Train to Portland for WDS

This weekend I set out on a terrific adventure to WDS, the World Domination Summit, in Portland. Here I am living in Seattle, with a bunch of options to get to the event. I can catch a plane, which is quick, but means standing around in airports. I could drive, but wouldn’t be able to read a book or write along the way. A train seemed like the best choice. It took only 4 hours, and is one of the best ways to see the water on the way down to Portland. The tracks are, in some places, only fifteen to twenty feet from the shore. I traveled business class to ensure I could plug in my laptop (a Surface Pro). There is a piece of fiction I’ve been working on, and the characters were calling for my attention.

On the train

On the train

Views on the way

Views on the way

Arriving at King Street Station, I stood in a modest line, only 5 people, to wait for the conductor. I had my e-ticket in hand. He let me know to go to the ticket office for seat assignment. Another short line, only two this time, later, I had a single seat and a coupon for a three dollar discount at the bistro car. All aboard carriage one, and quickly settled down to enjoy the experience. One of the most relaxing things about trains is the rocking rhythm, together with the speed. We had a few stops along the way to wait for freight trains, but none of them too long. We arrived at Union Station in Portland right on time. A quick ride later had me at the Hotel Modera, close to where the WDS events would be held. Close, I found in Portland, was a relative term. It was about nine blocks, and flat shoes were a good thing to have packed.

Hotel Modera view

Hotel Modera view

The summit was a melange of interesting people, great presentations on the main stage, and meetups that were put together by participants. Those were one of my favorite parts of the event, the people. I met folks from different countries, had a wonderful lunch of fresh seasonal foods, visited the farmer’s market. Best breakfast ever. Fresh biscuits with brown mushroom gravy and a fried egg. Delicious. And there was a bunch of walking. Portland is a city for pedestrians. There’s a lovely green belt on SW Park Street, that ribbons down, cooler than the surrounding streets, to Director Park. That was essential this weekend as the weather turned up the heat to the 90’s. Still, we kept hydrated, met loads of excited entrepreneurs, artists, writers and performers, all making the most of the weather and the chance to swap stories. I went to parties, acquired a temporary tattoo, and ate pie at Petunia’s Pies. On Saturday evening I celebrated the full moon with cocktails at the Nines, meeting some women with wonderful creative projects, and got to brainstorm book ideas with some great folks caring for animals.

Potatoes with beet salad

Potatoes with beet salad

The food in Portland is amazing. Fresh. Seasonal. Well prepared and delicious. Can’t wait to make another train trip with my sweetie to enjoy it again.

I am already planning to go to WDS next year, and am grateful to Lawrence and Sameer for recommending the experience. Also much gratitude to Chris and all the ambassadors for making it a memorable occasion. Thanks guys!

WDS has already been a success for me. I just finished the last 5,000 words of my novel and put it in the hands of my alpha reader today for feedback. Props to the summit for getting me unblocked. Don’t know how 5,000 words happened along with everything else, but am all fired up to continue on to the next book in the series. Now on to the next thing cousins. One step at a time.

Hope everyone else had a great time. I did. Will be reaching out to folks I met and chatted with over the next few days. There is at least one collaboration I’m excited about, and likely more.

lilacs in the garden


The scent of lilacs is heady and euphoric for me. I wandered out into the garden this morning to stretch, breathe and enjoy the color of the bushes. Last week I was standing under the cherry blossoms, and the week before that it was the magnolias, but today, today is for lilacs. For some reason they remind me of my grandmother. Perhaps it is the color, and that rinse that used to be popular for little old ladies. She lived to be 98 years of age, so perhaps lilacs are also a signal, for me, of tenacity.

This morning as I breathed in the color and the scent, I felt particularly grounded. A good way to start and to breathe in the day.

Recovering from heart failure


A few months ago, the love of my life experienced heart failure. He was in the ER and the intensive care for a week. Three months later, he’s doing better every day, and making progress, as a friend put it, like a herd of galloping snails. Lovely image that. A bunch of people wished him, as people do, to get well soon, or be well fast. However, the snail metaphor was really the best for the circumstances. It takes a long time to recover from a heart event, and it’s important to set expectations accordingly.

Along the way we’ve found out a bunch of things about diet, especially about the dangers of hidden salt. We have learned to take each small step on the road to recovery as a victory. He is alive. He is feeling better than he has for some time. The quality of life is not measured by how much we can do, but by how much we enjoy the moment.  We are measuring salt and liquid intake, and we are being mindful about food in a new way. Raven is not having any caffeine or tobacco any more. He is measuring many things of the day, including blood pressure, medication, pulse, energy of the moment. I am so proud of him for embracing the changes that have turned our world upside down.

I took a break from blogging for a while to figure out life stuff. We are feeling grateful for the things that are good, regardless of the challenges that are inevitable with health issues. There is love in our lives; we have great friends and extended intentional family; my sister came to visit and help for a month, and we’re coming to terms with the shape of the possible. Will be blogging more with what we find out along the journey.

The scent of relaxation

Scent and memory

Do you remember the smell of baking in the kitchen, the rich aroma of fresh bread and the tantalizing spices from holiday meals? These are scents you will often find in candles and oil diffusers. It is no secret that scent and memory are connected, and the scents that remind us of home or safety vary from person to person. For me, the sharp citrus tang of oranges reminds me of summers from my childhood. Somehow summer equals oranges. Together with the lemon of my grandmother’s furniture polish, combined with the heavier fragrance of sandalwood and cedar, the spicy sweet frangipani and gardenia wafting in from the garden, these are the smells of home. Weekends added the dusty, sharp, resinous aromas of the Australian bush and the salt and seaweed wrack from the beach.

Nowadays, I burn sandalwood incense near the front door, use gardenia bath products, and keep apple and citrus guest soaps handy. In the winter, I like to keep mulled wine on the stove, and all year around I cook curries that keep the whole house fragrant with aromatic spices. The scents help me remember the good things.

About aromatherapy

Aromatherapy makes use of a variety of scents to change moods, to alter surroundings, or to craft a specific kind of atmosphere in a space. Beginning to work with aromatherapy can be as simple as using scented candles, or as complex as blending custom scents for every area of your life and home. I like to take an approach where I research the herbs and plants, and then make my own blends. Then I can change them as the mood takes me.

Spreading the aroma through the house

An incense burner can be a terrific way to spread the scent through a room. However, if smoke bothers you, it is easy to use the essential oil directly with an oil diffuser. There are handy ones that plug into a wall socket and do not require open flame. There are also really pretty glass, brass or ceramic ones that float the oil on water and heat the oil via a votice candle underneath a small dish that sits on top of the diffuser. This works much the same way as heating brandy to release the full flavor.

Some thoughts for playing with oils

  • For calming end-of-day relaxation, try jasmine and cedarwood, lavender and sage.
  • For subtle changes in atmosphere, try light pear, vanilla or sandalwood candles.
  • To become more energized, add some citrus scents like grapefruit, orange or lemon.
  • If you want to sharpen your thoughts, try some lemongrass, peppermint or carnation.

Blending your own scents

The main thing to keep in mind if you are going to blend your own scents is that you want essential oils rather than fragrance oils, as these are extracted from natural sources like plants, roots, fruits and flowers. They do not have additives that weaken the scent. Scents that traditionally come from animal sources such as musk and civit are now available as synthetics at a reasonable price; a plus is that this eliminates the element of animal cruelty that was associated with the animal based products. Win.

When blending the scent, you need a base, middle and top note

  • Base note – the scent that lingers for the longest, and is the foundation of the scent
  • Middle note – the body of the blend, or the main scent that gives the character
  • Top note – the lightest scent that you notice first

There are scents that fall into categories such as herbs, spices, alpine flowers, tropical flowers, resins, gums, roots, fruits and seeds. Some complex blends include elements from multiple categories, while most simple compounds may use two or three elements to combine into a single fragrance.

Testing a sample fragrance blend

To begin, select a couple of oils that you like, and using a separate fresh toothpick for each bottle, put a drop of each of your chosen oils onto a piece of blotting paper, next to each other. Wave the blotting paper a couple of inches away from your face and when you breathe in, you will be able to perceive how the scents work together. Do you like it? does it need more of one or the other? If so, add one more drop of the fragrance you want to increase. Does it need anything else? Try adding another fragrance to the mix, one drop at a time. Write down how many drops of which essential oils you use as you go. This becomes the basis of your recipe.

