Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the Menu: Brunswick Squirrel Stew

I’m in Brunswick County, VA, sitting on a blue tarp on the side of a rocky hill 50 feet from Lake Rawlings. Rawlings is an old rock quarry-now-scuba destination for legions of wannabe divers from Rocky Mount to Rockville. Rick is here to check out his new, lightweight gear in preparation for our trip to Indonesia later this year.

I can’t be bothered. So instead I’m reading the Visitor and Newcomer Guide to Brunswick County, and it turns out I am smack in the middle of Brunswick Stew Country. This excites me no end. Stewww. That homiest of homey meals. The meal that stirs memories of seven Bauers packed around the kitchen table on cold winter days, eyeing the dwindling stew pot and barely bothering to chew – the better to be first on seconds.

That’s how good was my mom’s beef stew, with big chunks of potatoes and carrots, melting onion, the occasional bay leaf, and, the best part, kernels of corn and lima beans in the bit of gravy at the bottom. Brunswick stew, as I now know, is squirrel-based, with a pound of butter, some onions, a bit of stale bread, and heavy seasonings of black and red pepper. Or at least that’s how Uncle Jimmy Matthews, the creator, cooked it back in 1828, along with a shot of brandy or Madiera.

Over the years, the recipe evolved to become a lot more like my mom’s stew, and a lot less like Uncle Jimmy’s. The Story of Brunswick Stew (page 4) attributes this to “squirrels being harder to come by,” and I think: have you stepped outside in the last decade? In my little piece of Virginia, squirrels are the new Japanese beetle. They are everywhere.

Bobbing and weaving on the driveway. Pawing through the basil. And kvetching. Oy. Like they own the joint. Little do they know there’s a stew out there with their name on it.

In fact, back here in the Lake Rawlings wilderness, I’m noticing that the woods and picnic pavilions are surprisingly squirrel-free. And I see here in the Visitor’s Guide that the big Brunswick Stew Cook-Off is coming up in just a few weeks.

Coincidence? I think not.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wine Bloggers Like Us Are One in a Million

We’ve been operating without business cards. And without a card, you are nobody. A big nothin’ ball. Because (as we heard loud and clear at one winery recently) there are a million of us out there. “Us” being wine bloggers.

I was vaguely aware of this when we started our project. But in the fifth-largest winery-producing state in the vast landmass that is the U.S. of A., I figured there was room for all. And besides, we are TRAVEL APP WRITERS, not wine bloggers.

(Pay no attention to the blog behind the curtain!)

(Okay, okay. We're wine bloggers. You caught us.)

That said, I still believe there’s room for all, but having a business card doesn’t hurt.

We try to keep it low-key at the tasting bar – we’re doing research (fun, fun research), not looking for handouts, and not doing investigative journalism. But Rick’s big camera click-clicking away and my note-scribbling do tend to attract some attention, and if asked, we do tell. We say we’re doing a travel guide app on Virginia wine country.

Which is exactly what we said one stop after the “there’s a million of you out there” winery. And waddya know, the lady at the end pipes up: “Hey, I’m a wine blogger, too!” She was ultra friendly (we wine bloggers are) and offered up her expertise on how many wineries to visit in a day. Three, if you’re wondering, unless you want to completely blow out your taste buds.

We here at Virginia Wine in My Pocket don’t have time to stop at three, of course, because we have a schedule to keep, and miles to go before we…get to drink any wine but Virginia’s. (Good thing things have come so far since we first drove these roads in search of vino.)

And we don’t have to worry too much about palates and such because… we’re not really wine bloggers. We know as much about wine as the average citizen (who is crazy about wine, takes wine classes, goes to tastings…you know, the typical D.C.-area wonkety wonk). But we are not aficionados – we focus on the travel, where to stay, where to eat, the beauty of Virginia’s trails, the infatuating people you meet along the way. We are travel app writers that specialize in Virginia’s beautiful wine country.

