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Book Passage Travel Writers’ Conference


A Selection of Goodies at Book Passage for Kids Who Travel (and the parents who love them)

It’s been a few weeks now that I am back from San Francisco. I’m behind in posting as I’ve been distracted in sending Lulu for the first time to school (!!!), and as a result preparing for some life changes this Fall. I did not want to be remiss however, and not report back about the Book Passage Travel Writers’ and Photographers’ Conference I attended last month.

I had been to several travel conferences last year, some tourism-related, others blogger-related, but most were festivals for people who have a general passion for travel. It’s always interesting to see who attends these things, and I go with an open mind– but usually it’s easy to get lost. Most have hundreds of people, if not thousands. I visit a number of booths, make connections, exchange cards, meet people in the industry as well as random people who love to travel, and I send out various tweets about it throughout the day(s). And then I go home and eventually the event gets forgotten until the next one rolls around.

I had read about the Book Passage bookstore in Marin County and their annual Travel Writers’ & Photographers’ Conference sometime last year, and kept it in mind. By the springtime of this year, I decided to attend. I’m so glad I did. It was so decidedly different from any other.

First off, it is specifically a writers’ and photographers’ conference, so there is that. Not an industry show, not a we-love-travel-here-are-ideas-of-where-to-go-next show, not a bloggers-look-how-you-can-get-sponsors-and-increased-SEO show. The conference was also smaller than most– there must have been around 80 who attended. It was similar to the writing workshops I attend at home in NYC, stretched over three days, but all about travel writing, with an incredible faculty (read about them here), and spent alongside strangers with whom we shared our personal travel stories. That sharing alone breeds a certain bond and intimacy, and the energy was consistently of the nurturing, inspiring, and communal kind. One of the speakers called the 3-day event “summer camp for travel writers.”


Nat Geo Traveler Columnist and Travel Writer Don George, interviewing Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet

Authors Andrew McCarthy, Tim Cahill, Jeff Greenwald, David Farley, & Don George on Crafting the Perfect Lede

The overall warmth could be because it was in California and most attendees were from the Bay Area. I was one of a handful of people who came from the East Coast, there weren’t many. But most likely the difference in atmosphere could be attributed to seasoned travel writer Don George, the chairman of the event– a positive, enthusiastic, kind, and happy person himself– but also to the venue. Book Passage is a dream book store, one you don’t find in many cities any longer. Not only do they encourage a love for reading and of browsing through their gorgeous shelves, they clearly have also built a loyal community with their presence in the Bay Area. For readers and writers alike.


The highlight of my time there however was to hear Georgia Hesse speak. At 81, she is revered in the industry, as the first ever travel editor for the San Francisco Examiner as well as for the San Fran Chronicle. She was the first keynote speaker, and had story after story to tell about her experiences on the road, her life as a reporter, finding that unparalleled moment in her travels and seizing it to make it an unforgettable piece of writing. I sat listening, wondering if I could ever live to tell even half of the stories she described to her captivated audience. It was one entertaining tale of exoticism and danger, then dramatic escape, after another. I wish I had recorded it.

One evening a friend of mine and I cornered Georgia over several glasses of wine and encouraged her to regale us with more of her adventures. I first met Julie, a travel blogger from Arkansas, at TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) in Toronto last year. We sat leaning in towards Georgia, with hearts full of wanderlust and a thirst for story, as if seated around a campfire. The whole trip out west was well worth those hours spent in the company of this trailblazing writer.

Julie & Georgia

Julie from Empty Nest Travels, Georgia Hesse, & me

From what I understand, Georgia does not have children. If you have read my blog from its beginnings, you will know this is something I have struggled with: living a life of adventure through travel, with a child in tow. What I can do with Lulu does not compete with the sort of adventure one can do on his or her own. But I’ve made the best of the past four years with an infant, then a toddler. Not many children can say they’ve visited 4 out of 7 continents by the time they were three years old.

All this is to say that our time traveling the world may be slowing down, especially as Lulu has officially started school full-time. But you never know what the future holds. Traveling, and seeing other countries, other cultures, will always be the thing that I love to do the most. But hearing Georgia’s and all the speakers’ stories at the conference, I felt I had so many more experiences to live, so much more adventure to seek.

Maybe I will have to wait until Lulu comes of a certain independent age. That will be when our true travel adventures will begin– and maybe then she and I will be able to return to Book Passage and inspire other writers, by telling our own stories of two lives well-lived.

A Day in Sonoma, California

DSC_1634This past week I’ve been in Northern California country, on my own, without Lulu. It’s the first time in months that I got on a plane without my 4-year old traveling companion. I’m here for a Travel Writers’ Conference at Book Passage, the incredible bookstore in Marin County. It’s been non-stop learning and loving the craft of writing.

