havana laundry

Havana: Uncensored and Beautifully Raw

A place frozen in time—that’s what everyone says about Havana. You hear stories and see images of gorgeous classic cars in pristine condition, attractive people who embody warmth and depth, and decaying buildings that were once incredibly grand.

That still doesn’t prepare you for any of it.

The first night we had dinner at Henky’s, a neighborhood restaurant in Habana Vieja, we felt like we were in a dream. Old cars rolled by like it was no big deal, adding to the casual magic that reminds you: “You’re in a place unlike any other. You’re in Havana.”

havana art

“Both for Havana’s beauty and decay, it’s very hard to restrain yourself from staring everywhere you look.” – Brin-Jonathan Butler

This was the farthest I have ever felt from home. I say “felt” because I have been further away geographically.

Experiencing Havana was so different from what I knew—what I thought I knew about the place and its people, and what I thought I knew about my life and myself.

A Digital Detox Not for the Faint of Heart

There are few places we can travel to in the world anymore where there isn’t the “convenience” of WiFi.

Before we arrived in Havana, we visited Mexico City and Holbox Island. We were still very connected in both places—less so in Holbox, a remote island off the Yucatan Peninsula. But we still had internet access when we needed it…actually, it was more like when the island gods decided to allow an hour or two of WiFi when it suited them.

The appeal of destinations where the WiFi sucks—or is nonexistent—is becoming more popular for adventure travelers who truly want to disconnect. It’s understandable with how dependent we’ve all become, addicted to instant gratification behind a screen.

havana tourism

How long will WiFi-free places be around? Probably not too much longer. Even in Cuba.

Many of the people we talked to are more than ready for the very thing we’re all running away from, WiFi. Many of them have Facebook accounts that they access when they can. They want to be more connected with the rest of the world, they want to learn more and find new opportunities in life.

For those who visit Cuba before that day comes, this is a legit digtal detox. Even if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants type, you’ll want to plan out a few things before you get there.

classic car ride

We didn’t do a lot of planning beforehand, but thankfully our neighbor at our casa had a guide book. We borrowed it and quickly took pictures of addresses and activities.

When we left Cuba, we didn’t know whether or not our flight was departing on time because we couldn’t check. We hopped in a classic car taxi, went to the airport, and hoped for the best. When was the last time you had that kind of faith in the airlines? Exactly.

Let Go of What You Call Convenient

I’m not usually a practical travel tips kind of writer, but I will give you some right now because visiting Cuba is a unique adventure. The first thing you need to get in your head is this: Let go.

Already, you won’t have your smartphone conveniences. But, there are many others. Americans, you won’t be able to use your credit or debit cards, which means you have to take out enough cash to last during your trip. While there are ways to get cash, the fees are terrible.

There are two kinds of currencies in Cuba: the CUP for locals and the CUC for tourists. The CUC was 1:1 with the US dollar when we went. Meaning, Havana was not a cheap date. We did our best to budget for the four nights we were there, but taxis were expensive and prices were inconsistent everywhere.

havana cars

We paid $20 for a teeny-tiny pizza from a window when we were desperate. This was definitely a tourist price, since prices were not listed and the line was full of locals. Expect to pay more as a tourist, even if you can speak Spanish.

Everyone is trying to make a buck, however they can. Being that you might spend $10 for a hair dryer back home and they have to spend four times as much for that same appliance, you can begin to understand where they’re coming from.

laundry in havana

Toilets flush, for the most part. We had a good system going on in our casa, with water bottles by the sink to fill the tank. By the evening, the water tanks were low and you had to get crafty.

So, yeah. Things will not be like they are back home, or in most westernized places you have visited. If you’re going to a place like Havana, clearly you don’t want things to be like that anyway. So, don’t try to make Cuba something it isn’t.

Settling Into the Havana Rhythm

Once you get past the creature comforts shell-shock, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when you start to settle into the rhythm of Havana.

There is music and dancing everywhere—inside the cafe, outside the cafe, by a park bench, inside a crumbling building, in the middle of the street. People sing on their way to the market, or for no reason at all.

music in havana

You realize how much of that is probably missing wherever you’re from…the joy of singing and moving. You also start to realize that maybe you don’t have as much as you thought you did. There are people “with less” in Havana who—in many ways—have plenty.

There were startling moments when I realized I was the one with less. Less celebration, less music and movement.

It felt good to change that with salsa lessons from Lianne, who owned the casa we stayed in with her Dutch husband, Patrick. She and her partner are professional salsa dancers who run a dance school and give lessons on the casa rooftop.

This was the first time Mr. H and I had ever taken a formal dance class together. We had a slight language barrier with the instructors, but once we got into the lesson we learned and laughed in no time. Salsa lessons on a rooftop in Havana—not too shabby, right?

The structural reinforcements you see on the roof were in place because of the neighboring building. The beauty of the crumbling architecture we all marvel at in Havana comes at a price.

The people there do need our help. When you visit, it’s a good idea to donate anything you can. If you’re an American citizen traveling to Cuba, donations might be one of the reasons you have for entering the country.

We went as travel writers, but we left toiletries and clothing behind…including the skirt I wore when we took our salsa lessons. I’d had it for years, but it would always be the rooftop salsa skirt forever after. The skirt belonged to Havana now.

Lovely People You Might Get to Meet

I say you might get to meet them, because it depends on how you decide to experience Havana. If you stay at a hotel that caters to tourists or if you take too many tours, you will likely miss out on meeting locals.

The tendency for people visiting Havana is to play it safe, because of the aforementioned inconveniences and the great unknown with what to expect in Cuba.

First, I will tell you that the city is very safe. We were told that the government has strict laws in place to protect tourists—safe for tourism equals economy boost.

henkys havana

The two restaurants we frequented, Henky’s and Crêperie Oasis Nelva, had excellent food. Mainly we went to both places because of the service. The bartenders, chefs, and servers were friends by the end of our trip.

havana creperie

To put it into perspective, we were only there for five days. Do you make friends with people at restaurants at home so quickly? Um, neither do we.

Casas are cropping up all over the city, and they are a great way to have a genuine experience, and meet locals and fellow adventure travelers. Bonus: many casas are on AirBnB, so you can scoot around the credit card issue by paying in full through their platform before you arrive.

havana family

We felt like part of the family at the casa we stayed at, and I can’t recommend Lianne and Patrick’s place enough. Situated right in the heart of Habana Vieja, there is a friendly staff, picturesque balconies, and air-conditioning—which you will probably need.

Of course, a welcoming attitude toward tourists doesn’t happen everywhere, with everyone. It just depends on the experience you’re going for. Smiling, trying some Spanish, and showing gratitude go a long way here.

Do Things and Don’t Do Anything

You can’t talk about Havana without talking about Hemingway. I’m a writer, so I paid my respects to Mr. Hemingway by trying two of his preferred drinks at his preferred bars, a daiquiri at El Floridita and a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio.

hemingway bar

I also visited his home, Finca Vigia. My real reason for going there was because he first bought the house when he was married to Martha Gellhorn, the first female war correspondent and one of my longtime heroes. (You can read about that obsession right here.)

Other than the Hemingway pilgrimages, we had no plans for things to do. Luckily Havana is one of the most captivating places in the world, so you can truly wander and enjoy and not “do” anything.

A stroll along El Malecon, the endless boardwalk along the port, is a must.

havana buildings

As is getting lost among the stunning, tragic architecture and stumbling upon art you won’t find in the guide books.

havana graffiti

I’ll never forget the day we got stranded in a torrential downpour and took shelter at a restaurant patio on the Port of Havana. We sat there for hours, watching these troublemakers dive off the pier over and over. The owner of a nearby store kept chasing them off. They would return a few minutes later and carry on with the fun.

Of all the amazing moments I had in Havana, this very simple one stands out to me. These children captured the Cuban spirit, with their carefree energy in the diesel-scented rain. It was so free and beautiful.

Havana really moved me. It reminded me that I need to live with more abandon, to move more to music, and to infuse more joy into the ordinary.

The city may change one day—become westernized, commercialized, neutralized. Until then, the experience is there for the taking if you’re ready to change something inside yourself.

