Monday, October 05, 2015


Well, here I am, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Yesterday morning around 6.30 I opened the front door and interrupted a little red fox trotting alongside the edge of the fish pond. He froze and stared and sized me up – “harmless; smells funny” – and then he got on with his day. (Or she.) It wasn’t even really light out yet, sort of a misty, grayish-yellow, unripe morning. The fish were leaping clear out of the water, like somebody skipping rocks; nothing to fear. Alleged overnight temperature: 28 degrees.

Later on I saw these two huge trout get into the small-pond equivalent of a fistfight. And a bunny!

Anyhow, I’m settling in for the winter. This is my parents’ cabin, up in the Colorado mountains (9000 feet elevation! Fun fact: jogging here causes immediate emphysema), remote-ish but actually not all that far from the neat little town of Salida. There are a few other cabins in the area, but right now I’m the only one around. I’m pretending this is one of those fancy writers’ retreats people do, only without all the gossip and the lengthy application process.

(Plus they let me bring the cat.)

Goal: finish a book. (I mean writing one, just to be clear.)

Secondary goal: figure out life. (Suggestions welcome)

Third-ary goal, already accomplished: escape, briefly, the rapidly escalating cost of living in Portland. (Also the evil rain of winter) (Although it’s raining here as I type, so maybe I’m not as clever as I think)

I’m also ostensibly helping out my parents, although so far that’s been an almost perfect mirror image of what is happening. :) But you know: just in case they need anything.

To get the internet here you have to stand barefoot on the cabin roof holding a wire hanger aimed toward a far-away hilltop, where a barely visible tower zaps messages to the outside world. So if you don’t hear from me about something it probably just means I’m afraid to go out there in the dark or wolves have surrounded the cabin or I am napping.

Anyway. Current plan is I accomplish goals 1 and 2 in this cozy, peaceful, budget-friendly habitat and then return victorious to Portland, where my motorcycle and motorcycle club await. I’ll keep you updated!

Friday, July 03, 2015

one-bike garage

[drawn by Mike Russell, obviously]
Well, the Hawk has the whole garage to itself now. I finally decided to sell the little race bike. Should've probably sold it years ago, but I kept thinking maybe I'd want to race again. But I never did. Some of the guys borrowed it now and then, but mostly it just sat in the garage, looking cute for no one. So - it was time. The guy who bought it will be racing here in Portland as well as in Washington, so it'll have plenty of adventures. No regrets! Bikes are for riding.

When she was brand-new (to me)
Down the road a piece

So long, little buddy!

But...well, now I'm worried that the Hawk* will be lonely. Technically I also own half of an SL175, but it lives clear across town and I never see it (joint custody thing, it's totally amicable). Which means it's time to start daydreaming about my next motorcycle! Mind you, I do not currently have a job or any money, so when I say daydreaming, it is not a euphemism for planning, or browsing Craigslist for six hours, or asking artificially casual-sounding questions about interest rates.

But that's OK: there's nothing like total impossibility to really open up the field of possibilities. What sounds good to you guys? Sky's the limit!

Last night at the Neu Sandy Hutte we saw a candleholder on a nearby table catch fire (beyond the usual) and spurt a stream of hot wax into the air like Old Faithful. A guy who worked there tried to blow it out but it fwoomped into a fireball and scorched off half his beard. No one was hurt.


Be careful out there, everybody.

*The Hawk might finally have a name. Last week I got together with a bunch of fellow and former Lonely Planet authors -- Portland has maybe the highest concentration of LP folk in the known world, outside of company headquarters, plus we had a few visiting. At some point a couple of them strolled over to look at the bike, no doubt drawn by its ragged majesty. One of the guys nodded at the peeling Hawk logo on the side of the gas tank and said, quite reasonably, "Hank." So there we go. Hank.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

roadtrip report

Trip report, so far:

1) The day I left, when I woke up and went downstairs to make coffee, there was a little bird flittering around in the living room. No windows were open. No idea how he got in. How long had he been there? It's not all that big an apartment. Anyway, I opened the front door and out he flew, happier no doubt.

2) My travel buddy, the Admiral 589 (a kitty), hated me for about a day and a half but has now settled into her role as lead navigator and rest-stop wizard. So far, so good.

(She's out in the car now, smoking a Kool with some trucker.)

3) The following rock songs came on the radio more than once in a single day -- Def Leppard, Animal; Rush, Closer to the Heart; Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer.

(On one memorable trip in Sweden I swear Graceland haunted me. I must've heard You Can Call Me Al at least a dozen times. It was only two or three years ago. Why, Sweden?)

4) No distinctive food item has stepped forward to be included in my quest. I'm a little too early for huckleberries, and knock on wood I haven't even seen a Rocky Mountain oyster yet. Stay alert!

5) I don't wanna jinx myself, but people out here so far have been really friendly. Maybe I'm just used to working in Sweden, where folks are typically a little shy and not given to casual chitchat with strangers. I mean, I'm not the world's *most* suave, but Stockholm brings out the socially awkward like nobody's business. (I love it there. I do. I want to go back soon! But it does start to feel a bit girl-in-the-bubble after a while.) Anyway. Casual chitchat with strangers. That's what's up.

6) Saw a family of beavers in Coeur d'Alene, but then it turned out they were only muskrats.

7) Heard some elk.

8) This morning when I woke up, I could see waves and mountains without even getting out of bed. So the next time you hear me complain about any aspect of my job, smack me upside the head and remind me that I have it pretty good. :)

I'm being lazy with the photos and mostly just zapping them up onto "instagram" until later when I download better versions. So if you're curious, here they will be:

Sunday, May 03, 2015


I'm road-tripping through the Rockies this spring for Lonely Planet. One thing I like to do on these trips, strictly for my own entertainment, is to give myself some kind of quest, a secondary mission. Lately this quest has taken the form of an informal contest to determine the greatest possible version of a signature food item. (For Sweden: kardemummabullar. Platonic ideal found on the southern archipelago island of Utö.)

For the Rockies, what do you guys think? Will this be the year I finally tuck into some Rocky Mountain Oysters? Colorado's easy: green chili. Most of the other obvious choices seem to be various shapes of fried and breaded beef drenched or dipped in heart-attack sauce. There's also the huckleberry pie option. But we do have my arteries to consider.

My pal Zach used to order a Denver omelette every morning on a road trip, noting the infinite variations of the form. But I don't like Denver omelettes all that much.

Anyway - suggestions welcome! It doesn't even have to be food. Cutest infant buffalo? Ultimate wildflower? I'm open.

Monday, April 13, 2015

revising tony

Alert readers may recall that I've been working my way through the fitness program P90X, thanks to my awesome brother (hi Karl!). It is super fun, and of course I adore Tony, but sometimes you want to just do the workout and not necessarily watch the video. For those occasions it's helpful to have a brief description of each move, to complement the official worksheets where you commit your specific failings to paper.

I like to customize these for easier recall. Here's a sample from today's workout, to give you an idea. As you'll see, it's pretty brutal.

Slow Motion 3 in 1 Push-up: Do one push-up. Counts as three.

Side Tri Rise: Lie down on your side. Try to get up. How many tries did it take you? Write it down.

Floor Flys: Lie on the floor on your stomach. Flap your arms up and down like you're flying.

Throw the Bomb: Grab the P90X DVD in your left hand. Throw it out the window. Now, using both hands, grab the television. Throw it out the window.

In & Out Shoulder Flies: Time to refuel with a burger! Double-double animal style, from the drive-thru, and when you're done, throw the empty bag over your shoulder on the fly. (See?)

Side to Side Push-ups: Lie down and curl into the fetal position on your left side. Weep freely (remember to breathe!). Roll onto your other side and repeat.

Chair Dips: Pretty self-explanatory - set a bowl of chips on the table, place dips on a nearby chair (you need to be able to reach them from where you're lying on the floor). Enjoy.

Lying Triceps Extensions: Lie on the floor on your back, dumbbells at your sides. Stand up. On your worksheet, lie about how many triceps extensions you did. Remember to exaggerate the weight of the dumbbells.

Pike Press: Coffee break! Pike press is just like a french press but you stand on your tiptoes while it's brewing. How long can you hold the position? Write it down.

Clap or Plyo Push-ups: Watch as your buddy does some push-ups. Applaud.

One-Arm Push-ups: Come on, who are we kidding.

One Arm Balance Push-up: Get into push-up position. Tremble. Collapse. Cry. Repeat as needed.

Weighted Circles: Hold your arms out straight at your sides, shoulder height, and have your workout buddy pull them off, one at a time.

Don't forget the cool-down! 

(It's a milkshake.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015


I would watch any movie of any length in which any or all of the following occur: 1) Matthew McConaughey walks across a room (2) Benicio del Toro says "creepy" (3) Joaquin Phoenix.

(Inherent Vice has two of the three. You guys should go see it - so much fun! And it is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, so every single frame looks gorgeous, not just the close-ups of Joaquin.)

The other day I started reading a biography of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall. Fantastic so far, really vividly detailed and lively. Fuller strikes me as someone who should be a lot more famous than she is. I don't think we even studied her in j-school (part 1). She hung out with the Transcendentalists, edited the Dial, worked as a foreign correspondent, etc etc etc. She was ultra-brilliant, outspoken, stubborn and wild in an era when women were encouraged not to be any of those things (1810-1850, specifically). She had a kid with an Italian lover ten years younger, and they all died in a shipwreck when she was 40.

(She also had a fraught, complicated thing with Ralph Waldo Emerson, my boyfriend, but I forgive her because I was not born yet.)

(Plus I think she was the great-aunt of Buckminster Fuller, which is pretty cool.)

Are there any decent movies about the Transcendentalists? I can't think of any. Let's pretend somebody's making one and fan-cast it!

Anyway. Margaret Fuller. Check her out.

Meanwhile, I've been plugging away at the eternal book project, about which I currently have nothing good to say, other than that it exists and has finally stopped shrinking. (For a while all I did was cross out the bad parts. That was discouraging.) Yesterday I cleaned the whole apartment just to avoid it. I would've done yardwork too but my weedeater blew up (again).

"I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?" 

-- James Salter, in this interview with the Paris Review

Yep. Heard that.

Even so. Sure beats working! : )

Monday, March 09, 2015

crossed wires

If I ever say the word "turnip" to you, please know that what I mean is "parsnip." I will never mean turnip. I don't know that I've ever even had a turnip; I think they're like big ugly radishes, but I'm not sure. Parsnips, though, I love, especially roasted. "Parsnip" is also a much cuter word. But somehow those wires are crossed in my head, and after years of trying to get them uncrossed, I've decided to just go ahead and accept this quirk.

I meant to post something here yesterday but I couldn't lift my arms. It was Day 1 of Week 5 of a re-do of P90X, which means things like one-arm pushups and weighted circles and not being able to lift your arms. (Today was plyometrics, aka "jump around until you barf or pee your pants.") I slacked off quite a bit last week, too, which made for an extra-pleasant couple of mornings. Fun!

(It is fun, actually, as long as I've remembered to eat real food and not just beer.)

Alert readers will recall that this glob started years ago as an ungainly blend of travel report and preoccupation with absurd yet mundane ways to die. I guess it's still both of those things, most of the time. Aging is the ultimate champion in that latter category, after all. And I'm still traveling. Just last week I went clear over to the other side of Portland, hanging out for several days in a neighborhood I like to call Sandwich Heaven. (I was cat-sitting.) Here, within a couple of blocks, you can get four or five of the greatest sandwiches in all of Portland. I thought Lardo made my favorite one (Korean pork shoulder, OMG), but then my friend Sean sent me to the People's Pig and now it's the winner. Smoked Fried Chicken. King of Sandwich Heaven. So you can see why I need to work out.

Anyway. I know I've been lame about updating this thing, although probably no more than usual. I've been working on revisions of a not-really-secret project. Also I had to fix my motorcycle, because the weather is insane right now -- definitely not a fake spring, after all. So that took some time. Among other improvements, I now have new throttle cables, and for the first time in history the throttle actually snaps closed like it's supposed to, plus it no longer makes that awful grinding sound, like my knees when I go down stairs.

Here's how the cables looked before: bad! All squinchy, and rusty to boot:

The whole deal is much cleaner now, and with any luck I've put everything back on in the right place and not upside-down or in such a way that it will later explode. Fingers crossed! So far it seems to be working just fine, but I'm no expert.

Until next time!

Monday, February 16, 2015


Well hey, would ya look at that. Oregon is Genesis. Who knew? 

I may have been wrong about this spring -- it might not be a trick, after all. It seems real! I won't hold my breath. But at least the season of Awful Holidays for Single People is over. I like being single, but not at parties from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day. No, thank you.

This year I spent about half of Valentine's Day in the garage digging into my sludge-encrusted, criminally neglected motorcycle, and the other half sipping red wine and watching romantic French movies. Both were pretty fun. I like messing around in the garage if I'm not in a hurry and it's not freezing cold. The poor bike is filthy down to the guts; some evil blackish brown stuff had oozed out of the bottom of one of the carbs, which I imagine isn't a great sign. But I have a theory (!) and will test it soon, maybe tomorrow -- today's portion of the project went faster than expected, although still glacial by normal human standards. I have zero natural instinct for mechanics, so I try to work very deliberately and follow all the instructions, hoping not to blow myself up or accidentally put everything back on upside down. There tends to be a lot of darting into the house to look at pictures on the internet, etc. But it's a good time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Irritating weather. It's not winter anymore but it isn't spring yet, either. All the plants are confused, trying to bloom but sure to get the smackdown any minute now.

(Or maybe not? Maybe this spring is real? Yeah, yeah. That old trick. I know better but I fall for it every year.)

Just in case, I put a couple of seeds in little pots in the kitchen window yesterday. So far nothing.


(Little-known fact: Toad yelling at the garden used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid.)

I really need to spend some time in the garage and get my bike running, but it's pretty cold in there still.

Anyway. Here is Kelly Link reading an excerpt from her new book of stories. (I'm not obsessed! I just...I just really like her, okay?) I reviewed the collection but am annoyed with myself for not having made the review a little prettier before I sent it in. (The word "fact" appears at least three times in the first dang paragraph. Three!) I pick up these habits sometimes, little verbal tics, we all do it, and they creep in without my noticing, and then they turn invisible. And they stay invisible until a day or two later, at which point they practically glow in the dark but usually by then it's too late. Oh well. Can't overthink it. The stories are fantastic; all her stories are. And she's working on a novel now, too, I hear. Oh, and she did a Q&A for the Powell's blog*, which I haven't read yet but am about to (I just remembered to look for it). Holly Black is in there too -- I read her YA novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown this week -- good fun vampire teen adventure love story.

Been seriously exploiting the Multnomah County Library lately. :)

In other news, I'm planning some springtime travel in the Rockies, for work. So get ready! More on that later.

* Update! The Q&A on the Powell's blog is awesome, as expected. I was especially happy to see this bit in Kelly's answer to a question about her writing routine, since as we know I am fascinated by all such talk:
I don't have a routine, and in fact I spend far more time avoiding writing than I spend writing. I can give you my routine for not getting started writing. It involves waking up and checking Twitter or Tumblr. Then I make coffee and do dishes. I brush my daughter's hair. After she's gone to school, I check Twitter again. Maybe I do some laundry. I do a lot of laundry. I make lists of all of the things that I need to do that don't involve writing. I check Twitter again. Often it's time for lunch, or more coffee by the time I've accomplished all of this. At some point I realize that time has passed and I am no longer in any danger of getting any writing done. A strange feeling of relief comes over me. I start to think about dinner. 
P.S. I have totally gorged on every season so far of The Vampire Diaries and it is entirely her fault but -- that show is Not Terrible. (Also Rebekah from the Originals is my spirit animal and Klaus is like a more affordable Tom Hardy.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

animal house

Each year, in the deepest darkest depths of winter when everything seems sort of gloomy and pointless (to me), I am rescued, wrecked and revived by my motorcycle club's annual retreat. This is when we load up on beer and liquor and fireworks and food and head out of town for a few days to plan the year and just hang out with each other, free of all rules and responsibilities so long as we don't directly endanger the security deposit on whatever house we've rented for the weekend. First there's a chaotic meeting, and then sometimes there's a semi-structured "cross-training" activity (ski bikes, trust falls, ax throwing, logging races). Other times we just kinda fart around and drink beer until something fun happens, which it always does. This year was sort of a mix of the two. I learned a lot (what happens when you put a light bulb in the microwave? how many bananas fit in a blender? do crawdads eat cat food?), lit a couple of fuses and had a damned good time. There's no better way to burn off a cold gray mood than by standing around a fire pit with 18 of my favorite fellas. They're fun!

Bring it on, 2015.

p.s. I didn't get a tattoo (regret!) and all pics are stolen from my bros.