Category Archives: Travel

On Research Trips and Wanderlust

No, she’s not me. I wish I had this much hair.

One thing I love about reading is the ability it affords me to travel without leaving my comfy chair. Writing fiction set elsewhere is even more fun, allowing me to immerse myself in places I’d like to live, at least for a while, be they real or invented.

When starting the first book in my current romance series, I basically picked Eugene, Oregon, out of a hat. I was looking for a charming college town in which to set a quirky bookshop, and recalled hearing that Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, was just such a place. Why not choose the area around the University of Washington, only a 90-minute drive away? I really don’t know. Not different enough to be satisfying? Maybe it’s just my dislike of Seattle traffic that held me back. (So I drove four-plus hours to Eugene, because–logic.)

U of O’s Autzen Stadium

Anyway, I’ve just returned from my very first research trip for a book. Hubs was away for a golf-o-rama with his son, so I took advantage of this free time to go have a look at this setting I’d chosen without much forethought. Hours of looking at pictures, maps, and reading various blog posts helped, but this short visit (hopefully not my last) gave me a much better feel for the flavor of this culture-rich town. I had a lovely time, too, despite a brain-fuzzing head cold. There’s something refreshing about solo travel, especially being able to wander at my own pace and follow my own whims.

  Mural of Eugene’s Track and Field Stars, from 5th Street Public Market

My stories involve a bookstore, a lovely park, and a running club. Eugene is known as Track Town, USA, so running paths abound, especially in and around Alton Baker Park. I also needed alluring places for romantic dates, and charming, quirky neighborhoods.

I’ll send my characters here for some canoodling…

…and here for some canoeing. DeFazio Pedestrian Bridge, Alton Baker Park.

Mural of Ken Kesey in Springfield. I didn’t partake of any LSD on this trip, though I was pretty fuzzed-out on cold medicine.

I really must challenge myself to write a story set in Tacoma. The Gritty City would be a good setting for a tale of suspense, maybe something involving glass-blowing, an art form our city is famous for, thanks to Tacoma native Dale Chihuly.

Tacoma’s Union Station

Perhaps the urge to set a story elsewhere, rather than at home, is just human nature—the old greener-grass elsewhere syndrome. How about you? Do you tend to set your stories somewhere familiar, or further afield?


Researching for Fiction Writers

Happy May to all. Are the growing light and warmth lifting your spirits? I hope you’re finding new energy and inspiration for your creative endeavors.

I’m back at my desk after a month-long road trip. One benefit of a break from the same-old-same-old is an appreciation of the passage of time. Unlike my usual routine, days spent exploring new places don’t blend together in a blur. And for once, I don’t feel like I’ve just finished writing last month’s IWSG blog post.

In case you’re new to this discussion, the Insecure Writers’ Support Group hosts a first-Wednesday blog hop for writers. IWSG is a great resource for writers of all types. I’ve really enjoyed meeting and learning from other scribblers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

This month’s question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

Well, I’ve spent lots of time learning about poisons and historical erotic art. No, I didn’t use them both in the same story, but perhaps I should. Hmm…

So far, my stories all have contemporary settings, so I really don’t spend much time researching places and times. My settings are fictional, though based loosely on favorite towns. This gives me the freedom to plop down the people and places I need in a charming setting that becomes a character which both comforts and challenges my protagonist.

Poulsbo, Washington, another source of inspiration for my fictional settings.

Two of my as-yet-unpublished novels take place in a fictional Northern California town that blends  details from Half Moon Bay and Pleasanton in California, as well as Port Townsend, Enumclaw and Edmonds in Washington, and a dozen other charming, small-town Main Streets I’ve visited. You know the type: a few restaurants, some art galleries, a funky clothing boutique or two and, a tavern, a wine bar and, of course, a marvelous bookshop. The town is populated by local artists, artisans, entrepreneurs, and other colorful, sometimes prickly characters. It’s just the kind of place I’d like to live—but it works out much better in fiction.