And you’d know that. If only we had a card.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Beer?? Everyone knows it’s WINE before waltz

Just like you and your spousal unit, when Rick and I were engaged, we thought it might be prudent to learn how to dance. Nothing fancy, just a neat little waltz or maybe a watered down samba.

So we signed up for ballroom instruction, and rendezvoused in the parking lot before class. I don’t remember whose idea it was to bring beer, but we got into the habit of having a quick, cold one before heading in, to loosen us up.

The beer did not help. We did not magically click on the dance floor. It was not effortless. We stepped all over each other. Kind of like building our second app.

Our first app was easy – I wrote it, Rick photographed it. Rick built the web site, I promoted it. Clear division of labor.

The Virginia Wine in My Pocket project? A little different. We’re more ambitious with this one. Rick’s got big ideas about online winery maps and merchandise; I’m scribbling notes to myself about travel articles and interviews. We’re moving fast. But that doesn’t mean we’re dancing to the same beat.

For example: Rick thinks we should banter in our blog (this is the blog). Make it a he said/she said kind of thing. I think of Gene Weingarten’s face-offs with Gina Barreca in the Washington Post Magazine, and decide, “No way.” We’re just not that interesting. But I go ahead and offer up some provocative hooks to pull Rick into the blogersation, and…nothing.

Several days later I say, “Why didn’t you jump in? I gave you an opening!”

And he says, “That was an opening? I didn’t have anything to say!”

Well, we did dance on our wedding day. We busted out our best 9th grade dance moves, wrapping each other in a big bear hug and swaying to Valentine. And someday we may actually be in step on Virginia Wine in My Pocket, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Murder and mayhem on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail

Three months ago, Rick and I published a travel guide for the iPhone, called Rehoboth in My Pocket.

It took many, many hours and has yielded teeny tiny bits of money.

“Let’s do another!” we said.

So we settled on Virginia Wine in My Pocket as the second travel app for our In My Pocket Guides label. (Impressive, huh? We hear the editors at Frommer's Guides are trembling...).

In April, we launched a web site, so you could follow our wacky antics and zany exploits. And so you’d be standing breathlessly in line (virtually) when the app queued up for launch in early summer.

And then May rolled by, followed closely by June, and no app. “What’s the deal?” we asked ourselves. “Where’s the Virginia Wine in My Pocket app? Why the hold up?” (No one else was standing in the virtual queue yet, so we queried ourselves.)

Life, as you’ve probably guessed, intruded. People got married, people had birthdays. And, surprisingly, Rehoboth in My Pocket did not shoot to the top of the iTunes charts overnight, and needed some cuddling and encouragement.

I fretted; my rule-bound approach to marketing required that we first publish the app, and then hit the road to promote it. Ergo, we could not begin visiting wineries until we’d published the app. Meanwhile, the summer skipped by.

Rick, not being the marketing strategist that I am, suggested a different approach: “How about if we put the rules aside and just have fun with this?”

Nervous, I was. That was just crazy talk. We’d be digging ourselves into a deeper behindedness if we spent precious weekends running off to wineries instead of bent over our computers. But it was July already, and our backs were against the wall.

So we scrapped our strategic plan. “Let’s just drive,” we said. Like when we were dating, a decade ago. Back then, we just wandered, visiting tasting rooms, feigning interest in residual sugar and harvesting schedules when we really just wanted some free wine and a seat in the Adirondack chairs, looking out toward the Blue Ridge.

Now, of course, it’s our business. Or, at least, we want to make this our business and cut loose the 9-5 yoke. Traveling around, meeting eccentric wine makers and brave winery owners. Taking pictures that land on magazine covers, and getting patted and pinged by readers. A life with a new mission statement: “How about if we put the rules aside and just have fun with this?”

So there we were last weekend, whizzing along the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail on Virginia’s Northern Neck, approaching winery number 30 on our “150 Wineries in 150 Days Tour: Virginia.” It must have been butterfly season on the Neck, because swallowtails were everywhere and, sadly, we nailed one.

Rick said, “You know the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it gets hit by a car?”

“No, what?” I asked.

“Its ass,” he said.

Rick is completely heartless, of course, and a babe in the woods marketing-wise. But he’s got a great sense of direction, and I like where he’s taking us.

Monday, July 26, 2010


This blog is about my husband, Rick, and I working our way into a portable future. One that lets us dive on small tropical islands that have names we can't pronounce. And do other things, too. Lots and lots. Even stuff that's not vaguely tropical.

Tropical island diving has become a sort of shorthand for where we're headed - a shore dive kinda life.

But before we can step on that plane and wave goodbye to dry cleaning and rush-hour snarl-ups, we have a short list of to-do's to check off:

  1. Sell the Rehoboth rental house and, if not make a profit, at least get out from under the debt

  2. Minimize our expenses, save some money, and remember what it's like to live without precisely what we want at precisely the moment we want it

  3. Get rid of the roomfuls of stuff that surround us: books, coolers, photos, treadmills, flower pots, little personal salt & pepper shakers for the 10-person dinners we never have

  4. Build up a portfolio of portable, passive income-producing skills, or products, or programs. Like photography, travel writing, teaching, blogging. Something we can do on the move.

So here's where we stand:

We sold the house in June. We didn't make a profit. But we got out most of what we put in, and are using that to...

Minimize our expenses, including paying off a car, and all our bills, which is motivating us to...

Get rid of stuff, all this stuffff.......

And now, since January, we've written a travel app, Rehoboth in My Pocket, and have another on the way (Virginia Wine in My Pocket). Not exactly the golden ticket, but lots of promise.

So we've been feeling pretty good. Lots of forward momentum. Excited.

But this latest thing...this is just over the top. It's as if the universe is conspiring to push us out of our Northern Virginia nest, knowing maybe we're a little too timid to step out on our own.

Last month, Rick sold a photo of Quirigua in Guatemala to Archaeology magazine. Then Washingtonian magazine bought a half-page picture of Rehoboth for its "Beach Favorites" article.

And then...the most amazing thing. This stuff NEVER happens...

The Washingtonian bought another photo from Rick. And you can see it now. It's the one at the top of this post. On the COVER of the August issue!

Is it just me, or does it seem like we're making some progress?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One App, Two Apps, Three Apps, Four...

Now it gets exciting! We are launched, actually available AT THIS MOMENT in the iTunes store. Just saying that makes me feel like a pro. Yeah, sure, we have an App in the iTunes stores. Us and Apple, we're buds. We get together for a little Everquest every third Tuesday.

But mostly I can't keep my eyes open. I'm selling ad space AND marketing the App AND drafting new content AND editing the existing content (now that the current merchants we've listed have seen the App and apparently my powers of observation - and my spelling - aren't quite as good as I would have myself believe).

And this is the night job ;-)

But this...right what gets me up in the morning. How many more did we sell? How many more people have downloaded OUR App? That is excitement beyond measure.

Now, though, off to bed ;-)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wizard of iPhone Travel Apps

Well, my goodness. There’s a…a…whole bright, sunny world out there. Out there beyond the screen of my laptop. After two and a half months of 15-hour work days, following our “Eureka!” moment at the Society of American Travel Writer’s Institute, Rick and I have finally completed our first – of what might well be many – In My Pocket-branded travel guides. And it sure does feel good.

It’s not a guide book: we learned at the Institute that print travel guides pay slave wages for the most part. Instead, our travel guide will be delivered via the iPhone: Rehoboth in My Pocket, a travel app featuring Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Just $3.99, and updated regularly, for no additional investment on the buyer’s part. Each $3.99 is portioned out to three parties: us, our technology partners, and Apple.

Truth be told, given what we’ve invested and what we stand to earn, slave wages are actually starting to look pretty good. But, oddly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier. Partly, that’s due to the sheer joy of being in motion toward a goal. We want a portable life, a life that takes us to far corners of the world, and I dream that travel app development – and the opportunities it brings, if not the big bucks – just may be laying the first shiny bricks on our personal yellow brick road.

I’m happy, also, because of the synchronicity of this moment. All my bits and pieces of experience and knowledge from 25 years of being a career vagabond are coming together to help me know just what to do. There’s no guide book for writing iPhone travel guides, but that’s okay. I know how to organize a hit list of what to feature in the app, how to write a restaurant review, how to craft a press release, and how to set up a Facebook page. Even the things I don’t know how to do – like selling advertising - I’m figuring out. And fortunately, I have a husband and partner in this project who knows how to do all the stuff I have no interest in, like taking the pictures, and setting up the website, and figuring out the sometimes inscrutable (to me) technology behind the iPhone itself.

So, I’m happy. But did we pick the right subject for our first-ever travel guide? Well, let’s review: We picked Rehoboth Beach, with a year-round population of about 2,000, and maybe, maybe 2 million visitors a year. New York City, by comparison, has a population of more than 8 million people and 50 million annual visitors. So, no, we probably did not make a particularly strategic decision there. We made a sentimental decision, and a hopeful decision. We love Rehoboth. We know Rehoboth. And we love the idea of becoming a closer part of the community.

And we’re hoping that someone may notice what we’re doing and invite us to develop an app for them, in some exotic location, and pay us a million dollars. Hey, we can dream.

Who knows? Maybe that’s our destiny and reward after we finish our next app this summer: Virginia Wine in My Pocket. Can’t you just see it? Chilean Wine in My Pocket! Or how about Argentinean Wine in My Pocket? Or – dare I say it – Italian Wine in My Pocket??

Destiny, if you’re out there, and you’ve got a million bills burning a hole in your pocket, we’ve got the team, and we’ve got the time. Who needs sleep?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Apps R Us

Can it be as simple as this?

Six weeks ago, at a travel writing conference, Lee Foster mentioned that he'd just launched a new app for iPhone - San Francisco Photographer's Guide - and sold 60 downloads already. Like so many travel writing endeavors these days, this one had generated just a pittance so far for this talented photographer. But...where might it lead?

Who knows? This is the wild wild west of smart phones, and travel guides have only just begun to make their entrance. But the possibilities...hmmm.....

So here we are, Rick and I, now on the verge of launching our own app after a frantic six weeks of research, marketing, web development, picture taking...oh, and some writing. Rehoboth In My Pocket started as an app, then expanded into a web site to help promote the app, then a blog to keep the website alive, then a widget to gather a mailing list of those who'd like to stay in touch with Rehoboth. Soon will come some fun freebies from Rehoboth merchants for app owners and web visitors. And next week I step out of the shadows to volunteer at the Rehoboth Chocolate Festival, where I've been encouraged to hand out my (new) Rehoboth In My Pocket flyers and business cards.

We've already announced our plan for the next app: Virginia Wine In My Pocket - and the crazy notion of visiting 150 wineries in 150 days this summer to kick it off. We are getting encouragement and interest from every quarter; everybody wants their own app now. And here we are, holding what may well be the golden ticket to a travel-centric future.

Or is it? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do I Know You?

I wear a lot of ladies trouser socks. Not all at one time, of course. Just one pair is plenty. I like that they’re thin and don’t bulk up inside my shoes, and that they go all the way to the knee instead of stopping mid-calf, which never made any sense to me. Makes me think of those pictures of rock climbers cheating gravity, leaning backwards while clinging to an overhanging ledge. And anklet socks are even worse; they always leave a draft down below.

So I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and trouser socks have been a part of my life for a couple of decades. Unbeknownst to Rick, apparently, who stood kind of slack-jawed – to me, he really looked horrified – as I stooped to pull up my black knee-highs during our morning stroll along the boardwalk in Rehoboth this winter.

I thought I read his reactions like a book – no poker face, his: He thought I was wearing supp-hose, like his 75-year-old dad. Like an old lady; a doddering Q-tip who long ago flung fashion to the ground and pulled on her practical tights with the resignation and relief of old age.

Rick and I talked about this Kodak moment a couple of weeks ago, and he said, “What are you talking about? I wasn’t even looking at your socks. I was thinking about my web site.”

You can live together for a decade, a lifetime, and still not completely know each other.