Oregon coast

North Coast Squid

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I’m happy to announce that my essay “Ebb and Flow” has been published in Volume 6 of  North Coast Squid: A Journal of Local Writing, published by the Hoffman Center for the Arts, Manzanita, Oregon.

You can find a copy of the literary magazine here:

Manzanita: Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, Manzanita News & Espresso
Nehalem: Beehive
Wheeler: The Roost
Tillamook: Tillamook Country Pioneer Museum
Cannon Beach: Cannon Beach Books
Seaside: Beach Books
Astoria: Lucy’s Books
Pacific City: The Rowboat Gallery

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My Oregon Love Song

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My fingers are puckered, my feet are webbed, and like most of my neighbors, I’d love to see the sun. But the weatherman just confirmed another week of rain. Oh, yay.

Coming from a town lucky enough to see ten inches of rain a year, here in Newport we’ve already endured forty-three inches of rain, and it isn’t even May. It’s hard to get and stay motivated when the days are gray, misty, and wet. Walks along the beach are anything but romantic and puttering in the yard only creates bigger messes. Maybe that’s why there is always so much going on indoors.

For instance, in the last thirty days I got to hang out with some pretty amazing writers. In March, Susan DeFreitas talked about environmental degradation and her debut novel Hot Season. Her landscape descriptions blew me away. I can still smell the river and feel the breeze on my skin. A couple weeks later Karen Karbo, author of a best-selling “kick-ass women’s series”, talked about writing personal essays and I learned how to put passion back into my work. And just last week Garth Stein came to town to discuss writing his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. The room was packed and for two hours we didn’t care that it was pouring outside, Stein was filling the room with enlightenment and inspiration.

The place I used to call home was so isolated I’d have to drive hundreds of miles to attend book signings and writing workshops. Now all I have to do is go to the library or the Performing Arts Center, just a few miles down the road.

Newport brims with talented people I would have never met if I had stayed in my Idaho cocoon. So thank you Oregon for giving me a stimulating and verdant place to live. Thank you for welcoming me home.

(Sorry the pictures are so blurry. My phone doesn’t play nice sometimes.)

 

454 Days Later

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I’ve been quiet and you probably think I fell into the ocean or got blown away by coastal storms. But no, I’m still here, learning all I can about my new home.

The reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been busy. For a tiny dot on the map between Yachats and Lincoln City, Newport’s population is about the same as the town I left in Idaho. If you want a Costco or a Lowe’s you have to drive several miles, just like I did in Idaho. But unlike the town I left behind, there is so much more to do here I barely have time to read, let alone write.

Check out the latest issue of Oregon Coast Today and you will see there is always something going on. Add to that everything happening in The Valley between here and Portland and there is no time to be bored. Ever.

Take for instance last weekend. Since I don’t like to drive Portland traffic my son quietly obliged, taking me to Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock. I was so revitalized I’m still vibrating. My favorite author, Alice Hoffman, was in town and spoke about her new book Faithful. She even signed my copy and thanked me for stopping by. So many other talented writers attended, not to mention many Oregon presses including Ooligan Press, Tin House, and my favorite, Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press. If that wasn’t great enough, admission to the event included admittance to the Portland Art Museum and the Andy Warhol exhibit. Now my son was vibrating, snapping pictures and studying one-of-a-kind art. Yes, it was raining. But in spite of the rain, it was a positive, energizing day.

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That evening my family took in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical put on by my grandson Dante’s high school class. The students were top notch, high energy, and amazing. The day ended with dinner at The Ram and a glass of wine. Perfect.

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Many people told me I was crazy to move to Oregon. Several said I’d get depressed and miss the sun. And even though I miss my friends in Idaho, and sometimes I do miss the sun, mostly I love it here. Even when it’s raining.

A few things you may not know about Rob Yardumian

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Newport, Oregon, has an active literary community. This Saturday, May 21,  ROB YARDUMIAN will read at the Nye Beach Writers Series in the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. at 7 p.m.

Rob is a fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. The Sound of Songs Across the Water is his first novel, and Sing With Me, Brother, For We Have Sinned is the accompanying album of original music. His short fiction has appeared in The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, The New Orleans Review, and other literary magazines. He has an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, and he is currently working on his second novel, Rider Keene.

Here are some things you may not know about Rob.

1) Why did you become a writer? How did you get started?