The kick-off to the conference was a day trip to Sonoma with Don George, co-chair of the conference who has a long, impressive career in travel writing. We began the day in the actual town. A wild-west-looking outpost at some moments, at others it struck me as quaint, appealing, and exactly what I picture when I think of an old Californian town– one steeped in history from our country’s gold rush years, along with influences from Spanish culture.

It’s a lovely place to visit, with charming inns, enticing restaurants and shops, and of course, dozens of places to taste wine. Along with a friend from the group, I stopped at the charming Sonoma Hotel, where we were told Maya Angelou had once booked a room in which she wrote part of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. We stumbled upon a chic yet rustic bed & breakfast, A Inn 2 Remember, whose decor and charm knocked us off our feet and guaranteed our return for another stay. The outlets for hospitality here– hotels, inns, restaurants, cafes, tasting rooms– beg for return, each is so enticing in their décor and sensibility.

Lobby of the Sonoma Hotel

Lobby of the Sonoma Hotel

A Room at Sonoma Hotel

A Room at Sonoma Hotel

The wide hallway/former dance hall of the Sonoma Hotel

The wide hallway/former dance hall of the Sonoma Hotel

The lovely dining area of An Inn 2 Remember

The lovely dining area of An Inn 2 Remember

The sitting room of An Inn to Remember

The sitting room of An Inn to Remember

Interior of The Girl and the Fig

Interior of The Girl and the Fig

Outdoor wine tasting

Outdoor wine tasting

A Favorite- Bryter Tasting Room

A Favorite- Bryter Tasting Room

The reason I wanted to travel to Sonoma however was the same reason most come here: the vineyards.

Don took us to Cline Cellars, a vineyard in Carneros Valley. The visit exceeded expectations. Under bright blue skies, our guide, Mike Alberigi, walked us through the property. He was extremely knowledgable and charismatic and his passion for his work had us all enthusiastic about the vineyard’s story, as well as its incredible wines.

The vineyards were gorgeous, highlighted by colorful landscaping, flowing ponds, and other areas of interest, including a museum that housed miniature versions of old California missions. It all ended the best way possible– with rounds of tastings of their sumptuous wines! I could not have asked for a better way to spend the day, the perfect way to start our stay. Without a doubt, I will return one day soon– this time, with Lulu in tow.

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The Inspirational Writing of Annie Lamott

Anne Lamott – Image © Richard Krusemark

I was first introduced to the writing of Anne Lamott through her widely popular book for aspiring writers, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It was educational, it was funny, it was reflective, and for a how-to kind of book, it had a lot of heart.

Encouraged by her writing in Bird by Bird, I found Operating Instructions, her memoir about her first year as a single mother, which she wrote in the mid-90s. Having just become a mother myself, I picked it up to read. It was one of the first honest accounts of new motherhood, whether a woman is raising a baby with a partner or on her own.

Lulu was just a baby then, so I related to much of what Lamott expressed in its pages. It was one of those exhilarating moments when one reads passages and instantly realizes— I am not alone. For me, this is what the best writing does. My most treasured reads are ones that inspire, that elicit compassion or understanding, and offer a connection that reassures us the human experience is not one we endure alone. We all have our struggles.

Lamott is a master at this. I aspire to touch the human heart with my writing as she does so effortlessly.

Two years ago, Annie Lamott wrote Some Assembly Required. This was a follow-up to Operating Instructions—where the first was a memoir about her time with her newborn son Sam, Some Assembly Required was about her and Sam’s time with Lamott’s first grandchild. It was co-authored along with Sam, who became a father at the age of 19.

Lamott and Her Son Sam - Image © Rick Forrestal

Lamott and Her Son Sam – Image © Rick Forrestal

When her book tour brought her to my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, I went that evening to listen to her speak and to buy her book. I approached her afterwards, to tell her how encouraging it was to read her first memoir when I too first became a single mother of a little girl, and how it was a great source of comfort to me at the time.

“Thank you,” she said. “How old is your daughter?”

“She’s two years old,” I responded.

“Oh great!” she replied. “I have a husband for her…”

After the initial shock, as marrying Lulu off was the last thing on my mind (and still is), I realized she was referring to her own grandson Jax, who at the time had also recently turned two years old!

And just like in her writing, she brought a moment of humor to my day.

Lately I have been overwhelmed with the news flooding into the media these past few weeks, as you may have been too. The unrelenting killing in Gaza and Israel. The conflict in the Ukraine that led to the tragic loss of foreign lives. The immigration problem with children at our borders. The Ebola outbreak. Freak deadly weather storms. Libya. Afghanistan. The list goes on.

To hear any of this news, on top of whatever stresses anyone may be experiencing on a personal level, is too much to bear. Earlier this week on Facebook, Lamott posted her thoughts and once again, brought it all home for her readers to find solace.

At the end of the day, when we are feeling helpless in the face of widespread global news, isn’t this all we can ask of artists, and writers who write well?

Solace. And to know we are not alone.

Click the image to read her Facebook post below, or you may find it easier to read by clicking the link: