Wordless Wednesday: Portland’s Forest Park


An entry point on Wildwood Trail in Portland's Forest Park

An entry point on Wildwood Trail in Portland’s Forest Park

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You’re Not Alone: Women, Writing and Online Networking

Writing is lonely, especially that first draft. You kinda know what you want to say, but aren’t sure how to get there and there’s always a surprise blip along the way that throws you off your game.

Then you begin to wonder, is this piece even any good? You need another set of eyes. You need a writing group. A collective of people whose honest opinions and writing talents you respect and who push and inspire you to be a better writer.

Jessica Null Vealitzek reads her debut novel, The Rooms Are Filled.

Jessica Null Vealitzek reads her new novel, The Rooms Are Filled. (Photo by Ginny Washburne)

“Writers need other writers,” said Michele Weldon, assistant professor emerita at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She has been in a writing group for 12 years that meets once a week. “I have found that it’s been enormously successful, having that camaraderie, the editorial help and the brainstorming — it’s helped to enhanced my writing and my life.”

There’s something special about sitting elbow to elbow with fellow writers as you read your words. “You hear them sigh at the beauty of a sentence, or laugh at a line,” she said.

But with all the lean-in/lean-out hubbub of today, it can seem impossible to set aside time to talk about our writing. Many of us are ecstatic that we’ve managed to find the time to write. (I type this as my 3 year old is napping across my lap.)

This is where online writing groups come in handy. There’s so many out there, you can pick which group speaks to you and participate on your own schedule.

Some prefer bigger writing communities, such as She Writes, which has more than 20,000 members and is similar to Facebook. When Kamy Wicoff launched She Writes in 2009, she told Salon.com that she started it “to share our knowledge, to aggregate and harness the information each of us has hard-earned, and make it available to our community in an organized, efficient way that will make all of our lives easier.”

Other writers are active in smaller online groups, which can come out of umbrella communities such as She Writes. Increasingly, small writing groups have been creating their own online platform to share their work.

For example, Mary Breaden started PDXX Collective in 2012 because she became concerned by “the media’s depiction of women — from Hillary Clinton to Sandra Fluke,” she said.

“I wanted to encourage my many brilliant women writer friends to publish their work and mitigate the overwhelming male perspective represented in the media,” said Breaden, who is also an education assistant at Mediabistro.

PDXX Collection is comprised mostly of women from the Portland, Oregon area and aims to provide a woman’s voice on various literary facets including news, personal essays, fiction, science fiction and pop culture.

“At PDXX, I don’t think we live in the ‘pink ghetto’ of topics — I’d say we have a full complement of writing and I believe we break the boundaries of the four Fs (food, family, furniture [home] and fashion,” said Andrea Janda, writer and PDXX member.

Another member, Jessica Null Vealitzek, recently released her critically acclaimed novel, The Rooms Are Filled, and is grateful to be part of the collective.

“It’s cool to have this online connection,” Null Vealitzek said. “We don’t know each other that well online, but I feel like I have this resource of writers that I can not only read, but ask questions of and pick their brains.”

“I think it can be awfully lonely if you don’t have a sort of real-life, physical book club or writing club that meets,” she added.

But actually Null Vealitzek is about to meet members of the collective for the first time in person. She lives in suburban Chicago, but is on a book tour that includes a stop in Portland.

On Monday she and several members of PDXX Collective are reading their works at In Other Words, the feminist bookstore featured in the TV show Portlandia.

“I’ve known these ladies online through their writing,” Null Vealitzek said, “and I’m so excited to meet them in person.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Acres and Acres of Blooms At the Tulip Festival near Portland

More than 40 acres of tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon.

More than 40 acres of tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon.

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Tasty Tuesdays: Marina’s, a Portland cafe with a cause

Let me tell you guys about one my ventures to find a new spot in Portland. As I mentioned before, I’m going to bring you along on my coffee shop exploits as I try to find a good place to write.

This is a place that I stumbled upon by accident.

Marina's Kafe in Portland.

Marina’s Kafe in Portland.

