sales? A few people checked me out—my About page and my book links. I got one new follower on my blog, and nobody bought a single book.

Will someone buy a book after finding you from one blog post? Probably not.

Writers, dry your eyes.

I once used to think that a viral blog post would help launch my writing career too. At the very least, I figured I would see an increase in blog subscribers—a little bump in my social media followers perhaps?

Nope. People just swooped in and swooped out.

So, back to our business talk for a moment.

All of these blogging and social media tactics serve as touch points. That wildly successful blog post was just one touch—to my existing readers and new readers. But one touch point with a customer or buyer rarely leads to a sale, if ever.

Think about the research you habitually do before you buy something. Unless you’re an impulse shopper, you think about a product before you make a decision. Depending on the cost and need, that might be a few days, weeks, months—maybe years.

You can say what you want about social media, but it’s a golden opportunity to make connections with people. Every conversation is a touch point.

Just this morning I found out on Twitter that my good friend, Carrie Rubin, ended up on BuzzFeed. This is ridiculously awesome exposure, because as we all know, their audience is well up in the millions. That’s right…millions.

How did she get through the almighty BuzzFeed door? A single tweet.

barnes and noble buzzfeedSure, it was BuzzFeed’s usual click-bait genius in a piece called 23 Secrets Barnes and Noble Employees Will Never Tell You.

But my girl Carrie got a nice little spot on the page, with an amazing opportunity to grow her Twitter audience through that cute little follow button in the embedded Tweet.

This is great exposure for Carrie, especially because her latest book, Eating Bull, is releasing soon. So rather than just checking out the BuzzFeed piece, head on over to Amazon to preorder Carrie’s magnificent new release.

Because we all know that running a creative business is that much harder. And for us hard-working authors, the brutal truth is…nobody needs more books.

THESE DAYS…EVERYBODY HAS A BOOK

Three years ago was a different story for indie authors too. Because another thing everyone’s doing? They’re self-publishing.

It was bizarre to see the book release performances for my first book, Beneath the Satin Gloves, and my third book.

Way back then I had just started my blog and had a small but lovely handful of followers. My social media channels mainly consisted of family, friends, and pornographic spammers. Last year when Nola Fran Evie came out, I had a much bigger following.

Guess what, kiddos? My first book release somehow did better than my third book. Yep, back when I had just started my online presence…back when I was a nobody.

I came up with the following theories:

  1. More of my family and friends purchased my first book. By the time my third came out, the excitement and curiosity about me coming out as a writer had fizzled out.
  2. Subject matter. Beneath the Satin Gloves was a WWII spy novel with a time travel element, while Nola Fran Evie (though a more solid work, in my opinion) was about social issues in the 1950s and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—a feel-good book where nobody was killed.

Nola Fran Evie Cover Large

What I really think happened? More noise. More competition. Everyone’s moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and dogs are coming out with books.

Again, I love seeing people expressing themselves artistically—taking a risk, sharing their story.

But, where does that leave us? The writers trying to make it out there. The indie/small-time authors throwing every ounce of creativity into their books, while holding down blogs and social channels to feed the marketing cog.

I’ve been a fan of Kristen Lamb’s blog for some time. A post from a couple of months back stayed with me, Why Our Author Brand is More Important Than Ever, in which Kristen said this about author branding:

In a marketplace with fewer and fewer points of sale with more competition than ever in human history, how do we sell books?

We have to create a brand.

We live in a time where we have more choices than ever. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a Love-Hate relationship with Central Market. Granted, it is AWESOME. Central Market is such a cool grocery store that tourists actually visit. Every aisle is a foodie’s dream. They don’t just have “olive oil”, they have 700 varieties of an olive oil “experience”.

So, how in the hell can we writers stand out?

I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t.

Like many of you, I work hard. As a one-woman show, I do my best to create quality content. Does everyone like my shit? Of course not. Does everyone understand my shit? Probably not.

As trivial as it sounds, all we can do is keep going. I’ve said this many times, but I’ll keep saying it because it’s so important. Do it for the love.

When you write a blog post, don’t worry about its success—number of shares, views, likes. Write what you want to write from a beautiful place inside, then release it into the world.

When you write a novel, don’t worry about its success—number of units, sales, dollars. Write what you want to write, not what you think others want to read.

Remember when the vampire and zombie thing was super popular? Somebody, who shall remain nameless, said I should write a book about these creepy things. I explained to them that I had no desire to hang out with blood-sucking, boil-faced creatures in my mind.

Because when you write a novel, it’s a commitment like nothing else. The amount of time you spend in this fictitious world can take a toll on your sanity. You live in that world, become the characters and wear their clothes. You can taste, smell, and touch the words on the pages.

Maybe I’d be a full-time author had I took that person’s advice, but I guarantee I would have ended up in a loony bin. So, I continue doing it for the love. I write what I want to write.

That’s the best intention to hold close to your heart in this noisy world where everybody’s churning out content.

yoga with pets

What a Gardener Taught Me About Letting Go

I’ve lived in condos and apartments all my life, so I’ve never had my own garden. But the properties I lived at required upkeep, and on Fridays, the strident music of machines and the pungent smell of freshly cut grass would invade my open windows.

I have great respect for those who can care for the earth in such a way that it responds. I was thinking about this the other day when I was walking down the happening street in my neighborhood. Two women were pulling weeds out of the sweet urban garden in front of a Yoga studio, expertly yanking this and that to cultivate life.

There were two stories I was obsessed with growing up, and they both involved gardens.

the secret garden hardcover

As a little girl, I used to save my allowance and lunch money (yes, by going hungry) so I could go to the mall. I usually made a beeline for the bookstore, and one day, a gorgeous hardcover of The Secret Garden was perched on top of a shelf.

I happily spent all of my money on it. And I read it over and over again, never tiring of the magical story.

Then, there was the movie Edward Scissorhands. My grandmother was actually an Avon lady, so it was entertaining to see the way they weaved that comedic occupation into the storyline.

However, I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t create art the way Edward Scissorhands did with the shrubs and trees. I still don’t. Imagine how incredible it would be to walk down a street with green unicorns, dinosaurs, giraffes, swans, and children inhabiting every yard.

I guess it all comes down to losing our sense of awe as we get older. Whimsical things are pushed aside, and the acceptable “adult” things take precedence. Because the guy with the shrub safari in his front yard would be pretty ballsy, am I right?

I’m not over-the-hill in my thirties, I understand this. What’s tricky about your thirties is that you’re an adult now. When you’re in your twenties, you don’t know what the hell’s going on, but you play along and pretend you’re figuring things out even when you’re lost as shit.

In your thirties, hopefully you somewhat have your shit together—in a place that makes you sing, on a career path that challenges you, surrounded by genuine people you want to continue investing your time in.

But, what about the awe? Do you still have it? Or, did you lose it along the way?

Often I feel like I’m struggling to hold onto it, to continue marveling at life when the days keep flying by, faster and faster. I try to slow it down, I try to stop and notice. Somehow it’s alarmingly easy to go with it—and suddenly you realize a year has passed. A year.

So, one Friday this summer me and Mr. H took a sanity day to hang out around the house and just be. I was determined to do a 90-minute Yoga class, something I rarely have time for as I’m squeezing in 30-60 minute classes throughout my hectic week.

I had just started my practice, and I was centering myself. Then, wouldn’t you know it?

The gardening equipment struck up in our courtyard, a symphony of shrill that—despite my serene start—pissed me right off.

It was Friday. I’m never home on Fridays. And just like every other apartment I’ve lived in, Fridays are gardening day.

I live in the city, so getting bent out of shape over any noise when meditating or practicing Yoga is silly, I know. It’s a control thing. I have this time that I want things to be a certain way, quiet and peaceful, because I’m trying to de-stress, dammit!

But that Friday, it was gardening day.

I had two choices. I could give up my Yoga practice, try again when the coveted quiet, peaceful setting was more attainable. Or, I could get over it, and continue with the racket outside my window.

I decided on choice #2. I thought it was perfect actually, because it complemented the past month of craziness I had experienced in my life, especially at work—the struggle to remain calm in the chaos.

So, I worked with it. Every time my irritation rose, I breathed deeper. Every time I wanted to give up, I kept moving.

Because at the end of the day, there is very little we can control. Rather than getting upset, we can find the correlation between the emotional instigator and a tough situation in our lives.

I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. Once you begin to recognize this, believe it or not, life gets easier.

yoga hip opener

Lizard Pose

Anyway about halfway through my practice, I was in one of the Yoga poses I truly struggle with…Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose).

I know what you’re thinking.

I’m a Yogi, I’m not supposed to hate. Well I kinda hate this mofo pose, because it’s one of the most evil hip openers out there. The heat rises within me and I want to run away from my mat, never to return.

Lizard Pose took a strange turn this time. When I looked up, cursing under my breath with a cat on my back, there was the gardener—standing in front of my window with his leaf blower.

Do you know what the guy did? He smiled at me and waved.

I did the same, somewhat awkwardly as you can imagine.

Then, he went on his way.

I laughed. I laughed at myself, at my ridiculous attitude. The carefree gardener was like, “Hey, this is kinda weird but kinda awesome.”

And, he was right.

beach ballet

Sunset Moment

I love the word moment. I love every part of it—the way it looks and the way it sounds, how its meaning is crystal clear.

It’s now. It’s a flash of beauty that sears your mind forever, because it’s so damn special you can’t help but notice it.

Nothing else can compete with a moment.

This was a moment Mr. H and I shared together last week when we stayed at the Oregon Coast. We were spoiled, with the ocean in our front yard and 60 degree, sunny October days.

I brought my laptop with me, but I never opened it. I read, but not as much as I thought, as I was distracted by the view.

Every evening started the same way, sitting on driftwood in the sand, a front row seat at the Pacific Ocean theater.

There was nobody around. We had beer and a sunset.

And, we had a moment of…

AWE

watching the sunset

HUMBLENESS

oregon coast sunset

POSSIBILITY

pacific ocean sunset

AWAKENING

october sunset

IMAGINATION

dancing on the beach

RELEASE

ballet on the beach

SURRENDER

beach sunset

CONNECTION

dance on the beach

PURITY

dancing at sunset

FREEDOM

sunset dance

MINDFULNESS

walking on the beach

Huge thanks to Mr. H for manning the cam with his usual brilliance.

And believe it or not, we didn’t touch these photos. There are no effects, just moments.

Do you guys have a sunset moment fave?

dog in the snow

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Joey

Last month Eli Pacheco showed us the beauty of enthusiasm meeting life through creativity, family, and dreams. In my monthly series, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, lovely humans from all over the world remind us how awesome life can be.

This week I’m super excited to feature the wonderful Joey Mottern of Joeyfully Stated, who is visiting us from Indianapolis. Oh, man…I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Joey’s blog, but I’m so glad I did. Her writing is full of sass and heart, speaking to the wonders hidden inside what most of us think as the ushe (the usual, for my non-American friends).

Through domestic trials and tribulations, insights gained from being deep in the trenches of life, Joey brings humor and intellect to her experiences. We’re the lucky ones she lets tag along while she’s on her Life Enthusiast journey.

Connect with Joey on Twitter.