Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Travels: A Picture's Worth How Many Words?

I know, I know. I said I was on a blogging break – and I still am. But I found something yesterday that I simply had to share with you.

Just to give you a bit of backstory, Dan and I were full-time residents of the Los Angeles area back in 2004. That fall, we drove two thousand miles to visit my family in New Orleans – and to clean out my old bedroom (in my mother's house) of any pertinent items. So, into the super-tiny rental car, I managed to squeeze my Lego collection, my high school yearbooks, and boxes filled with photographs, among other things. Although I don't believe in a higher power – other than the universe, of course – I do believe that some benevolent force was smiling at me that day. After all, roughly ten months later, Hurricane Katrina flooded my mother's house and destroyed everything but the Christmas decorations in the attic – which means a lifetime worth of photographs would be history now.

While I did lose a lot of precious memorabilia in the floods that ravaged the Big Easy – old videotapes and math trophies, for instance – I thank Serendipity every day that my photographs were spared. On the other hand, while Katrina taught my mother – who lost most of her possessions, including her old photographs and yearbooks – not to get too attached to material goods, the big bad storm only made me more paranoid to lose mine – which is why I currently keep my photographs in a storage facility in southern California and drag my negatives with me around the country. Dan, naturally, thinks I'm a little loony – for one thing, he claims, the negatives are more likely to burn up in a horrible car accident (thanks, honey, for that image) than be flooded in a storage facility, and for another thing, he believes I'm way too attached to the past.

On that second point, he could be right. Recently, we purchased a negative scanner – in order for me to begin transferring my old negatives to digital files – both to preserve them for posterity and to satisfy my need for travel-related images for my American Nomad blog. After all, I've only been using digital cameras for the past few years – prior to 2006, I used nothing but Kodak film.

So, long story short, I decided to begin scanning my negatives yesterday – no small feat, given the thousands upon thousands of negatives I possess. Although my ability to use the scanner (and color-correct the images) is a work-in-progress, I relished this walk down memory lane. So far, the images that have tickled me most are the photos from the three-week-long East Coast trip that I took with my mother back in 1988 – when I was, gulp, just a few months shy of my twelfth birthday. That summer, Mom and I journeyed from New Orleans to Canada and back again, visiting everything from Williamsburg to Monticello to Washington, D.C., to Niagara Falls (all of which are pictured here). Each photograph brought back a mass of memories, proving the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But no image haunted me more than this one of me in New York City – which proves that some moments are truly frozen in time.

And, with that, I'll quietly slip back into my self-imposed break. See you in 2010 - and may all your resolutions come true!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Taking a Break

After much encouragement from my online buddies, I've decided to take a break from blogging this week. Unfortunately, it's not because I want to kick back and relax (well, I do want to, but it's just not possible). No, it's because I have a lot of work ahead for my latest travel guide – including packing up and heading to southern Florida in eight days – and I'm simply too overwhelmed to add blogging to my to-do list.

So, it's with a heavy heart that I put my blog on hold – at least until 2010 begins. Here's hoping that I have two chapters done by then.

In the meantime, I leave you with these links to my American Nomad travel blog - a three-part series about my favorite U.S. travel secrets, like how to get into The Magic Castle, where to find local music in New Orleans, and where to find diamonds in America. Hope you enjoy the trip...

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Happy Holidays to All My Bloggy Pals!

I might be an atheist, but I still rejoice in the holiday season – and for the record, I never get offended when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas!” In fact, I find it rather disheartening that the holiday season has become so besmirched with talk of banning the word “Christmas” from our lexicon.

Relax, people – and by “people,” I mean those who get their panties or boxer shorts in a bunch over proper holiday greetings. Isn't it the intention that should matter most? If someone wishes an atheist like me “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” or “Happy Festivus” or “Happy Holidays,” I accept it in the spirit of the greeting – in the spirit of the season – which, for me, should be more about family, friends, and gratitude than Santa, Jesus, or other ambiguous entities.

When I was a child – an agnostic even then – I relished the holiday season – and not for the presents (although those were much appreciated). It was the lights and the carols (and, all right, the food) that inspired me most. On Christmas Eve, Mom and I would often attend the service at our Unitarian Universalist church in New Orleans – and I remember feeling warm, happy, and sated by the crowded sanctuary, filled with friends of different faiths, all holding candles and singing carols as one. Carols, incidentally, about Baby Jesus and God and other things in which I didn't necessarily believe but that made me nevertheless hopeful – because the words mattered less than the sounds, the feelings, the true meaning of the season.

So, whatever faith you celebrate – and whatever matters most to you at this time of year – I hope you have a relaxing, memorable, wondrous holiday season – and a very happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!

And, with that, I leave you with this hilarious photo of the infamous “gay pride” display on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. See, even Ken dolls understand the true meaning of the season: the joy of being with loved ones, no matter how strangely dressed they might be!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Kris Kringle

Boy, this is getting to be a habit. Yesterday was the second time I skipped a post. Oops. Being a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, I feel somewhat guilty about it, but on the other hand, it's healthy for me to see that the world didn't end. I swear, when you're a perfectionist like me, you often need a reminder that it's okay to be less than efficient.

Nevertheless, the time sure is getting away from me, and it's frustrating that I can't seem to do everything I want to do. How does everyone else manage to juggle jobs, blogs, writing, relatives, and holiday tasks during December? I'm finding it difficult just keeping up with work and family obligations, much less blogging... which brings me to a blanket apology.

I'm sorry, my bloggy pals, that I've been remiss in visiting your blogs as of late – and I'm sorry, too, that I have yet to follow through on my beta-reading promises. I'll try to catch up over the next few days.

That said, I just wanted to share a quick thought for today. Although Dan and I have created our own holiday traditions over the years, there's one tradition that I miss from my childhood. Called “Kris Kringle” by some, “Secret Santa” by others, it's essentially an anonymous gift exchange. I played it a lot in school – mostly because, it was an easy, cheap way for everyone to give and get a present at Christmastime.

I love it so much, in fact, that I decided to relive it today – we're playing a strange online version at Come In Character. Stop by if you have a chance!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Munchies: It's King Cake Season!

Although the French Quarter boasts several different markets, including the 24-hour Quartermaster (affectionately known as the Nelly Deli), there is really only one grocery store: the Rouses Supermarket at the corner of St. Peter and Royal streets. So, whenever Dan and I stay in the Quarter, that becomes our grocery, too.

Despite the store's small size, the employees make supreme use of the space, squeezing as much as they can wherever they can. One of my favorite aspects of the place is the pair of windows alongside Royal Street, which are often decorated appropriately for the season. The last time I checked, Saints paraphernalia occupied one window display while Christmas decorations occupied the other.

Indeed, there's another season upon us – once Christmas is over and done with, Mardi Gras will soon be on its way. And it isn't just the calendar that hints to this. On a rack near the front door of Rouses are the treats of the season: king cakes! Of course, these are Christmas in theme – with red and green sprinkles in lieu of purple, green, and gold – but they are basically the same yummy cake that will pepper the city come early January, in celebration of the period between the Feast of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.

If you've never had one, a king cake is essentially a large cinnamon roll-style cake, shaped like a ring or an oval, and covered with white icing and/or purple, green, and gold sprinkles. Typically, there is a small plastic baby – supposedly meant to represent the baby Jesus – embedded somewhere in the cake. Per tradition, if you accept a piece containing the baby, you must bring a king cake to the next gathering – this is especially true in schools and office settings. Naturally, my stepbrother's oldest child begs to differ – he's already received the baby three times this season, and he emphatically refuses to provide a king cake of his own. (And people wonder why I have no children.)

Besides Rouses' skilled bakery, there are several local institutions known for their delicious king cakes – Randazzo's and Gambino's among them. But, wherever you find one, I wouldn't advise eating too much in one sitting. A little bit of this sweet tradition goes a long way – especially when you're on a diet like me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Sad But Still Hopeful

If you follow professional football at all, then you probably know that my beloved New Orleans Saints lost to the Dallas Cowboys last night, thus ending their 13-game winning streak. Dan and I watched the first half of the game at my dad's house north of Lake Pontchartrain, then when it seemed that the Saints' defense was crumbling under the pressure, we decided to head for home. We weren't bailing on the Saints (and we weren't trying to disappoint my dad), but we had a lengthy drive back into the city – and trying to park in the French Quarter on a Saturday night is hard enough without adding a Saints home game into the mix.

As it was, by the time we reached the Quarter, it was impossible to find a spot on the street, and we were stuck with the expensive lots on Decatur. Seriously, though, we were lucky to find a spot at all. Just as we pulled into the only lot left open, an attendant dragged the “Lot Full” sign across the driveway behind us. Of course, if we hadn't found a spot, we were fully prepared to catch another showing of Avatar – just to let the herds thin out in the Quarter.

After parking, we wandered several blocks to our apartment on Ursulines, passing several crowded bars along the way. The televisions in each bar were all naturally tuned to the Saints game, and we stopped at every open doorway, hoping against hope that our beloved black-and-gold could pull off another near-miss. In the final quarter, as we reached the TVs at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, the Saints had nearly caught up, but once we made it home and flipped on the radio, we learned it wasn't meant to be. When the final score was announced, we were no longer in earshot of the bars, but I suspect most New Orleanians were as disappointed as we were.

Despite such disappointment, it's important to be honest – even when it comes to sports. And the fact is, while the Saints' 13-1 record is impressive, numbers can be deceiving. After all, the Saints' defense has been rocky all year, and the offense has often had to pull off a veritable miracle toward the end of each game. Now, before you accuse me of besmirching the Saints' good name, I'm simply saying that this season's performance, while incredible, has certainly been far from flawless – so a loss was indeed long in coming. And, hey, it's only one loss. Who knows what next week will bring?

I just hope Coach Payton can inspire the Saints' defense – goodness knows, the boys were languid yesterday. And as my hubby often says, “The offense can win a season, but it's the defense that usually wins championships.” For the Saints' sake, I hope that that's not always the case.

But even if they falter in the playoffs and fail to win a Super Bowl, they're still superheroes in my eyes – and they'll always be my favorite team. Apparently, I'm not the only die-hard fan of this underdog outfit – last night, in the Superdome, the Saints fans (my stepsister's husband among them) loudly cheered the players off the field, despite the upsetting loss – once again affirming my belief that New Orleanians, if nothing else, are a loyal lot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Avatar Rocks!

Since I started this blog in July, I haven't missed a post. Oh, I've been late a few times, but I've never skipped one... until now. Thursday is normally my day to reflect on thoughtful things. But yesterday, I was focused on one thing only, and if you read my post on Wednesday, you might already know what that one thing is...

Last night, around nine o'clock, Dan and I headed out to Harahan – a suburb of New Orleans – for the nearest IMAX theater that was showing a midnight screening of Avatar, James Cameron's long-awaited 3-D extravaganza. The rain was coming down something fierce, but we made it there in one piece. When we arrived at the theater, it was nearing ten, and no one was there yet. We were even told to return around eleven-thirty. Given that we used to live in Los Angeles, where it wasn't impossible for folks to arrive several hours before a midnight screening, we were a little surprised, but in lieu of waiting in the lobby, we decided to kill some time at a nearby Best Buy. The hilarious thing is that, as we strolled the aisles, salivating over new Wii games, I was the one that began to get anxious – even though Dan had been looking forward to this flick for far longer than I. Finally, my whining wore him down and we returned to the theater around ten-thirty, only to find that forty or so moviegoers were already in the theater. Good thing we hadn't listened to the twerp who told us to come back at eleven-thirty.

Anyway, for an hour and a half, we sat among other Cameron fanatics, chatting with one another, joking about what nerds we were, twiddling with our 3-D glasses, and waiting impatiently for the movie to start. My mother – who'd been in town earlier in the day – could have been there with us, but she'd scoffed when we asked if she, at her age, was up for a midnight movie. The joke was on her when I spotted one of her friends there, with her grown son. (So, see Bane, you're never too old – or too tired – to be a little crazy.)

About an hour before the film was set to start, the house lights came up suddenly, and we all squinted in minor agony. Apparently, some of those seated had either snuck into the theater – or “accidentally” come into the wrong one (for there was another screening, the non-IMAX version, happening in another theater down the hall). Some ushers and managers began checking tickets, several sneaky folks were busted, and the lights were dimmed again. Somehow, our row was skipped – and Dan and I joked that we could've snuck into the sold-out theater after all... which, of course, we'd never do. Hehe.

By twelve-ten, the natives were restless. (The movie was supposed to have started at twelve-oh-one.) But then, the room went dark, a few previews played (How to Train Your Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief among them), and it was time to put on our 3-D glasses. You should've heard the collective sigh of joy at that moment.

Now, without giving too much away, let me just say this... The movie was freakin' amazing. As you might already know, it's essentially about Jake Sully, a paraplegic human soldier who is dispatched to the planet Pandora in order to infiltrate the native Na'vi (as a “dreamwalker”) and force them to relocate – allowing a greedy corporation the opportunity to mine a precious material from beneath the Na'vi's sacred tree. As expected, Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and must choose sides in the escalating battle. Basically, this is Dances with Wolves (incidentally, one of my favorite movies) on an alien planet – complete with bizarre plants, strange animals, and incandescent colors.

The landscape is rich with detail, and the CG characters seem incredibly real – helped, of course, by Cameron's ground-breaking 3-D technology, which utterly immerses you within the story. Honestly, this is the finest example of 3-D filmmaking that I've ever seen. Not once did the 3-D waver (which I've heard is even better in the IMAX format, as we saw it) – not once did I notice blurring or shadows. I felt that I was standing in the forest with them – or flying through the air as the Na'vi do. Beyond the colors and the details, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It's moving, poignant, spiritual, magical, exciting, amusing at times, even tragic – and all the actors are wonderful. Sam Worthington (who plays "Jake") and Sigourney Weaver are especially good – considering they're each playing human characters as well as their Na'vi counterparts (which, due to Peter Jackson's incredible motion-capture technology, look and move just like them). Other talents are equally terrific, including Zoe Saldana, who voices Jake's love interest; Michelle Rodriguez, who doesn't usually impress me; and Wes Studi, whose voice helps to solidify the Dances with Wolves comparison.

Some of the negative reviews have claimed that the 3-D imagery is better than the "2-D" characters, but I completely disagree. As with most Cameron films, the technology, story, and characters go hand-in-hand, and this story resonated long after the movie sadly ended. I'm still reliving the best moments – and needless to say, Dan and I are planning to see it again on Monday. (After all, how often does a movie fully deliver on its promise?)

As many of the comments on my Wednesday post indicated, not everyone intends to see this film in the theater (much less three or four times, as we plan to). Believe me, I understand how difficult it can be to schedule such a trip – especially for those who have children. I also know that not all movie lovers – even those without kids, like me and Dan – are as, uh, committed as we are when it comes to “proper” movie-going experiences. But I must admit – without bias or agenda – that seeing Avatar in IMAX 3-D is the best way to see this film. No doubt about it, seeing it on the small screen just won't do it justice.

So, Steph, for the love of whatever, I hope you get the chance to see it this weekend as you and Dom intend – and see it right. I'm dying to know what you think.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Midnight Screenings and Other Insanities

As I've previously indicated, Dan and I are both movie nuts – which is a good thing because, otherwise, one of us would've surely driven the other crazy by now. Over the years, we've done some wacky things when it comes to movies. We've driven four hours out of our way in order to catch the 3-D version of a horror film. We've stood in long lines for hours – just to watch free preview screenings of movies like Identity (2003) and Bruce Almighty (2003), which we actually got to see in a small screening room at Universal Studios, with Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Aniston in attendance. We've braved the cold of Park City, Utah, just to see movies at the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals that we might never have seen otherwise. We've even done marathon-like events such as “Trilogy Tuesday,” during which we viewed over twelve hours' worth of Peter Jackson's masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So, it comes as no surprise that we've already purchased our tickets for Avatar – and we'll be seeing it in about twenty-four hours, at the first midnight screening available in the New Orleans area. As stated in an earlier post, Dan and I are totally, freakin' excited about this movie. Of course, we hope that the 3-D flick lives up to its hype ('cause the reviews are pretty good overall), but more than anything, we're just totally psyched to be attending a midnight movie. Yeah, I told you we were nuts!

Tuesday Travels: This One's for the Michiganders!

I know, I know. It's Wednesday, not Tuesday, but I'm in the process of switching laptops... and let's just say that yesterday was not a good computer day. It certainly didn't help that the gloomy New Orleans weather was fouling up our wireless Internet connection – and keeping me from visiting my favorite blogs. Grrr.

So, thank goodness for the hubby, who's the technophile to my technophobe. With his help, I even managed to update my American Nomad travel blog with a post about Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland in the little town of Frankenmuth, Michigan. That said, I'd like to dedicate today's post to my online Michigander pals – namely Bridget, Martha, Steph, and Becky (even though, technically, she's in Oregon now) – who I'm assuming know what Bronner's is all about. If I've forgotten any, please forgive me – my brain's still recovering from the computer headaches of yesterday.

Although I love being in New Orleans at this time of year – the French Quarter is especially lovely decked out with white lights, green garlands, red ribbons, and golden bells – but sometimes, I actually miss the winter wonderland of northern Michigan. So, enjoy the season, ladies!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Munchies: Gumbo Galore

New Orleans has been a bit gray and rainy lately, but that didn't stop Dan and I from stopping by the second annual Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival yesterday afternoon. From our apartment on Ursulines, we strolled a few quick blocks to the Jazz & Heritage Center on Rampart Street. Loud gospel-style jazz emanated from the open space behind the center, where, besides the large white tent containing the stage, lay several covered arts-and-crafts booths.

Although we were tempted to browse the interesting creations on display, being the foodies that we are, we made a beeline for the four food stalls, each of which offered a variation on traditional gumbo, among other delicacies. Our first stop was the TCA Brocato booth, where we each purchased a $2 sample cup of chicken and andouille gumbo. Less thick than the gumbo we're used to, this one nonetheless had a flavorful broth – and the sausage wasn't bad either.

Afterward, we each tried the seafood gumbo from Ms. Linda's Catering. As the lady filled our sample cups with white rice, steaming broth, and crab claws, I wondered if it would be skimpy on the seafood, but no, there were probably more tiny shrimp and pieces of crab meat in the little cup than there often are in the normal-sized bowls at tourist traps like the Gumbo Shop. Though it was indeed a tasty gumbo, the first one was still a mite better.

For our final tastes of the day, we shared a sample cup at each of the last two booths – The Praline Connection, a popular eatery in the Faubourg Marigny that was offering a tomato-based okra and sausage gumbo for which I opted, and Li'l Dizzy's Café, another Marigny joint that was serving an interesting Creole filé gumbo that Danny chose. Ultimately, our favorite selection remained the first one, but we still enjoyed the variety of flavors. How could we not? The sun might not have been shining, but the jazz music was incredible, our beloved Saints had won their 13th game just an hour earlier, and I even managed to find a unique Christmas present for my mom.

Now, if only I could finish the rest of my holiday shopping list. Sigh.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: The Big Easy’s Superheroes

Okay, so it was another close game – perhaps closer than it should have been, especially for a team that could be headed for the Superbowl. But, nonetheless, my beloved Saints won! They won, they won, they won! A 13-0 season is absolutely unprecedented for them, and I couldn’t be happier – or prouder. From the many hoots, hollers, cab horns, and “Who Dat!” whoops that Dan and I heard this afternoon in the French Quarter, it seems that other New Orleanians are just as pleased.

Geaux get ‘em, Saints!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday Fantasies: My Avatar Is Showing!

Despite my growing to-do list, I’m happy to report that, for two nights in a row, Dan and I have taken the time to venture out with friends. On Thursday night, we went out for dinner and drinks with a pal and her new boyfriend (who, interestingly enough, spent several years as Anne Rice’s executive assistant), and last night, we had a similar "date" with another couple. It was a lot of fun, although I’m paying for it now – awake in the wee hours to tackle my long list of tasks.

But, hey, everyone deserves a break from time to time – even me. In fact, despite the fact that I have to turn in a sample chapter of Moon Florida Keys before Christmas, Dan and I have every intention of doing fun things this week, including the Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival on Sunday, a Harrah’s buffet feast on Thursday with my mom, a raw oyster extravaganza at my dad’s house next week, and, of course, an opening day viewing of James Cameron’s much-anticipated (at least in our family) Avatar. Obviously, we’re working around our “stupid diets,” but more importantly, we’re going to see Avatar in all its 3-D IMAX glory! We can’t wait!

Both Dan and I are huge James Cameron fans. We’ve loved every theatrical film that he’s directed from The Terminator (1984) to Titanic (1997), and as with many fans, we’ve been waiting breathlessly for his latest film for well over a decade. And while I admit to having some initial skepticism about Avatar, the theatrical trailer has since convinced me otherwise. In fact, I’ve felt a wave of chills every time I’ve seen it.

So, who else will be there on opening day?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Tag, I’m It!

So apparently, this twenty-six-question “meme” has been making the rounds through the blogosphere. My dear Bane tagged me yesterday, so I guess it’s my turn. I’d say phooey on him – “tag” was one of my least favorite games as a child (gave me heart palpitations, I kid you not) – but it does give me a “thoughtful” post for today, so here goes...

1. What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
Well, I guess the last thing I finished was Hollow Souls, my first completed novel. But the first thing I wrote? Wow, that’s hard. Technically, the first thing I wrote for pleasure (and not for school) were these snarky sketches about my family, but if those were still in existence in August 2005, then Hurricane Katrina slurped them from my old bedroom. I still have a myth that I wrote when I was about thirteen – as well as a short story called “The Peace.” Spirituality was once a big theme for this here atheist.

2. Write poetry?
I have indeed written poetry. But what you really want to know is “Was it good poetry?” Surely not.

3. Angsty poetry?
Angsty poetry, no. But I did keep an angsty diary when I was a kid – managed to save it from Katrina’s clutches – what a laugh riot that is today. There's even a passage written after an argument with my mom, in which I wrote something super-melodramatic like, "I'll show her! I'm never coming outta my room... one day, she'll miss me, and she'll find me dead on my bed, and won't she feel sorry then?!" Or words to that effect (it's in storage at the moment, so forgive the misquote). I told you - priceless.

4. Favorite genre of writing?
Wow, that’s tough. I don’t have a favorite per se. I love horror, fantasy, crime thrillers, mysteries, Westerns, and literary/mainstream fiction pretty equally. "What's your least favorite?" is the real question. That would be romance - hands down.

5. Most annoying character you’ve ever created?
I’d like to say Seth, Devi’s flighty musician brother, in Hollow Souls, but Devi might actually be my most annoying character – certainly my whiniest. Hence, the need for a revision (among other reasons).

6. Best plot you’ve ever created?
I don’t know if it will be my best, but I’m pretty fond of Devi’s long, winding journey to Ruby Hollow.

7. Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?
For now, the coolest plot twist is Olivia’s discovery of her mother’s old love letters from Jesse Littleton – who she’d formerly believed was the made-up hero of Devi’s bedtime stories. After the discovery, Olivia realizes three things: that Ruby Hollow actually exists, that her married mother is in love with another man, and that that's why Devi is so miserable.

8. How often do you get writer’s block?
What’s writer’s block? Hehe. More likely, I suffer from “writer’s flood” – too many words (at least for today’s publishing market).

9. Write fan fiction?
Well, the fact that I had to look up “fan fiction” should tell you something. Although now that I know what it is, I might be tempted to write a sequel to the Firefly television series.

10. Do you type or write by hand?
Both. I write notes and scenes by hand – you should see my “serial killer notebooks,” as Dan likes to call them – and type multiple drafts on my laptop. Haven’t used a typewriter in years.

11. Do you save everything you write?
I sure try to – mostly, in digital form (on my laptop and on jump drives), but I have printed out a couple drafts of my novel, just in case an EMP renders all electronics useless. This is why Dan lovingly considers me a “pack rat” – I live in fear that he’ll accidentally toss out my papers during his next downsizing frenzy.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?
Sure thing. My “second” novel, which I’m currently contemplating, was actually supposed to be my first. But my passion for Hollow Souls overtook it.

13. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Do erotic short stories count?

14. What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written?
As Bane and Matt have said, “That remains to be seen.”

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
Hollow Souls and Red Road Crossing certainly have romantic elements, but although “never say never” is sometimes apt, I don’t believe that I have it in me to pen Harlequin-type romance and, no offense to Stephenie Meyer, but I’ll never do what she did to a vampire, much less a teenaged girl.

16. What’s your favorite setting for your characters?
Ruby Hollow, of course – the secret underground community in southern Kentucky that dominates Hollow Souls. So much fun to draw (yes, I have maps) and to describe - some might say a little too much fun.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Besides my travel guide to the Keys? Technically, two, I suppose. Revising my first novel, Hollow Souls, and outlining my second, Red Road Crossing.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Beyond high school, not that I can remember... but I hear you lose brain cells in your thirties.

19. What are your five favorite words?
Ooh, this is the toughest question. I love words! But, after much thought, I’d say that my top five (at the moment) are cornucopia, onomatopoeia, serendipity, ukulele, and mishmash.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Devi and Olivia (mother and daughter in Hollow Souls) are the two halves of me.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Um... me, myself, and I. All my characters are either versions of me or amalgams of people in my life.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Some of my dreams are so memorable and/or psychotic that I write them down, and parts of them inform my writing – which admittedly frightens my husband a little. I have some of the most disturbing, violent dreams of anyone I know – it’s been known to freak him out. Sorry, honey.

23. Do you favor happy endings?
Not necessarily. The ending needs to fit the story, which sometimes means bad things have to happen to good people. Atonement wouldn’t have had the same impact with a so-called happy ending, but if Andy Dufresne hadn’t escaped in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, I’d have been utterly pissed. Depending on how you look at it, Hollow Souls has a happy ending – an ending that fits my main character’s journey toward a sense of peace.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Spelling and grammar are, unfortunately or not, my strengths, so I’m never concerned about them – they come rather naturally. So, I guess you could say I’m very aware of them. In fact, I found it difficult writing the word “angsty” up above.

25. Does music help you write?
Definitely. But only classical music and movie scores. Lyrics – even lyrics I know well – usually distract me from my writing. In fact, the only song that I could listen to while writing Hollow Souls was the song “At This Point in My Life” by Tracy Chapman. Somehow, it became Devi’s anthem.

26. Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.
Although I’m tempted to post a part of the erotic short story that I managed to sell, I’ll try to keep this PG-rated. One of my favorite parts of Hollow Souls is Caroline’s ill-fated journey into the caves:

Caroline sensed a huddle of hushed voices. As the whispers loudened, her mind awoke from a hazy slumber. The fog was lifting, retreating into the shadows, revealing her true environs. The voices became clearer, crowding her with their intensity. She felt warm and comfortable, as if covered by blankets and lying on a pliable surface – unlike the cold, hard earth upon which she’d fallen. Perhaps she’d dreamed the previous escapade. But the aches throughout her body quickly dispelled the fantasy. Recalling the boy’s face in the darkness, she wondered: If she were no longer crumpled facedown on the grimy, unyielding stone in that final chamber of terror, where was she?

Gradually, she opened her eyes. Her head, resting on a pillow, faced a rocky cave wall, aglow with a flickering amber light and a host of agitated shadows – presumably belonging to the incensed voices behind her.

“Really, Forrest, what were we supposed to do? Just leave her there? She would’ve died!” The unseen woman spoke like a mother, with equal compassion and ire.

“They’ll keep looking for her, and you know it!” The man – undoubtedly Forrest himself – sounded older than the woman, and more enraged.

“I agree with Forrest. It’s too dangerous letting her stay. We’ve heard them above, they’re doing everything they can to find her.”

“Roland, not you, too! The girl was bleeding to death. If Jesse hadn’t found her, she probably would’ve died of shock or starvation. Would you want that on your conscience?”

“Well, if your son hadn’t found her, we’d never have known she was there.”

An older woman, with a raspy voice, asked, “What were you doing up there anyway, young man? How did you get out of the Hollow?”

“Leave him be, Lilith! I can deal with my own child, thank you.”

“Apparently not. Really, Marybeth, you should be more careful with your son. What if someone had seen him? Then, where would we be?”

“But no one did see him.”

“A little girl did, and now look.”

Caroline stared at the flickering wall, listening to the heated discussion, enjoying the solace of her new bed. She kept her head and body perfectly rigid, hesitant to reveal her consciousness to the huddled visitors, scared by those who apparently didn’t want her there.

Suddenly, a much younger voice pierced the room’s tension. “Mom, can she stay?”

“Not now, Jesse. We’ll talk about it later.”

“No, the boy’s right.” Forrest’s voice was gruff, virulent, no longer a whisper. “We should talk about it now. Many of us aren’t sure the girl should be allowed to stay down here.”

Down here? How far below the ground was she lying right now, and how many people were living in this strange place? Had the silly old park ranger been right after all?

“What do you propose we do,” Marybeth asked. “Put her back where we found her?”

“I’m not saying we let her die in the caves,” Roland replied, “but she can’t stay here.”

A new voice, perhaps belonging to the oldest woman present, tossed an opinion into the fray. “Let’s bring her to the surface. Ken, Charlie, or Ralph can pretend to find her. The other rangers will think she wandered up from below and give our boys a medal for bringing her to safety. Then maybe they’ll stop searching the caves.”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Forrest said.

Roland guffawed. “Not bad at all.”

“I can’t believe you all. You’re suggesting leaving a young girl in the park by herself! No one will believe she got out on her own... not with that ankle of hers. It could throw even more suspicion on us, and put her in even greater danger.”

“So, can she stay, Mom?”

“Hush, Jesse. The grown-ups are talking. And you’re in enough trouble as it is.”

P.S. What a dummy I am. When I posted this, I failed to “tag” a couple other folks to take this little questionnaire. So, without further ado, I’d like to tag Deb, Donna, Martha, and Jennifer. Tag, you lovely ladies! Now, you're it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Irish Yoga and So Much More

Yesterday, my good pal Bane of Anubis posted a funny little blip about finding some random cool stuff while searching for Christmas presents online. Some of the said "cool stuff" included a bit of funky apparel from Crazy Dog T-shirts, and some of the shirts were quite comical and/or twisted – from “Amish Gone Wild” hilarity to frightening S’mores scenarios.

They made me think of all the memorable T-shirts I’ve seen hanging in souvenir shops throughout the French Quarter – with slogans like “I Got Bourbon-Faced on Shit Street” and “Drove My Chevy to the Levee and the Levee Was Gone.” Of course, there was one that I most wanted – a bright green T-shirt with an amusing illustration of what “Irish yoga” is all about. Dan, my sweet hubby, purchased it as one of my Christmas presents last year, and I still wear it proudly. So, Bane, in your honor, I decided to post it on my blog:

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but if my yoga knowledge is what I think it is, these are the drunken variations of the following poses: Corpse (Shavasana in reverse), Crab (Catuspadapitham), and Child (Balasana).

Every year, Dan and I try to give each other cool, funny, and/or one-of-a-kind presents. One might say it’s become a little competitive between us, and while he’s admittedly a bit better at surprising and delighting me than I am of him, I’d like to think that that’s just because I’m easier to please – and because he always manages to exceed our agreed-upon budget. (I can’t wait to see his reaction when he reads that part – hehe.)

But I have to confess... I have managed to give him at least one thing that he still uses to this day. A few years ago, I found an awesome gift in a Big Lots discount store in southern California. At three bucks, it was probably the cheapest of all our collective booty, but he loved it more than even the most expensive item (which I can’t remember now). It was just an oversized ceramic mug emblazoned with the words, “The Man, the Myth, the Legend,” and sadly, it broke amid a tumble of dishes in the sink not long afterward. Danny was heartbroken – so much so that I decided to replace it. But, as it was a Big Lots item that had since been discontinued, I had trouble finding a suitable replacement.

It was then that I had the inspired idea of visiting Cafe Press, a wonderful website that offers customized T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, tote bags, and, you guessed it, mugs. This time, I managed to duplicate the mug – and put Dan’s name on it. And I ordered three – one for each of our homes (New Orleans, Los Angeles, and northern Michigan) – just to minimize the chance of it breaking while in transit.

To this day, it's still his favorite of all my gifts, and given that we've been together for over a decade, I guess that's saying a lot.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Travels: American Nomad

My to-do list is rather long at the moment, so I’m just going to post a quick little note. Earlier this evening, I found out that Avalon Travel is extending my “American Nomad” travel blog into the new year. I’m really excited – mostly because I still have lot of places to explore. I can’t wait!

P.S. Thanks, everyone, for your dieting advice earlier today. Dan and I both appreciate it, and we’ll let you know how the deprivation – I mean, healthy lifestyle change – goes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Munchies: Stupid Diet

Dan and I had the brilliant idea to go on diets just weeks before Christmas. Really, we’re smarter than we sometimes appear – just not this week. ‘Cause this week we’ve been counting calories up a storm.

Here’s a typical conversation in our house:

“I really want a chocolate-covered pecan,” Laura says.

“Well, have one then,” Dan replies. “What harm could one do?”

Five chocolate-covered pecans later, Laura says, “Wow. That was 115 calories down the drain.”

“Really? For that? You’d have been better off eating a salad.”

“Gee. Thanks, honey. Now, you tell me.”

At first, I was proud of us – the way we passed up lemon poppyseed muffins at our favorite coffeehouse, the way we ignored the aroma of pralines on Decatur, the way we splurged today on unsweetened iced tea and six raw oysters each (which have surprisingly few calories, I was happy to discover). But now I just think we’re stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And I’m hungry, damn it. Hungry, hungry, hungry.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Twelve Wins and One Near-Stroke

Well, that was one mighty exciting football match today. Until the New Orleans Saints nailed the touchdown that threw the game into overtime, I seriously thought their perfect record was in jeopardy. And I could feel the tension everywhere – my heart, my head, my feet. In fact, I kept scurrying out of the room where the hubby was listening to a radio broadcast of this nail-biter. And while I’m happy – ecstatically so! – that the Saints won in overtime by three points, I can’t help but wonder... is it healthy to internalize something like this? A game over which I have absolutely no control.

Probably not. But then, don’t we all do that at times? Don’t we all get nervous about things beyond our influence – everything from Best Picture winners to presidential elections? Even which agents will respond favorably to our queries. Well, at least in that case, we have some amount of influence. After all, it’s up to each of us to prepare the best manuscript, the most compelling query, the most enticing website and/or blog, the most meaningful connections in the social networking universe... But even with all that, we still have to leave a bit of this publishing stuff up to chance – and the so-called will of the publishing gods.

So, what in this crazy world gets your heart and head thumping with anticipation?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Legendary Haunts

Technically, today is Saturday, but this thought came to me, well, yesterday, so I think it counts as a “Friday fantasy.” And even if it doesn’t, so be it. At the moment, I’m too frazzled to think of another blog topic.

For my American Nomad travel blog, I spent the last couple of days working on a two-part article called “Historic Taverns Across America.” It was a lot of fun to remember some of my favorite watering holes, especially the ones that famous writers, musicians, and actors once frequented.

In the first part, I mentioned Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (pictured above), a cozy, candlelit cavern of a place at the corner of Bourbon and St. Phillip Streets in the New Orleans French Quarter. One of the only original buildings still standing, Lafitte’s is popular among tourists as well as natives (like me!), not to mention celebrities. The dimly lit walls are, in fact, covered with photographs of famous folks visiting Lafitte’s. Of course, the patron that always gives me chills is Tennessee Williams, the playwright who made a habit of stopping by Lafitte’s during his brief stay in New Orleans. Apparently, he was also a patron of another old hangout still in operation: Captain Tony’s Saloon in Key West’s Old Town district, a saloon better known for being favored by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Jimmy Buffett.

