Read and Write in Portland

July 9, 2019

Portland, Oregon is a great place for readers and writers, something I discovered on my recent vacation.

My boyfriend and I decided to visit his son in Portland for a few days, spend some time in Seattle, and then take the train home. Since Portland is purported to be walkable, we booked a hotel downtown. After taking the light rail from the airport, we walked into the Heathman Hotel.

This is the hotel lobby lounge. Out of view is a fireplace with a sofa and chairs.20190616_082224 (2)

Nestled on the bookshelves, I saw:


Yep, a melting clock. 

Reluctant to leave all these books, we eventually made it to our room, where we found:


How cool is that, although I don’t get the “edit sober” idea.

The next morning, I went running along the Willamette River. Portland is called the city of bridges, among other things. You can run on most of the bridges, so I did.


After some fabulous coffee and the farmers’ market, we went by the central library, where there are 22 benches etched with famous writers’ names. Check out the description of the library here. They also have The Sterling Room for Writers.

We went to Pioneer Square, also known as Portland’s living room.


Then onto the place at the top of our to-do list — Powell’s City of Books, the biggest bookstore in the world.


Powell’s could be called SHOCK and AWE. New books, used books, bestsellers, staff picks, signed copies, popular books, obscure books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, every subject imaginable, with mugs, t-shirts, signs, tchotchkes and a coffee shop.

I wish I had taken pictures inside but I was too happy and overwhelmed. My boyfriend had gotten there before me, so he texted me to meet him at the information desk. Ha. I didn’t see him but I did see signs pointing to the purple room and red room and orange room. There are 9 color-coded rooms, 6 or 8 of them with an information desk. It took me awhile to find the right room, simply because the place is so huge. I followed the signs and eventually found him.

If you think people don’t read anymore, Powell’s will renew your faith. After spending a few hours there – we would have liked to stay longer but had more to do – we bypassed two checkout lines 25 people deep and got into the short line of about 15 people.

A reader’s version of heaven.

You’d think I came away loaded with books. I didn’t. I only bought one.


My boyfriend bought a bunch of books, including this one.

kings book

I weighed the books when we got home. On the first full day of our 9-day vacation, I bought a 4.4 pound book, and my boyfriend bought a 3.8 pound book. Note to self: Never do that again!

Back at the hotel that evening, we hung out in the hotel lounge library. Ahh… so relaxing surrounded by all those lovely books.

The next day, we headed back to the river, where my boyfriend’s son had booked us all on a river cruise for Father’s Day. It was quite nice, and the food was good, something I don’t expect on boat rides. I especially enjoyed the bottomless mimosas!


We had a great time in Portland, and then we boarded the train. I’ll write about that next time.

Oh, and by the way, none of these places paid me to write about them, although they should have.

Happy reading and writing.


Have you vacationed in a spot that seemed tailor-made for writers and readers?


I’m a Word Dork (Word Nerd is Catchier but I Like Dork… or at Least I Did…)

June 25, 2019

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN Sunday night. Does that make me a dork? Probably, but that’s okay. The kids in that contest are amazing. They study languages and word origins and memorize words. I’ve always been a good speller. I wish I had done what they’re doing.


Grammar is another forte. One day, when I was 8 or 10 years old, my older sister asked me why I wasn’t playing on the monkey bars with the kids next door. I told her they were mad at me because I corrected their grammar. She explained that this wasn’t a good way to make friends. My response: “but they were saying it wrong”.

I no longer correct people’s grammar, although I do cringe at times, and I don’t know why it bothers me so much. When I had a young writing staff, I insisted their memos and emails be error-free. They chafed at this, and would point out errors in emails from senior-level staff, but I told them that we, as writers, are held to a higher standard.


Other challenges arise, too. I was talking with a woman recently and realized I had used a few words that she didn’t understand. (You can tell by the look on someone’s face.) That’s a conundrum. Do you explain and make them feel stupid, rephrase with smaller words and chance being condescending, or ignore the fact that they have no idea what you just said? I chose the latter.

So, yes, I’m kind of a word snob. I’m also a beer snob but that’s another post. 😊 I consider it a hazard of my trade. Just like walking through a parking garage with an engineer friend who keeps pointing out cracks in the concrete or wants to know what kind of guardrail saved my car from going into a ravine when I was hit on the Ohio Turnpike. What kind of guardrail? Really? Or going to the movies with someone who works in production or direction. They point out all the inconsistences in costume, dialog, lighting, etc.



On the other hand, my wordsmith friends and I believe we are allowed to make up words as we see fit. No one else can do it, just writers! Did I mention I used to read the dictionary for fun? Another dork-like quality.

I’ve worked with literacy councils in a couple different states and taught adults to read. I wonder if parents and teachers feel the same satisfaction I did when their kids sing the alphabet and start sounding out words and reading stories.

Words. Spelling. Grammar. Stories. Reading. Writing. They’ve drawn me in my whole life. Did I mention I also like math? I do. But words have always taken center stage.

Do you have any spelling or grammar stories to share? I’d love to hear from any other self-proclaimed word dorks.

p.s. I just googled “dork” to find the actual definition, and I’m horrified by the second definition so I hope no one else finds it.


Issues that Matter: Illiteracy Costs Us All

December 12, 2010

On a typical day, many of us read the morning newspaper while waking up with coffee. Maybe we leave a short note for our spouse or kids before we leave the house. Perhaps we sign our child’s school paper. Maybe we read and write e-mails and texts from our smart phone. While driving to work, we read the road signs without even thinking about it.

When we reach work, many of us begin reading documents almost immediately, whether its instructions, reports or correspondence. If we go out to lunch, we peruse the menu before selecting. On the way home from work, we may stop at the grocery store, list in hand.

I take those routine tasks for granted, as I’m sure you do as well. Now imagine not being able to read or write. No newspaper. No smart phone. No notes or signing school papers. No work documents. Likely no driving. Ordering the same thing at lunch. No grocery list. The limitations are enormous.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 774 million adults are illiterate in their native language. The number in the US is 30 million; two thirds of those are women.

This is not a post about immigration. Undoubtedly, a certain percentage of the illiteracy rate is due to illegal immigration. This is not a post about human trafficking, although a large percentage of trafficking victims are also illiterate. (See my last post on human trafficking.)

This is a post about Americans who cannot read and write.

ProLiteracy defines literacy as “the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and communty member.”

UNESCO defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

So why is the ability to read and write so important, other than the convenience and necessity of every day life? Many, if not most, socio-economic issues are connected to low literacy:

–More than half of our inmates can barely read or write. According to First Book, an American high school student drops out every 26 seconds. If we could increase the male graduation rate by just 5 percent, we could save up to $49 billion in costs related to crime.

–Illiteracy adds about $200 billion to the cost of health care annually. If you can’t read about disease prevention or even read how much medicine to take, it’s much more difficult to stay healthy. This increases hospital visits and stays as well as use of emergency services.

–Illiteracy contributes to problems of abuse. If you can’t read about your rights, how can you advocate for yourself? Literacy can play a major role in reducing gender inequity.

–Over $225 billion is spent on lost productivity and crime, directly related to literacy. First Book sites how the U.S. Department of Education “expects the literacy gap in America will produce a shortage of 12 million qualified workers in the next decade.”

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sponsors the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) every decade or so. In the last assessment, undertaken in 2003, 1.1 million people couldn’t even take the test because they are NON-literate.

Monetary costs are, of course, much easier to quantify, but we don’t want to forget about the human cost. Illiteracy limits the capacity of adults and children in so many ways and makes them dependent on the government, their communities and even the kindness of strangers.

How can you get involved?

Find the literacy council nearest you.

Become a tutor. The councils will train you, and give you teaching materials.

Volunteer your time in other ways. Most have volunteer boards and largely volunteer staffs, and would welcome your expertise.

Attend a local fundraiser. Most are community events.

Donate money. Resources are always tight.

In September, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Adult Literacy Caucus. Urge your member of Congress to join/support this Caucus.

Literacy Resources


First Book 

American Library Association

National Center for Family Literacy

Almanac of Policy Issues  –

America’s Literacy DirectoryNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) 

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