In real life, small towns like that can be closed-up and closed-minded, not very welcoming to newcomers, and full of petty jealousies and interpersonal drama. People in a larger town, like the one I inhabit in real life, are less interested in poking their noses into others’ business. I like that freedom, as well as the access I have to lots of cultural events and beautiful places to walk.

But wouldn’t it be nice to live in a close-knit, funky, artists’ colony on the coast? Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a close-knit community that feels like family?

This month’s question has tickled my curiosity. I think I’ll make a point of visiting more charming little towns this summer—as research, mind you.

Is that tax-deductible?

Lucy, I’m home!

Wheeler Historic Farm, Salt Lake City, Utah

Lobby of the Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

We’ve returned from our three-week road trip to find our home intact, our possessions still here, and everything functioning as it should. There’s always that moment of apprehension just before opening the door: will we find the windows smashed? The basement flooded? The fridge full of rotten food, thanks to a power outage? But all is well.

There’s nothing like a break in the routine to refresh the mind. I’m ready to tackle old projects with renewed vigor, and to jump back into the manuscript I finished while on vacation.

Vacation from retirement? Yup. Whether earning a paycheck or not, I need the occasional escape from the familiar. Every time I return from a trip, there’s a delicious whiff of newness in the air, a promise of a fresh start. I feel like tackling neglected chores and projects, trying new things.

Specifically, talking with my husband’s son the brand-new doctor has pointed me toward a new eating plan. For the next month, D and I are trying the high-protein, low-carb route to shed ten or so pounds. I don’t give two cold dog turds what people think of my middle-aged bod on the beach, but I do worry about the impact this plump tum will have on my health.

And D’s brother, a gifted guitarist, has lent me a lovely smaller-sized guitar to try. After a year of learning to play the ukulele, I’m ready to graduate to six strings. My hands are small, though, and big-bodied guitars are not comfortable with my injured right shoulder. I hope this size will work for me.

I hope the warm part of the year brings some lovely vacation time for you. What are your vacation plans?

Summer Visits and Visitors

San Francisco

One of the main reasons D. and I chose to retire when we did was to spend more time with family, and this summer was rich with visits and travel, though we haven’t gone far from home. We’ve lived in Tacoma, Washington, for over two years now, and I’ve barely begun to explore the interesting places this area offers. Having guests helps. Have you noticed how often we neglect the tourist attractions in our own home territory until there’s a visitor to share them with?

Our summer actually began in late May, when I popped over to the Bay Area to visit with my mom and daughter. The three of us spent lots of time walking about, and found a path behind the ruins of Sutro Baths that led us to the view above. There’s something soothing about walks in Golden Gate Park, especially when the afternoon fog rolls in a patters my face with tiny kisses. The smell of the pines and eucalyptus trees sings to my heart of home.

Next we gathered with the G. clan near Phoenix for D’s son’s graduation from medical school. We were able to rent a house big enough for the lot of us, and there are a lot of us. The heat was fierce, but spirits were high as we celebrated a new beginning in the lives of M. and his marvelous girlfriend.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

Back in Washington, D. and I celebrated our second anniversary at Lake Chelan in central Washington. It was bloody hot, but the views are gorgeous. We’d hoped to rent a canoe or small boat and putter about on the lake, but all we found were Jet Skis and speed boats–not at all conducive to leisurely rides. (There were kayaks too, but I’m allergic to any craft that’s hard to exit in an emergency. The point of a boat is to stay on top of the water, right?) To soothe our disappointment, we visited wineries. Nice.

USS Turner Joy

Back at home, D. and I visited Bremerton and toured the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer-class ship that played an important role in the Vietnam War. We had the great good fortune to meet John F. Keift, author of The Saltiest Ship in the Fleet, who gave us an extensive tour. Keift showed us the control room where the men who controlled the big guns watched radar blips that represented heavily armed Vietnamese fishing vessels zooming toward the ship. He spoke with gravity about pushing the buttons that erased those blips from the radar screen, knowing that each blip represented many lives.