For more on Havana, stop by Intrepid Travel to read a piece that is very special to me…

A Love Letter to Havana, A City That Taught Me So Much

strolling el malecon

kissing in cinque terre

Look at Life and Love Instead of Your Phone

My heart warmed when I saw them from a distance. I was on my weekly run through the city when I spotted the couple holding each other by a stoplight at a busy intersection. They were young and in love—it was only them and nothing else existed.

As I approached them, the gap closing quickly between us as I ran, the warmth slipped away. My eyes had played tricks on me. Despite the sunshine beating against my sweaty skin, I shivered.

They weren’t holding each other. They were looking at their phones.

From a distance, the beautiful illusion seemed so real. The couple was positioned in such a way that they could have been wrapped in each other’s arms. He faced her and she faced him. But instead of looking into each other’s eyes, or her head resting against his chest, they were devoted to the powerful screens they held tenderly in their hands.

I ran past them, and I could feel the emptiness that shouldn’t have been there. Tears flooded my eyes and I picked up my pace to pound the image away. But, it wouldn’t go away.

“The typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day.” – Baylor University Research

That was when I realized how incredibly profound that moment was. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a couple showing affection—it was happening less and less every year…hell, every day.

When I first moved to Portland, it reminded me of the first time I visited Paris way back in 2004—long before smartphones had taken over. For whatever reason, there are many couples here.

As a writer, sometimes I wonder if I’m being observant or theatric with these realizations in life, but I had several single friends confirm this to be true. They struggled to find a mate, because so many were already taken.

I grew accustomed to couples kissing and hugging each other in public. Springtime was especially ridiculous, with the constant ass-grabbing and ear-nibbling. I used to get annoyed with couples hiking too slowly in front of me while I was trying to workout, because they were so wrapped up in each other.

Now I don’t see it at all. I see affection for our phones instead of each other.

Some of you may remember my obsession with the bench at Pittock Mansion, which I called the Lovers Bench, and wrote several posts about two years ago. The bench made such an impact on me that it even weaseled its way into the dystopian novel I’ll be finishing very soon.

For those who aren’t familiar, there is a bench with professions of love carved into the wood at one of Portland’s most gorgeous city viewpoints. The first Lovers Bench was removed and I contacted Portland Parks & Rec to get to the bottom of it. (Yes, I will get this batshit crazy over something I care about…even when it’s rotting, vandalized wood.)

The Lovers Bench was in bad shape and they replaced the boards, much to my dismay. I was upset that the carvings were gone forever, but soon more carvings began to appear on the new bench.

Sadly, they have appeared much slower than before. Every time I visit the bench I look for them, and there aren’t very many.

lovers bench

I took a shot of this couple back in 2015 when I was completely obsessed with Lovers Bench, which they are sitting on here. What would they be doing now if they were sitting on that bench? Would they hold each other while enjoying the view? I’m afraid they wouldn’t, and they would stare at their phones.

What about the couple I passed on my run? Two years ago, they might have held each other—or at least looked at each other while talking.

What about this older couple I captured in Milwaukee in 2012?

old couple on bench

Or, these two at a San Diego beach that same year?

beach couple

What about these newlyweds in Rome last summer?

rome wedding

This dancing couple on Holbox Island in Mexico a few months ago?

salsa on the beach

What about us?

holbox island at sunset

It makes me sad, but it also makes me aware of what I’m doing when I’m around my husband and other people.

We can all make a better effort to use our phones responsibly. There are countless articles out there with tips on how to be more present by putting our phones away. You can work with your partner, like Mr. H and I do, and commit to some ground rules—like no phones while eating, on Sundays, whatever.

We have the power to connect with others like we used to, but it takes awareness that so many of us have lost inside our screened worlds. You know our society is facing an epidemic when a kitschy term comes along.

“70% said that phubbing hurt their ability to interact with their romantic partners.” – Baylor University Research

Phubbing combines “phone” and “snubbing” to describe the social phenomenon so many of us know intimately today—when a conversation or moment is interrupted because someone chooses to pay attention to their phone instead of the life that’s happening in front of them.

Nothing is as important as each other. I think we humans all know this, even still. But we’re losing sight of it so quickly. There is no doubt that the technological wonders we hold in our hands—these smart devices that are supposed to connect us—have become the barriers that now separate us.

There is a time and a place for using technology to our advantage. I’ve certainly connected with many incredible people I would have never met otherwise, and I’ve stayed in touch with people I rarely get to see.