In the second part of my article, I shared three more of my favorite American taverns, not the least of which is Boardner’s, a longtime Hollywood landmark. Although the beloved neighborhood dive has since undergone an art deco-style transformation, its historic atmosphere is still palpable. This was, after all, a favorite hangout for some of my favorite performers, from W.C. Fields to Robert Mitchum – and I can remember when it was dark and moody and filled with, as the saying goes, “the Who’s Who and Who Cares.”

So, do you have a favorite hangout with a storied past?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Tarot-Card Reading

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with yesterday’s title dilemma. I really appreciate all of your heartfelt feedback. In light of it, I’ve decided to stick with my current title: Hollow Souls. After all, I like it. Folks who have read my novel seem to like it. Even those who haven’t read it think it’s pretty okay, so I’m officially not going to worry about it for now. Really, I have more important things to fret over... like, um, my revision.

In an effort to delay the inevitable even longer, I’m going to switch gears for a moment. Inspired by my blogging buddies Bane and Bridget (say THAT five times fast!), who recently revealed little curious tidbits about themselves, I’ve decided to share a few of the things I “learned” during my first official tarot-card reading at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, this unique experience was part of my thirty-third birthday celebration, and although I’ve never been a believer in astrology, sooth-saying, and predestination (I’m all about free will, baby!), it was still a bit enlightening. True, I influenced the lady’s reading with my questions, and later, Dan dismissed most of her prognostications as mere generalizations and misinterpretations (now, say that five times FASTER!). But all I can think is... Stifle thyself, Danny. Every new experience is a chance to learn something, so here’s what I learned from the varied card configurations in the back room of Marie Laveau's:

1. In general, this is a transitional year for me – I’ll have to make a lot of important decisions – and supposedly, I’m really good at making decisions. Dan had a hearty chuckle when I told him that.

2. This year, I’m going to be offered a big job opportunity – something that will force me to make a huge change in my life. As a freelance travel writer, I sure hope she meant another guidebook because I have no intention of putting down roots... yet.

3. A few years down the road, I’ll be going back to school – in my chosen field. So, I guess that means no Master of Theology for me. Yes, I long ago dreamed of being a Unitarian Universalist minister – a story for another day.

4. Also a few years down the road, I’ll be teaching others. I’m just not sure what.

5. Apparently, my health is fine... for now. So’s my marriage. Phew.

6. But it’s a good thing that I never plan to make a lot of money from my writing because, apparently, my fiction will not be my primary source of income. Of course, what Dan plans is another thing entirely.

7. I apparently have a problem with authority – which probably explains why I’ve been a freelancer for nearly a decade now.

8. My problem with authority stems from some unresolved issues with my mother – which is also the reason that I have yet to revise my novel. Hey, that’s what the reader said!

9. Kids are still a possibility in my life, perhaps in a few years – but I don’t need them to complete me. Dan was happy to hear that one.

10. To have kids, I’ll have to settle down permanently (and deal with my unresolved parental issues). Dan was not, however, happy to hear that.

11. The only thing that really disturbed me was when she said I’d have to have one big blowup with my mother in order to resolve said unresolved issues. Dan, of course, wondered why I wasn’t more concerned about the money thing.

So, there you have it, folks. My first “real” reading. I’ve had friends “practice” on me before, and maybe my niece will try next summer (yes, we bought her a pack of tarot cards for her last birthday), but this was my first professional experience, and I quite enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s all a bunch of crapola, but at the very least, it gave me some food for thought... and fodder for a blog post.

So, what do you think? Should I take any of it seriously?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: What’s in a Title?

Book titles have always intrigued me. I can’t help but wonder about the inspirations, the meanings, the thought processes behind each one. While I can appreciate simple ones like The Shining and Little Women, I’m especially drawn to those with double meanings, such as Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages.

Nowadays, a good title can mean even more than it once did. In the 18th and 19th centuries, for instance, it was perfectly acceptable for novels to be named after the protagonist, such as The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722) and Jane Eyre (1847). Although this practice is still witnessed today – consider the much-lauded The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) – it seems that most publishers are choosing much more compelling titles, especially one-word entities like the oft-mentioned Twilight (2006) – titles that entice readers to pick up a particular book and hopefully purchase it.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m even thinking about this today. After all, I’m not even finished the final revision of my novel yet. Well, I suppose I’ve just realized that it’s never too early to choose a title. The problem is... I thought that I had. For years now, I’ve been laboring under the assumption that Hollow Souls was the perfect title for my book – it’s even got a double meaning! But, as I expressed on my Ruby Hollow blog today, I’m seriously beginning to question it. It was my beta readers’ concerns about the title that initially got me thinking about other possibilities... and Donna Hole’s recent post that made me decide to do something about it.

So, as I asked on my other blog, I’m wondering what others think about this matter. Should I even be focusing on this right now? How critical is a title at this stage anyway? Won’t an agent or editor want to change it no matter what I call it now? Or could it help differentiate me (or my work) in the query slush pile? Does it matter that the title refers to my protagonist’s hollowness as well as the residents of Ruby Hollow? Is it worse that Hollow Souls might send the wrong message about my novel, which is what some beta readers have suggested? Would Ruby Hollow be better – or should I keep looking? Oh, what’s a befuddled wannabe novelist to do?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Florida Keys Ahead

As I mentioned last month, Avalon Travel has hired me to write the first edition of a Moon travel guide to the Florida Keys, and I couldn’t be more excited. Just today, I signed the contract and trekked, through the rain, to my French Quarter mailing place, making the deal official. So, now begins the hard work of researching and writing the guide, gathering the photos, and creating the maps.

I’ve already shared my love for this unique region on my American Nomad blog – in the posts entitled “Across the Florida Keys” and “Good Eats in Key West” – but I have so much more to say about its oddities and delights. I’m thrilled that I’ll soon be down there, exploring my favorite haunts yet again – with my favorite traveling companion in tow.

Although I have a long way to go before becoming a published novelist, I’m grateful every day for the opportunities that Avalon has given me to be a published author.

Monday Munchies: Oysters and Blue Cheese

All in all, yesterday was a pretty cool birthday – laidback and stress-free – and even better, I was able to spend it with two of my favorite “creatures”: the hubby and the kitty.

Although I relished my first official tarot-card reading at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, my fondest moments naturally involved some of my favorite foods. In lieu of a fancy birthday dinner, in fact, Dan and I decided to eat at two of our favorite casual restaurants in the French Quarter – Oceana Grill and Yo Mama’s Bar and Grill – both of which I’ve raved about on my American Nomad blog.

At Oceana on Conti, we opted for two beers and two dozen raw oysters, which are truly some of the largest, freshest, cleanest, and least expensive oysters in the Quarter. Needless to say, we go there a lot for our oyster fix. (And while my cell phone’s camera doesn’t really do them justice, I couldn’t pass up a chance to share them with you.)

Later, following my private tarot-card reading in the back room of Marie Laveau’s, Dan and I strolled over to Yo Mama’s on St. Peter, which offers some of the best burgers in the city. And I’m proud to say that, though it was a special occasion (and reason enough to indulge), we decided to share a blue cheese burger, a salad, and a loaded baked potato – in lieu of ordering two full burgers with the requisite side dishes. Of course, we did swig several Abita beers between us, but we could hardly help ourselves. We were, after all, watching the New Orleans Saints kick the New England Patriots’ collective arses... which I like to think they did in honor of my birthday. Hehehe.

As an aside, I know it might seem as though Dan and I never stop eating, but, well, what can I say? We both appreciate the diversity of cuisine on this planet – and New Orleans alone has oodles of yummy treats – which is, of course, going to make the diets we started today that much tougher.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Mark Twain's Birthday

My thirty-third birthday is tomorrow. According to my mom, I was born at 10:21 a.m. in Metairie – a suburb of New Orleans – in a place once called Lakeside Hospital. I know this because, every year, she calls me precisely at 10:21 a.m. – just to sing me a bar of the “Happy Birthday” song. I must admit that, despite the fact that I’m in my thirties, I have yet to tire of this tradition. Actually, I find it kind of sweet.

Still, I have mixed feelings about birthdays. (Of course, who past the age of twenty-one doesn’t?) As each year passes, I’m often forced to reconsider my goals, to once again reassess my dream of being a published novelist, and to make the sad realization that I’m not much closer to achieving it than I was a year ago.

But life isn’t about such lofty ambitions. It’s about all the little moments – the memorable experiences that fill each day – and today was filled with plenty. Dan and I drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to spend the morning with my teeny-tiny grandmother and the afternoon with my mom. Following a Thanksgiving-like lunch at mom’s house (complete with smoked ham, cranberry sauce, spinach casserole, potato salad, and pumpkin pie), Mom, Dan, and I saw the 3-D presentation of A Christmas Carol, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And then, as with any birthday weekend in my family, more food was involved.

So, despite my misgivings about getting older, I’m grateful for what I have: a loving family, good friends, and an awesome kitty (who was in fact last year’s birthday “present”). Besides, it just so happens that I was born on Mark Twain’s birthday – which I like to consider a positive omen that my fiction-writing dreams will someday come true. Hey, whatever works, right?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Holiday Movies

While I dabbled on the computer today, working on my latest American Nomad post and waiting for Dan to come home from his mad Black Friday dash to Best Buy, I could sense, in my post-Thanksgiving haze, that the Christmas season was well on its way. So, to get fully into the spirit, I watched two of my favorite “holiday” movies: Better Off Dead (1985) and While You Were Sleeping (1995), both of which never fail to bring a grin to my face and to make me wish for all the Christmas trimmings posthaste.

So, what are some of your favorite holiday movies?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Giving Belated Thanks

By now, you might have guessed that I’m a bit of a procrastinator. I’m often late with my blog posts – and I have no good excuse, except that I’m juggling a few too many things at any given time – and I’m not certain that I’d have it any other way.

So, in classic procrastinating fashion, I’m offering thanks after Thanksgiving dinner – not before. But my thanks are nonetheless heartfelt. No matter the pitfalls, deadlines, and doubts that might plague me at times, there are several people (and other entities) for whom I’ll be forever grateful.

Thanks to my folks and the rest of my family for taking care of me when I was young, for ensuring that I was warm and fed and well educated, and for believing in my dream to be a published writer.

Thanks to my in-laws for welcoming me into the Martone fold – and for encouraging my writing, too. My mom-in-law is especially supportive of my travel guides... and my current novel.

Thanks to the teachers and editors who have taught me and believed in me. Their support has meant more than they’ll ever know.

Thanks to all the friends (in-person and online) who have touched me, made me laugh, enriched my life, and supported me every step of the way.

Thanks to Bogie, Pawws, Gypsy, and Ruby – the animals that have made an incredibly positive difference in my life.

Thanks to the universe (or genetics?) for instilling within me enough creativity, intelligence, and ambition to pursue this crazy little thing called publishing.

And thanks, of course, to the hubby. I’ve thanked him on this blog before, but it can’t hurt to thank him again! I love you, Danny (I mean, Mr. Potato Head), and I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Sudoku

As expressed on previous Whimsical Wednesdays, I’m a huge fan of puzzles and games – many of which I first embraced as a child. Together, my mom and I assembled jigsaw puzzles, played silly games like Pass the Pigs, shared riddles, even passed our on-the-road time with auto bingo. To this day, we both share a passion for word games – from Jumble to acrostics to crosswords. But admittedly, she’s mystified by my love for number-based logic games like Sudoku – the ever-present diversion in newspapers across the country. What Mom finds tedious and time-wasting, however, I find curious and challenging.

The way it works is fairly simple. Each game is composed of nine grids, each of which contains nine spaces, where the numerals 1-9 must be placed in a precise order, so that each grid, each horizontal line, and each vertical line include all nine digits (with no repeats and no missing numerals). What makes it simple or tricky depends on how many numerals (and their positions) with which the game begins.

It probably sounds a little boring, but I find it soothing – so much so that Dan even bought me an electronic version a few years ago: The New York Times’ Touch Sudoku from Excalibur Electronics, Inc. Filled with nearly a thousand different combinations, this handy little gadget has followed me around the country for three years now, and I’m only on Game #253. So, it seems that I’ll be playing Sudoku on quiet, rainy afternoons for many years to come.

So, what are your favorite pastimes? Not active ones, but the kind that challenge the mind and soothe the spirit?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Fishing in Louisianian Waters

Nicknamed “a sportsman’s paradise,” Louisiana lures all manner of outdoor enthusiasts, not the least of which are fishermen – or, in my case, fisherwomen. Despite the incredible loss of wetlands – due to hurricanes, oil and gas production in the gulf, and dams along the Mississippi River – the waters of southeastern Louisiana still boast an abundant supply of seafood, including speckled trout and redfish (my family's catch of choice).

So today, my father – an avid fisherman – invited me and Dan to join him on a fishing excursion in the marshes near the Pearl River, which separates Louisiana from Mississippi. According to the local weather report, it was supposed to be an ideal day for fishing: sunny and mild, with low wind. But, if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that meteorology is an inexact science – fraught with percentages that can lean just as easily to rain as to sunshine.

Needless to say, the weather reports were less than accurate. Although the day began promisingly enough – cold but clear at six a.m., when we arrived at Dad’s house – we knew we were in trouble by the time we hit open water. The sun hid behind gray clouds for much of the day, and the wind was stronger than predicted, creating choppy seas and muddy waters that chased the fish away. In fact, it was the least productive fishing trip that I’ve ever experienced with my dad. He and Dan each caught a redfish too small to keep (per statewide size restrictions), while I caught nothing more than weeds. By the fourth time I’d snagged the marsh, my dear father and hubby started calling me “Weed Woman,” and Dad even told my stepmother (via cell phone), “Laura keeps throwing in the weeds. Guess she’s trying to catch an alligator.” Very funny, Dad.

But, seriously, despite the nonexistent yield, the scary waves at one point, and the fact that I was dressed for winter most of the time, all three of us enjoyed being out on the water, where peace and relative quiet reigned. As the old saying goes, “A bad day fishing beats a good day working,” and while Dad – who is accustomed to fruitful fishing trips (and has a freezer full of fish to prove it) – doesn’t agree with the saying, I happen to think it’s true. Even with the gray clouds and biting wind, it was a lovely, relaxing day, spent with two of my favorite people in all the world. And, hey, at least the gnats were as elusive as the fish.

Monday Munchies: Turtles Revisited

Last Monday, I shared my passion for turtles – not the animal, of course... the cookie. The yummy chocolate-pecan-shortbread concoction that McKenzie’s, the now-defunct New Orleans bakery, used to make. Since McKenzie’s closed in 2001, I’ve done everything I can to reproduce the experience of savoring their turtles – from purchasing ill-advised cookbooks to trying the local Rouses’ supermarket version. But to no avail.

Then, last week, my good pal Becky suggested that I try Tastee Donuts, a local donut shop that has apparently adopted some of McKenzie’s old recipes. So, yesterday, Dan and I located a Tastee Donuts in Metairie (just outside New Orleans), and we were thrilled to see a sign in the window, promising McKenzie’s cinnamon rolls. Where there were cinnamon rolls, there were bound to be turtles... right? Finally, Dan would be able to sample the delicacies about which I’ve been blathering for years.

But, alas, we soon discovered that the turtles on display had not been prepared from McKenzie’s recipe. They were instead Tastee Donuts’ own brand – and they were fairly unimpressive. In fact, as we each scarfed one down in the parking lot (yes, we were that desperate!), we quickly decided that they were worse than Rouses’ turtles. But then again, the jelly donut I also purchased wasn’t half-bad – a jelly donut that I’d like to dedicate to my pal Christine (she knows why!).

Well, needless to say, the search is still on... So, what about you? Do you miss any particularly elusive childhood treats? If so, what?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Must Be Awards Season

It’s been over a week since my film fest madness, and I still feel as though I’m playing catch-up. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that we’ve moved – yet again.

Nevertheless, in honor of last weekend’s closing night awards ceremony, I think it’s high time that I pass along a couple of blogalicious awards, which two online pals were generous enough to pass along to me.

First up is the Humane Award, which Deb L. Strange bestowed upon me in late October. I’m not certain that I deserve such an award – especially since my blog focuses on the people, places, and entities that interest or inspire me, and not on humanity or causes or the “big things” in life. But I feel grateful nonetheless, so thanks, Deb!

Now, per the instructions of this award, I believe I’m supposed to accept and post it to my blog – done! – then link to the person who gave it to me – done! – then pass it to five other worthy bloggers. This part is a little tougher. Since entering the blogosphere this April, I’ve discovered a wealth of wonderful blogs out there, many of which I’ve already honored with previous awards and many more that I’d like to call attention to. But, after much thought, I’ve decided to honor the following bloggers for their remarkable humaneness, which, for the purposes of this award, I took to mean their compassion, charity, grace, and helpfulness toward their readers and fellow bloggers:

- Jennifer J. Bennett of, well, Jennifer J. Bennett, who generously offers book reviews, writing contests, and more

- Tabitha Bird of Through My Eyes, for her inspirational posts and poems

- Roni England of Fiction Groupie, who has inspired and informed countless writers with her thought-provoking posts

- Donna Hole of, well, Donna Hole, who loves to share her online finds with others

- Susan R. Mills of A Walk in My Shoes, whose fun but informative posts always give writers food for thought

Thanks to all of you for filling my head and brightening my days.

The second award that I’ve recently received is the Honest Scrap Award, given to me earlier this month by Donna Hole. And, as with the above award, I feel incredibly grateful for the nod.

For this one, I’m supposed to accept and post it to my blog – done! – then link to the person who gave it to me – done! – then pass it to five other worthy bloggers. Although I’d love to honor a wide array of blogs, I’ve decided to obey the rules and only choose five – the ones that I count on most for their courageous honesty:

- Bane of Anubis of Bane’s Blogging Blues

- Bridget Chicoine of J.B. Chicoine...Aspiring Novelist

- Steph Damore of Stephanie Damore

- Becky Johnson of Becky’s Blabber

- Deb L. Strange of Ranch Girl Ramblings

The “Honest Scrap Award” has an added requirement – to share five personal tidbits about myself – so in the interest of keeping this short, here goes:

1. My favorite color is green – from the shade of trees to the hue of mint chocolate ice cream – which would be fine, except that Dan’s favorite color is also green, meaning that we often fight over things like toothbrushes and mini-golf balls.

2. Recently, it occurred to me that, as a travel writer, I have the worst sense of direction and the strongest susceptibility to motion sickness of anyone I know. Perhaps I should switch careers.

3. Given my sensitivity to heat, aversion to spicy foods, and lack of an accent, Dan often jokes that I’m the worst New Orleanian ever. He could be right.

4. I once dated a boy who had two pythons, a tarantula, a scorpion, and an iguana, all of which ended up on me at one time or another. I AM a horror aficionado, remember?

5. I’ve had a crush on Robert Duvall ever since I was twelve, when he played Gus in Lonesome Dove, a television mini-series that has sadly not held up through the years.

For more goofy tidbits about me, check out this previous post. And feel free to ask me whatever you want. Yes, that’s right, I said whatever – although I can’t promise full disclosure, I’ll try hard to earn my “Honest Scrap Award.” Honest.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fantasies: A Mild Case of Twitardedness

If you’ve been paying any attention to television ads, movie trailers, and Internet chatter, then you know that New Moon, the second installment of The Twilight Saga, was released to theaters today. So, in honor of my hubby, Dan, and my newfound pal Bane – two of the most vocal Twilight curmudgeons I’ve ever met – I feel that I should admit something: Despite the fact that I read all four of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga novels, I’m not the biggest fan of her work, and I thought the first film was, well, abhorrent – with the two onscreen lovers lacking any ounce of chemistry they might have had in the books – and yet, and yet, I find myself strangely curious about the sequel.

So, I have two questions: First, does that make me crazy and/or lemming-like (yes, Dan and Bane, I’m talking to you), and second, has anyone seen the movie yet (ahem, Steph D.)? Well? How bad was it?

P.S. If you haven’t already, check out Bane’s nod to Twilight.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Ever on the Move

You’re not going to believe this, but we’re moving again. Yes, it’s unbelievable, but absolutely true.

When we first arrived in the New Orleans area last month, the film festival was only a few weeks away, and we didn’t have much time to look for a place. So, we had to settle for a temporary spot just outside the city, while we prepared for the festival. But, now that the festival is over, it’s time to relocate to a better locale in the French Quarter – which, happily, we found yesterday.

Of course, with how often we come to New Orleans, you’d think we’d already have a permanent apartment, but you’d be wrong. Goodness knows it would make life easier if we didn’t always have to search for a sublet every time we ventured into town, but we have yet to find a permanent situation – mainly because we’re always slammed with festival duties. Hopefully, that’ll change this spring, when we return from our adventures – or should I say misadventures? – in the Florida Keys and Los Angeles. But, for now, we’ll be moving – tomorrow. Won’t the kitty be pleased?

Although, as I’ve previously reported, I’m not a fan of packing and unpacking, I do love the fact that Dan and I have called so many places home. In the decade we’ve been together, we’ve lived in over twenty different domiciles, from a flat in the English countryside to a roving RV to a French Quarter apartment with a lovely courtyard (pictured here with Dan, my stepmom, and my dad). It might sound crazy to others – including our parents – but we truly embrace our nomadic lifestyle. The scenery is ever evolving, and boredom is never an issue for us. As a bonus, when the apocalypse comes in 2012, we’ll be well versed in hitting the road. Of course, if the latest Roland Emmerich flick has it right, there won’t be anywhere to run – at least here in America.