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Author Archives: Anna Alexander

Spirit of Place # 1 The Hop & Vine


Welcome to the inaugural Spirit of Place. For my first “episode” I’m taking you to one my favorite places. No, it’s not Powell’s, but is on my list of places to go. I’m taking you to one of my favorite eating and drinking establishments in North Portland, The Hop & Vine.

The day I came here was a typical rainy Portland afternoon. My plans for the day had fallen through and I wanted to go somewhere to write. I got to thinking about this project and wondered what the spirits here would be like, if they would talk and what stories they would tell. So, I pointed my car to North Portland for a bite to eat and a glass of wine and a conversation.

The spirits at The Hop & Vine aren’t very forthcoming with information or making their presence known. Typically spirits in “haunted” places are usually a bit more forceful and insist on letting me know they are there and whether they like me or not. The spirits at Hop & Vine, however, are a lot like the clientele: laid back, relaxed and passionate about their libations, and are slow to open up.

I connected the spirits after my first glass of wine and lunch. I can’t do anything when my blood sugar is low and I didn’t want to go into the place with my metaphysical guns blazing. I never do that anyway, but you get the point. The spirits here made me work to connect with them as I sent my feelers into the dark corners of the bar. When I finally connected and proved I wasn’t there to exploit or kick them out, I told them I was there to hear their stories and just talk.

Their presence is felt more at night when the windows are steamy and people can’t feel them moving through the building. They are attracted to the building by the energy from the spa next door and come to The Hop & Vine for the ambiance. Having worked in a spa briefly, I can tell you spirits are attracted to the healing energies.

This is their story: We are the people of the land. The people who lived here before you did. We are the people who worked and tilled the soil and died here making Portland what is today. We like the energy here and we like to sit at the bar and trick the bartender dears into making drinks no one ordered. We are the working class, the blue collars and we enjoy the bar for its music, ambiance and tattoos. We stay in the back in the employee only area in the morning and early afternoon and come out at night. Sometimes we sit in the patio area when it’s sunny.

 Are you first natives? No, we are the settlers of Portland. The dockworkers, the mill workers, the people who needed to relax and decompress after work. This is where we came to be with our working families. We don’t like it when people are constantly on their phones, and if you notice, the people here don’t do that. Bring your friends, eat, relax and boast. Use this place like your working class neighborhood bar but with a better tap list and better food. Unpretentious. That is what we are and that is what we try to make this place.

 Come here to hatch plans and write and be creative but don’t take up too much space. This is not your personal office, it is a place for you and your friends and the people you love. We are the protectors of this business and this building and want to keep it prosperous for as long as we can. Thank you for talking to us. Not many can see/hear/or feel us and we are glad you took the time to seek us out. Come back often and hatch more plans.

I wrote this piece and let it sit for a few weeks and recently returned to Hop & Vine for date night with my husband. We sat outside in the back and I said hello to the spirits.  While we were there, I looked around and noticed, that except for the guy who brought his laptop into the bar to show pictures to his friends, no one was on their phones. People talked, laughed, ate and enjoyed each others company without posting pictures of their food and drinks on Facebook. I encourage you to come here for a date night or after work drink with people you want to laugh and talk to and leave your phones in the car. The spirits will thank you.

Do you have a place you want me to go? Drop me a line in the comments I’ll see what I can do.


Introduction to a new series

Window in Window

WordPress has kindly informed me this blog is beyond dusty and extremely moldy as I haven’t posted anything for a little over 2 years. Kinda sad, but life got in the way and I had a brief writing crisis of faith where everything I wrote felt like it wasn’t any good.

But the muse bit me recently and bit hard and I would like to introduce to you, gentle reader, to a new series to this blog called Spirit of Place.

As many of you know, I have been reading runes and tarot cards for well over 20 years and I also connect with spirits and provide readings for people who want to learn about and get to know their spirit guides. I guess my official title would be Medium. I call them spirits and not dead people because I find that to be disrespectful.

haunted fountainThe idea of Spirit of Place came to me when my sister, Rachel, and I were in Italy. We had just visited a nice haunted castle in a cute little Italian town and were enjoying some afternoon libations near a water fountain in a small park. Rachel also has the same gifts as me and told me there was a spirit near the water fountain who wanted to talk to us.