I’ve spent plenty of hours in the screened vortex to know that real experiences are unbeatable. You won’t miss out if you ignore your phone from time to time. But if you ignore the life and people right in front of you, you will miss out.

history travel

Frida and Gellhorn: Walking Beside Two Beautifully Heroic Women

I’ve never bought four one-way tickets before in my life. But, that’s what it took to go on a special journey, one where I could walk in the same place as two beautifully heroic women I will never have the chance to meet.

Once I decided I was going to meet my long-time blogger friend Julie in Holbox Island (aka off-the-beaten path paradise), I thought: We’re already traveling to Mexico, we might as well see two other places at the top of our travel list.

fincia vigia view

mexico city adventures

Mr. H had different reasons for wanting to experience Mexico City and Cuba in the flesh. Like him, I’m a huge fan of food, culture, architecture, and art. The truth is—as most of you know—I’m a big nerd. A history travel nerd.

You know you’re a history travel nerd if you go somewhere in the world because of your obsession with a person, place, or event that occurred in the past. Everything else, while important and wonderful, is secondary to your inner nerd calling the shots.

That’s what makes you come up with a travel budget, no matter how difficult. That’s what makes you take off from work, no matter how difficult. You don’t care, because you want the chance to walk in the same place where that history happened—just so you can be a part of it.

cuba taxi scenery

I focus on history travel destinations most of the time. Traveling to a place without a lot of history isn’t appealing to me, so I tend to skip it.

That’s one of the main reasons I prefer to travel outside the U.S. That isn’t to say there isn’t any American history, but there are two notable hiccups for history lovers.

  1. It’s a young country. No ancient ruins here.
  2. The history we do have isn’t preserved. Courtesy of a new high-rise.

mexico city museum
There is plenty of rich history to dazzle anyone like me in Mexico City and Cuba. But the reason I’ve been so fascinated with both places is because of two women I have looked up to for many years.

Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist as she preferred to be known (Diego Rivera’s third wife as she preferred not to be known). Martha Gellhorn, the first female war correspondent as she preferred to be known (Ernest Hemingway’s third wife as she preferred not to be known).

Along with being a history nerd, I also love stories about strong women who left their mark, showing they were just as good as the boys…that sort of thing.

Every book I’ve written so far has a ball-busting, intelligent woman playing the main character. I never tire of it, and regardless of the genre-bending work I write, the common thread will always be a strong female character.

diego mural

Yogi salute to the great Diego Rivera.

hemingway typewriter

Hemingway used to stand at his typewriter when he worked.

Though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are so different, I see commonalities far beyond being the third wives of famous, brilliant men.

They were both famous and brilliant in their own right. They had this unstoppable drive for experiencing more than what was right in front of them, and that drive took them to places around the world and inside their imaginations that inspired them on their individual paths.

They made an impact on people all over the world—and still do to this day. And though they were only born a year apart, I’m pretty sure Martha and Frida never met in real life.

hemingway's house cuba

frida museum

Naturally, I went to Frida’s house, La Casa Azúl, and Gellhorn’s house (aka Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigía), which are crazy popular tourist destinations.

However, I visited what can easily be called tourist traps with intentions that ran deeper.

frida and me

frida painting

There is something so incredibly fascinating about how places shape certain people, whether famous historical figures or not.

To enjoy an espresso at the same cafe they went to, or drive on a street they traveled regularly—it brings you closer to them somehow. And to see their homes is such an intimate glimpse into their lives.

martha gellhorn cuba

gellhorn war correspondent

So, it was nothing short of magical to walk in the footsteps of these women and feel a bit of their spirit breathing inside the walls, furniture, and clothing.

You see their sanctuary where they worked and slept, where they swam and ate.

walking around gellhorn's house

frida's house entrance

Even though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are gone, they live on. I’m so happy I had the chance to see their homes and walk beside their courageous spirits.

And to rediscover as I usually do during my travels that no matter how different we may think we are from each other, we are often the same.