Let me back up a bit and tell you that I’m on the hunt for vintage airplanes for the boys’ room. So every time I see a vintage store or resale shop, I try to find the closest parking spot and go shop. On my various travels I kept running into one called Vintage Vendors, but never have time to pull over and go inside. One morning, I did have the time. After unsuccessfully trying to pry open the door, I realized Vintage Vendors didn’t open for another hour.  That’s when I noticed an empty coffee shop, called Marina’s Kafe.

I figured, why not spend an hour here. I liked that it was sunken into the ground and had window seating that looked out onto the busy street. It’s perfect for people watching, which is especially good for when I’m running low on writing inspiration.

A room with a view.

A room with a view.

The decor was a little stark, in a no frills, but still warm sort of way. I wondered if it was new. Prince’s When Doves Cry was playing overhead and I took that as a good sign.

The walls had local art on them like all of the coffee shops around Portland. Yet some of this art looked different, kind of like they were drawn by children. There was a colorful nook for kids to play and a couple of towering, stocked bookshelves.

Works by artists from the Full Life Center in Portland.

Works by artists from the Full Life Center in Portland.

I chatted it up with the owner, Marina, who told me that she’s been there for nine years and that the art on the wall was created by clients at Full Life, an enrichment program for adults with disabilities. Even better is that the artists receive a portion of the proceeds from their works.

She also sells parenting books and kids’ clothing, and gives that money to the Letty Owings Center, which is a recovery center for moms and pregnant women who are battling addictions.

I half expected this lady to tell me that she also ran a homeless shelter out back, but she didn’t. She’s just a woman with a big heart who makes desserts that apparently are very popular. I was good on *this* day and didn’t order any, though they looked delish.

So, all in all, a good place. Not for my writing, as I need something else, but I will be back, especially if I have a case of writer’s block.


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Living in Portland: What’s It Like?

Portland. Portlandia. The Rose City. Mecca for foodies and green-living gurus. I’ve been here for nine months now and a lot of my friends back home have asked me what life is like here.

Portland-Sign2 Portland is a destination city for many. They’re drawn to the Pacific Northwest for its nature, lifestyle, world-renown food, sustainable living and the local arts and entertainment. In fact, according to United Van Lines’ annual migration study, out of all the people in the US who moved out of their own state, most of them came to Oregon.

So what’s so great about this city? I’ll tell you.

It’s green. This place is crazy green. There’s electric car plug-ins everywhere, I’ve never seen so many Teslas in my life and trying to dispose of anything requires a certificate of mastery. There’s trash, then there’s glass, paper, compost and about a zillion more different choices. I swear whenever I want to throw something away, I practically have a panic attack because I’m not always certain what bins to put my items in.

And the people here are so militant about it, part of me wonders if the Recycling Police are going to pop out of one of the bins when I put my used, biodegradable paper in the recycling. (There aren’t really police, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I set off some sensors for a recycling faux pas.)

One of the streams trickling through Portland's Forest Park.

One of the streams trickling through Portland’s Forest Park.

The nature here is ridiculous. I told you earlier about hiking and have since gone on a few other trips. It’s called the Rose City for a reason, there are roses, tulips and daffodils and other types of blooms all over and because it’s so moist, the lush vegetation is seemingly everywhere.

Slower pace. Whoa do these people move slow. They drive the speed limit (wha???) and checking out at the grocery store is quite the process. It starts off innocently enough, the cashier asks me 1) How may day is going. Then it gets Portlandy and she’ll ask 2) What meal I’m planning to cook with my items, which is followed by commentary on my planned meal 3) She’ll either ask about my child or start telling me something irrelevant about her life.

It was highly annoying when I first got here because I just wanted to get my food and get the <bleep> out of the store because, who knew how long my 3-year-old’s good mood would last. Not to mention, you don’t even know me, Mrs. Cashier! I know that’s the Chicago in me coming out, but even growing up in Kansas, the cashiers didn’t talk to you this much. And when I lived in Houston, they didn’t chat it up like this either. I used to respond curtly to speed things along, but now I understand that’s highly offensive here, so I press forward with the answers and wearing what I’m sure is a scary/crazy smile.