In July, my mother came to Tacoma, where she and I explored every quilt shop we could find. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the art quilt exhibit in the Washington State History Museum, alas. I was expecting quaint bedspreads; instead, we were amazed by the depth, detail, and texture of the artwork on display. There was even a 3-D forest scene sculpted from cloth and fibers.

We also braved the hellish traffic to visit Seattle’s Museum of Asian Art in Volunteer Park. Lovely spot, and Capitol Hill is a lovely neighborhood, with beautifully restored historic homes and mature trees. In fact, a huge branch crashed to the street just outside the Volunteer Cafe, where Mom and I were eating lunch. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but what a shock to come home and find that a third of your tree has fallen into the street, blocking traffic. Anyway, the exhibit was entitled Mood Indigo and featured textiles and clothing from around the world colored with this precious blue.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Shorty after Mom left, my daughter came with her boyfriend. Nerds to the core, they enjoyed the Pokemon hunt at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. The state fair doesn’t open until Labor Day weekend, but the grounds were crawling with people intently staring at their phones–very funny to watch.

Hunting Pokemon at the Fairgrounds

A highlight of their visit was Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum, where we saw sacred relics at the Star Trek exhibit,

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

wearable art,

Wearable art at EMP

and a tower of guitars that plays music for visitors.

Tower of Guitars at EMP

You haven’t really experienced Michael Jackson’s Thriller until you see it on the EMP’s ginormous screen. Why was I the only person dancing? The horror movie display is also not to be missed–delightfully creepy.

Closer to home, we finally visited Tacoma’s Union Station, now converted to a courthouse, which houses several works of Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass art. He’s a Tacoma native, and has richly decorated his home town.

Tacoma's Union Station

Summer’s winding down, despite our current heat wave, and I’m getting ready for a few mini-jobs in the local schools, plus the writing I’ve put on the back burner during all these visits.

I hope you’ve spent a restful summer with your nearest and dearest. What was your highlight?



Feast or Famine

lonely beach

View from near the Cliff House, San Francisco

It’s the beginning of summer break, and the teacher mindset is still firmly rooted in my brain. I can’t help but feel a bit giddy when I see the kids celebrating the end of another school year. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a hollow thunk—echoes of summer loneliness from years past. I taught on U.S. military bases in Europe, and during the school year I had lots of fun companionship: my work friends were my after-work friends. But when the school year ended, my teacher friends scattered, many returning to the U.S. for the summer, leaving me with lots of free time but few companions to share it with.

One of the challenges of starting a new phase of life in a new place is finding interesting people to hang out with. We’re retired, but most of our friends and family are not, and that can make for more alone time that we’d like. Even an introvert like me craves company other than dear hubby from time to time. I continue to explore Meet Up groups in order to meet interesting people, especially newcomers to Tacoma who don’t yet have full dance cards. I’m meeting some very interesting women via a walking group, and plan to jump back into dance classes soon. Still, I must put forth an effort to find companions, and my friend-making skills, never very strong to begin with, have atrophied from so many years of living in a close-knit community. So far, it’s a hit-or-miss process: times when there’s lots of social fun to be had, followed by stretches where the few people I know well are all booked up. This is one of those famine times.

A few weeks ago I was feasting, surrounded by friends and family to celebrate a very happy occasion, my step-son’s graduation from medical school. The G clan gathered in Phoenix: three generations of extended family and friends, plus three generations of his marvelous girlfriend’s family. We rented a huge house where we cooked too much, laughed loudly, played guitars and splashed in the pool. It was a wonderful chance to commune with the family, and I was sorry to see it end—though not too sorry to leave behind Arizona’s extreme heat.