“I didn’t write. I just wandered about.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I put on the canvas whatever comes into my mind.” – Frida Kahlo

“What the trees can do handsomely—greening and flowering, fading and then the falling of leaves—human beings cannot do with dignity, let alone without pain.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint flowers so they will not die.” – Frida Kahlo

“I tell you loneliness is the thing to master. Courage and fear, love, death are only parts of it and can easily be ruled afterwards.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” – Frida Kahlo

“Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” – Frida Kahlo

“It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.” – Martha Gellhorn
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

havana balcony
Are you a travel history nerd? Tell me about a place you went to for its amazing history.

alma bar

So Many Beautiful Places, Only So Many Beautiful People

There are many beautiful places to see around the world, but there are only so many beautiful people we get to see in our lifetime. When work, schedules, budget, and travel arrangements are involved, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

sunrise on holbox

But when we decide to make it happen, the reward is truly incredible. I know, because last month I trekked out to a remote island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to meet a blogger I’d been friends with online for years.

It was just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Kidding…it was a plane ride, followed by a 2.5-hour bus ride on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, then a half-hour ferry ride to get to the island.

holbox ferry

And because the universe has a twisted sense of humor, this California girl gets seasick.

On bumpy two-lane roads when the van driver thinks she’s in the Daytona 500, I close my eyes and pray…and I also get carsick. As you can imagine vividly, I was a right mess on that ferry to Holbox Island—like a sweaty ghost.

ferry seasick

Thankfully the boat ride was only a half hour, and Mr. H was gentlemanly enough not to document my misery too much. Misery that was heightened by the island music playing on the boat, which had a completely different effect on the healthy riders having the time of their life as they slathered on sunscreen and drank beer.

Once I got to dry land, I felt better. Scratch that—after I downed a gallon of water, swam in the pool, took a cold shower—and ate fish tacos I felt better.

What really worked was seeing this one’s face…Julie of Les Petits Pas de Juls. (featured image above…credit: Julie)

les petits pas de juls

A lot of you already know Julie—you follow her travel photography blog and/or you caught her awe-inspiring Life Enthusiast post here. Julie is just one of those strong, beautiful beings you want to know.

She’s a world traveler many times over on a constant crusade to help the environment. The cool thing is that she shares her experience and encourages us all to do the same, to see more of the world and to do our part to save it before it’s gone.

mexico palm trees

Being Portlanders, Mr. H and I do a pretty damn good job with environmental consciousness. But we aren’t anywhere on the same level as Julie. We were joking that there would probably be a friendly pinch or slap from her when we botched up our earth-loving duties with some sort of plastic misstep.

No abuse happened while we were there (because she’s a sweetheart), but we did get the evil eye when we ordered bottles of water at dinner. Rightfully so, since we had our reusable water bottles in our hotel that we could have toted along with us.

“It is the nature of the strong heart, that like the palm tree it strives ever upwards when it is most burdened.” – Philip Sidney

Naturally, I had to capture these environmental crusade moments when I could—like this one, when Julie marched toward the shore to retrieve a cocktail glass. “Hang on,” I said. “Let me get a shot of you saving the world!”

beach litter

Her husband had a good laugh with us, because he witnesses these small, heroic gestures often. But, this is Julie…the one we all know and love. She’s the person she says she is…take it, or leave it…I’ll take it.

You’d be surprised how much waste there is in paradise. The main culprit? Straws.

Really, it’s booze in general, with vacationers getting too lax and leaving glasses, bottles, and cups wherever they please. But, it’s also the restaurants using plastic cutlery, paper plates, etc…and more straws.

We began refusing straws, just because…

mexican michelada

Do we really need a plastic straw to go with our plastic bottle of water? Ask Julie, she’ll tell you the answer to that one.

pox

Julie and her husband, Raul, run a great, quaint bar on the island. Mal de Amores is plastic-free and proud.

Their answer to straws are reusable crystal or stainless steel options that allow you to stir things up without killing the planet. (see above…and yes, we received two crystal straws immediately from Julie as gifts, which we have put to good use.)

beach bar

It’s great to see people like Julie and Raul sampling the island life at this point in their lives, coming together to operate a beach bar that’s enjoyable for people while being environmentally responsible. I respect that.

americans in holbox

When they first opened the bar earlier this year, Julie said we should come down from Portland. At first the whole “I wish I could, but I can’t” song entered my mind.