One cool thing about the slower pace is that my husband is home astronomically early most nights. Super long office hours are less prevalent here. In Chicago he’d leave around 6 a.m. and come home around 7 p.m. on a good day. Those good days were few and far between. Now he’s often home by 5:30 p.m. For the first few months of these “early arrivals” we’d stay up late enjoying our evenings as a whole family. Then Hubby and I fell into a rhythm and now it’s funny for me to see my 6 year old get upset when he finds out his dad has to work “late” and won’t be home until 7 p.m.

Food, glorious food. Portland has garnered a reputation as one of America’s foodie capitals and it’s a reputation that’s so well-deserved. The farm-to-table movement is big and the inventiveness regarding food makes eating an expression of art. I don’t believe I’ve had a bad meal here. I’ve had meals that I didn’t care for, but they weren’t bad. And the good food isn’t just at fancy places, it’s in your neighborhood dive bar, and the delectable and thriving food truck scene.

This is a popular dish at Clyde Common. It's quail and pork terrine, smoked onion jam, whole grain mustard,  and fine herbs. It tasted great, but after a few bites, I had trouble getting past how fleshy the inside looks. Hubby happily devoured it.

This is a popular dish at Clyde Common. It’s quail and pork terrine, smoked onion jam, whole grain mustard, and fine herbs. It tasted great, but after a few bites, I had trouble getting past how fleshy the inside looks. Hubby happily devoured it.

Ride or Die. The bike culture here is huge, there’s bike paths to everywhere, bike lanes on the roadways and always a lot of people walking around wearing spandex and bike helmets. It’s really cool, but I’m not used to sharing the road with cyclists. When I we first got here, I was convinced I was going to kill one of them, especially when trying to make a right turn. Thankfully, I’m much better now.

Getting into the biking culture.

Getting into the biking culture.

Ps & Qs. People here have manners. At first I thought Portland was the nicest place on Earth, but I’ve figured out that really, it’s that they’re big on manners. Men and women hold doors open for you, there’s a lot of please and thank yous, and the driving. Oh the driving. People let you into their lane when you want to get over, no one wants to “go first” at a four-way stop. It *is* like in the TV show Portlandia, “no you go … no you go!”

It’s just as weird as they say. The city’s unofficial motto is Keep Portland Weird and to Portland I say: Job well done. I’ve told you guys about some of the strange happenings, like the stripping chipmunk. But there’s so many wonky creative types here. Some folks decorate their cars, and I’m not talking a spray-painted bald eagle on pick-up truck. A better example is a girl in my neighborhood with aquamarine hair who drives a Pepto-Bismol pink jalopy and inside it are several naked barbie dolls. Some of the dolls are hanging by a noose. My nanny told me about a car with a mannequin leg perched atop its roof like a dorsal fin. The list of weird-isms is too long to count, but they’re fun to see. It’s definitely a creative space where people proudly floss their sleeves of tattoos and brightly colored and/or asymmetrical and/or matted hair.

So those are pretty much my view of this town’s major highlights. I have to admit that things haven’t been all rosy for us in the Rose City, but that’s a different post for a different day. Overall Portland has been enriching for our family and I’m looking forward to more adventures.


When in Rome, right?

When in Rome, right?


*Family portrait by Trista Page.

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#TBT: I’m Hosting A Throwback Thursday Netflix Giveaway

It’s Thursday. Or in the social media realm, it’s Throwback Thursday. The day where people post photos of themselves from back in the day.

It’s the day where your Facebook feed unwillingly belches out mullets, Jheri curls, and overalls that hang off of one shoulder. Or maybe it’s more of a reflection of former addicts of Cross Colours, AquaNet and leggings with stirrups.

I'm about 3 years old here, sitting in a rocker that my mom used when I was an infant and now sits in my home.

I’m about 3 years old here, sitting in a rocker that my mom used when I was an infant and now sits in my home.

Regardless of the fashion crime, it’s still amusing to watch. Speaking of watching, as some of you know I’m a member of the Netflix Stream Team, which is a blogger network where we write about various topics including what we’re watching.

One thing that’s cool about Netflix is rediscovering my favorite shows from way back when. We’re talking Smurfs, Care Bears and Jem and the Holograms. (I actually have a post coming up about my friend doing something amazing related to Jem, but stay tuned.)



As a member of the Netflix crew, they’re letting me offer one of you lucky guys a three-month subscription code! There’s many ways to enter the giveaway, which I will conduct via Rafflecopter. You can:

  1. Tell me the name of your favorite show from back in the day in the comments below.
  2. Follow me on Twitter and tweet me the name of your favorite show. Please use #StreamTeam.
  3. Like my Facebook page and write your favorite show on that page.

You can enter as many times as you’d like. The giveaway will close Friday, May 2 at midnight. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wordless Wednesday: Capturing my kids’ personalities

My boys.

My boys.


We went to a Easter egg hunt last weekend that was pretty amazing. The Dojo Agency hosted the party that included hundreds of eggs, trees dripping with lollipops, crafts, facepainting by tattoo artist Amanda Kill, the best tamales known to man, and a fun photo shoot.

Our boys picked out some props and got ready to say “cheese” for photographer Trista Page. You should check out some of her work here, she’s got some really cute shots!


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Meet the Author: Jessica Vealitzek talks up her new book, how to write a novel as SAHM and getting published

Tuesday is the big day! It’s the big launch of my friend’s first novel, “The Rooms Are Filled.”

My friend's beautifully written novel.

My friend’s beautifully written novel.

It’s a touching story of a young boy who was forced to leave his family farm after his father suddenly dies and his mom can’t afford to keep the land. They move to suburban Chicago and he struggles to adjust to a very different environment. That same struggle is taking place with his young, closeted teacher and they form a beautiful bond.

Jess is a full-time mom of two great kids and she deftly juggled them while writing this straight-from-the-heart book. Pretty impressive, right? Not to mention, she’s militant about getting enough sleep, and her house didn’t go to pits during the process either. She’s pretty amazing and I’m so excited for her latest baby, this novel that’s published by She Writes Press.

Want to know how she managed to do it all? Curious about the book? Want tips on getting published?

Well, we’re having a BYOB party and anyone can attend! It’s a Google hangout on Tuesday, April 22 at 7 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Here’s the link to the event.

I’ll be there, along with one of my other besties, education consultant Ginny Washburne and all three of us will chat over a nice glass of wine. So, who’s going to join in on the fun?

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My First Real Hike in Portland

Trying to take advantage of all that Portland has to offer, I am determined to bring the outdoorsiness out of this city girl.

My friend, Leslie, is a big hiker, she’s hiked 16 miles at the Half Dome at Yosemite, a portion of the Appalachian Trail of the Great Smokey Mountains and Mount Rainier in Washington. She’s the sort who probably hopes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro some day. We met in swimming class (no, she wasn’t the one wearing the G-string) and we go to the same gym.

About half of the trees in Forest Park are 30 and 80 years old, another 25 percent are 80 to 250 years old. They are adlers, maples, and Douglas firs.

About half of Forest Park’s trees are 30 to 80 years old, another 25 percent are 80 to 250 years old.

We’ve been talking about going hiking for a few months, but it had to warm up. (She can’t stand the “cold,” which I find to be a relative term here.) As I waited for the mercury to climb, we as a family had some outdoorsy experiences. We’ve enjoyed the nature walk by our house and during our trip to Bend, Ore. we took an impromptu hike through the Deschutes National Forest. It was gorgeous, the kids loved it and I kept thinking: I gotta get me more of this nature stuff.

More than 112 bird species and 62 mammal species hang out in Forest Park, which also gets about 40 inches of rain each year. In various spots along the path there are fallen trees, this was one of my favorites.

More than 112 bird species and 62 mammal species are in Forest Park, which also gets about 40 inches of rain each year. In various spots along the path there are fallen trees. This was one of my favorites.

I started researching local trails, whether I should get a backpack to carry Ethan and what other kind of gear might I need. There seemed to be a lot to this hiking thing. I even visited REI with the boys to test out some gear. I learned a lot, but came away a little overwhelmed. Couldn’t I just strap on some shoes and give it a go?

Leslie's daughter after our hike.

Leslie’s daughter after our hike.

Then on a Tuesday, I texted Leslie: Take me hiking. She gave me the lowdown on what I needed (boots or tennis shoes that I didn’t mind getting muddy, pants that I didn’t mind getting dirty and dress in layers.) So the answer to my previous question was, yes, I could simply strap on some shoes and go.

A couple days later, I was on the road to Leslie’s house. We were going hiking! We went to Forest Park, one of the country’s largest urban parks. It covers about 5,160 acres and has about 80 miles of hiking trails that wend up the Tualatin Mountains and snake down along the banks of the Williamette River and its tributaries.

Leslie had her 2-year old with her, in the Cadillac of child carriers, a Deuter. My oldest was at school and Ethan was with the nanny. I wanted to scope out the area before bringing my kids. It was a beautiful Thursday, blue skies, no humidity, not too warm, not too cool, it was like Goldilock’s porridge — just right.

The Pittock Mansion, a Renaissance-style home built in 1914 for Portland's newspaper publisher and family.

The Pittock Mansion, a Renaissance-style home built in 1914 for Portland’s newspaper publisher and family.

We decided to take the Wildwood Trail up to the Pittock Mansion, which is a massive chateau built in 1914 for The Oregonian’s publisher and his wife. The trail started off on a mild incline and zigzagged up the hill. I had to be careful not to get lost in my thoughts while admiring the towering trees above so that I could avoid tripping over their roots below.

The area was so lush, covered with ferns and ivy and soft moss blanketed almost all of the tree trunks. Leslie and I chatted about this and that, but being out among the trees, enjoying Mother Nature felt very grounding. I kept thinking: I needed this, I’m definitely going to do this more often.

Leslie, a minister’s daughter, agreed. She said hiking is like going to church for her. In all the busyness of life, it’s nice to have a place that helps you focus on what’s important. A quiet place to listen to yourself, find yourself or simply be yourself.


The view of Portland from the yard at Pittock Mansion. If you look carefully in the distance you can spot Mount Hood.

The view of Portland from the Pittock Mansion property. If you look in the distance you can spot Mount Hood.

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Practical and Fanciful Mother’s Day Gifts for Working Moms

Mom arrives to work impeccably dressed morning, knows everyone’s schedule, plus her own and rarely misses a deadline. She works all day, gets dinner set up and helps out with homework. Show how much you appreciate the daily contributions of the working mother by celebrating Mother’s Day with unforgettable gifts.

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On an average day, 86-percent of working women spend more than 2-hours a day cleaning. Make your mother’s life a little less cluttered by giving her the gift of a year-round helper. Take away the stress of heavy house cleaning with a housekeeping company like Merry Maids.  This franchised service hires fully bonded, and experienced housekeepers who will come to your home, ready to take the stress of house cleaning away from Mom. Prices range widely as each home is unique, and quotes typically range based on clutter, size of house, pets, and lifestyle.

Go the Traditional Route

Bouquets of flowers and boxes of candy never go out of style (the amount spent on Mother’s Day flowers in 2013 equaled $2.3-billion). With mobile and internet shopping ramping up every year, it’s a no brainer to pull out a tablet or laptop and start browsing for Mother’s Day treasures. There’s several online stores that have gifts ranging from the standard bouquet of flowers to fancy jewelry. You’ll easily find her favorite flowers and then some. Also, popular Mother’s Day gifts like edible bouquets, chocolates and baskets of soothing bath products are hard to pass up. Show her how much you appreciate all that she does by surprising her with a bouquet, basket or box of chocolates delivered right to her door step.

Gift Her Family Time

Balancing work and home does not come easy when a child becomes ill or mom needs to attend a school function. Missing time at work reduces the chances of advancement, but missing a child’s performance or award ceremony breaks a heart. If given the choice, 47-percent of working mothers would choose part time work to give them more time to spend with family. If finances allow it, support her to make this dream a reality. Allowing working mothers the time to bond with a new baby or care for an ill family member shows appreciation for the work she does every day.


*Written by Amanda Alexander, a mother of three in Tampa Bay, Fla., who works in the marketing department for a media company.


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