The place in Oregon where I’ll never take my kids


See that little red hotel that juts out into the river? That’s our place, the Cannery Pier Hotel

I will never take my kids to Astoria. It’s a place I’ve reserved for my husband and me alone, our place, a storybook harbor town filled with people with mermaid tattoos and hidden pirate longings. Kids can stay at home with grandma. We’ve claimed it, its ours, sorry, Charlie, get out your LEGOS ’cause mommy and daddy are going away!

We go once a year, stay in my favorite hotel in Oregon, the Cannery Pier Hotel, and then we play for a few days. I will send friends and visitors to Astoria there until my dying days for the gracious hospitality, free rides around town in a ’58 Chevy, and the way you might just wake up in the middle of the night to a mammoth sea vessel passing silently past your window. Did I mention the sauna and hot tub in the spa on the first floor? Or how you can take the cruiser bikes around town without a lock because everyone in town knows who they belong to?


Last year was a little different. In November, I was on assignment to write a Perfect Day in Astoria for one of my magazine clients, Sunset. Dream of dreams! The story is out in the current issue, and you can read it here.

But my memories of Astoria are not anything from a magazine, so I thought I’d share a few outtakes:

The Garden of Surging Waves


Garden of Surging Waves, Astoria

The first time we went to Astoria we stumble upon these giant marble columns laying on their sides down by the wharf. Say what? The next year, we found them here, at a city’s garden of gratitude to one of its most discounted (by history) immigrant populations. Even in the rain it’s the most beautiful public space I’ve been to in Oregon.

Blue Scorcher Co-op


In my article I mention the Fort George Brewery, but just below is the Blue Scorcher Co-op, a place where we simply feel happy. It’s got this weird 1990s coffee shop vibe, so complete that the last time we were in there they were playing Sublime’s Santeria. Gluten-free baked goods (for me, thank you!), great salads, and lots of toys for someone else’s kids.

The Goonies


HEY YOU GUYS!!!! It can be a little weird when a town lays claim to the films made there and attaches its identity to it  (ever been to Forks, WA?). Unless that movie is The Goonies. I actually want to see more Goonies in Astoria. The film museum even has a Sloth I posed with for an Iphone pic. Sloth + selfie = #Slothie?


My kids are still too young for The Goonies. Like 3 and 5 young. I’m glad they can’t watch it yet because that means I can keep leaving them out of this particular trip.

The Astoria Column


High above the city you can hike past ancient trees and climb the Astoria column. We haven’t been there since it was restored, but the images show that it’s going to be a beacon of art rising in the mist. I believe we made some paper airplanes on one of our visits and flew them from the top of the column. Did we really do that?

The Astoria Coffeehouse


Globes in decorating. This place was made with me in mind. Apparently people bring them so many globes that they’ve started refusing them. Tell me how to have this problem.

That time we went to the Arc Arcade after a fancy dinner


So after we scoped out Albatross (bold name for a restaurant/business, by the way), and had some Prohibition-are cocktails, which did make it into the Sunset piece, we went to the ARC to play… ahem… X-Men, which did NOT make it into Sunset. I got to play some Super Mario Bros., which I used to dominate, but found my 35-year-old 12-bit Nintendo skills do not translate to the arcade version.  This is true love, baby.

UPDATE: Adam tells me I played Wolverine and he was Night Crawler for the superior jump skills.


Finally, I’ll share the little bit of Astoria we took home with us. Wait! That’s Neuschwanstein! Having lived in Germany for three years, I’ve seen Neuschwanstein six times and in every season. Needless to say, I have a problematic relationship to Germany’s most famous castle. For years I thought it was the height of kitsch. If you asked me to go back I’d probably throw myself in a lake. BUT. Having not lived in Germany for more than ten years now, I kind of miss it. I miss what it stands for — someone’s crazy delusional idea that was made in brick and stone. So yes, we bought the hand-carved Neuschwanstein relief. It’s hanging in my office as I write this.


What can I say? We’re big fans of Astoria.

Do you have a place that you don’t share with anyone else? Tell me about it! I promise I won’t tell  🙂

The Mad Men Party Space You Can Rent Near Portland


airstreamThere is an alternate reality, and in that universe of somewhere else I have enough money to rent the new clubroom at the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville, Ore.

And I know exactly what I would do there. I would invite every person I know in Oregon (they might all fit in this room) to come have craft cocktails with me in this second-floor space decked out with mid-century modern furniture and have a Mad Men-themed party.

It’s called the “Atomic Lounge,” and if it doesn’t feel completely authentic to you, that’s because it’s not. The place is a like greatest hits parade of iconic furniture from the mid-century in five separate sitting areas, tucked away in an upper corner of the new building housing the museum.

You’ve got your lucite poppy clutching your bottom chair set.


Your art collector sitting as low to the ground without actually touching it photo opp.


You have your “I might actually watch sports here” lounging area.


And your meet-me-under-the-stars-of-a-celestial-chandelier swingers bar.


Your inner hobbit can cozy up to this Jetsons-awesome floating fireplace.


In a pinch, you can always ignore the people from the second floor of your office meeting of the knees.


As soon as my art patron steps up to fund a salon presence worthy of my creative life, I know exactly where I’ll throw my first party.

Or, if cars are your thing, you can always pop downstairs to see funny cars, racing cars and the entire history of speed racing in the Pacific Northwest.


Notes from a Travel Writer: A DIY Writing Retreat in 6 Steps


Given a choice, I’d write in this cabin at the Lake of the Woods in Southern Oregon. Given no time and money, I’ll take the backyard.

airstreamI work from home, and it’s a nightmare every day. All around me, my house and family beg to be tended. Dishes call to me from the sink. I’m sure I can smell the decay of laundry piling up from a floor away. The dust gets downright sassy. And yet, I’ve found a way to make it work — to ignore what must (eventually) be done in favor of what must be done right now:

The work of my writing life.

But a writing retreat? In the home? Can’t I just go to the San Juans or something?

My area of the country is home to a ton of writing retreat areas, but it’s not in the cards for me right now. So I thought I’d try to do one at home to see if there is something to be learned from retreating from your daily life while you’re still in it.

The Problem

Information abounds about how to make the most of an at-home writing retreat. The number one approach is to make a solid commitment to yourself and your writing for a specific space of time. Some recommend doing it with a friend. Most everyone says that setting goals for your writing retreat should be the number one priority.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any problem  setting goals. I am a goal-setting monster, which is why you could line a marathon route with my list of to-do’s. What I do far less is free-write — simply write in the old-school hand-to-paper method and see what comes up, take these handshakes and mental high-fives happening constantly in my mind and just get them down, see what happens.

For me, this is the goal of a writing retreat. It’s a mind dump of the best sort — a space for free-flowing activity that exists wholly within the structure of a place and a time. The challenge is to come up with that SPACE.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my tips for an at-home, DIY Writing Retreat.

1.Prepare Your Retreat Kit


You can have your writing retreat packet ready to go, and because the barrier to entry for writing is so minimal, you don’t need much. But a word about coffee cups. You know how when you arrive at an amazing destination you often find they have the WRONG COFFEE CUPS. Like giant thick-lipped ones, or dainty saucered ones? Pick one of your cups that you don’t like. Remember: You’re on vacation! The goal is to feel different from routine.

2. Disrupt Your Routine


Here’s my normal routine. Not bad, right? But if the goal is to get away…

You really have to be somewhere other than where you normally are for a writing retreat. Otherwise it’s not a retreat, is it?

  • If you write at a desk, try on your lap
  • If you write at a laptop, try by hand
  • If you always write in the same chair, choose a different chair
  • If you write inside, write outside
  • If you write alone, consider inviting a friend

3. Add Sensual Details

No surprise here, I find scent particularly transporting. If I can’t travel by foot I can always travel by nose. Here is how.

  • Light a Modern Mint aromatherapy candle.
  • Smell a favorite perfume before you begin.
  • If you have a place you wish you could go (say, Bend, OR), smell something associated with the place (like Pure Organic Ponderosa Pine Essential Oil)
  • If you are working with memory, get an object to smell or touch that evokes the memory

4. Read a Travel Passage (or four)


A few of my favorite transporting writing, a style for every mood.

If the goal of getting yourself in a different space feels impossible, find some great passages of travel literature that will transport you from your NOW, something from Paul Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific), or Pico Iyer (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere), or Alain de Botton (The Art of Travel), or Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants: A Novel), whatever transporting work can take you somewhere else. Basically you need words that feel like a plane ride (or a surf board, or a train trip, whatev).

5. Find Your Blinders

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand...

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand…

What do I mean by blinders? I mean, some kind of token item you can wear that you wouldn’t wear otherwise, something that would help you feel a little different, more on vacation, more playful. Anything at all that’s different from routine.

Some ideas:

  • A feather boa. Okay, not for me, but maybe for you, or just a killer scarf
  • A cool hat. I’m thinking a sun hat for me since I ended up outside
  • Flip-flops — especially if you don’t wear them normally
  • A puppet — to act out your dialogues that come out
  • A pair of shades

Does this sound silly? It is. But it might work for you. Best to leave judgment at home and see what you like.

6. Work Those Prompts

NatalieI have always loved Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and was deeply happy when her book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoircame out a few years ago. It has some truly excellent writing prompts for writers of memoir. Not all will yield something of value for your work, but that’s not the point. It’s about getting in the work flow and seeing what emerges.

Or not. You don’t need writing prompts, but they are there if you do. If you have no time to go to the library, you could always just print out this list.

Best wishes for a happy, productive, or just plain awesome brain dump! If you have any ideas on how to create space for creativity in your own space, I’d love to hear them!