I convinced the spirit that the language barrier wasn’t a problem and were introduced to a very dapper spirit named Fritz. Fritz told us about his family, his life and why he chose the water fountain and the park. We had a pleasant chat with Fritz and when we were done, we poured out a little of our afternoon libations and thanked Fritz for his stories. He thanks us for listening and went back to the fountain.

And that is what I am going to do this with blog series. I will visit local business, open spaces, parks, etc. and talk to the “Fritzs” inhabiting the spaces and ask them to tell me their stories. I will also ask how others can take advantage of the “spirit” of these places for your own benefit. Also, if I go to a place and the spirits don’t feel like talking, I won’t push. I may come back a few times until they do, but if they really don’t want to talk, I won’t force them.

Please also note: this is not a “ghost hunting” blog. I’m not going to whip out EMF Meters or digital recorders and demand the spirits talk to me. I find that recent trend to be a disrespectful and I’m not here to get readings.

I hope you enjoy this “spirited” ride and if you have any places you want to recommend or are curious about, let me know.

Also, if you do visit the places I write about, make sure to leave an offering for the spirits residing there.

Embrace The Suck


A video featuring the wise words of Ira Glass has been floating around my Facebook feed where is giving a commentary as only Ira can about the creative process and how we all suck at the beginning of any creative endeavor and just have to plow through until we get good. A friend of mine wisely paraphrased it as The Rules of Suck.

Last week I was reminded of The Rules of Suck when I was running through beautiful Northwest Portland. For those of you who don’t live here, NW Portland is beautiful but very hilly and I had to run up those hills for two miles during my weekly running group long run. My lungs complained, my legs complained and bad thoughts and four letter words went through my head when the marathoners passed me when I caved and walked up part of the hill.

When I got to the 1.5 mile mark, I stopped and watched the other runners and considered my fate. I could turn around and go back and no one would know, or I could keep huffing, panting and swearing for another half mile. About that time another fellow runner in my group ran by and told me I was doing a good job. I figured this was a sign from the Universe so I took a deep breath and walked and ran the last half mile before I turned around.

As expected, the downhill part was easy and gave me time to review my performance. Of course I immediately went to everything I did wrong: my sore muscles, my tight legs, etc. until a voice that sounded a lot like my mom’s said, “What about all the things you did right? You didn’t short your run and who cares if you walked? You FINISHED.”

Insert stunned, sweaty Anna here.

As I trotted back down the hill I realized The Mom Voice was right: If I want to be better and stronger I was just going to have to embrace the suck. The perfectionist in me HATES that but the sensible part of my brain knows I have to keep moving forward to get better at anything I do. I will never be Steve Prefontaine nor will I have has fabulous 1970s ‘stache but I can celebrate my victories no matter how small and embrace the suck until I can run up those damned hills without stopping. And when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Book Report: Art, Anthologies, Royals and Movement

My original plan to add more content to my blog was to do a book reports when I finished reading a book. But, I’m not good at book reports and I’ve never been good at finding subtle nuances of gently placed commas and comparing the main character’s flaws with Freudian psychology. So, I decided to do things a little different; instead of reading a book and reviewing it, I’m going to do a monthly book report summarizing the books I read (and picked up but never finished). It’s much more interesting than long book reviews and I’m all about bite-sized chunks.

So, the first book I read in 2014 is a re-read and it’s Steve Martin’s book An Object of Beauty: A Novel. Yes, that Steve Martin. Steve Martin’s works of fiction like Shop Girl and An Object of Beauty are very approachable much like his on-screen work but have subtle, erudite themes that make you feel like you’re being included in something truly wonderful. This book is the story of a young, ambitious New Yorker named Lacey Yeager who lands a job at Sotheby’s Auction House. Narrated by Lacey’s friend Daniel who finds her strangely fascinating and infuriating. Lacy is one of those aloof and smart people we say we want to emulate but can never truly be. While this may seem like any other “ambitious young person” book, Steve Martin throws in an Art History 101 course (complete with visual aids and pictures of the work he references) and a behind the scenes glimpse into the New York art world. I’ve always admired Steve Martin and this book made me admire him even more. It made me want to peer into his brain and watch the gears turn as they work their magic.

Next up is Membrane Fiction + Art Anthologie. I have read many books of short stories by reputable authors and usually they have a couple of stories that stand out but the rest are fillers. Not so with this book. Membrane is a release from The Dreadful Café, an author collective and publishing imprint that gives their proceeds to charity. Membrane is packed with engaging short stories on everything from zombie grandmothers, clown plagues, cannibals and more. Sprinkled in between stories are original, thought provoking pieces of art with short back stories. It’s very rare when I don’t want a book to end but I was surprised when I got to the end because I wanted more. This book is available for download only but Dreadful Café promises it will be out in print soon.

Turning now to biography, the next book is one I started but didn’t finish but not because it was a bad book, but because the “characters” in the book were repulsive, abusive jerks. I’m talking about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I first heard an interview with Jane Ridley the author of The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince and was intrigued by the topic. Besides walking by Royal Albert Hall in London and seeing the movie Mrs. Brown I knew absolutely nothing about Vicky and Albert. This thoroughly researched book shines a light on the life and times of “Bertie” or Edward VII. It gives you an inside look into the papers and writings of the family and explains why Bertie went from a gambler, glutton and womanize to a respected head of state. I loved the writing in this book and appreciate the research, but I just couldn’t finish it. Vicky and Albert needed a healthy dose of anti-depressants and why Bertie didn’t haul off and kill them is beyond me.

The last book on my “read” list is The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blank. It doesn’t matter if you weight 120 or 220 pounds, this book is for anyone who has had body issues or just can’t find any joy in exercising. When I started my running program this year, my main goal was not to run a marathon or a half marathon (that will come later) but to learn to enjoy exercise. Before I started the program, exercise was work. It was something I did to train for an event and it wasn’t fun. It was something I did because I needed to lose weight. It hurt and I beat myself up too much when I didn’t “perform” to the standards in my brain. This book helped me get beyond those feelings and learn to enjoy exercise again. The basic message of the book is we shouldn’t exercise to conform our bodies to society’s standards or implied health issues, but we should do it to feel better in our own skin and make our bodies more functional. Hanne gives sound advice on choosing workout plans, choosing workout gear and how to feel comfortable in a gym when you’re surrounded by the Beautiful People. I can’t emphasize how important this book is for anyone who hates exercise or has felt less than comfortable in their skin. It’s a down-to-earth approach to exercise with no shame and by the end you’ll feel empowered enough to move more.

Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about taking R. Buckminster Fuller’s advice and changing things by building a better model. I called it Anna 1.5. Typically when I make grand proclamations about things like unfinished projects, weight loss, etc I think about it for a few days and put it in a dusty corner with a pile of other unfinished projects. This time, however, I took some time to mull over Bucky’s advice and broke it up into smaller chunks and thought about what it really means to evolve into Anna 1.5. What I learned was I wasn’t “chunking” things up very well and would focus on the entire mountain instead of picking it apart. I have trained and raced in triathlons but after the races, I never had anything planned to maintain my level of fitness. This time around, I’m not doing another triathlon, but I have joined a local running group and I’ve made a list of local, smaller events I can race in before a doing a half marathon. It’s a constant dangling carrot to keep me going rather than training for ONE thing and crashing at the end and undoing all my hard work. While I was “chunking” my goals into neat piles, I thought about this blog and its focus. It originally started as supplemental material for A Closer Look Radio with tidbits and detritus I randomly gleaned from the interwebs and evolved into a blog about life, creativity, business and whatever else came to mind. I wrote about my husband’s deployment and aired out my brain on a variety of topics. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m repeating myself and the blog is getting stale. Don’t worry, I’m not going to shut it down, I’m just going to turn it into Anna’s Blog 1.5. My plan is to provide more interesting content allowing me to grow as a writer and actually use my creative automat. I’m going to write more book and movie reviews, take pictures of my food (cuz I’m such a hipster), explore new places, and create a diary of my travels served on beautiful plates. Sure it sounds like my usual grand plans but using a calendar and my newly found chunking skills, I will have a plan before jumping in to the deep end of the pool. My mom always told us to get out of the house and explore, so I’m going to do that and take you with me. I will continue to write about the creative process and anything else that comes to mind, but more writing exercises and better content for Blog 1.5 is definitely on the docket. I also have an exciting project I’ll be working on as my way to give back to all of the combat vets but more on that later.

One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something

Celebrated architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist and designer of my sister’s (geodesic) home R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

2014 is lurking and so is the promise of a cleaner slate, grand plans™ and the year I will finally do x,y, and z. Like most people, I get caught up in the excitement of a New Year and the chance to “start over”. But somehow, when the clock strikes midnight, I have not transformed into Anna Alexander 2000® and I still have to get up for work, pay bills and deal with traffic. What I don’t do each year is take “Bucky’s” advice and think about how to build a better model and learn from the previous model’s mistakes. It’s easy to get caught up in the inertia of life (work, commute, family) and not spend time building better models of ourselves. I’m not saying you have to lose 50 pounds in one year and split atoms in your garage on the weekends, but how often do you take inventory of your life and think about the small ways in which you can either continue being fabulous or make little tweaks to build a better model?

One small tweak I did this year was set monthly lunch and pedi dates with a friend. I tend to ignore my feet until I’m doing sun salutations in yoga class and realize they need maintenance. The monthly date is a nice little treat of relaxation and it doesn’t cost the earth. Something I really need to work on in 2014 is getting out of bad headspace at work when I’m learning something new. The perfectionist in me thinks I should already know how to do something rather than “being a sponge” as my mom says and enjoying the opportunity to learn. I work with some very intelligent people and I have a great opportunity to learn – beating myself up because I don’t know how an electrical current works does not make me a better Anna 1.5.

What does make me better is knowing I CAN be a better Anna 1.5. I haven’t’ been exercising as much as I should these past few months so I used some of my Christmas money to buy a membership to a local running club. I do better when I exercise with others and, quite frankly, it’s more fun. Sure, it’s going to hurt and I won’t be able to sleep in on Saturdays but I’ll like myself better and that’s work an early morning wake up call any day.

What about you Gentle Reader? What simple steps can you take to build a better model in 2014? What has been on your list forever that needs action or just simply crossed off? Drop me a line and I’ll report on my findings throughout the year.

Howling and Getting Messy

It’s Sunday and I absolutely hate Sundays. I wake up knowing there are looming responsibilities ahead and blog posts to write and Facebook pages to update. There’s work I stupidly brought home on Friday thinking I’ll get to so I won’t have as much to do the following week, but it somehow stays in my car over the weekend collecting dust. I put a lot of my Sunday chores off until the minute on Monday because I absolutely HATE doing any sort of work on the weekends. So why do I bring work home on the weekend and not write blog posts during the week instead?

My desperate need for balance.

I am, by my genetic disposition, an overachiever and tend to be a workaholic when I can get away with it. As a modern woman I sometimes feel like I have to expertly maintain a balance between work and home, being active and enjoying the fruits of the Pacific Northwest. No one places these expectations on me except me and the hamster in my brain. Maybe I read too many magazines but I keep thinking there’s a magical Pot O’ Balance and if I keep turning over rocks, I just MIGHT find it. I was like that in college when I refused to focus on just one class and let the others go and I’m like that as an adult. Luckily, the Universe had an answer for me this week when this article landed on my Facebook feed and made me stop and re-think the whole idea of balance. For those of you who didn’t click on the link, the author summarizes the act of trying to finding balance by saying, fuck balance! We aren’t meant to find balance! We were born to shift and be selfish and howl and get messy.

Powerful words, huh? I wish I had written them, but I didn’t so I printed them out and put them on my computer. My journal is full of lists on ways in which I “should” be finding the elusive Pot O’ Balance instead of just howling and getting messy. Finding balance is what prevents me from sitting still for too long or just enjoying the moment before moving on to something else. That’s not to say I’m not curious because I will always be curious, but trying to find work/life balance is never going to happen so maybe it’s just time for me to jump head-first into the void and enjoy the ride. Mark Twain once wrote, “What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.” That Samuel Clemens sure was smart.

What about you, Gentle Reader? Do you keep searching for the Pot O’ Balance or have you learned to “sod it all” and howl and get messy?