When I was in my twenties I worked at a record label in Los Angeles. I was asked by one of our graphic designers to contribute a couple of pages to an art project they were putting together. I wrote two one-page stories as my contributions. Although the book was never published, it kindled my interest in fiction, and I kept writing from there.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I write all day on Saturdays and Sundays, and a few hours on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Discipline is not a problem for me, as I’d rather be writing than just about anything else I could do on a weekend.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I typically write two complete drafts, then ask my readers to review the book and give me feedback. I’ll do another draft or two after that.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career?

Getting an MFA helped me learn how to edit my own work. I’d say that’s a critical skill any serious writer must learn fairly early in the process.

5) What do you like to read? Favorite authors?

Jim Crace, Glen Duncan, Denis Johnson

6) What was the best advice you received as a writer?

“Get black on white.”

7) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

My second novel, Rider Keene, is in its third draft. I hope to begin shopping it this fall.

8) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Take notes on the books you read. Write down what you liked or didn’t like about them. What worked or didn’t work and why? What would have made it better? What kind of choices would that have required from the author? Why do you think he/she didn’t make that choice? What would you have done differently? Even if the book wasn’t a success, pick out one or two things about it that did work and explain why you liked them.

9) Something we don’t know about you?

My family has two boys, two dogs, and four cats. And next year we’re getting chickens.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Probably a criminal mastermind with houses on three continents and a stable of flashy cars. Or a doughnut maker. I like doughnuts.

For more information about Rob, go to http://robyardumian.com

 

Getting to Know You

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Plants have always been my passion. You’re more likely to find me outside playing in the dirt instead of indoors sitting in front of the TV or holding a book. For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in plants. What is it? Does it have medicinal purposes? Can you eat it? Moving to the Oregon Coast, then, has been this gardener’s dream. Here, if you want something to grow, just toss it on the ground, forget about it and a week later it will be an established plant. In southern Idaho if you tossed a plant on the ground, it was destined to die.

As an Idaho Master Gardener I know a lot about plants. But here in Oregon I feel like I’ve dropped down the rabbit hole. My head bobs at every step as I try to identify plants I’ve never seen before. Like the large bush that attracts birds and borders my yard on the north. The plant is prolific; I see it everywhere. But it took a trip to the county extension office to learn that the plant is a wax myrtle. I didn’t know that the pretty yellow plant along the side of the road is scotch broom and that it’s invasive. I was familiar with perennial geraniums but didn’t know that Herb Robert was not the same as cranesbill geranium even though they look alike. Is it an azalea or a rhododendron? What makes them different?

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My yard is a wonderland of new discoveries. I knew I had a lot of blackberries bordering my lawn, but I didn’t know that I also had salmonberry, thimbleberry and evergreen huckleberries, not to mention the salal that grows like trees.

A walk through my neighborhood is truly a walk in the forest. Trilliums. Yellow skunk cabbage. English daisies and woodland strawberries that cover the ground instead of grass. Western buttercups and lewisia. Each forward step offers a mystery to be solved.

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Moving to Oregon has been a grand adventure and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all about the plants that grow in my yard and neighborhood. With the ocean just down the road, I’m eager to start learning the names of the interesting treasures I find on the beach.

 

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15 Things You May Not Know About Lauren Kessler

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This weekend Nye Beach Writers Series is hosting Lauren Kessler, from Eugene, Oregon.

Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and self-designated guinea pig journalist who combines lively narrative with deep research to explore everything from the seemingly romantic but oh-so-gritty world of ballet to the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement, from the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship to the hidden world of Alzheimer’s sufferers. She is the author of nine works of narrative nonfiction, including her latest, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Her other work includes Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging; My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence, and Pacific Northwest Book Award winner Dancing with Rose (published in paperback as Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s.

Please join us February 20, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. General admission is $8; students are admitted free. Open mic to follow.

 

15 Things You May Not Know About Lauren Kessler

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I write for many reasons, but mostly I write because I am intensely curious about…well, about most everything…and writing funds my curiosity and gives legitimacy to my nosiness.  It allows me to ask questions without being a nuisance (usually).  It allows me to immerse myself in people’s lives without being arrested for stalking.  I can even eavesdrop.  At one point early in my writing career, I thought maybe I should specialize.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t set those boundaries.  And so, during the past decade, I’ve written about exotic plant smuggling and assisted suicide, about communist spies and women’s basketball players, about a whorehouse in the Mojave desert , about my mother.  About Alzheimer’s.  About 21st century teen girl culture. About ballet. I write to learn.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