San Francisco

The view from Land’s End, San Francisco

Before that, I spent a week visiting my mother and daughter, who live together near San Francisco. I got to spend a day with the S clan, catching up with my brother and sister and their families. To celebrate my daughter’s twenty-third birthday, we went to see Beach Blanket Babylon, a hilarious musical send-up of current events, featuring outrageous costumes and huge hats. If you find yourself in SF, you must go see this show. We also walked lots: along Land’s End, and through Golden Gate Park, one of my favorite places.

The pagoda at Stowe Lake

The pagoda at Stowe Lake                           

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The rose garden was in full glory, and Stowe Lake drew lots of happy people paddling and strolling. We also took in an exhibit of Oscar de la Renta’s dresses at the De Young Museum, including these two, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker and Taylor Swift. Lovely, eh?


Makes me want to take up sewing again.

But now we’re home again, and the pendulum has swung back to the solitary side. I must get back to work building new connections. Eventually, I’ll find the right balance between alone and together. May your summer be filled with as much company as you want—and as much solitude.

V is for Vacation


View from our hotel room, Cannon Beach, OR

View from our hotel room, Cannon Beach, Oregon

OK—I’ll admit that I have a lot of nerve writing about this topic, since I’m retired and can usually structure my time to suit my moods. But when you have a crew of guys hammering, sanding, and otherwise blasting away at your house with power tools for weeks at a time—well, a person needs a little break from the chaos. So bear with me while I tell you about a charming place that you might want to visit: Cannon Beach, Oregon.

My charming sister-in-law turned seventy right after Christmas, and we’ve been looking ever since for a place where we could celebrate by renting a house for a long weekend of relaxing, playing guitars (or ukulele, in my case) and enjoying some sunshine—the idea was to take a break from Tacoma’s dreary winter. Well, you know how difficult it can be to schedule something like this, not to mention the expense of flying and renting a house, so we settled on a beach-side hotel on the northern Oregon coast. The Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach is lovely, with fireplaces in the rooms, big bathtubs, and views of Haystack Rock. They even made us a private campfire on the beach!

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

The weather wasn’t warm, but we did have some sun between drizzles, and the town of Cannon Beach is so full of interesting shops, art galleries, restaurants and pubs that we were able to enjoy the rainy times. And there’s a handy little grocery/deli on the main street so you can stock up on refreshments.

A lovely little bookshop at Cannon Beach

A lovely little bookshop at Cannon Beach

A funky art gallery, one of many at Cannon Beach

A funky art gallery, one of many at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock is, of course, the center of attention on the beach, even when the weather is blustery. The result of an ancient lava flow that exploded upward when it reached the sea, Haystack rock soars 235 feet above sea level and is surrounded by smaller rock towers called “needles.” Naturalists on site at low tide helped us spot nesting puffins, soaring bald eagles, circling common murres (which look rather like flying penguins), and anemones in the tide pools. And there’s something at once soothing and invigorating about walking on the beach, even when the weather is stormy.

Tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock

Tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock

"Needles" beside Haystack Rock

“Needles” beside Haystack Rock

In the evenings, we gathered in M and ME’s room, which had enough space to accommodate seven people playing guitars and drinking wine. Our snack buffet caught the eye of a visitor, whom we named Craig. After he watched us for twenty minutes, hopefully cocking his head this way and that, R finally broke down and fed him a cracker, and he became our lifelong friend.

Craig says hello

Craig says hello

Good times, good friends, good music, good wine—a really great vacation. Wishing you the same.

Sunset at Cannon Beach


P is for Poulsbo, a Pretty Little Town



Poulsbo 2Poulsbo 3

One of the many blessings of retirement is time to explore the area where we live. And while I love the occasional visit to a big city center, it’s charming little towns that steal my heart.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and, although we’d already celebrated with friends on Saturday, we wanted to do something special, just the two of us. Still fairly new to the area, we were stumped as to where to spend such an unseasonably warm Monday. Our neighbor, who’s lived here for many years, recommended Poulsbo, about an hour away, north of Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Poulsbo 1

I’m so glad we went!  On a sunny April Monday, the town was pleasantly uncrowded, and we had a delicious lunch at JJ’s Fish House, on the waterfront. After lunch we wandered along the marina and through the shops on Front Street, which runs through the historic district. We visited several vintage clothing shops, antique shops, a lovely bookshop where I bought Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus to read during our visit to Cannon Beach, Oregon, this weekend. (Rain is predicted all weekend. Oh well.) We also bought a vintage poster of alphabet rhymes for our grand-nephew, and quilting fabric with Northwestern batik designs (whales, puffins, salmon, etc.) for my mom. The quilt shop’s owner is French, quelle bonne surprise! I taught high school French for many years and always enjoy an opportunity to chat with French folk. Here’s her website, in case you’d like to pay her a visit. She has lots of lovely fabrics.

Poulsbo quilt shop

At the little visitors’ center, we saw the usual nautical bits and learned that Poulsbo is pronounced “Paul’s Bo,” meaning something like “Paul’s Bay.” It seems that the person who filed the paperwork to incorporate the town had illegible handwriting. The area was home to the Suquamish people, who called the area “Place of Maples.” Norwegian immigrants arrived in the 1880s, and the historic town center still reflects a Scandinavian flavor today, from the gingerbread trim on the shops to the kitchy but cute Scandinavian trinkets on offer. In a pet shop on Front Street, I saw a dog dish printed with “Woof Da.”

Poulsbo 2

I look forward to spending more time in this little gem of a town; I’ll bet they do it up marvelously at Christmastime. If you’re up our way, do make time to visit Poulsbo.

Poulsbo 1

Photo credits: 1,2, and 6 are mine. 3 is from 4 is from the quilt shop’s website–see above. 5 is from 

Beer and Loathing in Las Vegas

Paris in Vegas

Las Vegas is not my favorite vacation destination, but some dear people live there, so we went.

I should be more specific: I don’t enjoy the Vegas Strip. I can see why it’s called “Sin City”: gluttony, drunkenness, lust, avarice, gambling, unwise applications of spandex—it’s enough to make a religious person blow a gasket. Mind you, I’m not a particularly religious person, but the Strip grates on my nerves the same way that amusement parks do: too many people, nowhere to sit down unless you purchase something, tacky merchandise, aggressive salespeople, flashing lights and annoying noises, blingblingblingblingbling… Yikes!

This time, we stayed in the Luxor. Our room was spacious, but the air was stale, damp, smoky, and no amount of adjusting the air conditioning could remove that sticky, toxic feeling. You can’t open a window, lest it spoil the clean lines of the big pyramid. And sure enough, both Hubs and I came home with a nasty cold. Humans were not meant to live in such conditions.

Of course, I’d enjoy the Las Vegas experience more if I enjoyed gambling, but I just don’t. I was delighted when my husband and his son returned from the craps table with a substantial pile of bills. But when I see money disappear into the drooling maw of the casino, all I can think of is the hours of work it cost me to earn that money. Not fun—more like nauseating.

However, there were some highlights, besides our visit with the aforementioned dear people. We had the chance to drive through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just outside of Las Vegas, which afforded views of, well, Red Rocks, along with other gorgeous rock formations, the remains of what were once gigantic sand dunes. The visitors’ center is very informative too. Hubs is still recovering from his knee replacement surgery, so we didn’t hike, but we did enjoy our drive through the thirteen-mile scenic loop. Definitely worth a visit.

Red RocksMore Red Rocks

We also visited the Mob Museum, just off Fremont Street, where we learned about the history of organized crime in the U.S. and especially in Las Vegas. Fascinating—we could have spent a whole afternoon there.

While Hubs and his son played darts, I took a walk down the Strip, dodging beggars, hustlers, pimps, drunken tourists, and time-share pushers, until I reached the Bellagio. Ah, the Bellagio, an oasis of calm and beauty. Of course, there’s the lovely floral lobby ceiling created by Tacoma’s own Dale Chihuly.

Chihoully's Flowers

There’s the indoor garden, this time decked out for Chinese New Year.