Then, I thought…why in the hell am I turning down an opportunity to see a longtime friend and off-the-beaten path paradise?

las tortugas

So, Mr. H and I made it happen. We also decided to bookend the trip with a stop in Mexico City and Cuba, because also…why the hell not? (More on these places later!)

Holbox Island was the R&R segment in the middle of the trip. When I stumbled off the boat as a sweaty ghost, earlier that day was an interesting standby battle at Juarez Airport after several days navigating the magical chaos that is Mexico City. I couldn’t imagine another flight four days later to Havana, and wondered if my pampered American white ass would even make it to that leg.

But, Holbox Island has a way of healing you. Ve más despacio…Slow down, it said.

hammock reading

Have a drink or two, lay in a hammock, read your book, eat tacos and fresh guacamole, listen to the waves, laugh with your friends, kiss your husband’s salty lips, swim with the fish, burrow your toes into the hot sand until you find the cool part beneath the surface. Just be.

Okay, fine…

chilling on the beach

Have it your way…

holbox island at sunset

You win, this time…

hammock in the pool

There are a lot of beaches to choose from in Mexico, and most of us Americans choose the usual: Cabo, Cancun, Cozumel. Previously we had been to Playa del Carmen, which is more popular with European tourists.

But Holbox?

holbox brunch

People don’t know about it. Hell, people don’t know how to say it and my phone kept autocorrecting to “Hotbox” (teehee!). For my friends who don’t smoke weed and/or aren’t from the West Coast, here is hotbox…defined. (Remember…you’ll always learn useful shit on this blog.)

By the way, it’s pronounced Hol-bosh.

salsa on the beach

It’s more of a beach destination for Mexicans. Europeans are catching on a bit, along with a handful of Americans. There are no cars on Holbox—after the traffic insanity in Mexico City, this was a refreshing sight to see.

People get around “quickly” on the sandy roads with four-wheelers, golf cart taxis, and bicycles. Most walk, barefoot. The staff at restaurants and hotels don’t bother with shoes, and after acclimating to the pace, you swear off your sandals eventually too.

sunset in mexico

Holbox Island is raw and gorgeous.

It’s an island, sure. But there’s something about the vibe that is unique, pure, and captivating. It’s one of those places you hope will stay that way forever, and it’s one of those places you never think you’ll end up in.

Opportunity came with the chance to meet Julie, and I’m so glad we made it happen. I’ve met two bloggers now in person, and I’m happy to say that the friends we make here in this blogosphere space are legit.

friends with bloggers

I’m not sure what it is that makes the bloggers I know such genuine people—if it’s the words we all share from our souls, or what. I’m happy to know so many of you, and I hope to meet you some day.

nature enjoyment

Stop and See

I was on my usual power hike through Forest Park on Saturday. I caught up with my sister on the phone on the way up to the view on top of the hill. It was a lovely conversation, one that ended with a pep talk to each other…a reminder to take the time we need for ourselves.

My sister is a mother of four. While I don’t have kids, I’ve gone through quite a few changes these past months that I didn’t know were coming. And, it has made the time both challenging and wonderful.

husband and wife company

After many years of trying to figure this out, Mr. H and I finally started our own business together. It’s called Superneat Marketing. Some people crack a smile at the name and others roll their eyes. But, like any business, there is a reason we came up with that name.

Neatness has been in our family for a long time. When we make a toast, it’s: “To neatness.”

It’s pretty much the highest compliment you can get in our house—if someone is having a bad day or you want to tell them how much you love them, we say to each other: “Well, I think you’re superneat.”

superneat marketing

Already our clients are using the term and we love that. But more than anything we love helping these awesome small businesses grow, because they are often the underserved population with marketing consultants and agencies.

It’s very rad to help them out, and it’s superneat working side-by-side with Mr. H.

moving is tough

The other cuckoo thing that happened as we were launching our website…we moved. In two weeks. Mr. H and I were crawling all over each other in the glorified studio we lived in for three years, so it was time for a much needed upgrade.

As you may have heard, rents in Portland have been pretty outrageous with the population explosion. We decided to be smart about it—especially with the mega life changes already happening—and worked with our apartment building to transfer units.

balcony wine

We had to hustle to get an upgrade deal that wouldn’t do us in, hence the two weeks. And even though it was only a move down the hall, up one floor, and down another hall…it was still a move.

But, the cats are good and we’re good. Plus…balcony and a happy marriage!

backbend with cat

After a three-year hiatus, I started teaching yoga again. I’m sticking with subbing for now and taking it slow. I found an amazing studio here in Portland called The People’s Yoga. Their mission is to offer yoga to everybody, regardless of economic barriers. I dig it and I’m very proud to teach there.

Lastly, I’ve been writing A LOT for other publications.

I became a regular contributor for ClearVoice, which is an awesome place for me to nerd out on content. My writer friends will find this interview with Kristen Lamb interesting, Humans Are Wired to Remember the Story.

I also started realizing a dream of mine of becoming a travel writer. What started with several millennial-esque travel blogs on VIVA Lifestyle & Travel morphed into opportunities at Intrepid Travel. They value sustainable travel culturally and environmentally—very much Britt’s speed.

intrepid travel writer

I remember writing my first piece on a Sunday, and it was a toughie that was all about the power of a ban to make a positive impact. I had to do a lot of research about animal rights and pretty much cried through the entire piece.

But, I felt honored to write about such an important topic and it was beyond cool to see it shared widely on social.

bar silhouette

Phew!

This morning as I’m sitting here in my robe before work, I feel like it’s a damn miracle that I’m even writing a blog post. It got so hard to do this, something that used to be so simple.

As many of you longtime bloggers can understand, sometimes you hit a wall. Not writer’s block, it’s more like being blocked by life.

I always say you have to be in a very specific state of mind to do this thing called writing. You don’t have to be on cloud nine or anything, but you have to at least be able to free yourself from distractions long enough to sit your ass in the chair and throw down some words.

When life changes? That adds a very thick layer you have to push through.

I was recently talking to my good blogger friend (and kindred spirit), Julie of Les Petits Pas de Juls, on WhatsApp. She asked me how my book was going and I said…slowly. But, I’m thankful it’s still going in some form.

I told her I had been writing so much for other people that I was struggling to write for myself. And, I’m hoping to make more time after I clear my head on a rad trip we have coming up next week.

blogging friends

Last year I vowed to meet more bloggers in person, and I was fortunate to meet Jilanne in San Francisco. Next I’m thrilled to see Julie, who runs a beach bar with her husband on Holbox Island.

“Slow” is the word there, and I love that. Because “fast” has been too much of a word for me lately. I’m looking forward to hanging with Julie and allowing her to remind me of the sweeter, beautiful things I’ve been glossing over too much in life.

We decided to bookend the trip to see Julie with two places Mr. H and I have dreamed about…Mexico City and Cuba. Being the geek that I am, my main inspiration for going to these places is to see Frida’s house and Martha Gellhorn’s house (who many would refer to as Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigia.)

Both Frida and Gellhorn have been heroes of mine for a long time. Being able to walk in the same places as these women is magnificent. I’m excited to drink in the culture of both of these places and see what kind of inspiration I come home with.

portland forest

Anyway, the dust has started settling a bit and I felt this incredible sense of peace in the forest last weekend. On my way back home I was about to put my headphones in to listen to music when I stopped myself.

I wanted to listen to the birds. I wanted to listen to the trees in the wind. I wanted to hear the children’s laughter. The whole reason I was hiking in the first place was to unplug. Yet, I struggled with it. I still had that urge to multitask.

So, I did something I’ve never done before in the three years I’ve hiked that same route. I stopped on a bench and stared at the trees. I laid on the bench for about a half hour. And, it was glorious.

forest time

Groups of people passed me from time to time, and one older gentleman made me smile when he said: “Somebody’s got the right idea.”

The nice thing about this bench is that it’s up higher on the hill, so it’s not nearly as crowded as other parts of the trail—even on the weekend. So there were times when it was just me on the bench. Just me and the birds.

After a while they accepted me, because I was one of the quiet and still humans—an anomaly they aren’t used to seeing, I’m sure.

 

Did you know birds sing the most extraordinary song when they think nobody else is around? I didn’t. I felt lucky and grateful to be the only one in that audience, in that front row seat to nature’s stage.

All I had to do was stop and see. It shouldn’t be that hard. I’m going to do more of it.

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.

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?

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!

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!

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?

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

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