When I am writing (as opposed to researching, traveling, immersing myself in the world I am going to write about) I keep to a strict routine. A routine means I can focus on the work itself and not waste energy on thinking about how my day will or should go. I wake early, go for a run, then work for about 5 hours. I stand when I work. I drink many many cups of green and herbal tea. When things get tough, I chain chew Orbit Sweet Mint Gum. I don’t have a problem with discipline. This is work I love. I am intensely aware of the privilege I have to do it.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I have never counted. And it is actually impossible to determine, given the every day fiddling, tweaking, revising, rewriting that is a normal part of the process.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best: When Stubborn Twig, which won the Oregon Book Award, was chosen as the first statewide “Everybody Reads” selection to celebrate Oregon’s sesquicentennial. I had the opportunity to travel to 23 cities and towns across the state to talk about the book, about writing and about our state’s history. Second best: Appearing on the David Letterman Show for Happy Bottom Riding Club.
The worst: When, mid-book, my editor at Viking — whom I loved and had worked with on other projects — left the publishing house.

5) What part of your job do you love the most?  Hate or dislike the most?

I love the act of writing, how alive I feel when I am making connections, when it feels as if I am truly truly using my brain. And I equally love diving into the worlds I want to write about, immersing myself fully, learning by doing.

I dislike pitching book ideas to my agent because sometimes what grabs me is not what grabs him.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I am a voracious reader. When I am researching a book, I immerse myself in the literature of that world — narrative nonfiction, novels, memoir, poetry, film — as well as, of course, the research and writing of experts. I read, alternately, narrative nonfiction and novels, trading off. All-time favorite authors: May Sarton, Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler, Vladmir Nabokov.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

Best: Sweat the small stuff.
Worst: Stick with what you know.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

The iconic narrative/ literary nonfiction writers: John McPhee, Gay Talese, Joan Didion

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

Nope.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Unhappy.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I am at the beginning of a new project, another immersion into a fascinating world…but it’s too early to talk about it.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I would not wait at Penn Station for three hours for my then-boyfriend Phil who missed the train (as I too-much-later found out) because he was busy romancing another girl.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Read, read, read.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I know all the lines to Vachel Lindsay’s poem, The Congo. Also TupTim’s speech in The King and I.

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

(this is adapted from the flap copy and back cover)

The mother of three grown children who hasn’t had a ballet slipper on her foot in forty years, Lauren Kessler launches herself, full-force, on a journey to dance in the world’s most popular ballet with a professional company.
The result is a midlife quest at turns harrowing and hilarious, an exploration of what it means to venture far outside your comfort zone, to truly test your own limits and raise the bar(re) on your own life. Lauren’s quest to dance The Nutcracker with the Eugene Ballet Company tackles the big issues: fear, angst, risk, resilience, the refusal to “settle in” to midlife, the refusal to become yet another Invisible Woman. It is also a very funny, very real look at what it’s like to push yourself
further than you ever thought you could go—and what happens when you get there.

Kessler blogs at www.counterclockwisebook.com about health, wellness and living an engaged life. For more information, visit her website at laurenkessler.com.

Transitioning – Hello 2016

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December 31, 2015

While everyone is celebrating New Year’s Eve I’m taking a moment to reflect on the last twelve months. In one short year so much has happened. Weddings. Graduations. Illnesses. Deaths. Loss. Relocation. I might be tempted to write a sappy blog about the highs and lows of a hellish year, but all I feel is gratitude.

Tonight as I tip my champagne glass at the television, I say to my husband, “Just once I’d like to do that.”

He stares blankly at the TV. “What?”

“Watch the ball drop at Times Square.”

He turns toward me. “Really.”

No, I guess not. That’s a lot of people. Over a million, the commentator claims. People yelling and pushing and probably exhausted from standing in line for thirteen hours to save a spot. But there really was a time when I would have stayed up all night to join that crowd and welcome in the New Year, to dance and sing with Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York.”

But not anymore. If I were to make that trip today I would be jet-lagged and ill. The change in altitude would rev up my Meniere’s disease sending my head spinning. Nonetheless, it would have been an exciting way to welcome in 2016.

This time last year I was sitting with family in a vacation rental near Moolack Beach. We call it our Griswold Family Christmas. Most of us were sick. To make matters worse a valve in the holding tank was broken. Baby Ellie was sick. So were her parents. There was an ocean full of water outside but inside there was not a drop to drink. Twice we drove into Newport for water. We bought all the bottled water Thriftway carried, then hit up Safeway and Fred Meyer’s. In more ways than one it was the Christmas from hell. We tried to laugh, but we were miserable and ready to go home. By 10 p.m. we were all in bed, our plans to celebrate the New Year abandoned.