Making the final blend

Take a look at your notes and see what the proportions are from your test. If you have three drops of sandalwood, two drops of jasmine and two drops of vanilla, then your proportions are 3:2:2. I usually add a mixture in increments of 1 part = 5 drops, so the three drops of sandalwood would become 15 drops with an eyedropper, two drops of jasmine becomes 10 drops, and two drops of vanilla becomes 10 drops. I put this into a glass bottle with an eye dropper, shake it to mix together and then decide if I like it once I have this quantity. I repeat the process (always using a separate dropper for each essential oil to avoid contaminating the main bottles, until I have a full bottle of my blend.

Diffusing fragrance in a room

If I have made a scent and now want to diffuse it through the room, I can add a couple of drops of my mixture to a diffuser and light a candle under it. I can add the mixture to a special sponge/blotter and insert that into a plug-in diffuser. I can also dilute the mixture and use an atomizer to spray it around the room. If I choose the latter, I add it to purified water. To use it as a perfume, I may add it to ethyl alcohol, and to use as a massage oil or perfume oil, I may add the mixture to pure almond or jojoba oil.

Sources for essential oils

Go to and search for essential oils, or go to and do the same thing. Both will turn up lots of places where you can order small kits (6 oils), medium (12-24 oils) or large full sets of 64 oils. Personally, I love kits, so this is the route I recommend. You can also find essential oils at vitamin places, bookshops or massage supply locations.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Leave the work day behind

Putting on the work clothes in the morning is part of getting ready for the day; likewise, changing clothes at the end of the day tells me that I can put down the things of the day, walk away from the email, and pick up a book. Another part of the evening ritual is hanging up the jewelry and grabbing my comfy PJs. Sometimes that needs to be delayed until after dinner, if dinner is waiting for me when I get home, but sooner or later, it’s hot tub and shower, PJs and a nice cup of tea.

Then I can settle down on the couch and chat about news of the world with my sweetie. Recently, there was a great story in Scientific American about creative folks; we passed it around during the day, after a chum posted it to facebook, and I sent it along home as well. We got a big kick out of scientific study that shows we creative types are eccentric for a reason. Here is the link about the Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric.

Kicking back and chatting about the things we’ve discovered in the world that day renews that creativity, and encourages me to get out my creative tools and make jewelry, or create a blog entry or two.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Remember to breathe

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to forget to breathe when under stress? It is easy to take shallow breaths, too fast, or to hold your breath, all without noticing that’s what is going on. Taking a deep, deliberate breath before public speaking, or before going into a meeting, can make a world of difference.

Try it now. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in while counting to three. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in again for the count of three; and then do it a third time. Three times three seems to do the trick for a feeling of increased wellbeing. Before you know it, your shoulders will relax, and whatever is making you stressed will not seem nearly so important.

Your emotions impact your body, and working on your breathing can have a tremendous impact on your internal sense of ease in the world. A few years back, when I was having some health issues, my inner balance was out of whack. Part of the way back to myself, and to better health, was to focus on Chinese breathing exercises called Qiqong (pronounced chee-gung). Those exercises taught me just how powerful breath could be in returning energy and vitality to my whole body. The basics of Qiqong are in combining slow deliberate movements away from the body (breathing out) and than back towards the body (breathing in), the graceful movements flowing from one to the other.

To read more about Qiqong, try an easy introductory book by Suzanne Friedman.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Lighten the load

Girl with arms raised in victoryRecently a friend pinged a bunch of us on a social site about spring cleaning. She offered a truck, a crew to help lift, and an opportunity do good. In exchange for doing spring cleaning and yard work, including hauling away stuff to the dump, we could make a donation to her favorite charity.

This appealed to me immediately. First, the children’s charity is a good cause, and would likely have chipped in dollars anyway, knowing my employer would do a match. And second, we had a shed to clean out, and stuff that had been quietly rotting under the deck, that we wanted gone.

780 pounds later, for the first load, and our yard was clearer than it had been for months. Another thing that lightened the load for me, personally, was letting go of boxes of papers that I hadn’t really looked at in 7 years, most of them things that had been transferred from closet to closet. It felt good to let go.

In the process I found a few treasures. Still-mint-in-box action figures from Babylon5 (and yes, I know that calls me out as a geek), and a signed script for the Babylon5 pilot, still pristine in plastic.

Yet one of the best things was the gift of the stuff going away. It was almost as simple as point-and-click; we’d point, and snap, those things went away. And in the end I got to donate to the charity, help a friend reach her fund-raising goal, and feel good about that too. Win.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Nothing but blue skies

It can be tricky to remember, in Seattle, that blue skies will return. Even in the middle of June and summer, we can have more grey days and rain than most places. We have even coined a weather term “sun breaks” to capture the moments when the sun comes out to play. We rush outside, take a break, and relax in the sunshine. This all got me to thinking about how much joy there is in the simple pleasure of enjoying the summer sunshine. Perhaps we can extend memories of summer further into the year, with the notion that somewhere in the world, there are blue skies and sunshine, right now. The metaphor of happiness and the image of sunshine are linked symbols in large parts of modern culture. Add an image of a child playing, banners or kites flying, and we have the visual representations that blend the concepts of pleasure, summer and happiness.

So where am I going with this? I guess this particular musing is about celebrating the possible, enjoying the blue skies when we have them, and reaching for images of summer and blue skies, or whatever metaphor coincides with happiness for you, when they are not immediately present in the moment. It’s also a bit about the connectedness of things, about life being a spectrum of experiences.

Most of the time, I am aware of the opposite side of the planet, and that they enjoy an opposite season; that’s part of growing up in Australia, falling in love, and coming to live in Seattle. When it is summer in Seattle, winter coats are the order of business in Sydney, and vice versa. It isn’t hard to think of this as a real world example of the doctrine of opposites, or as an example of polarity. It is almost like there’s a big yin/yang symbol swirling its way through the center of the earth, connecting us to the opposite side of the globe. Neither side of the balance is entirely one thing or the other; one side of the pivot is not better than the other; the poles are just the far ends of a spectrum. I think happiness can be thought of that way as well. The spectrum of happiness could be said to move all the way from the pleasure of a good yawn, through to the quiet hum of breathing, and at the far end is the dazzling glow of our favorite things.

As I’m looking out at blue skies now, am taking myself out with a blanket to enjoy it.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

15 minute vacation

From Metten (

A mini vacation practice is to take 15 minutes a day to reflect and be still. Leave the phone behind, take a walk away from the desk, and find somewhere with a view. Look at nature, take deep breaths, and allow the world to pass by.

While not everyone likes to meditate formally, the art of mindful day-dreaming is a great way to relax and renew your spirit. For me, I like to let the eye wander, rather than focusing on any one thing.

I like to look at rocks and tree formations, and notice the patterns, whorls, and imperfections that create variation in form and texture. This is something I can do near my office; there is a garden with rocks and trees in a somewhat random pattern. Across from the office, there’s a water feature as well, and I often watch the sky reflected in the water, together with the breeze making tiny ripples. You may prefer to look at flowers, or watch people as they wander past. Try it and see how much more relaxed you feel.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Whimsical hats

I don’t know quite when I started enjoying hats so much. It may even go back as far as watching movies with my parents, things like Singing in the Rain or Yanky Doodle Dandy, Mary Poppins with her very proper pinned hat, or the battered fedora on Humphrey Bogart. Hat-ness seemed to indicate a certain kind of coolness.

steampunk hat

Steampunk hat from
Exotic Design Studio

It takes some attitude to wear a hat well. Some part of you needs to embrace the message of the hat, the whimsy of it. I like to use hats to get into character. When on vacation, I like to wear movie star hats, ones with large brims, so I can flirt with the sun while remaining safe from its rays. With casual beach clothing, the casual elegance of a scarf wrapped around the hat reminds me of Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn. It’s an accent to the clothing and accessories that adds some polish, some elan.

In the past ten years or so, I’ve thought of the metaphor of hats, of changing hats, deliberately putting on a different mood, persona or attitude. It gives me happiness to try on different looks, especially ones that are a little off kilter, just a little absurd.

I admit to a fondnes for a casual layered look with a formal hat; or a slouchy beret with a big shirt and formal jacket. To a certain extent, hats are a way of juxtaposing views, playing with creativity, getting some more whimsy into my life.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved