It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
– E.B. White, American author, Charlotte’s Web
I confess that I don’t have much time to read other people’s blogs. It’s hard enough for me to keep up with my personal e-mails and my work e-mails. But there are some blogs that are unique and really have something to say and offer. My series, or category, “Blog Love,” celebrates and highlights those special blogs, which rightly will be a once-in-a-great-while occurrence on my site because these types of blogs are rare.
The tagline of Laurel’s Compass is “a travel writer’s guide to adventures of sustainability and spirit,” which sums up nicely what this blog is all about. Freelance Writer and Editor Laurel Kallenbach has traveled the world over in search of “sustainable tourism, regional foods, sacred sites, local arts, cultural observations, wellness retreats and spas, and outdoor adventures,” which inform her travel writing. Laurel, who calls home Boulder, CO, started her blog in September 2008. While she has written about rural and urban destinations, she has an affinity for “places with a sense of history and cultures with a slower sense of time.” She writes in her website’s bio: “I’m fascinated by ancient civilizations, prehistoric megaliths and historical locations.”
I personally love the fact that she writes about sustainable tourism. On a daily basis, my family and I live a “reduce, reuse, recycle” lifestyle, though I’m always conscious of the fact that we can do more. It’s refreshing therefore to find destinations where that same philosophy of being good stewards of the Earth is practiced. I am a fan and donor of Heifer International, which made Laurel’s December 6, 2012, blog entry, “Adopt a Swiss Cow & Support Sustainable Dairy Farms,” memorable for me because of Farmer Albert Breitenmoser’s ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for keeping his small, family-run dairy farm thriving in the 21st century. And then, of course, there’s finding a good reason to go to Switzerland!
Friends from way back
Laurel can write. She has an eye for detail, an ear for the musicality of words (since the age of 13, she has played the bassoon in orchestras), and the judicious editor’s pen for conciseness and clarity. She honed those skills long before we met as graduate students at Syracuse University in upstate New York in the fall of 1988. Laurel was in the poetry section of the Creative Writing Program on scholarship, while I was in the fiction section of the program on a teaching assistantship. In the English Department office, we bonded over the fact that we were both nursing long-distance relationships, and a friendship developed, involving tea and homemade chocolate-chip cookies, fiction and poetry readings (of famous writers and graduate students), parties at professors’ homes, long conversations across different venues, and meals at unremarkable restaurants.
We traveled back then. During the first year, my sister, Heidi, friend Connie from my Jesuit Volunteer Corp. year in Alaska, Laurel, and I went to Niagara Falls in the wintertime. I recall to this day how the gorge looked like a big mixing bowl full of mounds of cracked white flour. We made day trips to Skaneateles (pronounced “Skinny Atlas”), a quaint village in the Finger Lakes region, and drove to Ithaca, home of Cornell University and our culinary destination of Moosewood Restaurant (215 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 14850, 607.273.9610), the world-famous natural foods restaurant. The fall of our second and last year, we drove to Amish country in Pennsylvania, specifically Lancaster, Intercourse, and Bird in Hand. We didn’t make hotel reservations, and we ended up calling and driving on, trying to find a place that had a vacancy during a weekend in which some big event was going on. We managed to find a hotel, and resumed enjoying the Amish crafts, food, and way of life in the beautiful countryside.
In the spring we paired up to read together for the graduate reading series. Laurel read her full-bodied, beautifully constructed poems; I was always in awe of her abilities as a poet. I read an admittedly strange short story (but one that I still love to this day) that left my invited freshmen and sophomore students glassy-eyed (not in a good way). We graduated in 1990 and went back to our hometowns – Laurel to Boulder and I to San Francisco. Laurel visited in 1991 and was part of my (first) wedding, reading e.e. cummings‘ “Somewhere I have never traveled,gladly beyond” during the ceremony at the Palace of Fine Arts. I was in her wedding in 1992, with the Flatirons in the background. Laurel reprised her role of reading the same e.e. cummings’ poem in St. Helena, Napa County, where David and I got married in 1998. We lost touch through the years, but through our writing we reconnected. Words have a wonderful way of bringing people together again.
Q&A with Laurel Kallenbach, blogger of Laurel’’ Compass:
Q: What prompted you to start your blog?
A: Oddly, it was politics. I always wanted to start a travel blog, but never got around to it. Then in August of 2008 I was accepted as a media volunteer at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. My job during the four-day convention was to be a “speech runner”: I put on my track shoes and delivered advance copies of the speeches made on the convention floor to the 15,000 media folks covering the convention.
Being backstage seeing celebrities and politicians up close was exhilarating. I shook hands with Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – and I got back home to Boulder at midnight and blogged about it.
I also wrote about the blisters I got walking nine miles a day to deliver speeches. Just minutes before Barack Obama took the podium to formally accept the presidential nomination, I raced up 10 flights of stairs at Mile High Stadium carrying a big stack of the candidate’s photocopied words. By the time I reached the press box, my lungs were screaming for oxygen and my calves were knotting up. But I was hooked on blogging.
After that, I started posting travel pieces and ultimately decided to remove the political blogs as they really didn’t fit into my theme of sustainable travel. But writing about amazing destinations is no less thrilling than meeting presidents.
Q: What was/is the hardest thing about being a blogger?
A: It’s difficult for me to find time to write about all the places I’ve gone. For instance, what I’ve written about last August’s “Downton Abbey” tour of England is only the tip of the iceberg – there are hundreds of memorable things to tell from my trip to Britain. Another hard thing is keeping my writing succinct. Blog posts are better when they’re short, but I tend to wax on and on out of my enthusiasm. When I write travel articles for magazines, I have to tailor my word count to fit the column inches reserved for my story. So, I indulge myself on my blog: I get to write as much as I want – even if it sometimes exceeds my readers’ time limits.
Q: What’s the most pleasant surprise you’ve encountered with blogging on Laurel’s Compass?
A: One of the best parts about writing a blog post is reliving the experience of being somewhere new and exciting. I rarely blog while I’m on the road, and I find that I gain perspective during the time that elapses between the actual trip and when I write about the experience. I get to take a journey of the mind – without packing a suitcase.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers?
A: Pick a subject you have a passion for, stick as closely to that topic as you can, post once a week for consistency (I fail at this quite often!), and write from your heart. And keep it brief … if you can!
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring poets and fiction writers?
A: I never feel like I’m qualified to give advice, but something I’m trying to practice right now is being content to let words spill out on the paper (well, my laptop screen) without judging them. I get caught up in whether what I’m writing is any good, and all that accomplishes is that I start editing or, even worse, stop writing. So be courageous enough to create sentences dull as lead – and have the faith that someday you can alchemize them into gold.