Fast forward a year and once again I have an opportunity to welcome in the New Year on the Oregon Coast. But this time I’m eating fresh crab and sipping champagne. There is no vacation rental; there is no broken valve. There is plenty of fresh water. This year our family Christmas was awesome instead of a disaster. Celebrating with our son and family in Happy Valley we baked cookies, beaded snowflakes, and drove into Portland to see the lights at Peacock Lane as well as the red and green lights on the bridge. We celebrated the Winter Solstice at Milwaukie’s Riverfront Park, sang carols, drank hot chocolate around a huge bonfire, and watched the fire reflect in the water. Everything was magical; it truly felt like Christmas.

That Griswold Christmas seems a long time ago. So much has changed. Now when I open my front door I hear the ocean instead of traffic. While friends in Idaho bundle up against single digit temperatures and inches of snow, the ground in my front yard has yet to freeze.

“Happy New Year.” I clink my husband’s glass as he heads off to bed. It’s 9 p.m. We’re not going to make it to midnight.

Welcome to Newport I hum as Kathy Griffin and Cooper Anderson razz each other at Times Square. I laugh at one of their jokes. The camera zooms in on the ball. The crowd behind them cheers.

I tip my glass toward the TV and finish my champagne. I am warm. I am happy. I am safe.

I turn off the television and put Emily, Riley, and Boo to bed. “Happy New Year,” I pat them on their heads as I retire. They waggle their tails. I turn out the lights.

I am filled with gratitude.

I am filled with awe.

I am humbled.

 

Transitioning — I ♥ Newport

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Yesterday I received an email from my brother. So, it said, do you still like it there?

Let me think.

I’m headed into the third month in my new house. The boxes are unpacked. Everything has been put away or donated to Goodwill. Most of the pictures are on the wall, with the remaining three in a dining room chair waiting for me to find the perfect place. Finally there is time to take a walk through the wooded neighborhood or sit in front of the window and sip coffee. Finally there is time to take in some community events, which are many.

In spite of the loud clothes my husband sports, we are quiet people. We don’t like a lot of hustle and bustle or big crowds. Newport is anything but quiet during the summer months, but come September vacationers return to their homes and things settle down here. But not too much. In fact, not at all. We’ve discovered there is always something to do on the Oregon Coast. From Lincoln City to Florence, there is always something going on: farmer’s markets, mushroom walks, kite festivals, writing workshops, woodworking classes. This is not a community of old people. This town is very active.

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Newport isn’t as big as Jerome, Idaho, which boasts approximately eleven thousand people. Newport has a population of about ten thousand after tourist season. Newport has a great medical facility and the library is awesome for such a small town. Just this week the Newport Public Library Foundation sponsored author Marja Mills, who spent her day talking to Newport students and then, that night, read from her book and shared with the community what it was like to live next door to Alice and Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama. The evening was interesting, and it was free.

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Today the sun is shining. Outdoors it’s a balmy 50 degrees. There is no wind. There is no snow. There is no freeway traffic.

So, to answer my brother. Yes, I still like it here. No, wait, that’s wrong. I not only like it here, I think I’m in love.

Transitioning . . . Welcome to Oregon

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August 8, 2015

The dutiful son and I leave Happy Valley and merge with traffic heading south on I-5. It’s early enough roads aren’t crowded, and no one is tired and enacting road rage. I’ve driven this road before, several times, and the good thing about I-5 is that it’s a straight shot to Salem, no twisty turns to slow the pace.

We take exit 228 toward Lebanon and Corvallis and begin the windy drive toward the coast. According to mapquest, the trip to Newport is 139 miles. By comparison, a trip from Jerome to Boise, Idaho, a 120-mile drive, would take less than two hours. But here the trip takes almost three as the single-lane road winds at a slow 50, 55-mile pace. Idaho recently raised the freeway speed limit to 80 miles an hour, which makes sense in southern Idaho where there isn’t anything to destroy but desert. Here you couldn’t drive 80 miles an hour if you wanted to, not when curves warn “slow down,” and there are almost as many curves as trees. But the drive is beautiful, and every time I make it I think of Lewis and Clark and how primeval everything must have been 200 years ago. Even now, if road crews didn’t trim back foliage, the blackberries, deer fern, and juniper mistletoe would devour the road, and I would be searching for a way through the forest.

I roll down my window and enjoy the pine-scented air. Back in Idaho temperatures are three digits, here it is cooler, and where I am going the average daily temperature is 64 degrees. That’s part of the reason for this move: no more harsh winters and no more blistering summers. But that’s a lie. The reason for this move is simple. I love the ocean. I want to live on the coast.