Bellagio gardenMore Bellagio garden

Aren’t the monkeys clever? Monkeys and peaches

Even the casino is calmer here. I wandered until I found the lovely courtyard, so civilized, so European-ish.

Bellagio courtyard

Even the statuary is snooty here.

Snooty crocodile

I breathed deeply before plunging back into the throbbing throng on the Strip. Back at the Luxor, we went to the obligatory show—can’t do Vegas without a show. This time, it was the Blue Man Group. What fun! There were marshmallows, and bugs, and smoke rings, and Twinkies, and paper streamers, confetti, and of course drums, the element that holds this delightful conglomeration together. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, you should go see these guys—big fun! (But buy your tickets at the same-day half-price stand.)

On our last night, step-son and his darling girlfriend took us to the Hofbräuhaus, a very authentic-looking beer hall with very authentic Bratwurst and Jägerschnitzel, plus good beer, of course. And there was a real German band! It was a lovely taste of home.

So it seems that there’s lots of fun to be had in Las Vegas, but the best stuff is located off the Strip, except for the shows. Next time, we’ll find a hotel far from the fear and loathing, with windows that open.


October Travels, Part One: Woodstock, Vermont

D. and I spent most of October traveling, and we’re back in Tacoma now, enjoying a rainy Halloween day. I find travel exhilarating, exhausting, fun, frustrating, and very educational. Packing for nearly a month away in three different climates was confounding, and I ended up hauling a fifty-pound suitcase up four flights of stairs in Madrid—but I’ll leave that bit of fun for part two. I hope that spending nearly a month away from my computer has helped stoke my writing batteries, since National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow.

Our first stop was Woodstock, Vermont, home of D’s oldest brother and his lovely wife. What a beautiful village! We weren’t the only ones to think so; the autumn foliage was in its full glory, and the streets around the village commons were thickly clogged with “leafers,” as the locals call them. The commons is surrounded by picturesque buildings, such as the library where K. works as director of the board.

Woodstock library

And here’s the town hall, I believe. (Forgive me if I got that wrong, S. & K.)

Woodstock City Hall

On the second day of our visit, some local kids and their parents were constructing a family of pumpkin-headed scarecrows outside the library.

Woodstock Scarecrows

Of course, there are lovely covered bridges

Woodstock covered bridge

and historic cemeteries.

Woodstock cemetary

But here’s what it’s really all about in October:

Woodstock leaves

S. and K. are very knowledgeable about local history, and they took us to visit the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, in the tiny town of Plymouth Notch, Vermont.

Coolidge Home

The interior of the town’s chapel was particularly lovely, constructed of simple wooden panels arranged in geometric patterns.

Chapel at Plymouth Notch, Vermont

After a lunch of grilled Vermont-cheddar sandwiches, we finished our tour.

Long barn in Plymouth Notch, Vermont

Coolidge Tomb

I hadn’t realized what a handsome devil Coolidge was, and how beautiful his wife Grace was. Alas, I wasn’t able to photograph the museum’s collection of her 1920s gowns; you just don’t see artistry like that in modern fashions. Apparently, the President liked to choose his wife’s outfits and took great pride in her reputation as a fashion icon.

Another lovely place we visited was the artists’ colony in Cornish, New Hampshire, founded by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907). He started out as a cameo-carver’s apprentice, and created such famous works as the “Standing Lincoln” and the Shaw Memorial. You may be familiar with the latter from the 1989 Civil War movie Glory.

Home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, NH.

Home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, NH.

View from porch of Saint-Gaudens' home.

View from porch of Saint-Gaudens’ home.

Bas relief sculpture entitled Amor Caritas.

Bas relief sculpture entitled Amor Caritas.

Shaw Memorial

Shaw Memorial

Detail, Shaw Memorial

Detail, Shaw Memorial

We were sorry to leave such good company in such a lovely place, but after four days it was time to begin the second leg of our journey—in Spain.