It seems like fall, and I’m surprised at how the colors are already changing to red and yellow. It’s the drought my son says when I comment. It’s hard to believe this lush land is experiencing a drought, not with all the green around me. But there are signs everywhere with dead trees and straw-colored grass. And I understand drought. In Idaho, everything is brown and much of the terrain is on fire.

I have a lot to learn about this state that supports the right to die, medicinal marijuana, and mandatory recycling. This green state meshes with my personality. I believe in leaving a light footprint, if I must leave one at all. And I love to play in the dirt. My Idaho friends have placed bets. How long will it be before I put my nose in a nursery? Surprisingly, my list is small: star jasmine, blue hydrangea, peace lilies, and a white magnolia, none of which survive harsh Idaho winters.

Even before I pull into Newport, I smell the salt air. I inhale. It’s comforting, and welcoming, and feels like home.

 

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Down the Oregon Trail

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Covered_Wagon_(Baker_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(bakD0133)Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind” and my first reaction is, “What mind?” Because there have been times in the last month that I feel like I’ve lost my mind, or rather left it in the gutter somewhere between Newport, Oregon, and Jerome, Idaho.

Sixty-five is a golden age, right? Sixty-five is when you retire and take it easy. That’s what I say to the stranger looking back at me in the mirror. The one who decided sixty-five was the perfect age to take on a new adventure.

This mind-blowing escapade wasn’t planned, but a trip to Oregon to celebrate my grandson’s high school graduation turned into a life-altering event. Tack on two extra days to visit the Oregon Coast and thirty days later I’ve signed an offer on a house, and I’m moving to Oregon.

“What?” my friends say in surprise. My closest friend shakes her head in disbelief, and no one is more surprised than I am.

The last time we moved, we moved to be closer to my husband’s work. We bought a place on ten acres, planted fruit trees, and made our home. Everything here has a place. Here everything is comfortable and settled. Apples and peaches are ripening, and soon squirrels will fight over walnuts and filberts. I should be relaxing with a book, or having coffee with friends. Instead, I’m facing mountains of boxes as I plan my move.

Taping a box of dishes shut, I catch myself singing, Hurry up old pioneer, keep a-movin’, your gallant little band must never fail. Riding side by side ‘cross the great divide, down the Oregon Trail.”

As I sing, I think about the women who made the trek to Oregon over a hundred years ago and how they had to narrow their life into a covered wagon. It’s hard, heart-wrenching work. What to take? What to leave? The task is daunting and often I have to walk away from the packing. I have to take a deep breath and practice meditation to calm my anxiety. Or play a couple hands of spider solitaire, brew a cup of calming tea, and consider a tall gin and tonic.

Moving at any age is scary. But moving at sixty-five feels like nothing I’ve ever done before. Questions ricochet in my head. Am I making the right choice? What about doctors? What about medical insurance? Will I miss Idaho? Will I like the rain?

There is a bright side to my madness. Now, when I want to see my grandkids, I only have to drive two hours instead of ten. Now, when I want to attend a conference in Portland, I don’t have to hassle with airport security. When I want to have a dinner with my son and daughter-in-law, or take in a Broadway musical, I can without having to justify the cost of a two-day trip. And best of all, no more holiday dinners on Skype.

Yesterday a picture came across my Facebook page that said: Stress is two forces moving in opposite directions. Sit still.

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I’m going to keep that in mind the next time I feel my head exploding. I’ll take a deep breath, sip a gin and tonic, and try to sit still. But I’ll also be humming, down the Oregon Trail.

 

Wagon train go rollin’ cross the prairie
Winding onward through the storm and gale
Towards the land of dreams trudge the old ox teams
Down the Oregon Trail

Through the night the Lord is in the saddle
Riding herd beneath the moon so pale
Watching o’er ach stray till the break of day
Down the Oregon Trail

There’ll be cattle on each ranch in Oregon
There’ll be valleys filled with golden grain
There’l be apples on each branch in Oregon
For there’ll be plenty sun and rain

Hurry up old pioneer, keep movin’
Your gallant little band must never fail
Riding side by side ‘cross the great divide
Down the Oregon Trail
-Down the Oregon Trail by Burl Ives

In between book signings, a quick trip to the coast.

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September and October are my favorite months in Oregon. This year it didn’t look like I was going to get to go, but we found a couple of free days and zipped over to see the ocean. Emily loved the beach, and so did we.

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